Jason Penry, Ph.D.
How I got to LSUS: One of my former summer baseball teammates (Kyle Melancon) attended LSUS and from everything I heard from Kyle and others, LSUS had a great reputation. The primary reason I came to LSUS is because the university gave me an opportunity to continue my baseball playing career after junior college.
Fond Memories of LSUS: Although I had a great time in the classroom and had great experiences there, most of my fond memories of LSUS come from outside the classroom, specifically my involvement with our baseball program, SGA (president, 2000-01) and student activities. I love the game of baseball and there was nothing like the feeling of being part of a team, especially with so many great players, pretty much all of them better than I was.
With the SGA, we had an opportunity to work with faculty and staff to implement a campus-wide "dead week," establish a professor of the year award and also lobby for a new cafeteria in the UC. We had great ownership by the SGA senators. Through their leadership, we were able to increase voting by over 50% from the previous years' election and increase the number of prospective senators running for election by 60%. We also established quorum every week. It was an amazing experience to be around so many passionate people. One of the things about that experience was the opportunity to have lunch with Governor Foster at the governor's mansion and attend LSU Board of Supervisors meetings.
Two of the people that I'll never forget were Brian Novogradac, who was the assistant director of student activities; he took me under his wing as served as a mentor and friend; and also Sharon Manson, director of student housing, who provided excellent customer service training while I was a resident assistant at University Court Apartments. It is honestly the best training I've ever received to this day. I can't say enough about how it helped to shape me as a professional.
LSUS faculty who helped me: Head Baseball Coach Rocke Musgraves was my coach during my senior year. To this day, he has served as a role model to me; he taught me and my teammates sportsmanship and to do things the right way. He's been successful because he is a first-class person and treats people the right way.
Dr. William Pederson was my political science professor. I loved attending his class. He has an interesting style and is brilliant. Over the years, it always made me happy to be flipping through the channels and see him on CSPAN. I've stayed in touch with him and he's always been encouraging to me.
Dr. Jesse DeMello's energy is something I still remember to this day. He is someone who cared about his students and like so many LSUS professors; he was always quick to help me and my peers.
How LSUS helped me succeed: Being a Pilot is special to me because the university provided me opportunities to grow. In August 1998, I remember the SGA president (Nick Crafts) when I first arrived at LSUS talking about all the opportunities the university provided to students. It was because of him I got involved in SGA and student activities. I got involved in one thing and it snowballed into so many other opportunities. I feel very lucky about my time at LSUS.
What I do now: Chief of Staff at Arkansas State University
About my job: As Arkansas State's chief of straff, I serve on the six-member executive council leadership team for the university. In my role, I help to establish university priorities, provide strategic leadership and support for various initiatives, and develop policy recommendations and actions.
Advice to college-bound students: My biggest piece of advice is to commit to receiving a degree. For an average student like me, it wasn't easy, but with the encouragement of family and others at LSUS who cared about me, I was able to walk across that stage in May 2001 and it's something I'll always cherish. It always hurts me to see students start a degree and then after one to four semesters decide it's not for them after compiling student debt. After the first couple of years, I was able to study more material that applied to my passions and I started to excel a little more. With a degree in hand, you will see a return on your investment of time and money.
Advice to someone who wants to enter my field: If you like helping others, then higher education fundraising is a perfect career field. Higher education is about changing lives. As I see it, it serves as a facilitator of social mobility. For example, one student on scholarship recently told me that because of her scholarship she didn't have to work and was able to spend more time studying for medical school. She hopes to get into Harvard and ultimately wants to be part of the team that helps to find the cure for cancer. This is a great example of the impact that donors can make. Because of the generosity of one family, there is a chance that one day our world will be without cancer. It has been very rewarding to me to help donors match their passions with university's goals.
Tips on choosing a major or career: One of the books I recently read was The Element by Sir Ken Robinson. He recommends that you spend the time, by trial and error and find your passion: the thing you are good at and love to do. As he explains, when you find your passion your energy is different and you can be more productive. I think that is outstanding advice.
My toughest professional challenge: The toughest challenge I have is to stay focused on what's important. When I was working at Oklahoma State I was able to visit with Mr. Boone Pickens a couple of times. I always enjoyed that. One of the pieces of advice he gave me that stuck was that if you are on an elephant hunt, you do not get distracted by rabbits. That saying has helped to paint a very vivid picture for me to stay focused on what is important. With an iPhone, email, Facebook, Twitter and 500 channels on TV, it's easy to get distracted.
My toughest personal challenge: I want to have time for reflection. I have heard John Maxwell say that reflecting on experiences leads to better understanding. There are times that I feel like I am trying to do too many things, but feel like I'm not growing. I need that "white space" in my life to make sure I stay on track personally and professionally.
Successes in my life: Outside of family, there are two things that I take great pride in having accomplished. First, I received an Aggie Ring at Texas A&M after I finished my Ph.D. It's something I wear with pride because of the values that all Aggies stand for. The second are the two hardest worker awards that I received in high school. That still makes me proud because I'd like to be remembered for two things when I leave this world: hard work and treating people right. Because my high school baseball teammates voted me as the recipient, it has meant so much to me.