Fifth in a series highlighting this year’s recipients of the Purdue University College of Agriculture’s Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award. The series will continue each Monday, Wednesday and Friday leading up to March 2, when the honorees will receive their awards during 3:30 pm. convocation in the Purdue Memorial Union North Ballroom.
Nancy E. Lange, BS ’81, is senior director of human resources, global recruiting and staffing for Eli Lilly and Company in Indianapolis. Lange started her career in 1981 as a sales representative for Elanco Agricultural Chemicals, a division of Eli Lilly. She earned the Chairman’s Ovation Award from Eli Lilly in 2000 and was promoted to her current position in 2010.
As an undergraduate student, Lange worked as a research assistant for former College of Agriculture Dean Vic Lechtenberg.
• Which Purdue faculty member had the most profound impact on your professional career? My freshman adviser, Keith Johnson, helped me navigate my selection of curriculum, and he kept tabs on me throughout my time at Purdue, making sure I was getting the help I needed. I was not shy about asking for extra time with professors, and I remember George Van Scoyoc (soil science) giving me extra time to ask questions and come to his office for further discussion. Herb Ohm, too, encouraged me to meet with him, and we would discuss the lecture, making sure I got the key concepts. Lee Schweitzer was so attentive and encouraging. He was kind and caring, and gave me positive feedback that made me feel I could accomplish anything.
• What part of your visit back to campus in March are you most looking forward to? Seeing some of my professors and interacting with students. Since my career has taken me into recruiting and staffing, I gain a lot of energy when I see young, energized talent.
• Why did you select Purdue as the place to continue your education? The College of Agriculture. I did corn detasseling when I was 12. I took a bus from our local high school to Tipton, Ind., where I worked for Pioneer (Hi-Bred) seed company. I made good money to pay for college and became interested in hybrid corn and crop production. I did not even know the word “agronomy,” but when I talked to the agriculture representative who was recruiting me and told him of my interest, he put me in the discipline of agronomy — and there I stayed until I graduated.
• Where was your favorite place on campus to study? I needed complete quiet, so I often found the “stacks” in the library on the most secluded floor. Not many people frequented those floors because very often there were even a few cobwebs on the chairs.
• Were you a good student at Purdue? Yes, I graduated with a good GPA. I had to work very hard to do well in school and may have studied beyond the law of diminishing marginal return.
• What was the most difficult course you took at Purdue? Ag mechanization. I was really out of my element. It seemed everyone else in the class had a foundation of knowledge that made this easy for them. I was embarrassed at how little I knew and relied on my lab partners to help me understand each assignment.
• What do you miss most about your college days at Purdue? I enjoyed being around people who were my age and going through the same trials and challenges. When I graduated, the economy was not good, and many graduates were not getting job offers. We all worried and fretted together, and then celebrated when someone actually got an offer. I also loved learning what was offered in my classes. We felt a lot of stress during college days, but once we were all out in the real world, we learned what real stress is.
• What is the best advice you got while you were at Purdue? Confirmation from my professors that while I may not understand everything perfectly, it was important to gain an understanding of the concepts and processes. They suggested that if I knew how to network and find answers, that would serve me well when I started my career. The professors who encouraged taking on leadership and taking the lead with a team gave very good advice. All of us have to lead in some form or fashion, whether that is in trying to influence someone to consider a recommendation or lead a group toward a common goal. Leadership is a skill that is important. Practicing that skill while still at a university is a safe place to try — and fail — and hopefully learn to get better.
• What is the best advice you have ever given? I have advised students to make the most of the college experience in all aspects: academics, social skills, leadership, long-term relationships and networks, and have fun. Finally, choices you make are important regarding your major and the first job you take. But in the end, you will work a long time, and your career will be a function of your background, your degree and opportunities that present themselves to you along the way.
Read about other 2012 Distinguished Agriculture Alumni Award winners.