April 10, 2013
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College of Ag students garner
top senior awards – again

2013 Ross award winner
Gabe Rangel and Laura Donaldson were selected as the top graduating seniors at Purdue.
(Purdue Agricultural Communication photo/Tom Campbell)

By Tom Campbell

Purdue College of Agriculture seniors Gabe Rangel and Laura Donaldson come from diverse backgrounds.

Rangel, a senior biochemistry student, grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from Pike High School, one of Indiana’s largest high schools with a graduating class of 660.

Donaldson, an agribusiness management senior, grew up on a farm and graduated from tiny South Newton High School near Kentland, one of Indiana’s smaller communities. In fact, Donaldson sometimes had more people in her classes at Purdue than were in her high school graduating class of 66.

But they share a record of sustained excellence in academics, leadership, service and character that has earned them the honor of being named the top graduating seniors on the Purdue campus for the 2012–13 school year.

It is the second time College of Agriculture students have earned the G.A. Ross (top senior male) and Flora Roberts (top senior female) awards in the same year. Amir Faghih and Tanya Hadley were the top seniors of the class of 2006.

Of the 55 graduating men who have won the Ross Award since 1959 when it was established, 22 were College of Agriculture students. The award, named for a 1916 Purdue graduate, carries a $500 gift and a plaque.

The Flora Roberts Award, named after a member of Purdue’s Class of 1887, carries a gift of $500. Donaldson, an agribusiness management major, is the seventh College of Agriculture student to win the award.

The names of both students will be permanently inscribed on an obelisk on Purdue’s engineering mall. A committee of students and two representatives of the Office of the Dean of Students select the award recipients from nominations submitted by faculty and staff.

Donaldson was surprised when she learned she had won the award.

“I never even thought I was a candidate for the Roberts Award. There are so many outstanding women on this campus,” said Donaldson, who has scheduled in some downtime between commencement exercises in May and starting a career in marketing with John Deere in June.

“With my summer internships, working with FFA (she served as state president in 2009) and traveling to Haiti over Christmas last year as part of a service learning experience, I haven’t had much time to spend on the farm,” Donaldson said. “So before I go to work for John Deere, I’m going to spend some time on the farm and reconnect with my community.”

Rangel was recently named the outstanding senior in the College of Agriculture. He becomes the first student in the 30-year history of the award to be named outstanding freshman, sophomore, junior and senior student of the college. His summer plans include getting married on June 28, then heading off to Harvard University to pursue a PhD in biological sciences and public health.

“I’d love to go back to Africa and do some malaria fieldwork,” Rangel said, who spent time researching malaria in Mali in 2011.

“I am very passionate about empowering impoverished communities, and I am always excited about biological science. A great intersection between those two interests is what I have found to be my niche, the research of diseases that affect impoverished communities. If we provide health security to impoverished communities, we provide hope of development.”


Ross, Roberts award winners got plenty of help along the way

By Tom Campbell

If winning the Ross and Roberts awards required Academy Award–like acceptance speeches, both Gabe Rangel and Laura Donaldson would be played off the stage with music before they could thank everyone who played a role in their being named the top Purdue seniors for the 2012–13 school year.

2013 Roberts award winner
A Christmas 2012 visit to Haiti had a great impact on Donaldson. “The families there truly loved one another and cared for each other. Relationships mattered over everything else,” Donaldson said. “And that was amazing to see.”  (Photo provided) 

“There are so many people who are supportive in the College of Agriculture, which says a lot about why there are two outstanding students from the same college,” Donaldson said. “The students are supported so well in this college, not just academically but on the leadership side as well. They encourage you and influence you to become involved on campus so you will grow and develop as leaders.”

Donaldson, majoring in agribusiness management, cited LeeAnn Williams and Andy Oppy in the agricultural economics department for helping her schedule classes throughout her four-year career. Williams is director of undergraduate advising/student services, and Oppy is an academic adviser.

“As a student, I know they always have my best interest at heart,” she said.

Donaldson found support outside the department walls of agricultural economics, too.

“Tracie Egger (assistant director of academic programs for the college) has been a huge help developing my leadership skills,” Donaldson said. “She is my Ag Ambassador adviser. She has always given me very frank advice, and I appreciate that.”

Donaldson also thanked Jim Hicks, BS ’61, a California businessman who has established a scholarship for agricultural economics students.

“If it hadn’t been for his scholarship, I would have had to work through school, which means I wouldn’t have been able to focus on my studies nearly as much.”

But Donaldson can’t forget three others who helped her see the value of working hard inside the classroom and seeking opportunities outside the classroom.

“When I was a freshman, I lived in an apartment with three farm boys,” said Donaldson, implying that her apartment mates may not have always put their free time to good use. “That taught me that I didn’t want to waste my time sitting in front of the television set all week.”

Rangel hasn’t forgotten the three people who helped get his academic career started before he ever took a class at Purdue.

As a high school senior, Rangel was interested in Purdue’s biomedical engineering curriculum, at least until his campus visit.

“I found out it wasn’t what I thought it was. It just wasn’t for me,” Rangel said. “I was wondering, where should I go now, what should I do?”

He looked on his campus map and found the Biochemistry Building, where undergraduate programs coordinator Sherry Pogranichniy invested 90 minutes of her career in the future of Rangel’s future.

2013 Ross award winner
One of the first things Rangel wanted to do after hearing he had won the G.A. Ross Award as the top senior male student at Purdue was to share the award with the three people most responsible for his success. From left are Joe Ogas, Rangel, Scott Briggs and Sherry Pogranichniy. (Photo provided)

“She talked all about the program and took me on a tour of a lab and just blew the program out of the water because she took all of that time to explain everything to me,” Rangel said.

“She took me to meet Dr. Scott Briggs, who took a good 30 minutes out of his day to talk to me about what research means to an undergraduate student, and talked about what research opportunities there were in the biochemistry department. He told me I could get involved in research as early as my freshman year.”

That personal approach told Rangel he was in the right place.

“I thought that personal approach between the professors and a potential student was incredible. Dr. Briggs is the reason I chose Purdue. No other place I had been to showed me the kind of attention I received at Purdue in the biochemistry department.”

Rangel also credits academic adviser Joe Ogas for helping shape him into a student with the questioning mind of a scientist.

“He helped me think about a lot of personal development issues as well as looking out for internship opportunities for me.”

In between his sophomore and junior years, Rangel researched malaria at Maryland’s prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

“Dr. Ogas found out about the internship and recommended me for it. That led to a fellowship, which has pretty much paid for my graduate studies at Harvard. He found those opportunities for me which have probably shaped my career forever.”

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