On Feb. 9, the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity announced it would be renamed after alumnus Jeffrey A. Conrad, a 1983 Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences graduate.
Conrad, the president and founder of AgIS Capital, made a $1 million donation to the CSGD in hopes of creating future scholarships and increased services at the center.
“I want to make sure that it helps those of lesser income and helps get them through Penn State,” Conrad said. “Also, just help them grow [the center’s] efforts, grow the resources and services it can offer to others.”
With one of the largest living alumni networks in the United States, Penn State is accustomed to receiving sizable donations on a yearly basis. In 2020 alone, the university received over $3.4 billion in endowment and similar funds from over 218, 895 donors.
Brian Patchcoski, former director of the CSGD, said Conrad is likely one of the most engaged donors, as he has worked closely with the center over the last few years during the building of its new space in the HUB.
“Jeff as a donor was really all about ‘How do we allow our students to essentially find space and also be a Penn Stater with everything else that’s happening?’” Patchcoski said. “As the center continues to grow and engage, Jeff’s gift has allowed for that.”
Conrad’s gift of $1 million is the largest contribution the center has received to date, according to Patchcoski, and the CSGD will now be officially titled “The Jeffrey A. Conrad Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity.”
Conrad said his Penn State experience in the early 1980s and the era in which he grew up made it difficult for him as he struggled with his sexuality.
“I knew I was gay and was struggling with what that meant and how that would impact my life,” Conrad said. “There really wasn’t much support [at Penn State] at all… but you could say that about any ‘XYZ’ university or college at the time and that would be the case.”
One of the biggest challenges for the CSGD is adapting to the changing climate of the LGBTQ community, according to Patchcoski, and it works closely with students to determine the best way to offer support and inclusivity that hasn’t always existed.
Sonya Wilmoth, the interim director of the CGSD, said the center has grown throughout her time as a staff member.
“When I first got here, we were the LGBTA Student Resource Center, then we added the ‘Q,’ and then we totally changed to the Center for Gender and Sexual Diversity to be more inclusive,” Wilmoth said.
These changes are meant to make sure students have a safe space to verbalize their experiences and be heard, according to Wilmoth.
“We continually rely on the students for what their needs are,” Wilmoth said. “There’s a desire on our part and our staff’s part to constantly work with students and listen to their voices and [be] student-led that way.”
Conrad said his advice for LGBTQ students as they graduate from Penn State and enter corporate America is to find a workplace that welcomes them.
“If you’re in the LGBTQ community, work that network… find a company with the right culture.”
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