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Mike O'Connor Retires

Posted: December 15, 2009

Dr. Michael O’Connor’s retirement at the end of December will mark the conclusion of a career that has significantly impacted Pennsylvania dairy producers.

Dr. Michael O’Connor’s retirement at the end of December will mark the conclusion of a career that has significantly impacted Pennsylvania dairy producers. Mike has been working with the Pennsylvania dairy industry since he joined the Department of Dairy and Animal Science faculty in 1979.

When asked to reflect on his career, Mike said, “I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend my career within the Department of Dairy and Animal Science at Penn State and am sincerely grateful to have worked with and developed friendships with so many dedicated and talented individuals within the department, college, field-based educators and the PA dairy industry.”

Well-known throughout Pennsylvania for his expertise and effective communication skills in teaching educational workshops and programs, Mike says he has enjoyed the challenge of working with the most diverse state in the country in terms of dairy producers. He noted that the increase in large herds in Pennsylvania has been dramatic, and the need to provide statewide programs that accommodate all interests has been challenging.

Among the accomplishments of which he is most proud are the organizing and conducting of reproductive management workshops, programs which have a direct impact on producers’ profitability.

While Mike will be turning over the editing of the Dairy Digest to Jud Heinrichs, he will continue to teach parts of two undergraduate courses. Acknowledging that he “thoroughly enjoys” teaching, he said there is a special satisfaction in observing students develop problem-solving skills to assess the strengths and weaknesses of a commercial dairy herd and learn to defend their assessment to their peers, faculty, consultants and dairy producers. In his teaching, he said he enjoys integrating basic physiological concepts that have direct application to production agriculture, specifically dairy herd management, and relating his field experience to the classroom to demonstrate to students the importance of understanding basic concepts.

As an academic advisor, he relished working with students from the beginning of their college careers through graduation, watching them develop as young adults, making adjustments and achieving success as they dealt successfully with academic and personal challenges.

Mike served as a co-adviser to the Dairy Science Club, and he has always been an advocate for the students, encouraging them and acknowledging their efforts in planning and carrying out a large number of activities throughout the year. During the years he helped advise the club, he saw them routinely receive success at every level, including nationally. He encouraged students to use opportunities to travel both within the United States and abroad or take internships to learn more about the diversity of the dairy industry – and have a good time in the process.

Mike grew up in Rhode Island, and gained a love of agriculture through his maternal grandparents, with whom he spent several summers on their livestock and grain farm in the Midwest. The first mentor to encourage Mike to pursue a career in the dairy industry was his adviser, Dr. Bill Etgen at the University of Rhode Island, whose enthusiasm for dairy science was contagious. After serving with the United States Army, Mike followed Dr. Etgen to Virginia Polytechnic Institute, where he worked with Dr. Richard Saacke, a reproductive physiologist well-known to many Pennsylvanians. He received both his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from Virginia Tech.

Mike has received several awards for his contributions and service to the dairy industry and to students. He has been widely published, both in extension and other educational media, conference proceedings and research publications.

Mike, on behalf of the Department of Dairy and Animal Science, we wish you well in your retirement, and offer our heartfelt thank you for your dedicated service to Pennsylvania’s dairy producers, our students and Penn State.

Dr. Terry Etherton, Head Department of Dairy and Animal Science