Penn State Schuylkill Alumni Society announces 2021 Alumni Award winners

A triptych of headshots with the 3 alumni award winners.
Credit: Penn State

SCHUYLKILL HAVEN, Pa. — Each year, the Penn State Schuylkill Alumni Society honors noteworthy alumni at an annual awards dinner. Although the 2021 awards dinner is tentatively scheduled for spring 2022, the fall announcement of award winners continues. Alumni Award winners are nominated by fellow graduates, friends, colleagues, and family members. This year, three Penn State Schuylkill alumni were named as Outstanding Alumni and Outstanding Young Alumni due to their positive impact in their communities, outstanding professional achievements, and Penn State spirit.

“We are proud of these alumni and are grateful for their contributions to our campus,” said Penn State Schuylkill Chancellor Patrick M. Jones. “They are difference-makers in their communities, and they embody our Penn State Values.”

Outstanding Alumni with life work in forest management and ecology: Michael G. Messina

Michael G. Messina is a Pottsville native who began his Penn State career at the Schuylkill campus, eventually earning his bachelor’s degree in forest science from Penn State in 1979 and his doctorate in forestry from North Carolina State University in 1983. After spending three years as a postdoctoral fellow in the New Zealand Forest Service's Forest Research Institute, he returned to the states to begin a teaching career as assistant professor in the Department of Forest Science at Texas A&M University.

Messina would spend the next 20 years at Texas A&M, earning a full professorship in 2001. He taught undergraduate and graduate-level courses and conducted varied faculty research. While his area of specialization is silviculture, the science of managing forest growth for controlled outcomes, Messina also led classes in natural resources management, forest ecology, field forestry techniques, and general forestry.

Selected by his students on multiple occasions as an “outstanding professor,” Messina also was associate department head, overseeing advising and curricula design for five different degree programs. Messina chaired or co-chaired 25 student graduate committees and served on over 60 committees. He has authored or co-authored more than 30 scholarly articles and served as associate editor for silviculture for the Journal of Forestry. He has received or shared research grants totaling almost $2 million.

In 2003, Messina was elected a fellow by the Society of American Foresters.

In 2009, Messina returned to his alma mater, when he was named director of Penn State’s School of Forest Resources. In 2012 — with the reorganization of the College of Agricultural Sciences — Messina was tapped to head the newly established Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, a comprehensive center for renewable natural resources. While serving as director, he also helped spearhead the effort to gain reaccreditation of Penn State’s forest ecosystem management degree by the Society of American Foresters.

In 2019, Messina retired from Penn State, although he still serves as director of the Centre County Conservation District and volunteers his talents in several areas, including building houses for Habitat for Humanity in Centre County.

A distinguished career in law enforcement earns Outstanding Alumni nod: Scott C. Price

Scott C. Price is a lifelong resident of Schuylkill County who pursued an academic career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) before pivoting to a longstanding professional career with the Pennsylvania State Police.

Price began collecting academic accolades while a student at North Schuylkill School District. He was a member of the National Honor Society and recipient of the Bausch and Lomb Award for excellence in scientific endeavors. His introduction to college coursework began during his senior year of high school when he enrolled in a Saturday morning "Engineering Five" class at Penn State Schuylkill, taught by Professor Arthur Marsicano. Because this turned into a positive experience, Penn State Schuylkill seemed the logical choice to begin his collegiate career.

At Schuylkill, Price excelled, earning the President's Freshman Award for attaining a 4.0 GPA for two of his first three trimesters, as well as appearing each trimester on the dean’s list. After his sophomore year, Price continued his coursework at University Park, receiving an invitation to membership in the prestigious Phi Beta Kappa honor society, and earning an undergraduate degree in chemistry in 1985.

However, upon graduation, Price was still unsettled about his career. Along with his aptitude for the natural sciences, Price had developed a keen interest in law enforcement, so he applied for admission to the Pennsylvania State Police and entered the academy in 1988.

Price progressed through the department ranks, serving in various capacities, including patrol, criminal investigations, forensic services, equitation, and negotiator for the Special Emergency Response Team. Although at times his jurisdiction included Wayne and Luzerne counties, he said that working in Schuylkill County “remains especially gratifying in that I was able to have a direct, tangible impact on the community that I considered home for most of my life.”

While overseeing the Pennsylvania Instant Check System, a background check protocol for firearms purchase, Price was interviewed for an NBC News feature story titled “How Pennsylvania Built a Model Gun Background Check System.” A recognized expert on gun crimes and firearms background checks, Price also was invited to address the Police Executive Research Forum, a national organization, on the topic. His leadership on this team helped earn the Pennsylvania Excellence in Technology Award.

In 2018, Gov. Tom Wolf appointed Price as deputy commissioner of administration and professional responsibility, where he provided oversight of various functional segments, including officer wellness programs. This position allowed him to engage his alma mater where he worked in collaboration with S. Hakan Can, professor of criminal justice at Penn State Schuylkill, to develop a survey instrument that provided valuable feedback regarding law enforcement stressors.

Lt. Col. Price currently serves as deputy commissioner of operations for the Pennsylvania State Police, a cabinet-level position in the Pennsylvania state government. He is a frequent speaker, published author, and recognized expert witness on issues ranging from budget allocation to domestic violence to gun safety reform. He also is the state police liaison to the city of Philadelphia’s Gun Violence Task Force, and by request of the governor, serves as a member of the commonwealth's COVID-19 Task Force.

In true Penn State family tradition, Price’s son Nicholas also attended Penn State Schuylkill, where he earned a degree in administration of justice, with a minor in sociology; he currently serves as a Pennsylvania state trooper.

Outstanding Young Alumna displays Penn State pride: Abigayle Kaiser

Abigayle “Abbie” Kaiser is a Schuylkill County native and a 2020 graduate of Penn State Schuylkill. While at Schuylkill, Kaiser was involved in several clubs and organizations, often in leadership roles. She was a Lion Ambassador, peer tutor, chair of Schuylkill Benefiting THON, and president of the Blue and White Society, all while earning a business degree in marketing management.

In 2020, Kaiser was the recipient of the John and Veda Black Award — a University-wide honor recognizing outstanding student leadership — and was one of only two Penn State students invited to attend the Alumni Leadership Conference.

A high achiever, Kaiser obtained full-time postgraduate employment while finishing her final undergraduate semester. Currently, Kaiser serves as director of admissions and marketing at Luther Ridge at Seiders Hill, a role she took on during the height of the global pandemic.

Her co-workers and supervisors alike remark on her willingness to go beyond the job requirements and note that she is truly making a difference in the lives of the clients she serves.

Kaiser is a Penn Stater through and through. Kaiser has been an alumni society board member since her graduation in 2020 and is active in that role. She continues to engage with the campus in other ways as well. She has served in mentorship roles with current students through Penn State Schuylkill Co-Op and always makes herself available for various panels and admissions events.

Kaiser is involved in her local community and is active in her church.

As her nominator, Kate Zimmerman, director of cooperative education at Penn State Schuylkill, notes: “Abbie goes above and beyond in almost everything she does. She bleeds blue and white. Her love for Penn State Schuylkill is evident any time you speak with her, and she continues to be a wonderful advocate by sharing her positive Penn State story.”

Looking ahead

With an eye on an in-person celebration in 2022, Patty Shoener, alumni relations and stewardship officer, said, “We look forward to celebrating this year’s awardees in person when it is safe to do so. Each one of them has brought so much pride to our Penn State Schuylkill family, making a difference in their communities and beyond.”