Penn State Adds Faculty Position for Potato Research

Published online: Oct 04, 2018 Articles
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Source: Pennsylvania State University  

During a Sept. 30 ceremony held at the residence of Penn State President Eric Barron, Penn State trustee Keith E. Masser and his wife, Helen E. Masser, signed documents to create a professorship in the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences and a scholarship in the Penn State College of Medicine.

The gifts represent the Massers’ commitment to Penn State’s $1.6 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign, “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” which seeks contributions in support of three major imperatives: keeping the doors to higher education open to hard-working students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Keith and Helen are wonderful friends and devoted members of the Penn State family,” said Barron. “Their decades of service to our institution, support for our land-grant mission, and generous philanthropy have been transformative. This gift demonstrates that once again they are willing to step up to contribute to 'A Greater Penn State.'”

Keith Masser is a 1973 Penn State alumnus who holds a bachelor of science degree in agricultural engineering. Helen Masser graduated from Penn State in 1974 with a degree in nutrition from the College of Health and Human Development. Mr. Masser is chairman and CEO, and Mrs. Masser is the chief administration officer of Sterman Masser Inc., a Pennsylvania-based, family-owned company that grows and distributes potatoes for retail and food service. The company is recognized nationally for its innovative approach to the industry, combining eight generations of farming experience with new technologies, integrated state-of-the-art operations, sustainable agricultural and supply chain practices, new products, and more.

To ensure the continued growth and evolution of the potato industry, the Massers, through a future gift, made a commitment to create the Masser Family Faculty Chair in Potato Research, which will support a faculty member in the College of Agricultural Sciences whose research and teaching focuses on advancing the potato industry in the Commonwealth.

The Massers have long supported the college through annual gifts to the Agriculture Fund and through two scholarships, the Kim L. Masser Memorial Trustee Matching Scholarship and the Kim L. Masser Memorial Scholarship for the Agricultural Sciences, both of which honor the memory of Keith Masser’s brother, who passed away as a teenager.

“The Sterman Masser company represents the gold standard in the potato industry,” said Rick Roush, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. “Keith and Helen, and their children, have continued the family’s legacy of excellence through their innovative approaches to growing and production, contributing to the economic stability of the Commonwealth, and employing our graduates and fellow Pennsylvanians. By creating an endowed professorship in potato research, they are ensuring the future of the industry while also allowing us to explore new ways to think about this staple crop in feeding a growing world population. We couldn’t be more grateful to the Massers for their generosity.”

Keith and Helen Masser

Gifts from Keith and Helen Masser will create the Masser Family Faculty Chair in Potato Research in the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences and the Keith and Helen Masser Family Medical Student Scholarship in the Penn State College of Medicine. IMAGE: MICHAEL HOUTZ

The Penn State College of Medicine also has been a philanthropic focus for the Massers, who have made gifts to the Penn State Children’s Hospital Building Campaign and Four Diamonds. Keith Masser sits on the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center board of directors and the Penn State Health board of directors. The couple’s new gift, the Keith and Helen Masser Family Medical Student Scholarship, was created to provide financial support to full-time medical students enrolled or planning to enroll in the Penn State College of Medicine. The Massers have asked that first preference be given to graduates of Penn State, with secondary preference to residents of Pennsylvania.

“It’s a significant investment to educate and train tomorrow’s physicians, and we know that the cost of medical school sometimes stands in the way of gifted individuals’ achieving their dream of helping others to live healthier lives,” said Dr. Craig Hillemeier, dean of the Penn State College of Medicine, CEO of Penn State Health and senior vice president for health affairs for Penn State. “We are deeply grateful to Keith and Helen Masser for their generosity to improve health by opening doors for students to pursue a career in medicine.”

The Massers have two children, both of whom are executives of Sterman Masser. David Masser serves as president and holds a bachelor of science degree in agriculture systems management. Julie Ballay, vice president and chief financial officer, holds a bachelor’s degree in agricultural and biological engineering, a master’s degree in engineering, and a master’s degree in business administration, all from Penn State.

Keith Masser was elected to the Penn State Board of Trustees by delegates from agricultural societies effective July 2008. He was elected to serve as chairman of the board in January 2013, a position he held until July 2016. He is a member of the Alpha Epsilon Ag Engineering Honor Society and the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society. In 2008, he was honored by the College of Agricultural Sciences as one of its outstanding alumni and in 2009 was named to its Armsby Honors Society. Both Keith and Helen Masser are members of the Mount Nittany Society.

Said the Massers: “Our family is proud to support the land-grant mission of Penn State by continuing to advance potato research and production in the state of Pennsylvania. We are also thankful that we have the ability to help open doors for students to pursue a career in medicine.”

Through the Massers’ gifts and those of other alumni and friends, "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence" seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. To learn more, visit