Posted: March 15, 2019

Terri Ruch, a Penn State agricultural engineering alumna, was recently named one of 12 recipients of the 2019 Outstanding Engineering Alumni Award.

Established in 1966, the award is the highest honor bestowed by the Penn State College of Engineering and recognizes graduates who have reached exceptional levels of professional achievement.

While Ruch always liked math and science and thought engineering was interesting, it was her father who inspired her to obtain a degree in agricultural engineering from Penn State.

"My dad is a Penn State agricultural engineering alumnus, and I looked at what he was doing and thought, 'Wow, that seems really cool, so that's what I'm going to choose,'" she recalls. "I grew up in Pennsylvania and I was near the top of my class, so I wanted to go to a good school. I got accepted at main campus, and the rest is history!"

While at Penn State, Terri spent her entire college career as a color guard member in the Blue Band. After receiving a bachelor's degree in agricultural engineering from Penn State in 1987, she joined the United States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS) full time, and has been working there ever since.

"I love the field that I'm in - the problem solving, being able to be a little creative - I love all of it," Ruch said.

Currently the national energy engineer in the agency's national headquarters in Washington, D.C., Ruch is responsible for providing national direction and coordination for agricultural energy efficiency, assuring that activities such as alternative and renewable energy utilization are coordinated in the planning and implementation of the nationwide natural resources conservation program of the USDA-NRCS. She also provides national expertise regarding NRCS natural resource, agriculture and environmental program policy, technology development, transfer and training.

"I am passionate about the mission of NRCS," Ruch said. "We assist farmers on a voluntary basis. They know how to raise animals and grow crops, but when it comes to conserving their water or saving their soil, that's where we come in and help because we have the expertise."

Ruch has held many engineering positions with the USDA-NRCS, which has provided her the opportunity to live in multiple locations throughout the U.S. She started her career working in three offices in Ohio. From there, she worked in Clarion, Pennsylvania, Albany, New York, and Raleigh, North Carolina. She then progressed into engineering management by serving as the state conservation engineer for North Carolina before assuming her current role.

"Because the USDA-NRCS is located all over the country, there's promotion potential and lateral reassignment opportunities where you can work anywhere in the U.S.," Ruch said. "It's great to have a career ladder that can go up but also sideways so one can experience new places and network with new people. I've been really lucky that my career has been able to do that."

Ruch is a registered professional engineer in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, and is a member of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE). In 2001, she received the Northeast Agricultural and Biological Engineering Conference Young Engineer of the Year Award from the ASABE.

She has come back to the University to march in the alumni band for homecoming nearly every year since she graduated. And now that she's a recipient of the Outstanding Engineering Alumni Award, she is literally following in her father's footsteps.

"Not only did my dad receive the award back in 1991, but it ends up that I'm also working at the same agency where he spent his career," Ruch said. "I guess you could say he has really inspired me."

Ruch will be honored on April 8 at the College of Engineering's annual Outstanding Engineering Alumni Awards ceremony at the Nittany Lion Inn on the University Park campus.