"I don't have a life philosophy that's tied up neatly with a ribbon. It's ever-changing depending on the situation, but it's always been to try and assist others in getting where they want to be."
This past Spring, I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Dr. Penny Diebel, a name that is seemingly synonymous with student success. From her start as an undergraduate student at Colorado State University, to her 15 year career with Oregon State University, she has been recognized for her ability to teach others.
As a child, some of her fondest memories are of being out in nature, working in the parks over summers, and eventually serving as an assistant ranger at recreational reservoirs. As the oldest sibling of two brothers, Dr. Diebel recalls having to show leadership early in life. Her biggest lessons from her childhood: being bossy doesn't always get things done; don't panic because of a head injury from a claw hammer; and responsibility teaches you not to fear change.
She began her academic career at CSU, completing her undergraduate degree and then swiftly going on to graduate school at Virginia Tech. There, Dr. Diebel worked with one of the leading women breaking barriers in the area of Agriculture and Resource Economics, Dr. Sandra Beatty; the first woman to be elected President of the professional association. Following in those footsteps, Dr. Diebel began her own legacy when she was invited to join the Kansas State University faculty as the only female in the Agriculture and Resource Economics Department. After a few years, she applied to OSU in LaGrande, coming over the mountains to the Corvallis campus nearly 10 years ago.
With a wealth of experience and leadership roles most can only admire, I asked her who influenced her the most. She said, "My biggest role model is Dr. Lee Gray, from Colorado State University. At first I thought I just wanted his job. Then I realized I wanted to be a person like him. He was running his own department, but always had time for his students." She said, "I used to think that leadership was about volunteering to do something-assign a task, complete a project, but 90% of it is managing people." A role she has embraced, as evidenced by her leadership roles both at OSU as well as in the community.
As her professional career developed, she quickly realized that handling change well takes effort. "Even if you don't handle change well, you have to learn from it. I tend to be a person who automatically thinks about the complications first, and not the opportunities first, so I've worked hard to flip that mindset. You have to purposefully do that, otherwise one of two things will happen, you will likely get bitter about the changes that are beyond your control, or you'll miss the opportunity completely." Managing change is a term-long theme in the Leadership Academy, and her advice is, "Think ahead about opportunities to lessen the panic buttons. What are the mechanical things involved in this change? Break the change down into pieces and then consider how to integrate it. Work through changes in small pieces."
The Leadership Academy stresses these important skills, so when she was asked to join the mentor role back in 2012, she didn't hesitate. "Every student is different, every mentee is a different person. Every year is a bit different and new. Participating in the Leadership Academy gives you one more way to be in touch with where the student body is at the time-what their issues are and what's going on in their heads." She goes on to mention that students who have at least one close relationship with someone on campus are going to be more successful and more likely to graduate. The average student likely needs multiple types of mentors, which change as you go through your education. She says "These mentors can positively affect a student's well-being, add to their resource toolkit, and help mitigate setbacks."
Dr. Diebel recently stepped down as Assistant Dean to return to her faculty position in the Department of Applied Economics. She served in the Dean's Office for seven years, gaining a reputation across campus for her excellent support for our students in their educational and professional development. We are thrilled to continue to work with Dr. Diebel and are grateful for her mentorship through the Leadership Academy.