Penn State alumni (from left) Matt Shaffer, Paul R. Latshaw and Andrew McNitt, Ph.D. Photo by Mike Houtz
One prepared golf courses for major tournaments — including the Masters, the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship — over his 38 years as a golf course superintendent. One followed in his mentor’s footsteps, serving as golf course superintendent for several professional tournaments at some of the country’s best-known courses. One is a highly accomplished Penn State faculty member who advises the NFL on ways to make its fields safer for players.
In addition to being nationally recognized figures in their fields, Paul R. Latshaw, Matthew Shaffer and Andrew McNitt, Ph.D., have something else in common: They are all alumni of Penn State turfgrass programs.
To honor their contributions to the turfgrass and sports surface industries, the Pennsylvania Turfgrass Council recently established three graduate fellowships in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences’ Department of Plant Science.
The council took advantage of the recently concluded Graduate Scholarship Matching Program, an initiative of “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” the university’s current $1.6 billion fundraising campaign. The council’s three gifts of $200,000 were doubled through the match, resulting in a $1.2 million influx of funds into the turfgrass science program.
The Paul R. Latshaw Turfgrass Graduate Fellowship, the Matthew G. Shaffer Turfgrass Graduate Fellowship and the Andrew S. McNitt Turfgrass Graduate Fellowship for Improvement of Sports Turf Surfaces will help attract and retain high-achieving, creative and innovative advanced-degree candidates who will conduct research on topics such as plant disease, insect threats, soils, fertilizers, water management, creating safer sports fields and much more.
“These men are icons in the industry,” says Pete Ramsey, president of the Pennsylvania Turfgrass Council. “Their careers have been at the very highest level, and yet they have never forgotten their Penn State roots. Their legacy includes thousands of students whom they have mentored through the years — people who have gone on to become leaders in their own right.”
The Pennsylvania Turfgrass Council was established in 1954 to provide funding to advance turfgrass research at Penn State. Through the years, it has contributed more than $6.4 million to the program, which Ramsey says is considered one of the best in the country.
“We chose to support graduate education because there is always a need for new research to adapt to evolving environmental concerns, new invasive insects, nutrient management practices and new turfgrass cultivars,” Ramsey explains. “Penn State has always blazed the trail and was one of the first to do so. People all around the country know that Penn State turfgrass programs are on the cutting edge, and they depend on Penn State for the latest research as well as for golf course and other sports surface experts.”
“We are so grateful for the vision and generosity of the Pennsylvania Turfgrass Council in establishing three graduate student fellowships,” says Erin Connolly, professor and head of the Department of Plant Science. “These fellowships will enable the training of the next generation of leaders in turfgrass science and will help us to ensure the long-term success of our turfgrass programs.”
“I honestly don’t feel worthy,” said Matt Shaffer when asked about the fellowship named in his honor. Shaffer, a 38-year GCSAA member, graduated from the university’s two-year turfgrass management program in 1974 and retired in 2017. He attributes his success to three factors: great parents; a great wife; and a great mentor, Paul Latshaw.
Latshaw and Andrew McNitt expressed similar sentiments, both saying they were humbled by the honor. All three men said their careers were bolstered by great mentors. All three were mentors themselves, and said inspiring and educating the next generation of leaders is extremely meaningful.
“The most rewarding part of my job is watching alumni succeed,” says McNitt, an eight-year GCSAA member, adding that the new fellowships will help advance the industry through research and attract new leaders to the sports surface professions. At Penn State, McNitt is a professor of soil science, director of the Center for Sports Surface Research, and the program coordinator for the turfgrass science major. He earned all three of his degrees at Penn State.
“If you’re a Penn State grad, it opens a lot of doors,” says Latshaw, a 53-year GCSAA member who graduated from the two-year turfgrass management program in 1964. In 2017, he joined the ranks of Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Ben Crenshaw and others as a recipient of the prestigious Old Tom Morris Award from GCSAA. “First I get that award and now this honor. I am very humbled. I can’t thank the Pennsylvania Turfgrass Council enough.”