Alumnus of the Year: James L. Rosenberger ‘68

By Steve Shenk | July 20th, 2015

James-RosenbergerJames L. Rosenberger ’68 is not your average college professor. Sure, he teaches, researches, advises graduate students, and serves on committees, which he’s been doing for nearly 40 years at Pennsylvania State University. But in recent years, he also won election to the local city council and is now its president, built a straw-bale house and become a cattle farmer, and helped begin a campus ministry called 3rd Way Collective.

Politics came unexpectedly when the mayor of State College encouraged Rosenberger to run in 2007 for the borough council. He received more votes than any other candidate for the open seats. “I had never given this any serious thought,” he says, “but having lived in downtown State College for 30 years, I felt I could be a reconciling voice for addressing local issues in a college town.”

The straw-bale house, called Bergenblick, is on a farm 10 miles from town that Rosenberger, his wife and another couple bought 17 years ago. In a partnership with their tenant in the farm house, the group started a small herd of Scottish Highland cattle.

The 3rd Way Collective is a recent outcome of a long-time conversation at University Mennonite Church about an Anabaptist campus ministry that would offer a “third way” – neither Protestant nor Catholic – for students to view Christianity. A year ago the church hired a campus pastor. “We are seeing how our congregation can have an impact at Penn State under the ‘peace, justice and faith’ banner,” he says.

His global interests began at EMU, when Rosenberger spent his junior year in Germany. He studied at Philips University in Marburg, under the Brethren Colleges Abroad program. (EMU’s cross-cultural trips began in 1972, four years after Rosenberger graduated, and became mandatory in 1982.)

Rosenberger’s dream after college, where he majored in mathematics, was to go to Africa with the Teachers Abroad Program of Mennonite Central Committee. But that dream was delayed while he waited for his future wife, Gloria Horst ’70, to graduate. In the meantime, he went to New York City to work as a data analyst at New York University Medical Center and begin graduate studies in math.

In December 1975, while working on a PhD in biometrics from Cornell University, Rosenberger joined the Penn State faculty as a statistics professor. He has been there ever since. He chaired the statistics department from 1991 until 2006, when he stepped down to develop and lead the university’s online master’s program in applied statistics. “This takes our practical courses in applied statistics to mid-career persons working in a variety of fields who want to develop additional skills in statistics and data science,” he says.

While at Penn State, Rosenberger has been able to pursue his interest in cross-cultural experiences. In 1984, he finally fulfilled his dream of teaching in Africa. For two years, he taught and trained graduate students at the University of Zimbabwe. His third child was born there. In 1988, he and his family went to Switzerland for part of his sabbatical year, and in 2003, he taught one semester in Taiwan.

Over the years, Rosenberger was involved in several national organizations, serving as vice president of the American Statistical Association, directing the statistics program for the National Science Foundation and chairing the board of Mennonite Education Agency.

All three of Rosenberger’s children are EMU graduates. Grant ’99 owns an Ace hardware store in State College. He is married to Laura Dell’Olio ’99. Laura Rosenberger ’03, who was an elite pole-vaulter at EMU, is a chief resident in surgery at the University of Virginia Medical Center. She is married to David Mauro, a radiologist. Kurt Rosenberger ’06, an artist-carpenter in Harrisonburg, was featured in the local newspaper earlier this year for living in a “little house” – a 284-square-foot environmentally sustainable dwelling owned by Nathan K. Musselman ’00.