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Earning her stars and stripes

Agricultural sciences student continues all-around success, wins one of OSU’s highest honors

By Tyler Hansen   
May 27, 2016

Vanessa Rutherford, Ecampus agricultural sciences student, sits in front of an American flag while wearing her U.S. Air Force uniform.

Ecampus agricultural sciences student Vanessa Rutherford boasts a 4.0 GPA and is a decorated senior airman in the Air Force who volunteers extensively.

While she was 1,500 miles away on an Air Force base in the middle of Missouri, Vanessa Rutherford was celebrated in Corvallis, Oregon, by a group of people she’s never met.

The occasion? To put it simply, she is one of Oregon State University’s best students.

To be specific, Vanessa – who studies agricultural sciences online with Oregon State Ecampus – was honored May 26 in a ceremony on campus as one of 20 recipients of the Waldo-Cummings Outstanding Student Award.

It is one of the most prestigious awards bestowed by OSU and is representative of combined academic excellence, extracurricular involvement and leadership.

An active duty airman in the Air Force, Vanessa was stunned to learn she won the award. She assumed her peers who study and take part in activities on campus might outshine someone like her who learns online in Middle America.

But that mattered little to the members of the awards committee. In Vanessa, they saw a student with a 4.0 GPA who volunteers at her community food bank, runs a free, personal fitness group for those in her squadron and served as treasurer of a family-based booster club on her base.

“I was surprised to be selected for the award … but it told me that OSU cares more about the quality of people they are producing over what students have necessarily achieved for the university (on campus),” Vanessa says. “That’s pretty important to me as an individual because that’s what I believe in also.”

Excelling in the classroom is nothing new for Vanessa. She was a standout student well before college and still employs her tried-and-true study habits.

But learning agricultural sciences in an online environment has forced her to become a more meticulous student while adding a few new tools to her arsenal.

“My study skills from face-to-face learning only got better being 100 percent online,” she says. “Going to school online requires a lot of introspective criticism and evaluation of your own work and learning style if you want to excel.”

Vanessa, 23, enlisted in the Air Force in 2012 after one year at Washington State University, saying she felt a calling to serve her country. Now she’s a senior airman and metals technology journeyman, a complex job that involves the repair and manufacture of aircraft parts and support equipment.

And it turns out her knack for excellence carries over to the military realm, too: Last year she was named Airman of the Year in her squadron and was promoted ahead of her peers – all while thriving in her online classes.

“Ecampus is great for active duty members. If you are responsible and stay ahead, then schedule changes and glitches are easily managed,” says Vanessa, who wants to work in agriculture education and have her own Future Farmers of America program one day.

“When your personal goals align with your work life, it makes everything easier. I’m just lucky that I enjoy learning and the Air Force and OSU reward that type of behavior.”

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