Tag Archives: Alumni

Kassandra Agee Chandler Broke Barriers as Purdue’s first African American Homecoming Queen

Kassandra “Katie” Agee Chandler was born to a blue-collar family from Gary, Indiana. She originally aspired to attend an out of state college following high school graduation. This plan was disrupted when she was contacted by Dr. Cornell Bell of Purdue University. Bell discovered Kassandra Agee during her senior year of high school and persisted in efforts to recruit her for the Business Opportunity Program (BOP) at Purdue, despite Kassandra’s initial desire to live out of state.

Business Opportunity Program pamphlets

Through the BOP, Dr. Bell brought bright and promising students to enroll in the Krannert Business School. The initiative was started after Bell observed that Krannert and other business schools were historically lacking in diversity, which contributed to an overall lack of diversity in the profession of business.

Business Opportunity Program group photo

After entering the program, students like Agee received mentorship, tutoring, and a sense of family and belonging at Purdue. Kassandra entered the program in the fall of 1977 and graduated in 1981 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from Purdue.

Kassandra Agee Chandler at Homecoming

As a sophomore in the fall of 1978, Agee was elected Purdue’s Homecoming Queen, the first and, to date, only African American Homecoming Queen in Purdue’s history. As a representative of Meredith Residence Halls, she competed against 23 other competitors to win her title.

Newspaper clippings

When reflecting later upon the nomination and campaign experience, Kassandra remembered being told, “They’ll never let you win this.” But she drew upon the strength of her faith, family, friends, and dorm-mates, as well as her own tenacity.

She worked tirelessly on her campaign, going door-to-door, speaking with groups across campus, and hanging campaign posters.

Homecoming campaign materials

She remembered, “I didn’t let it get to me. I never let anyone talk me down…. In the end, I was able to make my family and sisterhood proud…I felt like Cinderella…it was all a collective effort of sisterhood, of campus-hood, of brotherhood.”

Congratulations notes

After winning, Agee received local and national press, as well as campus and community wide support. Along with the many press releases, newspaper clippings, and congratulatory notes, she was invited to appear in the Rose Bowl Parade alongside the Homecoming Queens from the other Big 10 Universities. As she later said, “I’m a blue collar daughter but I was queen on the campus of Purdue. In sharing my story of what is possible during the most improbable and seemingly impossible time, I hope [to] inspire.”

Rose Bowl materials

In addition to her role as Homecoming Queen and a leader for African American students on campus, Agee was also active in extracurricular activities. She was a member of Alpha Lambda Delta freshman honor society, Purdue Pals, and the Black Voices of Inspiration Choir. Agee was also a president and founding member of Purdue’s Society of Minority Managers. She served as a social counselor for the Business Opportunity Program and was a member of the Mortar Board senior honors society.

Mortar Board

Her involvement in student activities reflected her leadership role on campus, as well as her excellent academic record.

After graduating from the Krannert School of Management, Agee held positions at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Exxon, Dow Chemical and Procter & Gamble.

Agee Chandler speaking at podium

In the years since her graduation, she has frequently returned to campus to give presentations on topics ranging from her work in the business world to her experiences as homecoming queen. After years of professional experience working for industry leaders in both the public and private sector, she founded Systematic Design Consultants, where she is the principal consultant. The company is an information technology consulting firm located in Texas.

Cornell Bell letter

Agee is also a founding member of the Business Opportunity Program Alumni Network, which seeks to further the legacy of Dr. Cornell Bell and ensure the continued success of the BOP. The Network engages in fundraising, advising, and seeks to provide a support network for BOP alumni by keeping them connected while providing opportunities that will ensure their continued success in the professional business world.

Kassandra Agee Chandler returns to her alma mater this year to serve as grand marshal of the Boilermaker Night Train Homecoming Parade on September 21. This homecoming is particularly special, as Purdue officially launches the start of its sesquicentennial celebrations from fall 2018 through fall 2019.

The Black Cultural Center is offering a display of historical photographs and related items on Kassandra Agee Chandler, on the 2nd floor near the library, through the end of October. We hope you will join us in celebrating Kassandra’s rich life and legacy — at Purdue, and beyond.


MSA 363, Kassandra Agee Chandler papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries, West Lafayette, Indiana

Chandler, Kassandra Agee. “My Pieces of History: A Queen’s Journey to Archival Peace (and Release).” 6 February, 2018, Krannert Auditorium, West Lafayette, Indiana.

Written by Virginia Pleasant. All images from the Kassandra Agee Chandler papers.

Space Exploration For All: The Eugene A. Cernan Papers

The Barron Hilton Flight and Space Exploration Archives within Purdue Archives and Special Collections contains collections from many distinguished astronauts. Neil Armstrong, David Leestma, Jerry Ross, and Janice Voss have all left their mark on Purdue and humankind. Yet the Eugene A. Cernan papers cast a long shadow of their own. Comprised of 74 boxes organized into 11 series, the collection houses materials which span Cernan’s entire life, from his birth certificate to a letter written to his fellow Boilermakers just last year. It’s enough to keep anyone busy. I would know—I helped to organize it for almost a year.

What exactly is in all those boxes? Some items are simply cool to behold, like the mapbook of the lunar surface[1] and one of Cernan’s spacesuit gloves, worn during Apollo 17 and still covered in grey-like moon dust.  If you’re looking for the kinds of technical minutia that will help you build your own lunar module, you might be disappointed. Sure, there are reports for several Apollo missions, as well as a transcript of Cernan’s log from Gemini 9.  The real value of Cernan’s collection is how it brings NASA’s iconic programs back to Earth. It brings space exploration closer to us, without all that expensive rocket fuel, by provoking questions about who an astronaut like Eugene Cernan really was.

Gene Cernan, front row and center, was a member of Purdue Fijis while a student at Purdue

Gene Cernan, front row and center, was a member of Purdue Fijis while a student at Purdue

Astronauts were not born in their spacesuits, so how did they grow to fit one so nicely? Cernan played sports throughout his youth and engaged actively in the communities at Proviso East High School in Maywood, Illinois and at Purdue University. Between athletics, the Naval ROTC, joining the Purdue chapter of Phi Gamma Delta, and editing two yearbooks, Cernan must have hardly had a moment to himself throughout his education. He even majored in Electrical Engineering, whose students today only have time to sleep while their code compiles. Cernan later got a Masters in Aerospace Engineering from the US Naval Postgraduate School while also serving in the Navy. Cernan’s ascent, it seems, started long before he climbed aboard a rocket, or even joined NASA. It took drive and effort and recognition, but also choice. I’m no scientist, but launching into space appears to involve momentum.

Cernan was a pilot in the United State Navy before joining NASA

Cernan was a pilot in the United State Navy before joining NASA

Eugene Cernan is human, but when did he become superhuman? Newspaper records abound in the collection and honed in on every last detail of Cernan, his family, his colleagues in spacesuits, and the missions he participated in. As much as it mattered to the nation what exactly his missions would accomplish, it mattered how Cernan trained and what he ate for breakfast. It mattered how his wife, Barbara Cernan, felt about her husband’s chances. It mattered whether his daughter, Tracy Cernan, was worried or excited about her father’s mission. It definitely mattered when Cernan broadcast expletives to the entire nation because ‘Snoopy,’ the lunar module, rolled unexpectedly above the moon during Apollo 10. And it mattered not only that Cernan and his colleagues landed safely after each mission, but also how they subsequently engaged with the nation through interviews and tours. The Space Race was won beyond Earth’s atmosphere by a relative few, but it’s impossible to imagine everyday Americans as mere spectators. NASA’s space exploration programs were cultural as well as scientific or political endeavors, and culture only takes on meaning when it is shared among people.

What (conceptual) space in terrestrial American society do astronauts play? Astronauts were and are icons, and the Cernan collection shows it. Telegram after telegram, letter after letter from celebrities, politicians, and business leaders. No fewer than seven sitting presidents corresponded with Cernan to varying degrees. Photos join the correspondence and show Cernan meeting some of those presidents, playing in charity golf tournaments with Bob Hope and Jimmy Demaret, showing NASA facilities to Barbara Eden, taking part in international tours, carrying the Olympic torch, and waving with Neil Armstrong at Ross-Ade’s fifty yard line at a Purdue football game. Astronauts have long been seen as a representation of the best of humanity.  They helped the nation better understand its own potential. The Eugene Cernan papers shows this process was personal, not ethereal.

Earth rise. NASA image, from the Eugene Cernan papers

Earth rise. NASA image, from the Eugene Cernan papers

How do astronauts make meaning of their experiences? A central piece of the Cernan papers records the research and writing process of Cernan’s autobiography, The Last Man on the Moon. Cernan didn’t write the book based on memory alone, but rather reconstructed and reflected upon his experiences using hundreds of personal records which Purdue now houses. For feedback, he called upon the vast array of friends and acquaintances gathered over a lifetime of accomplishment. Their support was later joined by scores of fan letters. In crafting his reflections, Cernan grounded his individual experiences firmly in the broader machinations of society, situating himself as a person who became an astronaut who became a celebrity.

Smarter researchers than me will find the answers to these questions flowing incorporeally through the many pages and artifacts of Cernan’s collection. Which brings us to the heart of the matter: not what the collection offers, but why it exists at all.

During a visit to Purdue’s main campus last year, Cernan observed what’s become of his papers when the Cernan and Armstrong collections were opened for research.[2] I imagine (and I stress the word ‘imagine’ here) that when just about everyone else in the room is clamoring to speak to you, it’s difficult form a cogent thought let alone have a moment of genuine reflection. But the revered Purdue alumnus did reflect, and he had a lot to say. One thing in particular stuck with me: the Cernan papers are here within Purdue Archives and Special Collections to be viewed. This collection could have ended up in the Smithsonian. But it didn’t. Instead Cernan’s papers made their final touch down about a thousand feet from Harry’s Chocolate Shop.

Chicago Tribune editorial 'Astronauts are only human'. From the Eugene A. Cernan papers

Chicago Tribune editorial ‘Astronauts are only human’. From the Eugene A. Cernan papers

Captain Cernan donated to people: to thinkers, to doers, to Boilermakers. Everything from the dusty glove to his boyhood scrapbook is here to help us better understand Cernan’s life and by extension humanity’s first (and last—er, most recent) steps on the moon. If this collection makes anything clear, it’s that those steps were a shared experience on individual and deeply touching levels.

You’ll see it in the fan mail from a young woman pursuing a career in space exploration.

In Cernan’s letter to his mother, written before he knew whether he’d make it back to Earth.

In the newspaper photo showing a young Tracy Cernan pretending to radio her spacewalking father.

In Cernan’s scribbled personal notes, organizing his thoughts before drafting The Last Man on the Moon.

“In the Apollo 17 crew’s dinner menu right after splashdown. “Mare Imbrium Papaya,” for the record, sounds delicious.”

And in the photographed eyes of a young man applying for the NROTC in 1952, not yet aware of the adventures ahead of him.

The Eugene A. Cernan papers promise no more or less than any archival collection: to provide a slice of insight into the shared experiences that shape human lives. But it’s the promise that’s special—the promise of personal enlightenment through the embrace of our collective past. Eugene Cernan has opened the record of his past with this notion in mind, and it’s closer than you might think.

Editor’s Note: Essayist Brian Alberts is a graduate student within the Purdue University Department of History. He served as a graduate research assistant within Archives and Special Collections and was part of the team that processed the Eugene A. Cernan papers.

Reflections on Boiler Pride…

Editor’s Note: Writer Mary Sego is an archival assistant and processing specialist within Archives and Special Collections.

As a Purdue alum and thirty-one year Purdue employee, I always reflect upon Purdue as a new semester begins. I remember back as this Hoosier farm girl took her first steps onto a large campus with hopes and dreams waiting to be fulfilled. I followed in the footsteps of 4 older siblings, and 1 younger followed me. This meant 48 move-in trips for my parents and 16 continuous years of having at least one student on campus, sometimes two or three. I am now seeing the hopes and dreams being realized for the next generation, as now two younger relatives have chosen Purdue for their college educations.

Working in the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center has been an incredible opportunity. I have had the honor and pleasure to have processed 123 collections, including the Neil A. Armstrong papers, along with nearly 700 faculty and alumni folders. I have seen alumni, researchers, faculty and staff, along with the general public come into the Archives, and beam with pride and fascination. I have gone through boxes of unprocessed collections packed by donors that love their alma mater, and only want the best for the generations of Boilermakers that follow in their footsteps. Many feel it is their obligation to give back to the University and their fellow Boilermakers, because they feel Purdue gave so much to them.

Mark Brown on STS-28, August 1989

Mark Brown on STS-28, August 1989



Many of the alumni astronauts have given their collections to Purdue, in hopes that those that follow can learn from the many, many treasures found in their collections.  Indeed, several have taken Purdue memorabilia into space with them, and shared their Purdue pride among the stars. They are truly loyal and dedicated alumni!


Orville Redenbacher, 1928 grad in his Purdue Band uniform

Orville Redenbacher, 1928 grad in his Purdue Band uniform


Other faculty, staff and alumni have also given their papers and collections to Purdue. The names Amelia Earhart, George Ade, John T. McCutcheon, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, and Orville Redenbacher are known to the world. Former Purdue presidents, and many other faculty, staff and alums also have their papers in Archives and Special Collections. Their contributions, and therefore their collections, are treated with equal care and respect as any other.



Ralph S. Johnson, circa 1935

Ralph S. Johnson, circa 1935


Some of the alumni and faculty may not be as well known, but are important none the less.  One such person is Ralph S. Johnson who worked his way through Purdue as a Memorial Union food service worker.  He graduated from Purdue in 1930 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical and Mechanical Engineering and went on to become the chief pilot for United Airlines in 1935. During the early years of WWII, he was responsible for developing and testing a myriad of programs aimed toward air safety. He was awarded a Purdue honorary Doctorate of Engineering in 2008.

Also found in the Purdue Archives are the papers of Charles A. Ellis, educator, structural engineer, and mathematician who joined the Purdue faculty in 1934. Ellis was an expert in bridge design, co-designing the Montreal Harbor Bridge and almost single-handedly designing the structure of the famed Golden Gate Bridge.

Pamphlet from the Purdue University School of Medicine collection

Pamphlet from the Purdue University School of Medicine collection

Few realize that the founder of Arnett Clinic in Lafayette, Dr. Arett C. Arnett, graduated from the Purdue University Medical School. In May, 1906, one hundred and twenty-two students received their diplomas from Purdue University and successfully passed the examination of the State Board of Medical Registration.

In the spring of 1907, Purdue graduated sixty-eight men and four women. In that class was Arett C. Arnett who helped establish a Lafayette clinic in 1922, later known as Arnett Clinic. One can find memorabilia from this class in the Purdue University School of Medicine collection.

Another collection, the John Y. D. Tse papers, comprise a compilation of ten poems and memoirs written by Tse as reflections upon forty years as a management professor, founder of the Krannert Graduate School of Business, entrepreneur, and benefactor to Purdue University. Within the volume are also photographs, reprints of letters written to Dr. Tse by colleagues, an address written by Tse for the 25th anniversary of the Krannert School of Management, and reprints of newspaper clippings and articles about and by Dr. Tse

Many wonderful scrapbooks have been donated to the Purdue Archives, all containing numerous personal items and anecdotes.  One example is the Simeon V. B. Miller scrapbook (1900-1906), which contains memorabilia from Simeon Van Buren Miller’s college career at Purdue University. Involved in the train wreck of 1903, Miller compiled numerous newspaper clippings from the wreck. Simeon Miller followed in the footsteps of his father and two brothers as a member of Phi Delta Theta, and therefore his scrapbook contains a concentration of ephemera from the fraternity.  He was president of the Class of 1905 during his sophomore year, and so the scrapbook also contains items from his tenure as class president. Other miscellaneous items, such as fee statements, dance cards, items from the athletic association and athletic events, score cards and fee statements, newspaper clippings on the tank scrap, and numerous other programs are also included. One can certainly learn a great deal about a person and Purdue from a single scrapbook!

This is just a small sampling of the items that can be found in the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archive and Special Collections. We are here to help you and welcome a visit! You can learn more about Purdue and those that have walked the campus. Feel free to just stop by and say hello!

Our wish for you this semester is to reach for the stars, explore and enjoy your time at Purdue! We hope one day you will consider donating your papers to the Purdue Archives, and helping your fellow Boilermakers for generations to come!

Clipping from the Jerry L. Ross papers

Clipping from the Jerry L. Ross papers