Penn State president wins national Hesburgh Award for leadership

Washington, D.C. — Graham Spanier, president of Penn State, today was named the winner of the 2009 TIAA-CREF Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence.

The national award, presented by the TIAA-CREF Institute, is named in honor of the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame. The award recognizes a current college or university president or chancellor who embodies Father Hesburgh's spirit, commitment and contributions to higher education and society. Father Hesburgh is considered one of the most influential figures in higher education in recent history. He was a member of the TIAA-CREF Board of Overseers for 28 years.

"Through the TIAA-CREF Hesburgh Award, we recognize leadership excellence in the higher education community," said Madeleine d’Ambrosio, vice president and executive director, the TIAA-CREF Institute. "It underscores the historic and unique partnership between TIAA-CREF and our nation’s colleges and universities and reflects the TIAA-CREF Institute’s deep commitment to support those whose work contributes to the greater good."

The award, which carries a $20,000 honorarium, was presented at the American Council on Education's annual meeting in Washington, D.C. Spanier plans to donate the award funds to endow a scholarship fund for Penn State students.

Spanier was appointed Penn State's 16th president in 1995. Since then, he has internationalized the University, was instrumental in developing the International Center for the Study of Terrorism, advanced the use of technology in higher education and helped create programs to educate students about alcohol abuse.   Enrollment has increased 21 percent during his tenure and the University's endowment has increased 359 percent.

Spanier had the opportunity to meet with Father Hesburgh at Notre Dame in January 2009, and the two men shared thoughts on leadership excellence. A video of a portion of their conversation can be found at /video/179737/2013/02/09/video-no-title.

"Vision is what leadership is all about," said Rev. Hesburgh, nationally renowned educator and world humanitarian. "Leadership is how you bring that vision into reality.  If you want people to go with you, you have to share a vision."

Spanier agreed. "Leadership is about vision first and foremost, but it's also about getting it done. There also has to be execution. It's about creating an environment where it's possible for everyone to succeed and feel good about what they are doing."

When asked to name the greatest issues facing higher education today, Spanier explained, "We instinctively want to talk about the budget, the financial crisis, endowments and legislative funding. But the greatest challenges we face are issues of character, conscience, citizenship and social responsibility among our students."

While President Spanier's accomplishments are varied and many, he would most like to be remembered for "humanizing the university." Trained as a family sociologist, demographer and marriage and family therapist, his vision and exceptional leadership skills have had a global impact, and his energy, optimism and good humor have created an "unconventional" approach to the modern university presidency.

TIAA-CREF is a national financial services organization and the leading provider of retirement services in the academic, research, medical and cultural fields. The TIAA-CREF Institute helps higher education leaders make informed decisions about the business of higher education and lifelong financial security.  To learn more about the Institute, please visit

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Last Updated July 22, 2015