Young alumni inspire through professional achievements

For Laura Rosenberger, Class of 2002, the honor extended way beyond receiving an award.

Rosenberger was named an Alumni Achievement Award recipient last year, earning a distinction that spotlights Penn State graduates who are 35 years of age or younger who have shown extraordinary professional accomplishment. Since its inception in 2005, the award program has honored nearly 100 Penn State graduates.

Rosenberger is the director for China and Korea on the National Security Staff at the White House. She provides analysis and recommendations to the president and senior national security officials regarding U.S. policy on China and the Korean Peninsula, and coordinates these policies across the U.S. government.

Prior to joining the National Security Staff, she focused on Asia-Pacific affairs for more than eight years in a number of positions at the State Department.

It had been three or four years since Rosenberger had been on campus when she traveled to University Park to accept the award. Once she arrived, all the familiar sights and sounds surfaced again, as well as did familiar faces.

“One of the great things about receiving the award was it was a way to get back to campus, connect with old professors, reconnect with alumni,” said Rosenberger, who in between her busy schedule offers career counseling and mentoring to current and former students.

Rosenberger also said it was great to network with the other award honorees who gathered on campus for the ceremony. Certain themes emerged, she said, as they shared their stories with one another and current Penn State students.

Rosenberger’s message: Leave yourself open to options and opportunities, and don’t be afraid to act on them. This is especially true, considering Rosenberger said working in the White House wasn’t on her radar upon graduating.

She got there by taking advantage of one opportunity after another, she said.

“As a student, you expect to have a linear path in front of you and really in practice, it’s much more of a weaving line,” said Rosenberger, who majored in sociology, psychology and women’s studies. “As you go forward it’s about finding your way at different forks in the road and taking those chances.”

The Alumni Achievement Award is modeled after the Alumni Fellow Award, with the stipulation that recipients are 35 or younger.

When Alumni Association Executive Director Roger Williams, ’73, ’75g, ’88g, began his post in 2003, there were already awards in place to honor outstanding alumni. But Williams said there was an opportunity to recognize those who made an impact soon after graduating.

"The intent was to launch a program that would connect high-achieving younger alums to students, so we could demonstrate to students that you didn't have to look like me or be out of college 30 or 40 years before we recognized you,” Williams said. “We wanted students to see that Penn State alumni can accomplish a lot, very quickly, early on in their professional lives.

"We also want to engage them as early as possible on their upward career trajectories so that they keep their bond with the University as tight as possible.”

Nominations are solicited from the deans of the academic colleges and the chancellors of the Penn State campuses in consultation with department chairpersons and faculty.

The selection committee includes, but is not limited to, the provost of the University, an academic dean and chancellor, the vice president for development and alumni relations, the vice president of university relations, chair of the Alumni Council Awards Committee and the executive director of the Alumni Association.

Robert Landis, ’63, has co-chaired the committee for the last few years as a volunteer. Landis, who was honored with the Alumni Fellow Award in 2003, said the committee usually receives about 15 nominations, with the number increasing over the last four years.

But more importantly, Landis said, the nominees reflect an increased quality in terms of the significance the young Penn State graduates are contributing to society.

The nominees also continue to represent diverse backgrounds, Landis said, in regard to gender, race and ethnicity. It’s also not surprising for entrepreneurs to be among the candidates.

This may be Landis’ last year as chair of the committee; he’s ending the second of his two three-year terms after previously serving as co-chair. While he can re-join after sitting out a year, the active and long-term volunteer isn’t sure whether or not that will happen.

What Landis does know is that serving on the committee has been “a good part” of his life. He humbly said he felt honored to be a part of recognizing the Penn States graduates fortunate enough to win and that he was continually impressed with the nominees. That’s what kept him involved as a volunteer all these years.

“It’s just amazing when you see the large number of people and see some of the stuff they’ve done. These are fantastic people,” Landis said. “You just feel so proud when you see them. That’s the reward I get out of it.”

To view Rosenberger’s acceptance speech, click here.

To view Rosenberger’s bio, click here.

For a list of all the Alumni Achievement Award winners, click here.

To download a nomination form and read more information on the Alumni Achievement Award, click here.

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Last Updated February 18, 2014