Alumnus recalls how a Penn State legend helped to mold his future

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Frank Sisti, a College of Education alumnus who graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in secondary education, has enjoyed a long and successful career. Since his graduation, he has earned multiple graduate degrees, including a doctorate in management and organizational leadership. His successful career has included work in project management, risk management and software leadership. Sisti has also held multiple leadership positions in the military, serving in Vietnam, South Korea and as staff director on two commissions for President Ronald Reagan. Currently, he is the executive director of the Systematic Leadership Institute in Phoenix.

But on a dark night in 1963, Sisti’s future did not always seem so bright. Fortunately for Sisti, he encountered a Penn State legend who showed him what it means to be a Penn Stater.

“A fond memory of my Penn State experience would have to be when I entered my sophomore year,” said Sisti. “I was coming to University Park from the Penn State Forestry Academy at the Mont Alto campus.”

Sisti said he had finished preparing his matriculation cards, which were used by students to obtain a seat in a particular class by going to the main floor of Rec Hall and literally holding up their cards when professors opened their classes. At the end of the day, he said he felt that he had constructed a solid term of classes. However, after speaking to his roommate, he discovered that he had botched his class times.

Rec Hall

Rec Hall in the early 1960s

Image: Penn State

“I quickly got my bike and pedaled back to the gym in the dark only to discover the maintenance folks were sweeping up the discarded cards, and no one else was to be seen,” said Sisti. “I stood there, in the center of the basketball court, crestfallen, sorting out in my mind how my college career was already destroyed when I hadn’t even attended one class at University Park.”

Sisti said that at that moment, out of the shadows of one of the archways that surround the floor, came a white-haired gentleman who walked up and asked why he seemed so distraught.

“I explained my situation, and I was especially upset because it was of my own making,” said Sisti.

Sisti said that he suspected that his scholastic career was at a premature end. He added that the white-haired gentleman seemed truly concerned and spoke in a confident tone.

“He asked me to wait there for another moment,” said Sisti. “He went back under another arch and seemed to be making a phone call. Shortly, he returned and, through a broad smile, he told me to pedal over to Old Main, approach a side entrance and knock on the door. He said things would work out.”

Sisti departed on his bike in the dark. He said he thought to himself that this could have been a joke, but he did what the white-haired gentleman said. He went up to that door and knocked.

“An elderly lady answered and ushered me into her office in the president’s suite where she sat down and, working on her desk, she put my term class-load together by hand,” said Sisti. “As you can imagine I was more than grateful, and as I got up to leave, I turned to her and asked, ‘Who was the gentleman who had helped me so much and had called her?’ She looked at me with a strange smile and just simply said, ‘Why, that was Rip Engle!’”

Rip Engle

Penn State's 13th football coach, Rip Engle compiled a 104-48-4 record from 1950 to 1966. 

Image: Penn State

“I never had the chance to thank Rip for the help he provided a wet-behind-the-ears sophomore because the coach was in the process of turning over the reins of the football team to a new young coach named Joe Paterno. But I will always and forever remember that his kindness and strength that evening exhibited the finest traditions of Penn State at all levels,” said Sisti. “That story haunts me still in a profound way, one that my work in leadership must always reflect.”

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Last Updated July 23, 2014