Engineering alumnus, veteran gives back to military community

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Stan Aungst was drafted a year out of high school to serve with the Army during the Vietnam War, a college degree of any sort — let alone advanced degrees — was the furthest thing from his mind.

However, after two tours serving as a field cryptographer in East and Southeast Asia, and memories of the horrors of war not far behind, he set his sights on academia. Since then he has achieved more during his career than most lifetime academics but he has not forgotten about his roots in the military.

“As a cryptographer, I was sending and deciphering messages via the electromagnetic spectrum on the battlefield, which is how encrypted messages are sent with encrypted algorithms,” said Aungst. “Talk about a different world and a high-stress atmosphere. That whole experience changed me, it changed how I look at life.”

When Aungst returned home to Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, he enrolled at Penn State Schuylkill for two years before coming to University Park, where he earned bachelor’s degrees in Chinese and East Asian history in 1974, graduating with honors.

After commencement, Aungst decided he wanted to stay in academia, so he went to Ohio State and earned a master’s degree in Chinese linguistics and then to Bowling Green State University, where he received his master of business administration with a focus on management information system, operations research and statistics.

It was during his time at Bowling Green that Aungst met and became friends with a former graduate student of Alan Soyster, who was the head of the Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering Department at Penn State at the time. That friend put the bug in his ear about industrial engineering and the work being done at Penn State and a few years later, Aungst applied for his doctoral degree.

And the rest, as they say, was history.

“It was intimidating coming back to Penn State to start such an immersive degree program when I was in my mid-40s. I was no spring chicken,” Aungst said. “But everyone here was so welcoming and it didn’t take me long to find my footing.”

He worked in industry for a few years but academia was always his calling.

Aungst has held several positions at Penn State in the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), the Smeal College of Business, and beyond. He taught business classes in Smeal while working toward his doctorate in industrial engineering, and he went to Penn State Behrend to teach business and management systems.

Aungst, an original organizer of Military Appreciation Day at Penn State and currently a research associate in the College of IST, earned his doctorate in industrial engineering from Penn State in 2000 when he was 52 years old.

Military Appreciation Day, which started 10 years ago as Operation Salute, has grown into a program that welcomes 10,000 members of the military community to Penn State each fall for food, football and camaraderie. 

Aungst’s relationship with the Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering (IME) — particularly with Dan Supko, lead technician in the Factory for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) and Michael Immel, instructor — led to the department sponsoring Aungst’s efforts to unify the military community, a tradition that continues to this day.

“Stan’s tenacity and the undying respect he has for current service members and veterans are incredible,” said Immel. “His dedication and reverence are why this has become such an extraordinary and meaningful event.”

Supko and Travis Richner, technician, make commemorative Penn State bottle openers in the FAME facility in the Leonhard Building that are presented to the donors of Military Appreciation Day on game day.

“I am very thankful to the IME department for giving me the opportunity to pursue my Ph.D. at 44 years of age,” Augnst said. “The support that everyone here gives to the military is just fantastic, and I’m just so proud to be an alum.”

His road to academia was anything but traditional, but it’s his blue-collar background and strong work ethic that he credits with his phenomenal academic career.

In fact, its Aungst’s momentum that is responsible for starting the IST program at Penn State Mont Alto and establishing the security and risk analysis major in the College of IST at University Park. He currently works at the Center for Network-Centric Cognition and Information Fusion in IST and is planning to retire in June 2017.

Largely due to Aungst’s influence and contributions, the College of IST is also a sponsor of Military Appreciation Day.

As the event approaches, Aungst couldn’t help but reflect on his journey, which has been nothing short of extraordinary, despite his modest nature.

“Bringing community together, supporting our country and making people happy, that’s what we’re trying to do through this event,” he said. “I am so grateful to Penn State for all of the opportunities I have been given and I’d like to believe that my parents, who only had eighth-grade educations, would be proud of me if they were still here. ”

Aungst also credits his wife, Wilma, for encouraging him to pursue his career goals.

This year’s Military Appreciation Day celebration will be held on Saturday, Nov. 5, and will feature a tailgate at the Bryce Jordan Center at 3 p.m., followed by the Nittany Lions hosting Iowa under the lights at Beaver Stadium.

“It has been a humbling experience to work with Stan, the IME department and other volunteers to support this endeavor,” added Immel. “I truly appreciate the opportunity that the IME department has had over the past few years to demonstrate our support for those individuals who have proudly served our country.”

Last Updated November 01, 2016