Alumni, faculty member honored for accomplishments, contributions

October 27, 2014

Four Penn State alumni and one faculty member were honored with awards recognizing their accomplishments and contributions during an annual event coordinated by the College of Communications Alumni Society Board.

Those honored were Blake Berson (Emerging Professional), Joanne Calabria (Outstanding Alumni), Bill Jaffe (Alumni Achievement), Fran Fisher (Douglas A. Anderson Communications Contributor) and Michel Haigh (Excellence in Teaching).

Dean Marie Hardin presented the awards before family members, fellow alumni and friends during a dinner at the Nittany Lion Inn. Each of the honorees emerged from a nomination process driven by fellow communications alumni and students. Members of the Alumni Society Board selected the winners. 

Here’s a bit about each of the winners:

Blake Berson

Berson, a producer for CBS Sports Network, earned the Emerging Professional Award. A 2005 Penn State graduate, he has already combined his communications and sports talents to work for Penn State, the NFL, ESPN and CBS.

Berson has spent the bulk of his professional career as a producer with CBS Sports Network. He shoots, writes and edits, both short- and long-form features for CBS Sports Network and CBS Sports. He’s won several awards, including those from National Headliner, Cine Golden Eagle, CVG College Sports Media and the New York Festival. Most recently he was a 2014 National Headliner grand award winner for “Auburn Miracle: Prayer at Jordan Hare.”

He has shot and produced “Final Four Confidential,” “Academy Football: Navy,” the “One2One” interview program and all-access features for CBS/Turner programming for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. At ESPN, Berson helped produce features for “Ringside,” “Reel Classics,” “All-time Greatest” and “Sports Century.” And as an intern at NFL Films, he produced more than a dozen pieces, including extensive work on “NFL Playbook.”

Berson honed his craft at Penn State. An early member of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism, he graduated with distinction -- in the classroom and along the sidelines. He was a videographer for the women’s soccer team, produced video for Penn State athletics’ official website,, and had a hand in the development of the “In The Game” course.

Berson also uses his impressive, well-honed skills for charity. He has done extensive volunteer work for the New York City charity (nycTIES) that pairs young professionals with charitable causes. He is the group’s head of media production.

Joanne Calabria

Calabria, vice president of public affairs for CBS Television group and a 1974 Penn State graduate, earned the Outstanding Alumni Award. 

Public affairs have been the heart and soul of Calabria’s 40-plus years in communications. Ranging from her current job with CBS to involvement with breast cancer awareness or winning Emmy Awards, Calabria is a national leader in the public affairs industry. Calabria has worked at KWY-TV in Philadelphia since 1981. Now, as vice president of public affairs for the CBS Television group, she is responsible for developing group-wide public affairs initiatives for the 29 television stations across the country. 

She also heads the communications department for the CBS TV group in Philadelphia, and consultants for the company’s five Philadelphia radio stations. Calabria has built a powerful voice within the stations to spotlight emerging social issues from domestic violence and AIDS to Alzheimer’s disease and autism. These campaigns raised awareness and millions of dollars to support efforts aimed at solving these problems.

Calabria has gone above and beyond her job description as a founding media sponsor of the Susan G. Komen Philadelphia Race for the Cure, transforming the event into one of Philadelphia’s largest races. She also created Lights for the Cure, which is a program that lights the Philadelphia skyline pink in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This campaign has grown to more than 100 buildings in three states. Calabria served on the board of directors of the Philadelphia affiliate of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure from 2007-13, holding the position of board president for four of those years.

For her work, Calabria has received numerous honors, including a Philadelphia Emmy Award for the public service campaign For Kid’s Sake. This program set up ways for children to better understand and utilize children, including building the city’s first working TV studio for children. In 2001, she received the prestigious Hall of Fame Award from the Philadelphia Public Relations Association.

Bill Jaffe

Jaffe, an almost unparalleled volunteer for the University who graduated in 1960, earned the Alumni Achievement Award.

Jaffe is a volunteer of all trades -- and a master of every single one as he touches constituencies across Penn State. He is a past president of the College of Communications Alumni Society Board, a founding board member of the College of Liberal Arts Alumni Society and past president of the Lion’s Paw Alumni Association. In 2000, the Alumni Association named him its Volunteer of the Year. He is a 1996 Alumni Fellow and 2013 Distinguished Alumni award winner. He was a recipient of the Lion’s Paw medal in 2007.

Jaffe’s impact on Penn State began in 1956, when he arrived on campus as a freshman from Philipsburg, Pennsylvania. He was managing editor of The Collegian, president of Sigma Delta Chi and a member of Lion’s Paw and Skull & Bones. (He later served as an officer of each organization’s alumni group.)

Jaffe is past chairman and co-founder of the Dollars for Scholars Golf Tournament, a generous benefactor of many scholarships and a key founder of the College of Communications mentoring program. He developed the alumni board’s first strategic plan, has assisted with internships, has lectured in classrooms and has mentored countless students and younger alumni.

Jaffe was chair of The President’s Club and his resume includes stints, both present and past, as a board and/or committee member of the Renaissance Scholarship Fund, For the Future Campaign and the Alumni Association Alumni Council. He is immediate past chairman of the All-Sports Museum Advisory Board, serves on the Nittany Lion Club Advisory Board, was president of the Mount Nittany Conservancy and is a key volunteer and donor to Centre for Performing Arts, the Palmer Museum and Penn State Hillel. 

After a highly successful career as a vice president with Towers Perrin, Jaffe and his wife, Honey -- an Honorary Alumna in her own right -- moved to State College in 1995.

Fran Fisher

Fisher, known to generations of Penn Staters as “the voice of Penn State football,” earned the Douglas A. Anderson Communications Contributor Award, which was created to honor an industry professional for his or her work in the College of Communications, Penn State and/or the commonwealth. 

No one fits that bill better than Fisher.

An original board member of the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism, Fisher through the years has been a regular guest lecturer in many communications classrooms. And he’s been a mentor, role model, cheerleader and friend to dozens of Penn State broadcast students and industry alumni.

He has worked in a variety of roles for nearly three decades at Penn State. Most notably, as “the voice of Penn State football,” he did play-by-play broadcasts of Nittany Lion football from 1970-1983 and 1994-1999. He first joined the football broadcasts as a color commentator in 1966, before becoming a full-time employee as special projects director in the Penn State Division of Broadcasting in 1970.

Upon stepping down from the broadcasting position in 1983, Fisher became an assistant athletic director and the executive director of the Nittany Lion Club. He retired from those roles in 1988 and then returned to the broadcast booth from 1994-1999. Fran headed the group that created the University’s current logo. He also broadcast Penn State basketball from 1976-1983.

Fisher’s roots with Penn State go back more than 70 years. He was a member of the Blue Band, playing the saxophone, before leaving mid-semester to join the Navy in 1942.

Across Pennsylvania, citizens saw Fisher on public television with regularity for several years. He hosted the “TV Quarterbacks” weekly show featuring coach Joe Paterno. Fisher was inducted into the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1997.

Michel Haigh

Haigh, an associate professor in the Department of Advertising/Public Relations, earned the Excellence in Teaching Award.

Haigh brings a mix of practical and teaching experience that benefits her students each day. She teaches the public relations writing, campaign courses, research methods and freshmen seminar. Along with more than six years as a public relations writer, editor, designer and Web designer, she has co-authored more than 35 conference presentations, seven of which have been recognized with a “Top Paper” award.

She has published more than 25 articles in journals such as Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media and Communication Monographs, among others.

Haigh is a member of the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication (AEJMC) and the Broadcast Education Association. She was an officer in the Communication Theory and Methodology division of AJEMC for five years serving as the teaching standards chair, the Midwinter meeting research chair and program planner and the research paper competition chair. Haigh served on the national planning committees for the 2008 National Outreach Scholarship Conference, and the 2008 and 2009 Emerging Engagement Scholars Workshop.

She has been a faculty senator for the College of Communications since 2009. As a senator, Haigh chaired the retention and transfer committee, the “embedded course” task force and a task force examining duplicate minors.

Haigh was recognized with the College of Communications Deans’ Excellence Award in Research in 2008 and the Deans’ Excellence Award for Service in 2010. She attended the 2011 Scripps Howard Leadership Academy, which brings select, up-and-coming mass communication professionals and scholars together to train the next generation of leaders in journalism and mass communication. Earlier this year, Haigh was named to NerdScholar’s “40 under 40” list of “professors who inspire.”

Last Updated January 09, 2015