First Ray T. Fortunato Award presented for human resources excellence

June 02, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — You may be hearing the name for the first time, but it is entirely likely that you are familiar with the broad and lasting impact of Ray T. Fortunato’s work at Penn State.

If you’ve ever worked with the human resources representative of your college or business unit, you’ve benefited from Fortunato’s vision. If you’ve enjoyed the opening number of every Penn State Glee Club performance — “Hail! Oh Hail!” — you’ve got Fortunato to thank for that, too.

Now, this former leader in the Penn State Office of Human Resources is adding to his legacy with the sponsorship of an award that bears his name, and recognizes employees for their unique contributions and dedication to bettering human resources at Penn State.

The Ray T. Fortunato Award for Excellence in Human Resources, dedicated to acknowledging the importance and impact of human resources at Penn State, was awarded to Cathy O’Connell on May 24 at a ceremony at the Nittany Lion Inn Ballroom.

“Cathy is well-deserving of the Ray T. Fortunato Award for Excellence in Human Resources,” said Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Susan M. Basso. “Her vast knowledge of human resources policy and procedures, her attention to detail, her positive attitude, and her drive to go above and beyond to help others sets her apart and demonstrates her appropriateness for this award.”

A Penn State graduate with a bachelor’s degree in labor and industrial relations, O’Connell began her career with the University in 2001 as a staff assistant in the Office of Human Resources' Employee Relations division. She transitioned to the University Libraries in 2004 where she served as an HR generalist and assistant manager. In 2014, she joined the transactional support center (TSC) as part of the Human Resources Business Process Transformation pilot with the colleges of Arts & Architecture and Education. Most recently, O’Connell has accepted the supervisory role for the HR Services team in the Finance & Business and Intercollegiate Athletics HR consolidation.

Both a monetary and a keepsake award were presented to O’Connell during the May 24 HR community meeting, for which Fortunato, 93, was on hand.

“Often staff members in HR are unappreciated and vilified for making decisions that are unpopular but necessary,” said Fortunato. “My hope in establishing this award is that it will communicate the value we place on your work as HR professionals.” 

The inaugural Ray T. Fortunato Award for Excellence in Human Resources is as much about the celebration of the benefactor’s long and rich legacy as it is about the recognition and continuation of outstanding human resources services to the University.

Fortunato’s journey began when he enrolled at Penn State in the early 1940s. With the outbreak of World War II, he joined the U.S. Army and fought in Germany as an infantry officer, earning two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.

Upon his return, Fortunato continued his education. As a student, he was deeply involved with Penn State’s Thespians and Glee Club as a writer, performer, accompanist, producer and club adviser. Written for his master’s thesis, “Hail! Oh Hail!” is still used today as the Glee Club’s opening number. He was elected to the governing body of the Thespians as one the first student representatives. He would eventually receive his master’s degree in music.

His career in human resources began shortly after, when he joined the Employment Division of Personnel Relations — the precursor to today's Office of Human Resources — as a supervisor in 1948.

As the intermediary between University administration and the college deans and campus chancellors, he worked to develop a team and institutional framework that would best serve an increasingly complex demand, an innovation that inspired the current design of a human resources representative being directly aligned with colleges and academic units.

“With a tireless work ethic and fueled by the belief that people are our most important resource, Mr. Fortunato played an integral role in growing and adapting a small personnel department into the multifaceted division it is today,” Basso said. “While living through the incredible growth and expansion of the University in the time following the war and the major social and economic changes in the workplace in the '50s, '60s, '70s and beyond, Mr. Fortunato understood the challenges ahead and adapted as needed.”

In 1960, Fortunato was named director of the personnel department — a responsibility he held for the next 25 years, retiring as assistant vice president for personnel administration emeritus. During his time at Penn State, Fortunato received the John Wilkinson Award for Administrative Excellence and The Lion’s Paw Medal for service to the University. He served as national president of the College and University Professional Association – HR.

Since retiring from Penn State in 1986 as the assistant vice president for personnel administration, Fortunato continued his dedication to human resources through work as a consultant and the writing of eight human resources-focused books. 

In the afterword of his final book, titled “Instructions to the Wise, Time-Tested Advice for Higher Education HR Professionals,” Fortunato shares gems of wisdom including this final thought: “We must work hard to keep our work simple — understanding that simple does not mean easy, and that the most important quality we can bring to our work is our sense of integrity and empathy for others.”

Now, through Fortunato’s generosity, Penn State is able to extend that innovative legacy to a new generation of human resources professionals. 

Learn more about Fortunato at

Last Updated June 07, 2016