Volunteer Perspective: Alumni Association leadership Q&A

John Patishnock
October 16, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Learn about the goals and motivation of lifelong Penn State volunteers Steve Wagman, president of the Penn State Alumni Association and a 1982 graduate of the College of Health and Human Development, and Randy Houston, Alumni Association vice president and a 1991 graduate of the College of the Liberal Arts, as they begin their new leadership roles within the Alumni Association. 

Penn State Alumni Association: What are some key goals you hope to achieve for the Alumni Association during your tenure? 

Steve Wagman: The three goals that I have developed are as follows, and I’ve classified them as short, intermediate, and long term. My direct actions as president will be easily linked to one of these three goals and align with our overall strategic plan.

Short Term — Ensure the leadership (Executive Board and full Alumni Council) of the Alumni Association reflects our diverse alumni base and the student composition currently attending Penn State (including the World Campus).

Intermediate Term — Provide meaningful connections between our alumni and students, with the Alumni Association and University (i.e.: diverse programming that includes all — how each member wants to engage and be engaged).

Long Term — Solidify the long-term viability and future of the Penn State Alumni Association (i.e.: membership, corporate sponsorships, and relationship with the University).

Randy Houston: In the short term, I'd like to see our alumni base come together again as one in the wake of the events of the last six years that so divided us. No matter our take on all that happened, didn't happen, or should have happened, we share a common love for this University and its legacy. It’s time we refocus and rally to serve the mission of the University and the Alumni Association.

In the long term, I want to see us explore new ways to appeal to, communicate with, engage, and involve alumni who have historically not been as active — such as brand new and younger alumni, World Campus and other non-traditional alumni, alumni of color, and international alumni — connecting with them by the means and in the manners that are most convenient and appealing to them. This is, admittedly, a “moving target,” as groups and means will change, but we should remain hyper-focused on this task for the foreseeable future.

Penn State Alumni Association: In serving Penn State and the Alumni Association, what have you learned about the Penn State family, and do certain themes emerge when you meet alumni? 

Steve Wagman: In my time serving the Alumni Association, and through my other volunteer activities at the University, I have learned about the prowess, ingenuity and drive of today’s Penn State student. Additionally, the range of experiences available at Penn State, both academically and experientially, that are available to students through their professors, staff, and through our alumni volunteers is incredible. You also get a set of unique experiences as a volunteer, what I call a “behind-the-scenes” look at what this University produces in its students, research, knowledge, and contributions to society. When I engage with students, professors, researchers, and alumni, I get a warm sense that the world is going to be okay despite some of the craziness that we see in the news each day.

I see a high degree of passion from our alumni and students in whatever they undertake. It’s a qualitative difference. I see it in the classroom when I engage with students, and I see it in our alumni when we evaluate the various Alumni Achievement Award applications. Sure, we see the passion at marquee events like THON, athletic events, etc., but that same passion comes through in almost every endeavor, large and small. Frankly, I want to be part of it, and contribute to it. I always tell prospective students and their parents that a decision to attend Penn State is not a four-year association, but rather a lifetime association and network.

The Alumni Association is the single organization charged with maintaining that lifetime connection, and I take great pride in that and recognize that this comes with a tremendous personal responsibility, which I take very seriously.

Randy Houston: I have met Penn Staters and have seen the influence of Penn State on each of the seven continents, from strolling the markets of Marrakesh in Africa to an Antarctic expedition. Comparing Penn Staters to a family is in the right ballpark, but still somehow misses the mark. Beyond the love of the University, beyond the top-of-the-line education we share, there is something deep within us all, something metaphysical, that binds us. No matter how different we might be, "We are ... Penn State." It's next to impossible to articulate, yet we all get it.

Penn State Alumni Association: What’s been the biggest motivating factor in your service to Penn State, and why is it important to maintain that connection?

Steve Wagman: I am very candid when I say that I did not maximize my time as a student at Penn State, especially early in my academic career. Despite that missed opportunity on my part, the University has provided me with so much, including a rich education that has afforded me a wonderful career. I also met my wife early in my sophomore year, and we’ve been together for 38 years, with two children (one a current Penn State student). In a twist of irony, the day of our daughter’s prospective student tour at Penn State, it was also our 30th wedding anniversary — karma, perhaps.

As a volunteer early in my career, I began to learn how much this University has to offer, and although you don’t necessarily get a chance for a “do-over” in life, I made a commitment to myself that I would take advantage of every opportunity afforded to me at Penn State as time progressed as a volunteer. One of the qualities that Penn State instills in us, in many different ways, is an obligation to give back. I value long-term relationships, and I feel a personal obligation to leave Penn State just a little bit better for the future of our University and students.

Randy Houston: Although I thought about transferring out of Penn State following my freshman year, persevering and earning my Penn State degree is the single best decision I have ever made. In short, Penn State helped make me the man I am. I am beyond happy with all I've accomplished, but I'm not finished. In everything I do, personally and professionally, I consider how I might make Penn State proud and how I might use my successes to benefit Penn State. I'm not sure I can list all the reasons the connection to Penn State is important to me, except to say that I will always and forever be connected to Penn State in one or one million different ways.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated October 17, 2017