Liberal Arts alumni manager to retire after 23 years of service

Susan Burlingame
November 23, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Chris Gamble, manager of alumni relations for the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts, will retire at the end of December after 23 years with the University.

“I have enjoyed every minute of it,” Gamble said when asked to reflect on his time at Penn State. “I was able to do important work in a job that fit my skill set perfectly.”

Originally from Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, Gamble earned his bachelor’s degree in mineral economics from Penn State in 1982 and headed to Houston, Texas, where he worked in the energy industry, a field he soon realized was not right for him.

“I was looking for something more people-oriented, more outdoorsy, so I came back to the Centre region and took an internship at Shaver’s Creek [Environmental Center],” Gamble said. “It was a fortuitous move because it’s where I met my wife, Lisa, who was a new staff member there.”

Gamble earned a master’s degree in counselor education at Penn State, after which he and Lisa moved to the Adirondacks where Gamble became a YMCA camp director. Their two children, Cedric and Sarah, were born soon after they moved to New York. Gamble next took a similar job at a YMCA in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts before realizing that this line of work, while gratifying, kept him from spending time with his children.

“I loved the work, but it just didn’t feel like it was ‘family first,’” he said. “The kids were in school, and I was busy on the weekends. I didn’t want them to grow up that way, so I decided to tap my network at Penn State and apply for an entry level fundraising job in liberal arts. I interviewed for the position, and while I was not offered the job, my good fortune was that a couple of months later, there was an opening in liberal arts that was perfect for me.”

Gamble joined the College of the Liberal Arts as assistant to the dean in 1997 and was named manager of alumni relations in 2003. He has been responsible for developing relationships with alumni to keep them engaged with their alma mater — planning alumni activities such as awards banquets and departmental events, managing the college’s Alumni Society Board, and much more. His proudest accomplishment, he said, was launching the Liberal Arts Alumni Mentor Program in 2004, a volunteer program that pairs undergraduate students with liberal arts alumni working in fields related to the students’ major. Since its inception, the mentor program has paired more than 2,000 students with alumni mentors who help them navigate the transition from college to work or advanced education. Liberal arts alumni with graduation years from 1965 to 2019 and from across the United States and several other countries participate.

“Serving as a liberal arts mentor for over 14 years has been enormously interesting and rewarding for me thanks to Chris and his mission-driven, purposeful approach to continuously evolving the program to more effectively address students’ changing behaviors and needs,” said 1970 English alumna Linda Belfus, retired senior vice president of Elsevier, a worldwide provider of web-based, digital information for science and health professionals. Belfus received the 2017 Outstanding Alumni Award from the College of the Liberal Arts. “All mentors would agree that not only is Chris remarkably knowledgeable, insightful, supportive, and personable, he is also an enthusiastic, tireless advocate for helping Penn State students achieve their goals and fulfill their potential.”

Once fully ensconced in his position at Penn State, Gamble incorporated his many other talents and interests — music, nature, fitness, outdoor activities — into his Happy Valley life. He biked to work frequently, ran an indoor cycling class at the University, taught yoga classes (most recently doing so to raise money for Penn State’s United Way campaign), and picked up the trombone he once played in the Blue Band and joined several local musical groups. He also volunteered for the Harris Township Planning Commission.

These are some of the activities he hopes to do more of after he retires.

“Once I decompress from the agendas, projects, and deadlines, I plan to spend the next chapter of my life doing more of the things I love,” he said. “Self-discovery, composing music, nature, travel. I think of it as exploring the world without and the world within. I hope it will be a long next chapter.”

What will he miss the most?

“It has been so gratifying to be part of something important — advancing the liberal arts,” he said. “These are the people who will lead teams, craft effective strategies, and solve the problems of the world. I will miss working with fascinating faculty, great students, really wonderful colleagues, and of course the amazing alumni, but most of all, I will miss the robust, immensely energizing atmosphere of campus.”

“If Penn State had a dictionary, there would be a picture of Chris next to the words ‘alumni relations,’” declared Randy Sones, president of the Liberal Arts Alumni Society Board. “Chris embodies the heart and soul of Penn State and the College of the Liberal Arts. He has dedicated his career to establishing relationships with colleagues and alumni that will continue long past his retirement.  While we certainly will miss Chris, his legacy at the college and University will endure for decades to come.”

When asked what advice he has for his successor, Gamble turned to the power of relationship-building.

“Pay attention and be mindful of people’s joys and sorrows, life experiences, and life journeys,” he said. “Get to know your alumni and volunteers deeply. Good relationships lead to good outcomes.”

“Chris was instrumental in building a preeminent alumni engagement and relations operation, offering meaningful opportunities for liberal arts alumni at every stage of their post-Penn State journey,” said Geoff Halberstadt, senior director of development. “He has modeled the skills and character traits for colleagues in alumni relations — and beyond — and the scope and depth of his relationships reflect the authenticity Chris brought to his work. We will dearly miss working with him, but we look forward to expanding upon the superb foundation Chris built for us.”

  • Gill Street Band May 2015

    Chris Gamble, fourth from left, as a member of Jackie Brown and the Gill Street Band.

    IMAGE: Courtesy of Chris Gamble
Last Updated November 24, 2020