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Twenty Famous Penn State Alumni

With one in every 117 American college graduates obtaining a degree from Dear Old State, we have more than a few famous faces among us. In addition to over 90 Olympic athletes, 11 past and present Congressional representatives, and 332 Nittany Lions selected in the NFL draft, a number of noteworthy names are scattered throughout Penn State history. From the co-creator of the Slinky, to the CEO of Nike, here are 20 famous Penn State alumni who you might not know about and the cool things that they have done since:

1. Adam McKay

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Image from IMBD.com

What He Did Here: McKay was only at Penn State for one school year and a summer session. But, because he never graduated from college, we’re going to call Happy Valley his home.
What He’s Famous For: He’s the writer and producer of Step Brothers and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, among other hilarious movies.

2. Mark Parker

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Image from Telegraph.co.uk

What He Did Here: He was a champion runner for Penn State’s team and graduated in 1977.
What He’s Famous For: Since 2006, Mark Parker has been the President and CEO of Nike. According to Forbes, his compensation is worth upwards of $15 million per year.

3. Lara Spencer

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Image from griffintechnology.com

What She Did Here: Throughout her time at Penn State, Lara Spencer was a member of the swimming and diving team. She graduated in 1991 with a degree in broadcast journalism. This year, she is the grand marshal of the Homecoming Parade.
What She’s Famous For: Spencer began her television career on HGTV. In August 2014, she was promoted to co-host of Good Morning America.

4. Betty James

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Image from USA Today

What She Did Here: She graduated in 1938.
What She’s Famous For: Mrs. James invented and marketed the Slinky with the help of her husband, Robert T. James. Although Mr. James is credited for the invention of the popular children’s toy, Betty James is the one who made a business of the springs he was playing with and gave the idea a name.

5. Carmen Finestra

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Image by Julia Hatmaker at PennLive

What He Did Here: He graduated from Penn State in 1971.
What He’s Famous For: Finestra was a writer and producer on Home Improvement and The Cosby Show. He was nominated for six Primetime Emmys.

6. Ty Burrell
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Image from USA Today

What He Did Here: Burrell came to Penn State to get his Masters degree in Fine Arts. During his time here, he lived in his van… a textbook version of the “starving artist.”
What He’s Famous For: In 2009, Burrell got his big break with the role of Phil Dunphy from Modern Family. The show now pulls in about 12 million viewers per episode.

7. Jef Raskin

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Image from thegentlemensjournal.com

What He Did Here: Raskin completed his master’s degree in computer science in 1967. His first computer program was developed here as a part of his master’s thesis.
What He’s Famous For: Raskin is dubbed the “Father of the Macintosh.” He was one of the first employees for Apple and wanted a computer that was easier for people to use. He also gave the Macintosh its namesake, after his favorite kind of apple.

8. Robert Bruce Banner (otherwise known as The Hulk)

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Image from marvel.wikia.com

What He Did Here: He meets Walter Langkowski (Sasquatch).
What He’s Famous For: His Gamma Bomb detonates, and physicist Bruce Banner is transformed into the Incredible Hulk. He is the only fictional character to make our list, but it’s pretty cool that Penn State made it into a Marvel comic.

9. Guion Bluford

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Image from nasa.gov

What He Did Here: He studied aerospace engineering and graduated in 1964.
What He’s Famous For: Bluford was the first African American to travel in space as a specialist aboard the Challenger on the mission STS-8.

10. John Aniston

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Image from NY Daily News

What He Did Here: He earned a BA degree in Theater Arts.
What He’s Famous For: Aniston has been a popular soap opera actor (he’s most acclaimed for his role on Days of Our Lives), but his other claim to fame is his talented daughter, Jennifer Aniston.

11. John Cappelletti

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Image from newsobserver.com

What He Did Here: He was a running back for the Nittany Lions and helped the team achieve its 12-0 season in 1973. He majored in law enforcement and corrections. He is the only Penn State football player to have his number retired.
What He’s Famous For: Cappelletti is Penn State’s only Heisman Trophy winner. He went on to play for the Los Angeles Rams and later the San Diego Chargers.

12. Steve McCurry

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Image from timeinturkey.org

What He Did Here: He graduated from the College of Arts and Architecture in 1974.
What He’s Famous For: A photographer for National Geographic, McCurry shot one of the “most widely recognized photos in the world today” called “The Afghan Girl” in 1985. The photo was displayed at the Palmer Art Museum on campus.

13. Herman Fisher

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Image from yourvintagelifeblog.com

What He Did Here: He obtained a degree from the school of business in 1921 while also working for the yearbook and the Phroth. There’s a spot on campus now called the Fisher Plaza, located on West campus between Kern and Chambers.
What He’s Famous For: He is one of the co-founders of the Fisher-Price Toy Company, a leader in its field since the early 1930’s.

14. Margaret Carlson

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Image from Meet The Press, NBC

What She Did Here: She graduated in 1966, after majoring in English.
What She’s Famous For: Carlson made history when she became TIME Magazine’s first female columnist; she took the job of White House Correspondent in 1994. She now writes for Bloomberg News.

15. Steven E. de Souza
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Image from IMBD.com

What He Did Here: While at Penn State, he was a student of William Tenn, a sci-fi author who would greatly influence the rest of Souza’s career.
What He’s Famous For: One of only a few screenwriters whose films have generated $2 billion at the box office, Souza’s work in film is noteworthy. He produced Die Hard and Die Hard 2, as well as the television shows Knight Rider and Six Million Dollar Man.

16. Patricia Woertz

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Image from the Committee for Economic Development

What She Did Here: She received a degree in accounting after graduating in 1974.
What She’s Famous For: She is the President and CEO at Archer Daniels Midland Company. She has been recognized in Fortune Magazine as one of the 25 most influential leaders of the year for her work with BioEnergy.

17. Julius J. Epstein

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Image from fold3.com

What He Did Here: He and his twin brother both attended Penn State and were members of the varsity wrestling team. Epstein graduated in 1931 with a BA in Arts and Letters.
What He’s Famous For: Epstein was a screenwriter and producer whose claim to fame is the 1943 Academy Award winning film Casablanca.

18. Michael Barry Reid

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Image from footballcardgallery.com

What He Did Here: He was the only Penn State player to win the Outland Trophy for “outstanding interior lineman in college football.” Before graduating in 1969, he was the lead role in Penn State’s production of “Guys and Dolls” and earned a heavyweight wrestling title.
What He’s Famous For: Mike Reid might be the only person in history to be a pro-football-player-gone-country-singer. For four years, he was the defensive lineman for the Cincinnati Bengals. He has written several successful country singles, including “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt. He also won a Grammy Award for “Stranger In My House” by Ronnie Milsap.

19. Tom Verducci

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Image from the Penn Stater

What He Did Here: Tom Verducci joined the baseball team as a walk-on, and worked for the Daily Collegian until he graduated in 1982.
What He’s Famous For: Verducci is one of the most respected writers in baseball, having covered the sport for Sports Illustrated, FOX, and MLB Network.

20. Keegan Michael Key

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Image from celebhairdo.com

What He Did Here: Key earned his Masters Degree in Fine Arts here in Happy Valley. Two years ago, he did an interview with Onward State where he said that “three of the best years of my life were spent at Penn State.”
What He’s Famous For: He began his career as an actor and writer on MadTV. He is best known for Key & Peele, a comedy sketch show with his partner Jordan Peele. The show is now on it’s fourth season and is best known for skits such as the “East/West Bowl” (featuring Penn State’s own Hingle McCringleberry!) and “Obama’s Anger Translator“.

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About the Author

Alex Calderaro

Alex Calderaro is a junior majoring in Supply Chain Management from Central Jersey. As a first generation Penn Stater, she has found a home here in several places, including her sorority, and, of course, Onward State. You can contact her at [email protected] or follow her on twitter @alexcalderaro.

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