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Steven Wagman Aims To Continue Serving Penn State Through Board Of Trustees

When looking around Happy Valley, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with as rich of a Penn State background as Steven Wagman.

He graduated from Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development in 1982, met his wife on campus, and raised a daughter who earned a Penn State degree. He even has a freezer at home filled to the brim with Death By Chocolate ice cream from Penn State’s Berkey Creamery.

Now, he’s seeking a chance to continue guiding the university forward as one of three alumni-elected members to its Board of Trustees.

Above all else, Wagman said he seeks to use his rich background with the university as a catalyst when potentially serving on the board. He’s previously volunteered for Penn State as a mentor for students, sat on the Alumni Council for nearly a decade, and served as the Penn State Alumni Association’s 80th president from 2017 to 2019. Following his term, Wagman assumed a seat on the Board of Trustees in July 2019.

“I’ve been tied to Penn State. It’s given me pretty much everything I have,” Wagman said. “It’s part of who I am. I always reach back and try to help those who will follow.”

Through his work with the Alumni Association and other councils, Wagman said he developed a deep understanding of just how far Penn State’s influence has spread across the world — something he believes can help the university keep up with an ever-changing education landscape.

“It’s been a wonderful ride. I’ve met literally thousands of alumni as I traveled the country for Penn State events,” Wagman said.

Helping Penn State adapt to new challenges in education sits at the top of Wagman’s priority list if elected. Keeping up with affordability, technological advances, and the apparent decline of a college degree’s value won’t get easier any time soon, he said.

He noted that modernizing campuses is critical, but fiscal responsibility needs to remain a priority, too. Wagman said investing in on-campus infrastructure and resources like laboratories, research initiatives, and classrooms would be a good place to start.

Wagman also wants to place a focus on promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion across the Penn State community.

“Diversity takes on a lot of different facets. It’s not just the things you can see,” he said, specifically citing students who served in the military or come from low-income households.

Rather than immediately implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives, Wagman said he’d like to see the board directly investigate the factors behind those problems at Penn State — namely, low retention rates among faculty of color and low-income students.

“Why do our low-income students graduate at a rate of 22% less than the university average? Why is that? That’s important,” Wagman said. “Unfortunately, we lose faculty members we recruit almost as fast as we recruit them.”

He said implementing new affordability initiatives and stronger faculty mentorship programs could help address those issues. But first, he said Penn State leadership needs to think of the big picture.

“It’s not just, ‘Here are the five things that’ll fix it,'” Wagman said. “Let’s get to the root cause behind some of these issues and then build a solution.”

Additionally, Wagman would be tasked with helping to lead the search for Penn State’s next president if he is elected. Eric Barron said in February he plans on retiring at the end of his current contract in June 2022.

Wagman currently serves as a task force member of the university’s Next Gen Penn State initiative, which seeks to collect feedback from the Penn State community as that search process forges on. Through it, he’s quickly realized that there is no “perfect” candidate for the job.

“The list is long. If you put all the attributes I’ve heard of, that person probably doesn’t exist. That’s a unicorn,” Wagman said. “I’d love to see someone who has the academic background of a research institution, who values the history and the camaraderie of our Penn State community — someone who has the financial skills to manage a $7 billion budget.”

He reiterated that one person doesn’t need to have every skill under their belt to lead Penn State. Rather, Wagman believes whomever the board chooses needs to engage with the community, work with students and faculty, and guide Penn State forward with “a vision for the future.”

Wagman also estimated the United States’ pool of high school graduates will peak in 2026. He said it’s up to Penn State’s next president to kick-start recruiting efforts as the number of prospective Penn Staters potentially dips.

“We can’t rest on our laurels,” Wagman said. “When I was a student, we were a very good state university. We are now a world-class university. How are we going to approach the future as the landscape changes?”

With many issues on the horizon, Penn State could be in for a challenging decade. But with more than 35 years of Penn State experience under his belt, Wagman believes he’s more than fit to serve on Penn State’s Board of Trustees.

“I have an understanding of how the university operates. I know where there’s areas for improvement,” he said. “I’ve worked with our alumni base. I’ve worked with students…I’ve got a broad perspective and a desire to serve. I have the perspective and understanding of how this university operates as well as the challenges we’ll face going forward.”

Voting for this year’s trustee election will close at 9 a.m. on Thursday, May 6. Eligible alumni can request ballots through this online form.

Editor’s note: Wagman’s interview is the latest in a multi-part series that aims to feature alumni running for open seats on the Board of Trustees. Onward State does not, and will not, endorse any candidate(s) in this election. Check out our site to read more about the six candidates vying for spots on the board this election cycle.

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About the Author

Matt DiSanto

Matt proudly served as Onward State’s managing editor for two years until graduating from Penn State with distinction in May 2022. Now, he’s off in the real world doing real things. Send him an email ([email protected]) or follow him on Twitter (@mattdisanto_) to stay in touch.

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