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Women’s History Month: 10 Influential Penn State Alumnae

Penn State’s alumni network is one of the largest in the world, with over 670,000 living members.

Among those alums are thousands of women who are highly accomplished in their respective fields. In honor of Women’s History Month, we put together a list of some of Penn State’s most influential alumnae before we turn the page to April.

Valerie Plame Wilson

Valerie Plame Wilson is an American writer, spy novelist activist, public speaker, and former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer. Wilson’s career as an officer ended suddenly in 2003 when a journalist for The Washington Post, Robert Novak, exposed her position in an incident known as the Plame Affair.

Wilson was born on August 13, 1963, on the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska while her father was working as a lieutenant colonel in the air force. The family then moved to Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, where Wilson attended high school before attending Penn State.

Wilson graduated from Penn State in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in advertising. Wilson joined Pi Beta Phi and worked for The Daily Collegian.

After her identity was compromised, she and her family moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2006. Wilson wrote an account of the day her identity was revealed to the world in her memoir “Fair Game,” released in 2008.

Lara Spencer

Lara Spencer is an author, producer, and co-host of ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Spencer has published bestselling books like “I Brake for Yard Sales” and “Flea Market Fabulous,” and created the show “It’s Worth What?” for NBC.

Spencer was born in New York City on June 19, 1969. She graduated from Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism in 1991. Spencer was a nationally ranked diver and was on an athletic scholarship during her senior year.

Following graduation, Spencer was accepted into the highly competitive NBC Page Program, a fellowship at NBCUniversal’s studios in New York City and Universal City, California. From there, Spencer joined CBS as an affiliate at WDEF-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and worked as a reporter, editor, and producer. Spencer joined News 12 Long Island a year later and soon after anchored for WABC-TV. In 1999, Spencer joined “Good Morning America” as a national correspondent.

Spencer was a guest on “College GameDay” for Penn State’s matchup with Michigan in 2019.

Lisa Salters

Lisa Salters was born on March 6, 1966, in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. Salters covered the O.J. Simpson murder case for ABC and has reported for ESPN since 2000.

Salters graduated from Penn State with a broadcast journalism degree in 1988 while also playing guard for the Lady Lions from 1986 to 1987.

Salters participated in ESPN’s first all-women-led NBA broadcast in 2022.

She is currently a sideline reporter for NBA games on ESPN and ABC, as well as NFL’s Monday Night Football, where she is the longest-tenured reporter in program history. She is also the co-host of ESPN’s awarding winning film and documentary series, “E:60.” Salters has traveled worldwide to cover sports entertainment, including the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan and the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy.

Ali Krieger

Ali Krieger, nicknamed “The Warrior Princess,” was born on July 28, 1984, in Dumfries, Virginia. She is a world-renowned professional soccer player who has played for the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), the highest division of women’s soccer in the United States, and the USWNT. Krieger recently announced her retirement from professional soccer at the end of the 2023 NWSL season.

Krieger graduated from Penn State with a degree in advertising and public relations in 2006. Krieger played on the women’s soccer team during her time at school. She was made captain her senior year and led the Nittany Lions to victory in the 2006 Big Ten Tournament. She also became the only Nittany Lion to earn All-American honors for two positions: midfield and defense.

Krieger has played for Team USA in multiple Summer Olympics and FIFA World Cups. Krieger has also played on club soccer teams such as FFC Frankfurt and the Washington Spirit.

Betty James

Betty James was born on February 13, 1918, in Centre County, Pennsylvania. James was an influential businesswoman who created the name for the Slinky, a toy that her husband Richard James invented in 1943.

James attended Penn State and graduated in the late 1930s. She attended the university at a time when the student population was mostly male — only about 14% of the campus population was female in 1930. This percentage increased to 20% by 1940. While at the university, James met her husband, Richard, who was a mechanical engineering student.

James eventually took over James Industries, the company that manufactured the Slinky, and ran it for 38 years. The Slinky toy was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2000.

James passed away on November 20, 2008, at the age of 90.

Deborah Birx

Deborah Birx was born on April 4, 1956, and grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Birx is an immunologist who notably served as the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator from 2020 to 2021. Birx’s specialty is in HIV and AIDS research, vaccine implementation, and healthcare. She previously served from 2014 to 2020 as the United States Global AIDS Coordinator under Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

Birx earned her B.S. in chemistry from Houghton College. In 1980, she earned her M.D. from the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Birx served in the United States Army as an active-duty reserve officer from 1980 to 1984. She was promoted to colonel in 1994 and was on active duty until 2008. Birx worked as a physician at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center during her time in the army. She also played a large role in leading the HIV vaccine clinical trials, which increased immunity from HIV and AIDS among vaccine holders.

Kelly Ayotte

Kelly Ayotte was born in Nashua, New Hampshire, on June 27, 1968. She finished her undergraduate education in 1990 with a B.A. in political science at Penn State. Ayotte then went on to continue her education at Villanova University School of Law, earning her J.D. in 1993.

After graduation, Ayotte worked as a law clerk for the New Hampshire Supreme Court and as a prosecutor for the New Hampshire Department of Justice.

Ayotte served as New Hampshire’s attorney general from 2004 to 2009. In 2011, she was elected to the senate.

Osas Ighodaro

Osas Ighodaro was born on October 26, 1990, in New York City. She earned her degree in broadcast journalism with minors in theater and entrepreneurship at Penn State. She then went on to earn a master’s degree in fine arts from Pace University.

Ighodaro is a Nigerian American actress and founder of Joyful Joy Foundation, a nonprofit aiming for a “malaria-free Africa.”

Ighodaro has starred in numerous films and television shows, including “Man of God,” “Law & Order,” and “Shuga.”

Patricia Woertz

Patricia Woertz was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on March 17, 1953. She earned her degree in accounting from Penn State in 1974.

Woertz was the CEO and president of Archer Daniels Midland, an agricultural processing company, from 2006 to 2014. She was also the executive vice president at Chevron Corporation.

In 2010, she was ranked the third-most powerful woman in Fortune magazine. Archer Daniels Midland had its most successful year in profit in 2014, earning Woertz the 85th spot on Forbes Magazine’s “The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women.”

Caroline Bowman

Actress Caroline Bowman was born in Howard County, Maryland. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) in musical theater from Penn State in 2010. In 2014, Bowman received the Penn State Alumni Association Alumni Achievement Award, which honors alumni under 35 years of age for professional accomplishments.

While completing her degree, she starred in the play “Fame” in China. She also traveled to Turkey and performed as Rizzo in “Grease.” Bowman received a role as The Lady of the Lake in the musical “Spamalot.” When she returned to New York City, she was offered the lead role in the musical “Wicked.”

Currently, Bowman is touring in the musical “Frozen” as Elsa.

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About the Author

Gracie Mullan

Gracie is a senior from Delaware County, Pa, studying telecommunications with a minor in English. In her free time, Gracie likes to read, write, and drink coffee. Get in touch with Gracie on her Instagram @gracie.mullan and for more formal inquiries [email protected].

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