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Randy Houston Seeks To ‘Build A Better Penn State For All Penn Staters’ In Board Of Trustees Campaign

As a Penn State alum, Randolph “Randy” Houston has been involved with several communities from the moment he stepped foot on campus in 1987, and he continues to do so.

When he started his freshman year, Houston was enrolled as an engineering student. However, he ended up becoming a prelaw major at the College of Liberal Arts.

“I was starting to get disillusioned with engineering,” Houston said. “At that time, I thought I wanted to transfer out of Penn State altogether but realized that there was so much opportunity at Penn State. It wasn’t a question of going somewhere else. It was a question of figuring out what else I was interested in.”

After taking a semester off to figure out his next steps, Houston fully indulged himself with different facets of campus life by becoming a Resident Assistant, while also working for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions as an alumni admissions counselor. Doing so led him to eventually co-found the Student Minority Advisory Recruitment Team (SMART) in 1989, a student-run organization that still functions today.

“I believe that Penn State had a lot to do with making me the man I am,” Houston said. “And, I’ve said that for many, many years. I’ve said it proudly, I’ve said it candidly, I’ve said it openly. I give Penn State a lot of credit for me being the man I am today.”

With these aspects of student life under his belt, Houston offers a unique perspective, as he understands the needs and wants of Penn State students.

“I had a lot of different communities at Penn State that made my experience what it was and made me love Penn State the way I do,” Houston shared. “Those communities were definitely the seed, the genesis of the good experience I had that made me want to come back years later and start serving.”

Since his graduation in 1991, Houston has dedicated hours upon hours to giving back to the Penn State community, first as a board member of the College of the Liberal Arts Alumni Society in 2004, which he eventually became the vice president of in the fall of 2010, then president in the fall of 2012.

During that time, Houston also became a member of the Penn State Alumni Association’s Alumni Council, where he eventually became a member of the executive board and diversity committee.

From the fall of 2017 to the spring of 2019, Houston resided as the vice president of the Alumni Council, then as president in the fall of 2019. Once his term as president was over in 2021, Houston became a member of the Board of Trustees while also working as the assistant general counsel of digital media company BuzzFeed, Inc.

During his time as a Trustee, Houston was on the search committee that ultimately chose Neeli Bendapudi to serve as university president.

Through his experience in these different facets, Houston has made it his mission to create a better Penn State for everyone who calls themselves a “Penn Stater.”

“Going back to 2004 when I started serving liberal arts alumni, having that period of almost 20 years of ramp up to now, where I can look at it and go, ‘OK, I’ve had all this time to learn the entire picture and sort of wrap my arms around it,” Houston said.

Houston feels his lengthy stint serving liberal arts alumni has prepared him to make Penn State better.

“Now, I’m ready to do everything I can do to make all of it better  — better than it’s ever been, better tomorrow than it was today,” he said. “For me, it’s about making us always be the best that we can be.”

One way Houston plans to “build a better Penn State” is to ensure that anyone who wants an education at Penn State can afford it.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do in getting our finances under control,” Houston said. “If the reason that anyone who wants a Penn State education can’t get one is because they can’t afford it, then that’s a problem. We’re not fulfilling our mission if the education is not affordable.”

In addition to creating an affordable education, Houston seeks to ensure that Penn State continues to be an institution filled with diversity and inclusion, while also upholding its history and traditions.

“Penn State should be a place that is inviting to and welcoming of all, where all feel there is a place for them,” Houston said. “Their voices, experiences, and contributions should be respected by all.” 

Over the past 36 years, Houston has seen Penn State grow into a place that he can always call home, no matter where he might be. Seeing the institution from many perspectives has allowed Houston to look around and come up with the right solutions to creating a safe, diverse, and welcoming home for everyone else.

“I’m seeing more people of color coming here,” Houston said. “I’m seeing more people from out of state coming here. I’m seeing all kinds of people from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania going to and wanting to go to Penn State.”

Voting for this year’s trustee election will close on Thursday, May 4. Eligible alumni can request ballots through this online form.

Editor’s note: Houston’s interview is one of 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 seven remaining candidates vying for spots on the board throughout this year’s election cycle.

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About the Author

Evan Halfen

Evan Halfen is a junior broadcast journalism major from Newark, DE, and is one of Onward State's writers. Evan loves all things Penn State, tailgating, being loud, just about any beach, and his puppies, Butterscotch and Wentzy. You can direct all your suggestions, roasts, and jokes to his Instagram: @e.evan.halfen.n or email: [email protected]

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