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Board Of Trustees Candidate Steve Wagman Focused On Wellbeing Of Students Ahead Of Election

Board of Trustees candidate Steven Wagman’s love for Penn State runs deep.

From the time he was a young kid, Wagman wanted to attend Penn State. He completed one year at the Abington campus to save some money and transferred to University Park for the final three years of his degree in health planning and administration, which is now health policy and administration (HPA).

Wagman admits he wasn’t deeply involved in campus activities, but he did serve as the vice president of the HPA Club. Today, he recognizes he missed out on some opportunities in his first few years at Penn State.

“I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity early in my Penn State career. But it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish,” Wagman said.

Though Wagman is no longer a student at Penn State, he has stayed deeply involved with the university since his graduation. He consistently returns to campus to talk to classes, serves as a mentor to current students, and holds multiple prominent roles within the university as an alumnus.

He first served on the Alumni Society Board for the College of Health and Human Development before being approached by a colleague who suggested that he run for Alumni Council. Wagman wasn’t exactly sure what that was, but after some research decided that it would be a good way to serve the entire university rather than one academic college.

He ran for that position, was elected, and quickly got to work. In his time on the Alumni Council, Wagman connected with other alumni and learned about how the university operates in a way that’s not accessible to the general public.

From there, Wagman continued to climb the ladder. After a year, he was approached to serve on the Alumni Council Executive Board. A few years into his time on the executive board, he ran for vice president of the Penn State Alumni Association, another election he won.

The vice presidency itself a two-year commitment and was followed by a two-year term as president and a subsequent two-year term on the Penn State Board of Trustees, ultimately adding up to a six-year commitment.

Wagman had recently retired from his job and decided he was ready to throw himself into service to Penn State. During his time as vice president and president of the Alumni Association, he became deeply involved in what the Alumni Association did not only for its members but for current Penn State students.

“I learned that the Alumni Association was much more than just a club or getting the magazine. It was really more about continued service and support of our land-grant mission of teaching, research, and service through the 173,000 Alumni Association members,” Wagman said.

Wagman served in the Board of Trustees seat allocated to him as the immediate past president of the Alumni Association with the intention of serving the required two years and moving to something else as an alumnus. However, he began to appreciate the impact the Board of Trustees and the university can have on students.

With this in mind, Wagman ran for an additional term in 2021 and was successfully elected. His work on the Board of Trustees is not yet finished, so he is working toward reelection.

The first issue he wants to continue tackling is the affordability of Penn State. Wagman recognizes this is a partnership with the state and will require state legislators to allocate more money to Penn State.

He explained that other public schools in Pennsylvania, specifically Temple and Pitt, receive over $9,000 per student. Penn State’s allocation, on the other hand, is approximately $5,700 per student. This disparity in funding is unfortunately mainly rectified by an increase in tuition for Penn State students.

Another reason for the tuition increases is the recently discovered budget deficit. Wagman disclosed that when reevaluating the budget coming out of the pandemic, the university did a complete overhaul of the financial systems it used. This led to the discovery that money was being counted in a different way than it should have been, leading to a $140 million budget deficit.

Both of these issues contribute heavily to the recent tuition hikes. While Wagman has felt an obligation to vote in favor of tuition increases to maintain a balanced budget, he explained he would ultimately prefer for tuition to stay level.

Since that’s not currently possible, Wagman worked with the Board of Trustees to introduce a two-year budget so that incoming and current students can have a better understanding of what a Penn State education will cost.

Most importantly, though, Wagman worked on an initiative that brought LiveOn grants to Penn State. The grants provide a full year of housing and food and were developed in response to surveys that displayed high levels of students skipping meals or refusing necessary medical care because they needed the money for food.

The number of LiveOn grants awarded has tripled in size since the initiative began. Now in its third year, there are over 650 grants utilized by students. Wagman calls it a “great step forward.”

Wagman has also advocated for increased funding to Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). In recent years, the graduating class has funded an endowment to CAPS as the class gifts in both 2016 and 2020. This spoke volumes and helped direct where the Board of Trustees invested money.

“Students have donated their graduation money to CAPS and to the food funds. I think our students are stellar and frankly, our alumni have picked up on that… We know that there’s a need out there, and it’s a very difficult balance, but the health and safety of our students in their progress to graduation are paramount in everything that we do,” Wagman said.

Another piece on Wagman’s radar is the cost associated with internships. Many programs at Penn State require an internship that typically is three credits or more, often completed over the summer. This both requires students to pay an additional tuition bill, and for many, prevents them from using time in the summer to work at a job and save money for the school year ahead assuming the internship is unpaid.

Wagman puts a lot of value in the idea of an internship as it provides professional connections and hands-on skills in a student’s field. However, in the future, Wagman hopes to develop grants or endowments that can be used to offset the costs that may come with an internship.

Ultimately, Wagman knows he’s the right person to serve on the Penn State Board of Trustees. Aside from serving on the Board of Trustees, Wagman also serves on the Board of Penn State Health, a relatively new position for him. He worked at Siemens for 40 years and came out of his brief retirement to take on the position of national healthcare business leader with the company.

Penn State Health accounts for approximately 45% of Penn State’s entire budget — a significant proportion. Wagman is the only member of the Board of Trustees who has a career in health care, making his insight deeply valuable and providing experience no other trustee can offer.

“I have the unique perspective of not only the higher education standpoint, but also the experience in healthcare. That’s what makes my candidacy unique amongst all of our trustees, not just those that are running in this cycle,” Wagman said.

Wagman shared a variety of position statements on his LinkedIn account for further discussion on his platform. Wagman is running on a slate with current trustee Brandon Short and former NFL linebacker Carl Nassib.

Voting for the Penn State Board of Trustees election opens at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, April 10, and runs through Thursday, May 2 at 9 a.m. Alumni can cast their votes online.


Editor’s note: Wagman’s interview is one story 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 back to read more about the three candidates vying for spots on the board this election cycle.

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About the Author

Haylee Yocum

Haylee is a 2024 graduate of Penn State with a degree in immunology and infectious disease. She relocated to Williamsport but will not be taking any questions about what’s next in her career. Haylee continues to be fueled by dangerous amounts of caffeine and dreams of smashing the patriarchy. Any questions or discussion about Taylor Swift’s best songs can be directed to @hayleeq8 on Twitter if you must.

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