Stay Connected to Penn State … Now and For Life

by Roger Williams

On Penn State campuses across the commonwealth, students are immersed in their schedules, a fall chill is in the air, and alumni are returning to relive those magical college moments. The Penn State Alumni Association is focused on connecting passionate Penn Staters like you and reinforcing the value of your Penn State degree. I’m often asked by alumni, “How can I get involved?” While each person’s approach to staying connected is different, here are some great ways to get involved.

  • Foster your Penn State spirit, no matter how far you are from Dear Old State.

For many, the chance to watch a Penn State game with fellow alumni is the ultimate experience. Connect with a local Penn State chapter to learn about local football-watching parties. Others are interested in connecting with their college or campus via our established alumni societies. Still others prefer to be connected by a common Penn State interest—an alumni interest group. Whichever your preference, there’s a community that’s thrilled to welcome you.

  • Give back to your local community and the broader Penn State family.

Many groups organize events ranging from highway cleanups to golf tournaments that support scholarships for Penn State students from their area. If you’re dedicated to making a difference in your community, your Penn State family is here to help. Click here to find a chapter in your area and begin making a difference.

  • Contribute to projects that preserve Penn State history and the Penn State experience. 

March in the annual Homecoming parade, attend a THON–related fundraising gala, take part in a Penn State student sendoff picnic near you, or join the Volunteer Admissions Program. Live your pride in infinite ways.

With more than 300 affiliate groups—the backbone of your Alumni Association—there’s sure to be a community for you. Visit the Penn State Alumni Association’s website to learn more about ways to connect.

Always remember … WE ARE!!


Roger L. Williams ’73, ’75g, ’88g became the tenth executive director of the Penn State Alumni Association in June 2003. He came to the Alumni Association with more than 25 years of higher education experience in communications, public relations, and marketing, having served as the chief public relations officer at three major universities.

Williams started as a writer–editor in Penn State’s Department of Public Information in 1978 and rose through the ranks of manager of special projects, assistant director and director of Public Information, then served as the assistant vice president and executive director of University Relations (1986–1995). From 1995–2003, he was associate vice president for communications at Georgetown University and associate vice chancellor for university relations at the University of Arkansas.

Williams is also an affiliate associate professor in the Penn State College of Education and serves on the editorial board of the scholarly journal Perspectives on the History of Higher Education.

He holds three degrees from Penn State: a bachelor’s in history, master’s in journalism, and doctorate in higher education.

Williams lives in State College, Pa., with his wife, Karen Magnuson ’75.

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Giving Back: Penn State Alumni Opportunities

by Alysia Diffendal (’03 ChE)

I recently had the opportunity to deliver a speech to graduating seniors of the Chemical Engineering department, just hours before they would don their cap and gown. I was proud and excited to stand in front of them, for it was eleven years ago that I found myself in their shoes; young, eager to face the world, yet nervous about starting my “real” career where I would no longer enjoy a summer break or tackle the brisk walk from east to west campus to arrive just in time for the start of class.

When I graduated in 2003, I didn’t want my relationship with Penn State to end. My experience at the university was phenomenal, and the founding education and coaching I received as a student prepared me so well to for my professional career. How could I deliver a brief message to these graduates that would help them truly appreciate the institution that would soon be written on their diploma, realizing that today was only a new chapter in their relationship with the university? I decided I needed them to realize they could continue to give back.

What does it mean to give back to Penn State? The greatest news is that it can mean so many things! The opportunities to continue your personal relationship with the university are endless.

  • You can offer your time in the form of a mentoring relationship, participation in an alumni group, as a student recruiter for your company, as a coach for an engineering competition
  • You can offer financial donations to a university organization of which you belonged, to THON, to your graduating department, toward a student scholarship
  • You can offer your professional skills as a guest speaker for an engineering course, as a collaborative partner with a professor, as a reviewer of student resumes

Personally, I have found it most rewarding to offer a little bit of all of the above. As a result, my relationship with the university may be stronger today than it was a decade ago and even though it’s in the distant past, I can still hear the leaves crunching underfoot on my walk from Fenske to Hammond building.

For more ideas on how to give back, visit


Alysia Diffendal, is the Global Formulations & Packaging Process Leader for Dow AgroSciences in Indianapolis, Indiana and is responsible to provide cross-functional direction across all geographies to identify, secure resourcing, and track progress of non-capital projects required to deliver supply capability to support the Dow AgroSciences 5-year business plan. She is responsible for key enablers including a defined sourcing work process and successful development of Regional Sourcing Strategies that align with business & regional needs.

Prior to joining Dow AgroSciences, Alysia was the Production Leader for Dow Energy Materials and Advanced Electrolyte Technologies where she led the startup of two new production assets in Michigan Operations. Key initiatives included building the manufacturing organization from scratch within a new business including hiring personnel, establishing policies, and developing/executing strategy as well as implementing systems and administration to accommodate a facility which operates assets for Dow in addition to a Joint Venture. Both startups were executed with zero safety incidents, below budget, and with a highly accelerated schedule. 

After earning her bachelor’s degrees in Chemical Engineering from Penn State in 2003, Alysia held various roles in Dow in Plaquemine, Louisiana and Midland, Michigan sites. Experiences include production engineering, process optimization, capital projects, personnel management, new business development and facility startup, contract manufacturing, and cross-cultural team leadership, specifically in Japan, China, and Taiwan.

Alysia serves as a member of the Penn State Chemical Engineering Alumni Group Leadership Team and is an avid Penn State football fan. Alysia and her husband Mike have a five-year old daughter Talia.


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Engineers Without Borders Heads South for an Alternative Spring Break

by Nick Slavtcheff, ChE, Entrepreneurship (minor) ’16
Alternative Spring Break Coordinator, Engineers Without Borders at Penn State

EWB volunteers gather on the last day of work to say goodbye to JoAnn and celebrate the fantastic progress made on her home.

EWB volunteers gather on the last day of work to say goodbye to JoAnn and celebrate the fantastic progress made on her home.

Where to begin, where to begin. Let’s start at the beginning: A van full of Penn Staters on a alternative spring break trip to Louisiana for Engineers Without Borders. A nineteen hour car ride halfway across the country.

After a bathroom break in Tennessee, the van doesn’t turn back on. OK. We made friends – and created an unrehearsed video to Harlem Shake – while waiting for AAA only to learn that we had a weak battery. There was no time to replace the battery so we continued our trek to the sunshine and the legendary cuisine of Louisiana with only a 50% chance our van would turn back on. Needless to say it was quite an exhilarating experience every time we filled up for gas.

Somehow the odds were in our favor and we were about to make it to our home for the week, Rosaryville Spirit Life Center, a spiritual retreat and convent with beautiful grounds surrounding their chapel and clubhouse, in Ponchatoula, LA. Despite our collective average of one hour of sleep, the first day was a blur as we readied ourselves to get our hands dirty by buying our supplies and repairing the van. We met with our Tamara Danel, our contact from the Fuller Center for Housing, who described the projects that needed the most attention for the week.

As we pulled up to our first site that Monday, it was evident we would have our hands full. We were to assist an elderly, handicapped woman named JoAnn in salvaging her home of nearly fifty years. There were some significant repairs that needed to be made, but the most obvious one was the demolition of the back half of her home that had collapsed in on itself and was leaving the interior of her bedroom and living space exposed to the elements. In addition, the vast majority of her roof was shingle-less and rotting out and we knew replacing her rafters would be no easy task.

The entire Penn State EWB group enjoys a delicious, donated meal of casaba pastaya with their client JoAnn and the Fuller Center staff.

The entire Penn State EWB group enjoys a delicious, donated meal of casaba pastaya with their client JoAnn and the Fuller Center staff.

Just simply being there with her it was palpable how deeply grateful she was as she broke down into tears and prayer and insisted on hugging each of us. Tamara had told us how JoAnn lives in constant fear of snakes entering her home as a result of her property being flooded because of faulty plumbing. There was an incredible work to be done and our volunteers put their hearts and backs into the job right from the beginning.

In addition to working with JoAnn, we also had the pleasure of helping George, a WWII veteran. George’s situation was unique because various community organizations had been doing repairs to his home for roughly a year and it was clear immense progress had already been made. When they first visited the 91-year-old man’s home there were massive holes in the roof and he was sitting in his living room surrounded by buckets to catch the water that came through the holes. As a result, George’s home had been invaded by various insects and reptiles. When we arrived George’s living room had been converted into a covered porch and his roof had been replaced with metal shingles. The Engineers Without Borders team’s main focus:  finishing interior renovations such as stripping out old carpets and drywall, laying new flooring, putting up new drywall, and painting the home, inside and out.


Penn State EWB Alternative Spring Breakers take a break from working on the interior of the home of their client, George (shown third from left).

Penn State EWB Alternative Spring Breakers take a break from working on the interior of the home of their client, George (shown third from left).

It became clear to us that buildings in Louisiana are in constant battle with the wet and volatile climate, and George’s home was no exception. His gratitude was clear to us. Each morning we were there he would wake up early to come spend time on his new porch, sharing with us his life experiences and carpentry knowledge. He even brought out his collection of war medals and exclaimed each time that he had received them because “the president had thought he was a good boy back then.” It turned out that he had actually been a runner up for being on the crew that dropped the hydrogen bombs that ended WWII and it was clearly something that was very dear to him.

By the end of the week we had had a week chalk full of all kinds of experiences. We had made incredible progress on both sites, with JoAnn’s home completely sealed and half her roof replaced with metal shingling, and George’s interior gutted, replaced and painted. We had each eaten what seemed to be a lifetime supply of seafood. We got to dwell in the vibrancy and excitement of New Orleans, and even meet the original cast of Swamp People at their four-generation old alligator and turtle farm.

To say it was a memorable week would be an understatement.

Nick Slavtcheff is majoring in chemical engineering and minoring in entrepreneurship and plans to graduate in May 2016. He’s been part of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) since his freshman year and served as the Alternative Spring Break Coordinator this year after going on the trip in 2013. He says he has always had a passion for humanitarian work and found EWB to be an incredible avenue to pursue that passion. He hopes to be an EWB officer again next year. Originally from Guilford, CT, Nick’s family now calls Washington Crossing, PA, home. 

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ESM Alumni Advisory Board – Hard at Work for the Department

by Rick Schutz (’72 E SC)

Rick SchutzWe, as Penn State alums, generally feel a pretty strong love and affinity for Penn State…and we typically want to give something back to good ‘ole State. The same goes for many Engineering Science and Mechanics (ESM) grads. How can we help current students in ESM to best prepare for good jobs, to make significant impacts in their workplaces and communities, and, in the best case, to make the world a better place?  As someone with many years of experience in the engineering working world I felt that maybe I could help in this effort. This is why I got involved in the ESM Alumni Advisory Board.

Once I got involved with the Board and heard about the current programs and research activities, I was blown away. One example is the intersection of engineering mechanics and medicine; this marriage is leading to once inconceivable breakthroughs. Along these lines, ESM and the Penn State Hershey Medical Center/College of Medicine is now offering a joint MD/PhD  that focuses on developing a new generation of physician engineering scientists who will bring transformational impacts to our society…now that’s what I call interdisciplinary!  Next, how can the study of why water bugs can walk on water or why geckos can stick to walls be important to the real world…would you believe it can help increase the efficiency of turbines?  Examples like this abound!

ESM Alumni SocietyThe mission of the Board is to advance the department’s world-wide recognition by recruiting and retaining diverse, quality students then preparing these students for the work environment while promoting the understanding, attractiveness and perceived value of ESM in industry, research and academia.

The group has 18 members from diverse fields of academia and industry who have benefited from the wonderful multidisciplinary training we all received in ESM. The board is comprised of professors, CEOs of small companies, consultants and small business owners with graduation years ranging from 1960 to 2012! That’s a lot of practical real-life engineering experience!

The Board is currently working to help not only current ESM students but also the department in areas of recruiting, communications, awards, informal mentoring and student/industry networking. As such, we’ve defined four major committees to accomplish these goals: communications and public relations; student and industrial relations; department and university relations; and development and alumni relations.

If you have the same desire I do to put your experience to work helping the department and its students make a mark in the world, get involved with our Board. Contact Jim Smiley, Board chairman, at or Emily Gallagher, ESM alumni coordinator, at for more information.


Rick Schutz is an independent computer software professional in the Washington, DC area. For fifteen years, he was a department manager at PEC Solutions. Prior to this, he worked as an advisory engineer for IBM.

A member of the Engineering Science and Mechanics Alumni Society, serving as chair of the board’s communications and public relations committee, Rick earned a master’s in computer engineering from the University of Michigan. At Penn State, he was a member of Tau Beta Pi, the Symphonic Wind Ensemble, and the Penn Statesmen jazz band.

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