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Another One Bites the Dust

by on April 22, 2013 6:25 AM

I’ve worked at Penn State for almost 20 years. In that time, my department has been merged and un-merged at least twice. We’ve had four different Deans, three office relocations and, this summer we will be welcoming our fifth department head – all since I started as an adjunct instructor back in 1992.

The many students, staff, and faculty who have passed through Penn State and have had an impact on my life are too numerous to count.

Like many people who work in the same place for a long time, I sometimes feel like I’ve become part of the institution. Have a question about a student’s transcripts? Need to submit a faculty senate petition? How do we get a room for a special event?

I’ve been at Penn State long enough that for almost every question or problem, I know the person on the other end of the phone – usually by first name – who can help me navigate this very big university.

At the end of this semester, we are losing one of those people who I have counted on for so many years. A friend and fellow “hold them to high standards” colleague is hanging up her hat and cruising off to retirement.

Sandy Klinger Meyer is retiring.

I don’t even remember when I first met Sandy but, as Assistant Director for the Morgan Center for Athletic Advising, it was probably in an interaction about a student athlete. We hit it off right away, most likely because we both see student advising and teaching as a delicate balance between holding students to high standards and understanding that young people sometimes need to be nurtured, given a break or at times, offered a figurative kick in the butt.

Sandy came to Penn State just a few years ahead of me. Like many women in our co-hort, Sandy left her first job out of college, teaching English at State High, to stay at home with her own babies. When she decided to re-enter the work force, it was as an adjunct English instructor at Penn State, her alma mater. One of her kids, Geoff, eventually ended up in Recreation, Park and Tourism Management, and in my classroom.

Sandy’s incredible skills with students and her ability to make connections with colleagues eventually drew her to athletics.

Back in the days when the oversight of athletics fell within an academic department, Sandy was asked to develop a transition program for at-risk freshmen athletes. She and others wondered how Penn State could be proactive in addressing the challenges facing student-athletes who are often unprepared and easily distracted by the pressures of being a Division I competitor.

That first year transition program was basically the first reiteration of the “First Year Seminar” that all students at Penn State are now required to complete. As her career and recognition both at Penn State and on the national level soared, Sandy continued to teach that class to new student-athletes.

When the Morgan Center was established in 1987, it made sense for Sandy to be a part of the team. Starting with men’s basketball, where she spent 21 years as the academic advisor, Sandy has been the Morgan Center academic advisor for women’s swimming and diving, fencing, ice hockey, field hockey and wrestling.

She meets with student recruits and their families and then helps students identify and meet their academic goals. She gets to know the kids, builds relationships with their parents, holds their feet to the fire if they don’t do what they need to in class, and makes them cookies.

She’s seen coaching changes, the inevitable politics, the evolution of the “star” collegiate athlete in today’s sports crazy culture, and yes, the fallout of a scandal from a front row seat.

I thought I was one of the few who require students to sing if they are late for class. Sandy’s tardy students have to sing the Alma Mater.

Sandy has presented at professional meetings all over the nation on topics related to academic advising for athletics and has served as a peer reviewer for NCAA universities in their certification. She served as President of National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics (N4A) and in 2010 was awarded their Lan Hewlett Award for Outstanding Student-Athlete Advising.

She has been one of those people on the other end of the phone or email who I could count on to help me do my best for students.

Over the years, Sandy has worked with National Champions, Olympians, future professional athletes, and kids who couldn’t juggle academics and athletics, who ended up leaving the university. She’s attended their weddings, gets baby announcements in the mail and remains connected to many athlete-alumni. She’s done that with support, tough love and a reminder that there are careers after sports.

Sandy popped into my office last week; she was in the area and stopped in to chat. We talked about how students have changed over the years – more dependent, greater involvement from parents and, at times, a heightened sense of entitlement.

She talked about the next step in her journey. I’m going to miss her insight and her humor and her unfaltering devotion to helping students be the best they can be. I can’t count the number of times that we have worked together helping a kid get over the bump and reinforcing the message that the degree will be what remains consistent after the sport goes away.

The saying goes that none of us is irreplaceable. That might be true but sometimes the hole that is left when one of the good guys go is hard to refill. Good luck Sandy. I’ll miss you.

Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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