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For Retiring Penn State Administrator Life has Been a Series of Wild Adventures

by on May 23, 2014 6:15 AM

Paul Ruskin's first paid job at Penn State was as an undergraduate, part-time researcher where he found himself hanging upside-down in caves collecting rocks.

His next job was as an underwater researcher where he went into a machine at the Natatorium that would pull him backward with increasing force as he tried to swim forward. Researchers collected all of the gases Ruskin exhaled to analyze.

Ruskin, a founding member of the Nittany Divers club, was doing the research along with a number of football players. He found himself able to handle his breathing and remain in the water for about 12 minutes "and I beat all of the football players, which really amazes me," Ruskin says.

Later, while studying anthropology as an undergraduate student, Ruskin met his wife, Barbara, on an archeological dig at Raystown Dam where they uncovered weaving, pottery, parts of moccasins and arrowheads. After Ruskin earned a master's degree at Penn State in broadcasting, he joined the U.S. Air Force and found himself stationed in Galena, Alaska along the Yukon River in case the Soviet Union attacked.

Utilizing his broadcast background, Ruskin provided news and entertainment to the troops. When he wasn't working, he'd lie down on the frozen Yukon River and stare at the Aurora Borealis, go dog sledding, and scheme a plan to "smuggle" his wife to Alaska.

At first, the couple lived in the woods, until a Native American chief took pity on them and offered them a home in his village, which turned out to be a shack. But the newlyweds accepted the offer.

Next, Ruskin was stationed on an air base in Madrid where he reported the evening news. At one point officials received information that terrorists threatened to attack the radio station at night. Ruskin worked at the station every night, alone. With the threat, guards were placed at the entrance and Ruskin was instructed to shoot the transmitter if the terrorists got by the guards.

Fortunately, the terrorists never followed through with the threat.

While in Madrid, Ruskin and his wife, traveled Europe where the first of two daughters was born. Ruskin also hired a talent agent to help get him behind-the-scenes work in the film industry.

Unexpectedly, he landed an audition with MGM Studios in Madrid. In the scene he was supposed to light a woman's cigarette – but instead, he walked up to her, took the cigarette and gave her a lecture about the dangers of smoking. The bold move left the crew laughing and landed him a small role in the Sean Connery film "The Wind and the Lion."

Shortly after, Ruskin left the military while faced with a job offer with Paramount TV. At the same time, he had a full-time job offer from Penn State.

Ruskin thought, "Do I take a real job at Penn State and work for the university I graduated from twice or do I take the long shot and go to Hollywood?"

Ruskin and his wife opted for Penn State where he worked on a new TV studio and produced radio and TV programs. At one point he was sent to Pakistan where he taught residents how to produce and edit video and set up remote portable production. Years later, the hotels where he stayed and worked would be destroyed by terrorists' bombs.

While he was in Pakistan he received a telegram from Brian Winston, dean of the College of Communications at Penn State, saying "come and see me" when he returned to State College. Back in town, Ruskin helped relocate the college from campus to downtown while new facilities were constructed. He worked closely with the Office of Physical Plant during the process.

Ultimately, 16 years ago, Ruskin would join the Office of Physical Plant as communications and public affairs coordinator where he informed the news media and the public about construction and other projects on campus. After 38 years with Penn State, he is retiring May 31.

"It's been a great 38 years," says Ruskin.

Ruskin has also served at the university's Sustainability Institute, an issue that he's always been passionate about. For example, a hobby of his for decades has been to turn off the lights on campus in areas that aren't being used.

"Electricity is produced by burning coal somewhere and it caused carbon emissions and greenhouse gases," Ruskin says. "So this is my little part."

His hobby led to a volunteer effort by the student organization Council of Lionhearts, where students volunteer on Friday nights to go around campus and turn off unneeded lights.

"If they didn't do that they might be on all weekend," Ruskin says. "My little hobby has turned into a volunteer movement on campus to teach students the importance of living a sustainable lifestyle."

During retirement, Ruskin plans to make more time for his outdoor interests, like skiing and scuba diving. He and his wife also plan to go back to the way they met – by volunteering for an archeological excavation. Ruskin also wants to receive training in radio astronomy at the National Radio Observatory in West Virginia. And, of course, Ruskin wants to spend more time with his two daughters and five grandchildren.

All in all, Ruskin says he's had quite the career.

"It was one adventure that sort of led to another," he says.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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