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Penn State Board of Trustees Election Winners: Capt. Ryan McCombie, Profile No. 3

by on May 09, 2012 6:06 AM

This is the third in a three-part series about the newly elected Penn State Board of Trustees members, who begin their terms on July 1. Profile No. 3 is Ryan McCombie, who won a seat with 4,806 votes.

Former Navy SEAL and Penn State alum Capt. Ryan McCombie had considered running before, but he didn't think the Board of Trustees needed him.

"Like many people, I thought it was muddling along quite nicely," he said.

But like his country did during the Vietnam War, his time serving as an attaché in France and in the Congo, Penn State's alumni community needed McCombie to be a leader.

McCombie, Class of 1970, said he was so humbled by his fellow alumni electing him to the board because of how much talent the candidate pool of 86 offered voters – which is something McCombie doesn't want to lose.

He likened his expectations for his term to the way his Navy SEALs recruited soldiers. They brought in the best, he said, so a team that was great, but not yet perfect, could be. They adapted each man's individual skill to what would best aid the team, which is what the board needs to do.

"The other candidates are so talented, so engaged – without question, their insights need to be leveraged, so we don't allow a lot of fabulous talent to fall off of the table," McCombie said.

The same way the military has a 25-year plan that it updates every five years to stay current, so Penn State could benefit from absorbing a similar model and making it its own. It will allow the board to be better and more transparent, he said.

"When things happened in November, it was really a lack of any planning," McCombie said. "Obviously, the board has intelligent, successful members.

"Without a plan, what you get is reaction, and nobody's really happy. The military has plans for making plans."

McCombie has plans. A man who knows Penn State – and has, since tuition cost $1,850, and women wore nylons and heels to the dining hall on Sunday – wants to address the ever-rising cost of tuition, and take a serious look at what Penn State has to do help students graduate – not buried in debt.

"It's heartbreaking when you see these bright kids leave school with $60,000 of debt. We need to figure out and understand where the costs are coming from," McCombie said. "This is Pennsylvania's college, and we have to figure out how to keep it Pennsylvania's college."

Moving forward, McCombie said he wants to immediately address the lack of an apology issued to the Paterno family by the board after their hasty firing of the former Penn State football head coach on the evening of Nov. 9.

"It must be resolved quickly, early and well," McCombie said. "It's the elephant in the room.

Next, the board has to understand the scope as well as limits of its own power in order to control it. The captain who is also a husband, father, former executive and international adviser knows something about taking charge.

"It's not good or bad, it's just human nature to accrue power. We have to control that – 15 years is not a term limit.

"I'd go so far as to say the president of the university should have a term limit. Penn State won't have a hard time recruiting a first-class president with term limits. If that had been in place, it could have affected things very differently," McCombie said.

Decisions may be tough, trying and under a lot of scrutiny moving ahead, but the captain is ready to be a voice for the alumni he represents. McCombie said he has no motives but to give back to his alma mater.

McCombie will be the independent voice Penn Staters have been looking for, he said.

"I'll be a good trustee, honest and forward. There's very little ego on my part," he said. "It wasn't just me, it was a great team."

Related coverage:

Laura Nichols is a news reporter and @LC_Nichols on Twitter.
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