UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Each year the Penn State World Campus Outstanding Alumni Awards recognize the success of alumni as leaders in their field and the impact they have on society and their profession. From a career in service by securing the homeland, to inspiring others by overcoming the odds, all are attributes of this year’s recipients.
Retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. and American Airlines Captain Linda Wackerman is the recipient of the Penn State World Campus Outstanding Graduate Alumni Award. She earned her bachelor of science in aerospace science from Metropolitan State College in Denver, Colorado, was designated a naval aviator in 1987, and has more than 30 years of experience in the U.S. Navy in both active duty and reserve capacities. Wackerman earned her master of professional studies in homeland security from the Penn State Harrisburg School of Public Affairs through Penn State World Campus in 2016.
“While serving as the first commander of the Navy Emergency Preparedness Liaison Officer Program (NEPLO) in all 50 states and territories while advising senior leaders of the U. S. Navy, sister services, Combatant Commands, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in matters of Defense Support of Civil Authorities, and as a pilot for American Airlines, we provided information to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about where we saw vulnerabilities in our transportation security system that could create a place for terrorists to strike and accomplish their mission,” Wackerman said. “The Penn State program was very useful and practical in my everyday life for both the U.S. Navy and airlines. It provided me with a solid foundation of policy, principals and practicality. It also allowed me the opportunity to continue working while learning and growing as a leader.”
Wackerman continues to advise the U.S. Navy and the NEPLO as a senior mentor and is the Navy representative on the Reserve Forces Policy Board for the secretary of defense in Washington, D.C.
Renata Engel, vice provost for Online Education at Penn State, said Wackerman is the exemplar of leadership for other Penn State World Campus students.
“Linda’s stellar accomplishments and long-serving service to our nation in the U.S. Navy rising to rank of rear admiral, along with her career as an international pilot with American Airlines, give us great pride,” Engel said. “Noteworthy is her commitment to helping others to see pathways and their own potential for success.”
William “Monty” Elam is the recipient of the Penn State World Campus Outstanding Undergraduate Alumni Award. He is director of golf at River Ridge Golf Club in Raleigh, North Carolina. Elam earned his associate degree in turfgrass science and management in 2015 and bachelor's degree in turfgrass science from the College of Agricultural Sciences in 2017. He earned both degrees through Penn State World Campus while working full time. Elam also earned a degree in finance from the University of Toledo and is the 2018 recipient of the PGA Deacon Palmer Award. Elam has been legally blind for the past decade, but it has not stopped him from achieving his goals.
“My experience was great. All of my classes were very interesting and being able to work on my assignments when I had time within my busy work schedule was a tremendous asset to me in earning my diplomas,” Elam said. “There is nothing I cannot do but having a visual impairment does have some limitations. The biggest hurdle was not for me, but for other people. Most employers felt I could not do the job because of my disability, especially in my line of work. Some things, like reading, do take a little extra time and not being able to drive does have its setbacks. But every day I manage to make it work perfectly.”
Engel said Elam, like Wackerman, is a tremendous example of persistence in achieving goals, both professionally and academically.
“Monty’s accomplishments and achievements are certainly worthy of our recognition,” Engel said. “Blending his educational background and making incredible adjustments due to life-altering events are both admirable and inspirational. Of note is the additional commitment that he has made to contribute so richly to his community.”