Dan Cocco: Penn State Board of Trustees candidate

April 11, 2014 

Biographical information

New York

Age: 29

Education: B.A. public relations, 2008; M.S. fundraising management, Columbia University, 2011

Work: management consultant, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, New York

Experience and activities: past board member, The Four Diamonds Fund and Dance Marathon Alumni Interest Group; certified consultant, Human Capital Management, Workday Inc.; overall committee of Penn State Interfraternity Panhellenic Dance Marathon, 2006-2008; Council of Commonwealth Student Governments, 2003-2004; Parmi Nous Honor Society Alumni Interest Group; Thon alumni dancer, 2009; alumni mentor, Lion’s Paw Senior Society alumni interest group; life member, Penn State Alumni Association; member, Alumni Association New York City Chapter and Northern New Jersey chapters

Please describe your motivations for running for the Board of Trustees.

I would like to add a unique perspective and insight gained from experience in business, higher education, and non-profit organizations. Earning my Penn State degree and my experience leading Thon are defining moments in my life. I want the same opportunities for current and future students. I plan to make finding solutions to issues affecting students the top priority for the board and our new university president Eric Barron.

I have the proven ability to work with leaders from all Penn State campuses to achieve common goals. As overall chairman for Penn State dance marathon in 2008, I was honored to play an integral role in one of Penn State’s greatest traditions, working with students, alumni, and leadership toward the goal of ending childhood cancer. I also worked with administrators and staff of Penn State’s Children’s Hospital to plan programs that benefited Pennsylvania families. As a Trustee I will work to ensure the promise of a world-class education is continued and that the core mission of our University is fulfilled.

What are the most important challenges ahead for Penn State, and if elected, how would you address them?

Penn State is leading the way in the areas of academics, research, service, and athletics. However, universities are facing greater obstacles than ever before and the board of trustees has a responsibility to find solutions. The board of trustees must be ready to work with incoming President Eric Barron to continue building on recent success while preparing for the future:

1. Offering accessible and affordable world-class education: Put a Penn State education within reach for aspiring students by advocating for increased state funding, controlling budgets directly impacting the cost of tuition, promoting the Commonwealth Campuses, and committing to the expansion of the World Campus.

2. Promoting the best of Penn State: Consistently ranked as one of the top 50 universities in the world, Penn State is a leader in academics, service to the community, and faculty achievements. The University should work to better highlight these accomplishments to attract top students, faculty, and staff to our campuses.

3. Building stronger relationships and uniting Penn State: Explore ways for greater student, administration, faculty, staff, and alumni collaboration to achieve common goals and shared milestones. Partner with the Penn State Alumni Association to find new opportunities for promoting local and regional organizations and interest groups in order to build an even stronger alumni network.

If elected, what position would you support on the topic of Penn State board of trustees reform?

There are multiple proposals for reform under consideration by the board of trustees and by lawmakers in Harrisburg. I feel strongly our trustees should be the ones who make the decisions that will reform Penn State governance and accountability. They should also work toward the goal of closer collaboration with students, alumni, faculty, and staff. Student leaders have presented a plan to finally establish a permanent student trustee on the board. I support their efforts and hope the board accepts their plan.

Critics of the board also often point to slow responses to questions and concerns, highlighting the need for improvements. I recently helped to develop an action plan which includes five steps to improve board transparency and communication:

• Add to its staff a communications professional whose primary responsibility will be to communicate decisions and processes

• A statement of communication policies and procedures should be developed, published and, most importantly, followed

• The board and its staff should work collaboratively with alumni on an ongoing basis to significantly improve two-way communication

• A new forum should be created to communicate directly to students

• Each committee should establish its own page on the board’s website that would be updated after each meeting and/or as events occur.

If elected, what position would you support about Joe Paterno?

The Penn State community acknowledges that Joe Paterno’s legacy will forever be connected to Penn State, and I for one am proud of that fact. If elected to the board of trustees this spring, I pledge to work with fellow board members to develop and submit a proposal to Penn State’s new president, Eric Barron, to establish a presidential commission to honor coach Paterno. The commission would make recommendations regarding how and when the university might honor Joe Paterno and would be composed of a representative group of alumni, faculty, staff, and students.

Joe and Sue Paterno helped to build Penn State into a world-class university and they have served as positive role models in the community. I had the pleasure of meeting with them during Thon events and saw firsthand their dedication to Penn State students. I am proud to be endorsed by Upward State and to run on a platform that recognizes Joe Paterno for his significant contributions to Penn State’s legacy of excellence in academics, service, and athletics. His contributions will never be overlooked or forgotten. While we continue to discuss the plans for celebrating his life, we can honor Joe Paterno today by following his example to always put students first.

Is there anything else you want voters to know about you and your candidacy?

Upward State endorsed my candidacy, along with Julie Harris McHugh and Matt Schuyler because of our desire to set priorities that will unite Penn State and place students at the top of the agenda.

More info: dan.cocco@psualum.com, www.coccoforpsu.com, www.upwardstate.org, www.facebook.com/teamcocco4psu, Twitter: @dancocco, www.linkedin.com/in/dancocco

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