CENTER VALLEY, Pa. – Bob Wolfe arrived at Penn State Lehigh Valley in 2011 with decades of business world experience.
Now, after more than a decade of sharing his accumulated expertise with countless students, Wolfe is calling it a day. On June 30, the longtime faculty member will officially retire from his duties as lecturer in economics and Corporate Communication (CC) program coordinator.
For the Bangor resident, the reason was a simple yet important one – family.
“My kids and grandkids all live in the South,” he said. “My wife, Carol, and I want to be able to spend more time with them and less time driving back and forth to visit them. We’ll also enjoy not having to dig out of the snow and ice and a longer period of warm weather.”
Wolfe will certainly be missed by students, faculty and staff alike, said Assistant Professor of Corporate Communication Beth E. Michalec. She referred to Wolfe as “the bedrock” of the CC program.
“Bob’s calm guidance, willingness to listen and collaborate, and reach shared decisions and responsibilities have made the PSU-LV Corporate Communication faculty better leaders, better teachers and better people,” Michalec said. “Bob’s leadership epitomizes the 'team-first' mentality. His advising knowledge and skills, as well as his genuine desire and willingness to help each student, set the standard for excellence. Countless students have benefited from his care in crafting personalized degree programs and scheduling options with meticulous detail.”
Former PSU-LV faculty member Kasey Hudak, now an associate professor of corporate communication at Penn State New Kensington, said Wolfe has “the biggest heart and the most patience” of anyone she’s ever met.
“Bob's calm and optimistic energy lessened every stressful situation. No matter the problem, he always made me feel like we could solve it together. Everything was a discussion and you always felt heard and seen when working with Bob,” Hudak said. “Having Bob as a colleague and friend was the best part of my time at PSU-LV. His mentorship and support made a lasting impact on me, both professionally and personally.”
Director of Business Programs Maung Min said he’ll miss Wolfe’s attention to detail, especially when it came to the complexities of student advising.
“I started here in August 2016 and Bob helped me tremendously in understanding the process and guiding me through this maze. Now, thanks to him, I can do the same helping recent faculty,” Min said. “Bob was passionate about advising students, and went above and beyond helping them.”
An Indiana native, Wolfe spent many years in the business world before coming to PSU-LV. At age 28, he started a computer software company that created programming tools for the then-emerging personal computer market. At its height, the company sold its software in 30 countries.
Though still a silent partner in the company, Wolfe eventually decided to retire from its day-to-day operations to pursue a second career in academia.
Wolfe primarily taught courses in microeconomics and macroeconomics. His passion for the subject stems from the fact that “economics impacts almost every aspect of our daily lives,” he said.
“Economics at its very core involves the choices we make as individuals, as business owners, and even collectively as a society,” Wolfe said. “Getting an education, a job, buying a car or a house, or even going to the grocery store or on vacation all involve choices made in order to maximize an objective, whether that’s increasing our wealth, job security, residential comfort, well-being or convenience in addition to thousands of other objectives we may value.”
Sophomore business major Lara Abdelahad took Wolfe for two economics courses. Both times, she said, he made learning “come alive.”
“There's no one quite like a special teacher, and no teacher quite as special as Professor Wolfe,” she said. “Professor Wolfe is the teacher who takes a hand, opens a mind, and touches a heart. With him, you feel that economics is one of the most interesting and essential subjects to learn. You feel that economics is part of your daily life and if you ignore it, you are missing something important in your daily activities. Professor Wolfe may be just a teacher to the world, but I can guarantee that he is a hero to his students. He knows how to bring out the best in us.”
Junior business major Qofi Quainoo first met Wolfe in the summer of 2017, when he enrolled in Wolfe’s ECON 102 course as a rising high school senior.
“His patience and willingness to sit with me for hours and break down complex subject matter was inspiring. That class with him instilled in me the confidence to continue my education at a prominent level when I went to college,” Quainoo said. “Beyond being my professor and adviser, I’ve realized that I have found myself a friend and a mentor for life in Professor Wolfe.”
First-year aerospace engineering major Jordan Williams took Wolfe’s microeconomics course in Fall 2021. At first, he thought that the class would be “just another monotonous general education course.”
“I’m now glad to say that I was wrong,” Williams said. “Professor Wolfe was an amazing professor. His class was always a joy for me to attend and there was always something new and interesting for me to learn about. He did a great job of making economics exciting.”
Meanwhile, Wolfe went out of his way to help Williams in other ways. They’ve had conversations regarding Williams’ future career path, and Wolfe connected Williams with a former student regarding an internship with Johnson & Johnson.
“I would have never expected to be presented with such great opportunities at such an early time in my college career,” Williams said. “Professor Wolfe was the first professor to actually reach out to me concerning my career and to refer me to opportunities that would help me to succeed in the future.”
Outside the classroom, Wolfe served in a number of different capacities, including as chair of the Faculty Invitational Lecture Series and as a member of the executive committee and advisory board for Lehigh Valley LaunchBox powered by Penn State.
He’s proud of that work, as well as his role in helping to grow the Corporate Communication program. In honor of his contributions to the program, the campus recently established a Corporate Communication scholarship fund in his name.
“Bob has been such a force of positivity and inspiration for so many of us that we couldn’t let him leave without something truly special to mark his time here,” Chancellor Tina Q. Richardson said while announcing the scholarship at the spring Commencement ceremony.
“I was honored to have been appointed the Corporate Communication program coordinator. It's a great degree program that offers our communication students wonderful career opportunities thanks to our very talented communication faculty,” said Wolfe, the recipient of several campus awards through the years, including the SARA Award and the Outstanding Contribution in Outreach and Service.
As far as specific retirement plans, Wolfe said he doesn’t have any, other than enjoying his family and more leisure time, becoming fluent in German, and possibly resuming guitar lessons.
One thing is certain, though, he said — he’ll miss his PSU-LV family dearly.
“In my opinion, the best part of Penn State Lehigh Valley is the people who work here,” Wolfe said. “The administration and staff members are always very helpful, collegial and professional and have helped me resolve any challenges I faced from time to time, and I always appreciated that. My fellow faculty members have frequently impressed me with their expertise, concern for their students and collegiality. It’s been an honor, pleasure and privilege to have had the opportunity to work with them. I'll miss Penn State Lehigh Valley, but I'll have lots of happy memories.”
“Bob’s retirement from PSU-LV is bittersweet,” Michalec added. “But his legacy will shine brightly for years to come.”