DUBOIS, Pa. — Joseph Strasser, a fondly remembered former Penn State DuBois campus executive officer, died June 21 in Voorhees, New Jersey. He was 78 years old.
Strasser served as CEO, a title that has since been changed to “chancellor,” from 1995 to 1997 following a long military career. He was then named the first dean of the newly formed Commonwealth College at Penn State in 1997, which included the DuBois campus. In that role he oversaw 12 campus locations in what became Penn State’s largest college, with an enrollment of 14,000 students, 1,300 faculty and staff, and a budget of roughly $60 million.
While dean of the Commonwealth College, Strasser served as the principal academic leader and chief executive officer of the college, where he was responsible for planning, budgeting, implementation, fundraising, and the quality of teaching and research.
As CEO of Penn State DuBois, Strasser was responsible for administering all campus programs. He spearheaded initiatives resulting in enrollment growth of 17 percent, fundraising in excess of $630,000, the introduction of the occupational therapy assistant program, and a major upgrade in campus technology and physical plant.
“Dr. Strasser really made it his message and mission to have the entire campus own recruitment and retention. He made it a point to get to know campus staff and faculty, and he truly cared about us,” said Melissa Duttry, enrollment director at the DuBois campus. “Dr. Strasser hired me as the admissions officer, and he always wanted me to know that I was not carrying the enrollment by myself. He actually led tours at our Spend A Summer Day open houses. He enjoyed meeting our visitors and was incredibly enthusiastic about Penn State DuBois. He was a man of integrity, a true patriot, kind, compassionate, with an incredible work ethic. I loved him. We stayed in touch over the years since he’s been gone.”
Though his time at Penn State DuBois was short, Strasser made a measurable impact on those who worked with him. He is remembered as an incredibly kind person and highly successful leader.
“I had a chance to know and work with Joe Strasser closely, and had high appreciation for his integrity, sincerity and administrative skill,” said Arshad Kahn, professor of chemistry. “He generously provided support for faculty growth and development in the areas of teaching, research and service. Like many, I am indebted to him for his support toward our growth as faculty. On a personal side, Joe was a wonderful, soft-hearted person.”
In 1996-97 Strasser served on a University-wide steering committee charged with monitoring and helping to guide the development of four new colleges: the Commonwealth College, Penn State Abington, Penn State Altoona, and Penn State Berks-Lehigh Valley. He also served on a design team charged with developing a University-wide leadership and management curriculum.
“Dr. Joe Strasser came to Penn State DuBois at the right time,” said Mary Mino, associate professor of communication arts and sciences and associate chief academic officer. “He was a fair and sensitive leader who boosted the morale of faculty and staff and pointed the campus in the right direction. As the inaugural dean of what is now the University College, he made significant changes to strengthen the college within the University at a time when it was needed.”
Strasser also served on the boards of the DuBois Area Economic Development Corp. and the DuBois Regional Medical Center, the advisory board of the Salvation Army, the executive board of the Boy Scouts of America, Bucktail Council, and the business/industry advisory council of the DuBois Area School District.
“Joe was perhaps the most sensitive person in terms of human relations that I have ever worked with. How he managed to raise the morale of everybody on campus and got everyone feeling positive is what amazed me the most. He made people feel like their input was valuable.”
— Dave Shaffer, former director of University Relations at Penn State DuBois
Before joining Penn State, Strasser had a long and successful career in the U.S. Navy, where he attained the rank of rear admiral. He was president of the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, between 1990 and 1995, and as a Navy career officer he served as senior commander and staff executive in a number of positions.
Strasser graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1963 with a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering. He received a master's degree in international relations (1969), a master's degree in international law and diplomacy (1970), and a doctorate in political science (1971) from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
Dave Shaffer was director of University Relations at Penn State DuBois at the time Strasser arrived on campus. He recalls not knowing what to expect when the accomplished military veteran assumed leadership.
“Many of us were initially apprehensive about what he might be like because he was a rear admiral in the Navy,” Shaffer said. “We wondered if he would be rigid. That is until we met him. It turns out that Joe was perhaps the most sensitive person in terms of human relations that I have ever worked with. How he managed to raise the morale of everybody on campus and got everyone feeling positive is what amazed me the most. He made people feel like their input was valuable.”
Today, the person filling Strasser’s role at Penn State DuBois is Chancellor M. Scott McBride.
“I only wish that I could have known him,” said McBride. “My current colleagues who also worked with Dr. Strasser during his time here have had nothing but praise for his leadership. Judging from their kind words, he must have been quite a gentleman and a leader. I know, firsthand, that his job was not a small one. To be remembered so fondly in that role is telling of one’s character.
“We at Penn State DuBois offer our sincere condolences to Dr. Strasser’s family at this time.”
Strasser left Penn State in 2000 and returned to the Naval War College as foundation director until 2006. He remained active in retirement, volunteering for many boards and committees in his community and church. He also served on the board of directors of the United Services Automobile Association for 14 years.
Family and friends are invited to a viewing from 5-8 p.m. Monday, July 1, at Blake-Doyle Funeral Home, located at 226 W. Collings Ave. in Collingswood, New Jersey. A mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 2, at St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish, St. John Church, located at 809 Park Ave. in Collingswood. Burial will take place at a later date. Remembrances are welcome at blake-doyle.com.