$2 million estate gift to create faculty chair in aerospace engineering


By Mariah Chuprinski

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Building community is important, according to Robert “Bob” Lengel, and it has to start with strong leadership. A 1968 Penn State graduate in aerospace engineering, Bob and his wife, Sandy, have recently committed approximately $2 million of their estate to build the engineering community and share Bob’s message of effective leadership and communication.

The gift will be utilized to establish an endowed department chair to be known as the Dr. Robert H. and Sandra K. Lengel Chair in Aerospace Engineering.

But more than giving monetarily, Bob hopes to introduce to stakeholders in the College of Engineering what he terms the “front porch initiative” — a communication and leadership concept he developed throughout his career and first observed while growing up in Pottsville.

“On front porches, we become human,” Bob said. “Front porches bridge the divide between public and private life, and they provide a space for friendly, deep conversations to take place.”

In the business world, Bob explained, people can get lost in their own roles when tensions arise, but by creating front porch-like meeting environments, they can talk to each other as human beings and better recognize their commonalities. The metaphorical front porch, functioning either as a virtual or in-person platform, provides a framework in which corporate leaders can converse about hard topics in a welcoming space.

As president of LeaderWork Inc — a business consulting company he founded in 2015 — Bob helps corporate executives and professionals design and host “front porch-like" meeting environments where they can more effectively engage in training, education, consulting, coaching and cross-organizational learning in a way that simultaneously develops individuals’ leadership potential. Bob published a book on the concept in 2018 titled “The Front Porch Revolution: Reclaiming the Time and Space to Slow Down, Talk to Each Other and Lead in an Over-Managed World.”

LeaderWork specializes in bringing together executives and professionals with technical and business backgrounds to create environments for both groups to learn from one another.

“It is our hope that this gift can allow a new faculty member to develop their own front porch and to pass down communication and collaboration skills to their engineering students,” Bob said.

A launching pad for an unusual career

After graduating from Penn State, Bob’s career began at aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, where he met his future wife, Sandy. From there, Bob’s career took him on a journey through experiences in industrial sales of fluid computers, investment brokerage and financial services and research in an environmental think tank.

Desiring to develop business skills to complement his technical education, Bob went on to earn a master’s in business administration (MBA) and a master’s in engineering science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, followed by a doctorate in business administration with a concentration in marine resource management from Texas A&M University.

After completing his education, Bob developed and directed an executive MBA program and an executive education center at the University of Texas at San Antonio incorporating the spirit of the front porch.

“Now as my career comes to an end, I want to give back to Penn State, which through my undergraduate education gave me solid grasp of the engineering fundamentals and provided a launching pad for my career,” he said.

Sandy, an honorary Penn Stater according to Bob, holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Kentucky and an MBA from St. Mary’s University. She spent her career in information systems and technology, working for USAA, Capital Group and, most recently, the Methodist Healthcare System in San Antonio.

“Through the generosity of Sandy and Bob, aerospace engineering will be able to advance its research and teaching mission through the establishment of a new faculty position,” said Amy Pritchett, head of the Department of Aerospace Engineering. “In the spirit of the front porch, the scholar hired for this position will have a special mission to advance how we think about leadership, communication and education in the technical sciences.”

This gift will advance “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by serving communities and fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.


Share this story:

facebook linked in twitter email


Megan Lakatos