Bardusch family establishes endowment to support IdeaMakers Challenge

Gift to support prizes and experiential opportunities for winners of annual Startup Week entrepreneurial pitch competition


By Jessica Hallman

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — For Bob Bardusch, innovation and entrepreneurship have been integral to his career success.

To foster those skills among Penn State students and position them to be global leaders, Bob and his wife, Susan, have made a gift to establish the Bardusch Family IdeaMakers Challenge Endowment at the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST). Matched 1:1 by the University through the Economic Development Incentive Matching Program, the endowment will support the IdeaMakers Challenge, an annual entrepreneurial pitch competition held annually as part of Penn State Startup Week powered by PNC and sponsored by IST. To honor the endowment, the competition will be named the Bardusch Family IdeaMakers Challenge.

“What is important about the IdeaMakers Challenge is that it really inspires ideation and entrepreneurship, and also the ability to have people think outside the box, generate ideas, and go through the process of design thinking,” said Bob Bardusch. “What I’m hoping is that it inspires students to get involved, to ideate and to come up with new innovative ideas that can be brought to market.”

Bob, who earned his bachelor’s degree in architectural engineering from Penn State in 1988 and currently serves as executive vice president and chief operating officer at Valley National Bank, has been involved with the College of IST since its inception in 1999. In those early years, while working for PNC Financial Services Group, he came to Penn State to recruit business analysts for the company.

“At IST, technology and business come together in this nexus of being able to translate and apply technology into solving business problems,” said Bob. “That’s the glue that really applies ideation and thinking critically about technology to solve business problems in a way that is beneficial for the community as a whole.”

Recognizing that IST graduates were among the best in the country for that role, Bob began to get more involved in guiding the IST curriculum by providing industry insight. He eventually joined the Dean’s Advisory Board in 2008, on which he still serves. He and his family have also endowed a scholarship at IST to support students with financial need, and the couple’s two daughters, Victoria and Alexandra, also both graduated from the College of IST, in 2017 and 2020, respectively.

“The Bardusch family has a strong connection to IST, with Bob’s long-term engagement, an endowed scholarship, and Victoria and Ally as graduates of our programs,” said Andrew Sears, dean of the college. “Their support of the IdeaMakers Challenge advances their dedication to the college and aligns with IST’s mission to educate students who can meet the challenges of the 21st-century Information Age — specifically by fostering their entrepreneurial and innovative drive in this annual competition. We are grateful for the Bardusches’ support of IST’s students and programs.”

Susan Bardusch, who earned a bachelor’s degree in general arts and sciences from Penn State in 1989, said that the opportunity to support an entrepreneurial initiative like the IdeaMakers Challenge — which differs from more traditional donor funding of a professor or scholarship — reminds her of her own time at Penn State. As a student, she was able to build her own degree in the College of the Liberal Arts, and equates the flexibility she was afforded then with the opportunity she has now to encourage students think outside the box and make an impact.

“Entrepreneurship is the way of the present and certainly the way of the future,” she said. “Enabling students to be able to do something with their idea, and not just talk about it in a classroom setting, is very rewarding for them, for the University, and for us.”

The Bardusches’ gift was announced last night (March 25) by Penn State President Eric Barron at the Virtual Student Recognition Reception, Startup Week’s culminating event that celebrates student entrepreneurs and innovators who have placed or advanced in University-wide challenges and competitions during Startup Week and throughout the academic year.

The IdeaMakers Challenge is a one-and-a-half-month competition where interdisciplinary teams of students receive mentoring from faculty, industry leaders and experienced entrepreneurs to develop early-stage business ideas where information technology is a core component of the business model. Teams pitch their ideas to a panel of judges during Penn State Startup Week, for a chance to win prizes that advance their ideas and professional network. The Bardusch Family IdeaMakers Challenge Endowment will provide funding for these opportunities.

Started at IST in 2012, Penn State Startup Week powered by PNC is a University-wide event that takes place every spring and brings some of the leading minds in entrepreneurship and innovation to Penn State campuses across the Commonwealth. Now organized by Invent Penn State, Startup Week features entrepreneurial workshops, networking events, student pitch competitions and presentations from startup founders and corporate innovators, including many Penn State alumni.

The gift was matched through the Economic Development Incentive Matching program, which leverages University funds for select initiatives that will drive job and business creation in the Commonwealth. For more information about the program, contact Heather Winfield at

The 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 hard-working 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


Share this story:

facebook linked in twitter email


College of Engineering Media Relations