July 2012

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July 2012

Officer Profile

Lea Asbell-Swanger

Barbara E.R. Lucas Sightlines Editor

Lea Asbell-Swanger, center, with her husband Terry and her father, Bubba, at a family celebration before Ms. Asbell-Swanger took office as USITT President on July 1.

Serving as the first USITT President elected after the organization's change to a structure of governance is just a part of what Lea Asbell-Swanger is approaching as she takes over as President July 1.

Lea has a strong connection to both the organization and its changing structure. Before attending her first USITT event she felt she and her Penn State colleagues were isolated. After it, she was struck by the experience, and refreshed to know that others were also isolated, but that there were connections which could help through moments of unpleasantness or to celebrate accomplishments.

"I knew there were others if I needed them, I could reach out to them," she said. That feeling has continued to grow. "I find tools and information to help me articulate what we do – relating our world to the greater world."

While Lea is delighted to see a cohort of long-time associates moving forward and finding and sharing new challenges, she is always finding other individuals and organizations who expand her circle – and "there's always room to grow" she notes.

Many USITT members know Lea from her work on the Management Commission, the 21st Century Task Force, USITT's Board of Directors, and as assistant director of Penn State's Center for the Performing Arts. Just this spring she was inducted as a Fellow of USITT. As chair of the Transition Advisory Team, she led the group who helped interview and select USITT's first Executive Director. That group also recommended changing the Bylaws to have the President and Vice-Presidents serve three-year terms to match the terms of the other Directors on the Board.

Did she expect to run and be the first to serve that term? "Be careful what you wish for," she says.

She feels profoundly connected to the Institute through her work on the Living History Project, where she has interviewed numerous members of the organization. "I hear their stories about how they got started in the industry and USITT – before today's plethora of academic programs and instant communication – and I am amazed by their perseverance and passion and their ability to maintain that through all these years," she says. Her work with the Archives Committee also helped create linkages that are "in my head and inform and influence my perspective."

For her next three years, Lea says wants to be sure the organization keeps moving along the path of keeping the board involved in governance issues. She may let some things settle a bit as people become more comfortable with changes within the organization, and she wants to be sure USITT stays a part of technology upgrades which are sure to change in the next three years, and to be aware of other potential connections.

Since all the work of serving as president of a national organization can be extremely time-consuming, Lea says none of that extensive volunteer time would be possible without the strong support of her husband, Terry Swanger. Terry, a visual artist, specializes in painting and drawing. "We met in a bar, he was there to listen to his roommate perform and I was there to set-up to record the next band" she says, and have been married for 22 years.

Together, Terry and Lea are extremely involved in two very different community organizations in State College. They have been in charge of the Red Ribbon AIDS Walk for the AIDS Project of Centre & Clinton Counties for the past 15 years, bringing together students and the community. She is passionate about bringing attention and funding to an organization helping with HIV and AIDS which are still threats to the student population in her home community. "They are certainly better educated about HIV prevention than my generation and less judgmental, but for some it's still something that happens to someone else," she notes. "We want to support an organization that offers tools that will help them make smart choices and be safe."

In contrast, Coaches vs. Cancer is a much more readily recognized organization and one that donors find much more familiar, unfortunately, often because cancer has had a direct impact on them personally. She and Terry put together four auctions a year, including one at the annual golf tournament run by the Penn State chapter of CVC in State College, and that gig alone could be a full-time job.

"A lot of my professional experience is event-driven, but I have a different reason to do this as a volunteer. As with USITT, it is about the people you get to work with. We form friendships working for a greater purpose. It's a nice balance," she said.

The Asbell-Swanger household also includes two "mostly beagle" members, Pearl and Alex. Pearl, who is often featured in stories, is twelve and a half, and is reputed to be a beagle and Rottweiler mix. Alex is only eight, a very junior member of the team.

With such a track record of keeping on the move, Lea is sure to find the next three years a challenge and a delight.

To see Ms. Asbell-Swanger's remarks as she took the gavel of office in March, click here.