Penn State Alumnus Greg Woodman: From Student Entrepreneur to CEO

Penn State Alumnus Greg Woodman: From Student Entrepreneur to CEO

Greg Woodman’s entrepreneurial journey at Penn State and beyond

Penn State University is renowned for producing successful alumni across various fields. Among them is Greg Woodman, a Class of 1983 graduate, who has turned his student-run business into a thriving venture. Woodman’s story exemplifies the unique opportunities and resilience fostered in Happy Valley, showcasing the impact of a Penn State education.

Building a Business at Penn State

During his time at Penn State, Woodman established Happy Valley Promotions, a student-run business that produced and sold novelty Penn State merchandise. Despite not being the top student academically, Woodman focused on his entrepreneurial venture, blending real-life business experience with his coursework. His dedication and creativity laid the foundation for his future success.

Woodman recalls, “I was doing Penn State novelties, t-shirts, posters, and the ‘Are You A Penn Stater Guide Book.’ Since I was a college student and was in classes about creativity and product development, I would team up with my fellow classmates and create products. So I was blending in a real-life student business, relationships with professors, and a curriculum that I could hand-pick. I really loved it.”

The Challenges of Student Entrepreneurship

Woodman’s student entrepreneurship venture faced skepticism during the late 1970s and early 1980s. While today’s student entrepreneurs are celebrated, Woodman and his team were initially seen as “goofballs.” However, the experience of running Happy Valley Promotions provided them with invaluable business skills, both inside and outside the classroom.

Woodman reflects, “Back then it was like, ‘Who is the oddball hucking t-shirts at Beaver Stadium on the weekends?’ Now, you’re celebrated as an innovative young student. We were just the goofballs back then.”

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Translating Entrepreneurial Experience into Career Success

Today, Woodman is the CEO of Affinity Connections, a fundraising-driven organization that connects customers with their passions. His work involves collaborating with esteemed organizations, such as Penn State alumni groups, Meals on Wheels, and the Mount Nittany Conservancy, to raise awareness and funds. Woodman’s experience of selling merchandise to Penn State alumni during his college years helped shape his current business model.

“My experience of selling things to alumni is what I did in college. In college, I learned that it is special feelings and emotions that are very important to people, and they will want to wear the badge of what is meaningful to them,” Woodman explains. “We amplify their stories and accentuate the positive.”

Teaching Entrepreneurial Leadership at Penn State

In addition to his role as CEO, Woodman teaches Engineering 310: Entrepreneurial Leadership at Penn State’s University Park campus. The course focuses on enhancing students’ leadership skills and provides them with practical knowledge to succeed in their careers. Woodman approaches teaching as a consultant and guide, helping students discover their values and goals.

Woodman shares, “I teach the class as if everyone in the class is already an entrepreneur. They are already in the business of themselves. So I look at myself as a consultant and a guide to my students, as I’m helping them figure things out and discover what’s important to them and what their values are.”

A Life-Changing Event and Paying It Forward

Woodman’s story took a dramatic turn when he suffered a heart attack while running a half-marathon. Fortunately, a group of nurses participating in the race saved his life. This experience has deepened Woodman’s gratitude and sense of purpose. He is now dedicated to raising awareness about cardiac health and promoting proper CPR training.

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Woodman states, “For an out-of-hospital heart attack, you only have a 9% chance of living, so I feel tremendously blessed and lucky. I feel like I got a shot here to make a larger impact and sort of ‘pay-it-forward’.”


Greg Woodman’s journey from student entrepreneur to CEO exemplifies the unique opportunities and resilience nurtured at Penn State University. His success in building businesses, teaching entrepreneurial leadership, and overcoming personal challenges showcases the impact of a Penn State education. Woodman’s dedication to serving the Penn State community and his commitment to raising awareness about cardiac health further solidify his status as a model alumnus. His story inspires current and future Nittany Lions to pursue their passions, embrace entrepreneurship, and make a positive impact in the world.