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50 Fascinating Alumni

Spring 2013 | By Stacey Mickelbart.

This month we begin a yearlong celebration of the 50th anniversary of the birth of the School of Humanities, Social Science, and Education (HSSE), the forerunner of the College of Liberal Arts. This historic event marked the moment that liberal arts began in earnest to build its future as Purdue’s center for excellence in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

Our alumni vividly demonstrate that excellence in many fields and communities across the globe—so we’ve asked 50 of them to tell us more about their careers and lives, via a modified version of the Proust questionnaire. This survey of revealing questions was a popular parlor game in Marcel Proust’s time, made famous by his answers and adapted by Vanity Fair and the show Inside the Actors Studio. We hope you enjoy getting to know these fascinating and inspiring CLA alumni.

Rusty Rueff
Rusty Rueff at the 2013 GRAMMYs


Rusty Rueff
BA, 1984, Radio and TV
MS, 1986, Counseling


When Rusty Rueff was in high school, his dream was to own a radio station. The thought of sharing a board meeting with entertainment power player will.i.am or lunching with actors Annette Bening and Elizabeth Banks was perhaps beyond his wildest imagination. Today, these are exactly the scenarios in which Rueff frequently finds himself in his role as a corporate and philanthropic board director, angel investor, and writer.

Rueff combines his love of the arts, interest in technology, and experience in human resources in his professional and volunteer roles. He started his career as an on-air radio personality, spent two years at the Pratt & Whitney Division of United Technologies, and then worked ten years at PepsiCo, where he became vice president of international human resources. From 1998–2005, he served as executive vice president for human resources at Electronic Arts, an entertainment software company. In 2005, he became CEO of SNOCAP, the first company to devise a way that music labels and artists could earn revenue on digital downloads from social networking sites like Myspace. When he sold SNOCAP, he turned his attention to the ways he could offer his expertise to corporate and nonprofit boards, as well as his alma mater.

While Rueff and his wife, Patti, may be best known at Purdue as the benefactors of the Patti and Rusty Rueff School of Visual and Performing Arts, Rueff also gives generously of his time and expertise as a director of the Purdue Foundation and a member of Purdue’s College of Liberal Arts Dean’s Advisory Council. He was named a CLA Distinguished Alumnus in 2003.

In many of his other board roles, Rueff ensures that the difference the arts make in our lives is emphasized in the public eye. He is a ten-year member and president of the board of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, which recently bought an old vaudeville/movie theater in a struggling neighborhood in San Francisco, in hopes that rebuilding it will spark a revolution of cultural improvement in that part of the city.

As chairman of the GRAMMY Foundation, Rueff works with the board and the Recording Academy to use the power of music to improve music education, music preservation, and music science research. He’s excited about a new initiative, announced by the Foundation’s honorary chair Ryan Seacrest and Justin Timberlake at the GRAMMYs this year, to begin honoring a Music Educator of the Year during the telecast. He hopes that using the biggest brand and stage in music to recognize music teachers and their programs will inspire school boards and others to reignite their support for music in schools.

Read on for Rueff’s responses to our version of the Proust survey.

What Makes Purdue Meaningful Now

Purdue’s global reputation for providing a great education at one of the best values is very impressive. A university’s current and long-term reputation becomes increasingly important to an alum as more time passes after his or her graduation. I am thankful that Purdue’s reputation continues to strengthen in so many areas.

Greatest Achievement

I’ve been fortunate because many times I’ve been asked to take on challenges that I haven’t really been qualified to do, either chronologically or experientially. Being able to live up to these high expectations feels like an achievement each time. The most recent example is being tapped to co-found and serve as national leader for Technology for Obama. The effort and work we put in for the successful reelection of President Obama was an amazing experience that made me grow and stretch beyond my own anticipation. I will never ever forget the elation and sense of achievement in Chicago on election night 2012.

Living Person I Admire

If I can only choose one person, then I’d say Billy Graham. But I also have a very strong admiration for astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Watching him as husband, caretaker, and engaged public figure brings tears to my eyes each time I see him. I got to meet him once, and since then I pray that if I were in his shoes I could be that strong, positive, and devoted.

Idea of Perfect Happiness

Perfect happiness occurs in those moments when I can feel the closeness of God, knowing that He has it all under control, even when I don’t. Add in a morning run, an afternoon Giants or Reds baseball game, and a theater production that night and I’m not sure I could be happier.

What I’m Reading

Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944–1956 by Anne Applebaum, about the economic history of Eastern Europe, and A Grace Revealed: How God Redeems the Story of Your Life by Jerry Sittser.

Profession I’d Like to Try

I think Mitch Daniels landed a pretty cool gig (the most recent one, that is). I’d also love to be an op-ed columnist for The New York Times.


Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you penning this post; the rest of the website is also very good.


I love reading these snapshots of distinguished and accomplished fellow Boilermakers. They make me realize just how much like family we are as Purdue alumni. I feel a sense of pride when fellow Boilers succeed and I'm inspired to pursue that same level of excellence. Thanks for sharing.


Great success story for a Purdue alum. A fellow named Rusty gave the student commencement address at my May 1984 School of Communications graduation at Elliott Hall; was this our same esteemed colleague Mr. Rueff? As he stood at the podium, face illuminated by a pin spot, his profound parting words came from his mother: "Rusty, always lay out your clothes the night before and be prepared for the coming day." The spot faded to black leaving a hushed crowd of 6000 in total darkness. Twenty-nine years later, my mom still recalls this moment and the "most dignified graduation ceremony" she's ever attended. These were great words to live by, Rusty. Thanks.

Daria Verelley

From the editor

Rusty Rueff confirms that he did indeed give the commencement speech in 1984. He now has this to add: "Purdue was readying us for the next day of our lives, getting us ready by laying out our clothes for us the night before."

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