Juniata College fundraising director happy to be home

HUNTINGDON – After more than 15 years away, Huntingdon native Joe Scialabba returned in May to his alma mater and where his career began: Juniata College.

Scialabba graduated from Juniata in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in communications and English and got his first job as a college enrollment counselor before becoming a sports information director.

He stayed for over a decade until he took a job with the Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown in raising money and later running a diocese charitable foundation. In 2008, he returned to higher education, professionally fundraising for Mount Aloysius College.

In 2011, he moved on to Penn State University’s Smeal College of Business as director of major gifts, whose team raised more than $40 million as part of Penn State’s $2 billion “For the Future” campaign.

For over 15 years he commuted to Altoona, Cresson and State College and “spent a lot of time in the car,” Scialabba said, but he maintained a home and raised his family in Huntingdon.

“My parents still live in Huntingdon. My wife is from northeast Ohio, and I met her when she came to work at Juniata,” he said. “When we got married, our initial vision was that we would be going elsewhere at some point, but she fell in love with the region.”

After years away, he decided this spring to come home.

On May 1, the college named him director of major gifts to work with a team on alumni engagement. He said he keeps Juniatians updated on the college’s long-term goals and encourages them to consider donations.

Major gifts is exactly what it sounds like, he said – working with people who make donations of between $25,000 and $50,000 or above, or who plan to leave money to the college in a will.

Fundraising also goes toward supporting research endowments for professors and students, as well as upgrades to existing halls and plans for future expansion, he said.

Gabe Welsch, the college’s marketing and advancement vice president, said Scialabba is a valuable resource, and Juniata already has benefitted.

“We’re happy to have Joe with us, first, because he is a widely experienced advancement professional. He’s raised money in the nonprofit sector and for different-sized colleges and universities,” he said. “The other nice thing is he’s been around Juniata and Juniatians for a long time. He has deep roots in this community and throughout the college community.”

Scialabba said one of his fondest memories is when Juniata went over $1 million in its annual fund for the first time in 1998, when he was an assistant director of the annual fund.

“That was a big step for the college, and it was right at the end of the campaign they called the ‘Transformation Campaign,'” he said.

That fundraiser set a record with almost 4,400 alumni donors, he said, and came toward the end of then-President Robert Neff’s final year.

He said moments like those are the most rewarding – not just seeing an institution hit a financial goal.

It takes a lot of work backstage before the curtain goes up and a college can unveil something big, he said, referencing Penn State’s THON along with local raffles, walk-a-thons and other small-scale fundraisers.

“These things have become parts of who we are in our region, and they make a difference. It’s kind of the stamp of what it is to live in our area,” he said.

Internet technology administrative assistant Brenda Roll said she started working with Scialabba in the school’s marketing department in 1988.

Though the two don’t spend as much time together at work as they used to, Roll said she was thrilled to learn he was coming back.

“Joe is just such a good fit for Juniata. He always was. And I somehow always, always knew that he would come back. He never left, of course,” she said, laughing. “But we’re glad to have Joe back where he belongs.”

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.