Bruce Wagner ’64, MEng ’66 had just started his first job after college—as an engineer in AT&T Bell Labs’ Eero Saarinen-designed complex in Holmdel, N.J.—when another Cornell alumnus stopped by his office. He asked Wagner if he would consider volunteering as a Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador.
The answer was an immediate yes. Wagner had done a lot of research on engineering programs when he was applying to colleges. During his own decision process, a conversation with a volunteer alumnus had helped Wagner see himself as a Cornellian.
“He was so helpful to me that when I was asked to get involved with CAAAN after I graduated, I said, ‘Sure, I’d love to help people in the same way he helped me,’” Wagner recalls.
In hindsight, the role was a way for Wagner to do the greatest good for promising students and his alma mater. And it turned out to be the gateway to a long list of volunteer positions he went on to hold over the next nearly six decades. He has been a leader in his local committee of the Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network since 1967 and the CAAAN advisory committee for 15 years. He has held leadership posts in his class since 1995, including president and 50th Reunion co-chair. Other service includes serving as an advisory board member for Cornell’s Adult University, and member of Cornell University Council on and off since 2001. He has been a life member of the Council since 2021. He also is a founding member and officer of his regional club.
Wagner’s time on campus was spent in his studies and in social events with friends he made in his fraternity. Leadership qualities emerged later through his work not only as a technical manager with Bell Labs but as a Cornell alumnus.
“I’ve developed a lot of skills and insights through my Cornell volunteering that I didn’t get from my career, and they balanced nicely,” he says. “The leadership skills I learned at work complemented my volunteer leadership. It’s been an opportunity to continue to use and build those skills, especially since my career at Bell Labs ended over 20 years ago.”
In addition, Wagner found another way to connect to his alma mater by recruiting dozens of Cornellians to Bell Labs every year for decades.
Wagner returns to campus about four times a year for reunions and meetings. He loves seeing how the university is evolving, not only in its buildings and programs but in its people. He’s particularly encouraged that 50 percent of undergraduate students in the College of Engineering identify as women—up from only about 1 percent when he was a student.
“It’s that progressivism and outlook and doing the right thing,” Wagner says. “Cornell has always been known for that. A lot of the good things that have happened in my life are a consequence of having gone to Cornell.”
Written by Sally Parker, freelance writer