Former White House Correspondent Turns The Page With Upcoming Children’s Book
If you opened up one of the oldest books on the shelf in the Pattee Library stacks, you’d find the phrase “radicatus” bolded within winding waves of words. Emblazoned in small, inky cursive, the black lettering lies on line 32, about halfway down the left-hand side of the tanned, turned page. Dating back to 1845 as an English-Latin lexicon, this well-loved original preserves the looped text as the Latin translation of the word “rooted,” written to mean “stirps” “fons”’ and “causa”’ or “source,” “origin,” and “cause.”
For Penn State alumni everywhere, such roots lead to lengthy journeys far from campus. Yet for world-renowned journalist and alumnus Ben Feller, it is this idea of being rooted that keeps campus close while allowing him to turn the page every time, each move crinkling and crackling like a classic from Pattee, the destination of one of Feller’s favorite campus walks.
“The walk from the gate of College and Allen up to Pattee Library is iconic,” Feller said. “I tried to just never have my head down and just soak it in.”
An award-winning reporter turned children’s book author, Feller has climbed the global communications ladder through an accomplished career in journalism. Perfecting the art as chief White House news correspondent for The Associated Press, he covered the presidency with distinct integrity. In tandem with distinguished awards such as the Gerald R. Ford Prize and the Merriman Smith Award, Feller also earned honors ranging from asking the first question in presidential news conferences to traveling to over 25 countries aboard Air Force One during the terms of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Additionally, he was the recipient of the 2018 Alumni Fellow Award, the highest honor presented by the Penn State Alumni Association. In accomplishments such as these, Feller has achieved the level of success imagined nightly by the late-night dreamers sitting and studying in those same library’s nooks and crannies. Just as steadfast and almost as weathered as the oldest Latin-English dictionary waiting on the shelf, any student found studying at that hour of the night would be astounded by the many lives already lived by Feller.
Considering this, it might be hard to believe that this highly honored journalist was once one of them, and remembers those moments to this day.
“It’s nostalgic for a reason,” he said. “Penn State pride has lasted with me a long time and always will.”
A tremendous sense of community reigns supreme in this narrative of success. Growing up in Boalsburg, just outside of State College, Feller was a lifelong Penn Stater before graduating in 1992. Yet even with roots of origin adjacent to the university, his college choice was not any easier at first.
“I always wore the blue and white in high school,” he said. “So, I kind of got a little offended that everyone was presuming my choice.”
In making this decision after a campus tour in the late 1980s, Feller landed upon a conclusion that would spark the journey of journalism waiting on the other side of the decision.
“I did the whole potential orientation, and I loved it,” he said. “‘What am I doing?’ Of course, I want to be here. This is my hometown.”
Courtesy of Ben Feller
Following this first love and becoming a freshman on campus, Feller began to form the foundation of blue and white that has stuck with him through his entire career. Enrolled in the psychology program, Feller began his undergraduate career as a dedicated student committed to grades and craft.
“I just think about it with tremendous affection. That’s the word that comes to mind,” he said. “Everything about it… the endless classes in the Willard Building, the 24-hour library…The Diner.”
Reminiscing with gratitude, Feller spoke to a specific moment, undeniably recognizable to the entire Penn State community. Walking out of his statistics class with a best friend to this day, he comically reflected on the meaningful memory that clearly demonstrates his academic commitment.
“It was Homecoming, and the floats were coming down College Ave,” he said. “Everyone was excited, and I remember walking with my friend going, “What did you think of the fourth question?
Rooted in a foundation of learning, Feller later studied abroad at the University of Exeter. After exploring the world through this Penn State program, he credits the perspective gained here with making a life-altering decision: switching to a journalism major.
“I change from semester-to-semester mindset and making dean’s list and having a ton of fun to go, ‘What is this all adding up to?’ ‘What do I want here?’” he said.
“I made a jump, made a switch, and it was kind of a bet on myself,” Feller added. “That has been proven to be true enough in my life that I keep making those bets.”
In another comical moment turned impactful decision from the alumnus, Ben Feller shared a hilarious story of actually making the fateful switch. While working as a bank teller in an early 1990s summer, Feller attempted the tricky add/drop process in the only way possible at the time: by telephone.
In the antiquated system of calling in to change a schedule, Feller could not enroll in new classes until all were fully dropped. When dropping classes, many students might require the knowledge of availability in the courses they wished to add. At the time, this information was unavailable, leaving Feller with no other option but to drop all his classes via telephone before truly knowing if he would gain entry into the new classes needed.
“So, I came back to the little bank where I was working, and the other teller was like, ‘How did it go?’” said Feller. “I was like, ‘I’m pretty sure I just dropped out of college.’ She’s like, ‘Oh, OK. Well, you better do well at this job, then. What a way to use your lunch hour.’”
After taking both calls and chances as an incoming senior, this alumnus started pursuing journalism in a collection of concentrated coursework. He felt emboldened by success once he started writing and reporting on his own. Feller says getting involved changed the energy surrounding his senior year at Penn State.
While passionate as any freshman, Feller faced another challenge after changing majors. Turned away by the Daily Collegian for a writing role on staff, he swiftly turned around and made the following offer to the Centre Daily Times: any story he could write for a $15 paycheck. From there, history was made, as Feller began the career that would lead him to the White House as chief correspondent for one of the largest news organizations in the world.
Sticking with the concentrated coursework and working tirelessly at the Centre Daily Times, Feller earned the opportunity to continue with the local news source after graduation. Starting out as a full-time news reporter for the first time was a daunting task, but Feller remembers the lessons learned at the Centre Daily Times with passion and as some of the most valuable times from his incredible collection of career experiences.
“When I started full-time… I was coming home,” he said. “The place that I had grown up and the place that I loved was now the place that I got to cover.
Reporting locally from township meetings at the end of Main Street in Bellefonte, Feller built a foundation for both opportunity and success.
“I also got to create grounding there in wondering, ‘How do you cover news?’ ‘How do you write on a deadline?’ ‘How do you ensure accuracy?’ ‘How do you connect with readers?’” he said. “All of that began, in the first couple years, at the Centre Daily Times.”
After getting this start at the Centre Daily Times in 1993, Feller moved on to both News & Record in Greensboro, North Carolina, and The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida. In an unusual path due to his top-class reporting of integrity and depth, Feller then began again in 2003 as a national education writer at the AP. After a career covering politics, the journalist then transitioned into business, moving to New York City in a new role at a global problem-solving firm.
Propelled by winds of change, Feller holds his sense of place close, through each page turned and chapter completed, rooted as ever in his Penn State pride.
“Professionally, I think about Penn State and the Penn State community at turning points in my life,” he said. “Penn State is there in those big professional moments.”
Reflecting on decisions made and the resulting achievements, Feller remains humble and honest with everyone with an overarching strategy that explains his lifelong success.
“It sounds like confidence now, but the way you work and think then is you’re always running scared,” he said. “You run as if somebody’s chasing you, even if they’re not, and that’s how I reported. That’s why I was good at reporting, [or] one of the reasons why I’d like to think I was good at it.”
When hearing this advice from Feller himself, it becomes clear that the award-winning journalist is just as humble as he is accomplished. Running full force at another career first, Feller will publish his first children’s book, “Big Problems, Little Problems”. He explains this feat as an aftereffect of decision-making in Happy Valley.
“That process has repeated itself in my career many times,” he said. “I’m at another one of these inflection points, and a lot of it ties back to how I handled that moment in college at Penn State.”
Turning the page once more to embrace a new style of writing, Feller found inspiration in one of his proudest roles: being a father to his son, Sam. Based on their life together in Brooklyn, the story centers around a parenting technique that helped form the cherished bond between parent and child.
Courtesy of Ben Feller
“When he would start to get overwhelmed by what I would consider to be small things but were big things to him, rather than sort of dictate perspective…I would try to make it smaller for him,” he said. “If you physically make a big problem smaller, you can kind of solve it quietly and with some ease…and you just don’t carry the same energy and frustration.”
Taking deep breaths together and talking out issues such as finding a lost toy or conquering a tricky zipper, Feller would then ask Sam the question that ultimately inspired the title of the book.
“Was that a big problem or a little problem?” Feller asks.
In this method to reduce stress and anxiety, Feller strived to teach perspective to his young son. Yet ironically, the teacher would also become the student in a moment fated to call upon this career achievement.
On a long drive through the Holland Tunnel, a moment in traffic struck a chord as a little voice triggered a big change for the duo.
“I was getting frustrated on the drive back, probably from State College to New York City,” Feller said. “The lights kept changing, and it was just a miserable feeling. And he said, ‘Daddy, don’t get frustrated. Big problem or little problem?’So, instead of smiling about it, laughing about it, and just going back to the next thing in my life, I said to myself, ‘You’ve gotta appreciate that moment and do something with it.’”
“It goes back to that feeling of changing majors,” he continued. “Are you going to do something about this or are you going to think about doing something about this? Penn State is always there, and I find myself reaching out and connecting because it’s just a part of my life.”
Rooted firmly in actions inspired by University Park, Feller worked with illustrator Mercè López to create the final product, providing reference photos of life together from Feller’s home of Brooklyn, NY.
“There’s a lot of love in those photos…and so she adopted it,” Feller said. “She said, ‘By the time I was finished with this project, I felt like the father and son were my friends.’”
Courtesy of Ben Feller
With dynamic visuals illuminating passionate emotions, the book is bound to create new conversations for parents and children all around the world.
“A lot of parents have their own ways that are not like that,” said Feller. “But, they just have a way of understanding how to bring some calm to their kids.”
In breaking down life’s challenges into smaller, solvable problems, the book is undeniably applicable to children and adults of all ages. In the excitement of publication, Feller has recently obtained the very first copies of the printed book and shared the final project with Sam, who’s now 10.
In a special moment like this, the loving relationship between father and son shines brightly, now chronicled in Feller’s newest project forever.
“Maybe he’ll even read it to his kids,” said Feller.
Inspired by the duo and cultivated by decision-making confidence rooted at Penn State, “Big Problems, Little Problems” is currently available for pre-order and can be expected to release on May 31 from Tilbury House Publishers. With this newest achievement, Feller remains grateful for the role played by Penn State and elaborated on his gratitude for these roots.
“Penn State was there every time,” he said. “It’s the sense of place. It’s my hometown. It’s my alma mater,” he said. “It’s the place where the debate continues about whether the Creamery or Meyer Dairy is the go-to place for ice cream.”
Courtesy of Ben Feller
“It’s the place where I continue to bring my son and have him climb on the Nittany Lion,” he continued. “Penn State pride comes from having a place like that, that makes you happy, that brings joy, and that you can share.”
Expressing his appreciation for the university both professionally and personally, Feller broke down his experience as an undeniable pillar of pride. Representing Penn State at the highest journalistic level with integrity, honesty, and respect, Ben Feller has lived many lives and lived each of them well. Yet, he remains rooted in the community first discovered on campus, as if bound like the historic volumes ever-present in the Pattee stacks.
A source of opportunity, an origin of confidence, and a cause for action, the roots of Dear Old State have only grown stronger with the turn of every page. Bringing the story back home time and time again, these roots of blue and white truly do shape one in the hands of fate.
“Big Problems, Little Problems” releases on May 31. Copies are available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, among other retailers, today.