Where Are They Now? Alumni Spotlight on Tom Sanzone ’68



Cassie McHugh Co-Editor in Chief

Did you know that the CEO of Wawa went to Villanova? Or that NASA astronaut Andrew M. Allen is a Villanovan? Villanova has a network of over 123,000 alumni, many of whom have gone on to do incredible things. They have stories to tell, advice to share, and amazing memories of their own Villanova experiences.  

In this column, we share their stories, both of their time here at Villanova and beyond. This week, we feature Tom Sanzone ’68, an electrical engineering major who went on to work for Hamilton Sundstrand, supporting company efforts at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. He ultimately served as General Manager of the Houston office before retiring in 2011. He is actively involved as an alum and received the 2017 Villanova University Alumni Association Distinguished Service Award.      

The Villanovan: You say you’re 98% retired now. Tell me a little bit about your career and what the highlights were. 

Tom Sanzone: “What people get a kick out of in my career is 10 months after I graduated from Villanova, I trained Neil Armstrong on how to use the portable life support system backpack he wore on the moon. And my career was downhill after that.” (laughs) 

TV: What is your best piece of advice for a Villanova student?

TS: “I was told this in a class by my favorite professor at Villanova, Father Joe Burns: Don’t let your curriculum interfere with your education. What happens, if you think about it, is you’re so focused on your classes and your grades and your GPA, that you don’t take as much advantage as you can and should of other opportunities that Villanova has on campus. A lot of the speakers, they’re not part of your curriculum so they’re easy to turn off because it’s not going to affect your GPA, but it is going to affect your education and your knowledge. I will tell you that I did not do that, and I regret it. When I was a freshman, Dr. Martin Luther King came to campus, but I was too busy studying for an engineering test to go hear him speak. That’s the classic example of letting your curriculum get in the way of your education.”

TV: If you could be a Villanova student again for the day, what would you do?

TS: “If I could turn the clock back, and I was a student again 50 years ago, more than anything I would want to sit in on one of Father Joe Burns’ classes. However, if I was a student today, I think I would try to connect more personally with my professors and take advantage of office hours and their willingness to help.”

TV: Where were you when Villanova won the Championship in 2016?

TS: “Well, I live in Houston, so you can guess where I was. I was in the seventh row on the sideline. This is not unique to me, but I am a huge basketball fan. Villanova has been at five Final Fours, and I have been at four of them—the first one I wasn’t born yet. I have to tell you, if I could choose any other place to be on that night, it would have been in the Pavilion. Anytime I need a little boost, I go and look at videos from the Pavilion that night and that tells you all you need to know about Villanova basketball.”

TV: Your class’ 50th anniversary reunion is coming up in June, and you’re serving on the planning committee. What are you most excited for?

TS “The 50th, Villanova really pulls out all the stops. Serving on the planning committee—it’s a four day event for most alums, but if you’re on the committee, it’s a six month event. You’re contacting (classmates) by phone and email and snail mail. It’s really kind of a high. Five years ago, I contacted by phone, an alum named Joe. If it were not for Joe, I would not have graduated from Villanova, it’s as simple as that. He was my go-to guy. Every night I was in his room for what today you’d called tutoring. I had not spoken to Joe for 45 years and I called him and I told him, ‘I’ve been waiting 45 years to thank you for all the help you gave me.’ Those kinds of things are pretty cool.”

TV: Do you have a life motto?

TS: “My first answer was really no, but then I thought about it—it’s not a motto, but I do try to use it to guide my life, both in my personal life and in my career—it’s the golden rule. It’s something that makes a lot of sense, but it’s not always easy to do. The other thing, I know you hear it a lot, is to never give up. I can’t tell you how important that is. I learned it the first time I was a student at Villanova because I was not the strongest student, and there were many times when I questioned ‘Am I ever going to graduate?’ When I think back, it’s almost like there were situations where I should have quit…. but I think I learned that when I was a student and I implemented that same philosophy throughout my life and my career. The majority of my career working with NASA was extremely positive, but there were a few days that were really, really tough. When the general public sees the loss of a space shuttle, which happened twice, it affects them, but when those astronauts who are lost are your coworkers and your friends, it’s very different.”

TV: Do you have a favorite memory from your time at Villanova?

TS: “I think if I had to (boil it down), it would be actually graduating. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a highlight. Most of the other highlights, to be honest with you, relate to basketball games. I had season tickets. I never missed a basketball game. I missed Dr. Martin Luther King, but I never missed a basketball game. (laughs) I can remember, while I was a student, Providence, one season, was the number one team in the country, and we played them in Nevin Field House and we killed them.”

TV: What’s the most surprising thing you learned after you graduated?

TS: “Once I started working, nobody ever again asked what my GPA. Your grades are important, no doubt about it, especially for getting that first job. What you may not realize is once you start working, nobody cares what your GPA was. Now, it’s up to you to perform.”