Franklin & Marshall College President Daniel R. Porterfield had a job for John Coccia, director of Media Services.
A reality show asked to follow the president for 24 hours and Porterfield wanted a wireless microphone to record his every moment.
"I thought to myself, 'You have to be kidding me. You can't do that,'" Coccia recalled.
When Coccia arrived at the Office of Admission to explain what was and wasn't possible with a wireless microphone, Porterfield revealed the ruse and surprised the longtime employee with F&M's heralded 2014 Richard Kneedler Distinguished Service Award.
"They got me," Coccia recalled with a laugh, as he relaxed in his basement office in Stager Hall. "I said, 'Aw, gee.'"
Each year, the College presents the Kneedler Award to a member of the professional staff who consistently goes above and beyond normal performance expectations, demonstrates his or her commitment to the College's mission, and is respected by colleagues and students.
"John exemplifies the 'can do' spirit of F&M," said Carrie Rampp, associate vice president and CIO of Information Technology Services (ITS). "He is beloved by so many colleagues across campus and within ITS. He is a creative problem-solver who always keeps the needs of our students foremost in his work and the work of his team. He's just one of those people you love to work with."
Coccia's colleagues describe him as diligent and devoted to F&M. Friends say he is amiable and amusing, always with a kind word or humorous comment.
"He's very professional and he's one of the most amusing men I know," said Housekeeping & College House Facilities Director Dan Lewis, who's known Coccia at least 15 years as a friend and a colleague. "John's always upbeat. He's very kind, very knowledgeable."
Entering his 24th year at the College, in a department that has seen revolutionary change as technology has advanced, Coccia is innovative in his thinking, his ITS colleagues said.
It was Coccia's idea to install around campus the digital signage that provides up-to-date news about F&M and the world. Coccia suggested the idea several years ago and doggedly pursued it until he got the necessary buy-in and subsequent funding, one staffer said.
"John believed it to be a good and important initiative that would promote the mission of the College," the staffer said.
Colleagues credit him with standardizing and optimizing F&M's technology-enhanced classrooms and spaces, with ensuring audio-visual equipment is ready at the campus' approximately 200 events per year, and with helping to build character in the 25 students who work in Media Services every semester.
"He looks out for them like they're his children, but treats them like the young adults that they are," said Lewis, the 2012 Kneedler Award winner.
Colleagues also poignantly recall Coccia's response to the passing of Oscar Retterer, the former director of Instructional and Emerging Technologies, who died after a long illness in January 2013. Despite his own grief, Coccia, in addition to fulfilling his own duties, directed and aided Retterer's staff, they said.
"He was asked to step in to help Oscar's team, providing guidance and support when it was most needed," a staffer said.
Coccia recalled his relationship with Retterer: "Professionally, we did a lot of work together. We had a synergy that comes along once in a lifetime, once in a career. Out of that developed a friendship."
While flattered to hear colleagues praise his guidance and professionalism during a difficult time in the department, Coccia views his role with modesty.
"When Oscar passed away I tried to fill that void," Coccia said. "I didn't do anything special."
Raised in Kimberton, Pa., a small town near Valley Forge National Historic Park, Coccia earned his undergraduate degree at Kutztown University and master's degree in instructional media technology from West Chester University.
He worked in the Philadelphia headquarters of AAMCO, which franchises transmission repair shops across the country, making videos to inform mechanics about new techniques to fix transmissions. It was a ground-floor opportunity.
"They started experimenting with video training," Coccia said. "They'd film it at the headquarters and send it out to the shops. That's how my career started. I did a lot of video training productions for them."
That experience led him to F&M, which offered another ground-floor opportunity. A few short years after Coccia arrived on campus, the rollout of the Internet and rapid advances in computer technology changed everything about higher education.
He went from working with film slides and VHS videos to supporting PowerPoint presentations and websites.
"My career here hit right when those things were merging," Coccia said. "When you are living through such a monumental transition, you don't always realize it."
Coccia, who has three children with his wife, Dianne, said he values the friendships and relationships he's made at F&M. He is flattered and honored to receive the Kneedler Award.
"To receive the award is very humbling, and I feel fortunate to work with so many good people," Coccia said. "Being able to have a cup of coffee with anyone is enjoyable. F&M, to me, has always embraced that."