Lehigh Valley campus to celebrate a century of service to region
In 1912, Penn State opened its first permanent technical center in the attic of an Allentown school. Over nearly a century, the campus has defined its mission by responding to the changing and growing needs of the Lehigh Valley. Today, as the oldest continuous classroom operation outside of University Park, Penn State Lehigh Valley has become a dynamic campus offering diverse programming options to traditional students, adult learners, and organizations. As it prepares to celebrate 100 years of tradition in the Lehigh Valley, the campus is poised for a bright future, reported Ann Williams, chancellor, today (July 15) in a presentation to the University's Board of Trustees.
"From our early days as an extension of the College of Engineering, to providing women with training during World War II, to offering associate and baccalaureate degrees, Penn State Lehigh Valley has always adapted to meet the specific educational needs of our community," said Williams.
The Lehigh Valley is the third largest population area in Pennsylvania and, according to the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, the second fastest growth area in the Northeast with a projected population increase of 22 percent by 2030. In addition, the number of high school graduates in the area served by Penn State Lehigh Valley is expected to increase 16.5 percent between 2004 and 2016.
Based on these factors, and the campus' sustained trend of enrollment growth, the Board of Trustees approved the purchase of a campus in Center Valley in 2009. Since moving to Center Valley, the Lehigh Valley campus has grown not just in physical plant, but also in enrollment, diversity, academic and cultural programming, student life and athletics, and outreach.
"Our new location has set the stage for Penn State Lehigh Valley's tradition of excellence to continue into its next century. At nearly 100 years old, we are brand new, innovative, engaged, and engaging," said Williams.
Evidence of this can be seen in the renovated science and engineering labs, where faculty and students conduct cutting-edge research, some with technology provided by corporate partners. For example, Olympus of America, whose headquarters is located just a mile from the new campus, recently supplied Penn State Lehigh Valley's biology lab with a special fluorescent microscope with a camera/monitor system that has allowed undergraduates to research and photograph red blood cells the way professional scientists do.
Faculty also work in innovative ways to offer students credit courses married with global opportunities, like a recent business and communications collaboration that took more than twenty students to China this past May. For many of these students, it was their first trip abroad. While they were exploring a new culture and attending classes at one of the emerging super-power's business universities, another group of Penn State students was researching water conservation and sustainability at China's Lake Taihu as part of a biology field course.
Students are embracing the call to be good citizens by adding the campus' new interdisciplinary Civic Engagement minor to their major coursework, a choice that sent them to the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica during Spring Break 2011, rather than the beach. The students were so inspired by what they were exposed to on the trip that they organized a Fair Trade Awareness event to educate the entire campus about the ecological and economic issues of the rain forest environment upon their return.
They continue to shatter campus records in raising money For the Kids, contributing more than $24,000 to THON 2011. Penn State Lehigh Valley's THON total consistently ranks among the highest for participating groups of similar size.
The addition of dedicated art classroom and gallery space has engaged both the campus community and the Lehigh Valley community by offering credit and non-credit classes in sculpture, metalsmithing, and drawing, and a destination to view exhibitions of regional and national artists' work.
Students at the Lehigh Valley campus are busy. Many have part-time or full-time jobs to help pay for their education and support families, yet they are following their dreams and finding the support they need to become successful graduates. Two 2011 graduates provide noteworthy examples.
Macungie native Emma Webb completed a bachelor of science in biology in just three years. It is a relatively rare accomplishment for most college students, and Webb succeeded in doing it while also working and juggling the responsibilities of being a mother to four-year-old Samantha. Though her degree officially came from the University Park campus, Webb chose to attend Penn State Lehigh Valley's Commencement ceremony in part because she began her college education at Penn State Lehigh Valley through a dual-enrollment program in her senior year of high school and developed strong relationships with many of her Lehigh Valley professors throughout her time at the campus. During her last year, Webb and her daughter traveled back and forth to University Park each week. Her hard work paid off as she was recently accepted to the first-ever class of a new medical education partnership between Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) and the University of South Florida College of Medicine (USFCOM), the SELECT program that focuses on developing the leadership skills of students chosen for their scholarly excellence, emotional intellect, and their deep desire and determination to positively alter the future of health care practice and administration.
Penn State's willingness to work with members of our armed services helped army intelligence warrant officer David Goodpaster to receive his bachelor's degree from the Lehigh Valley campus this past May, after military training and several deployments to the Middle East forced him to put his education on hold a number of times. Penn State Lehigh Valley faculty member Carolina McCluskey worked with Goodpaster to create an independent study based on his military experience that helped him achieve those final few credits needed to complete his degree.
For much of its history, Penn State Lehigh Valley's focus was to provide training and coursework for businesses and professionals, not the traditional undergraduate student. Today, that mission continues in the Lehigh Valley through the Continuing Education department (CE), which offers workforce, professional, and personal development programming for individuals of all ages and maintains strong ties to local businesses and organizations. CE's close relationship with the campus has also led to collaborations with the undergraduate population, particularly between the department's Lehigh Valley Writing Project (LVWP), a National Writing Project site, and the education program's student teachers who are encouraged to present at LVWP conferences, take classes, and be mentored by its network of teachers.
The Lehigh Valley boasts the largest contingency of Penn State alumni outside of Centre County, and the campus provides a variety of ways for them to stay connected to their alma mater. The Penn State Lehigh Valley Alumni Society offers networking and social opportunities, but is also committed to providing future students with access to a Penn State education through its successful scholarship fundraising efforts that include a now bi-annual Berkey Creamery ice cream sale that is among the most successful across the campus system. Additionally, Penn State Lehigh Valley's local Advisory Board counts a number of alumni among its membership and recognizes other exceptional Penn Staters through its recently-established Featured Alumni program.
"The campus community is excited to celebrate Penn State Lehigh Valley's centennial milestone," Williams said. "We will certainly reflect on our history over the next year, but we will also continue to plan for the bright future we see ahead."