A resounding message from Pennsylvania communities during the past year has been the importance of Penn State to the future of each of these locales and their people.
From the employees of Mack Trucks World Headquarters in Allentown to the Harley Davidson Inc. plant in York, from the youths of DuBois High School to Schenley High School in Pittsburgh, President Graham B. Spanier listened to the concerns of thousands of state residents during the eight-month statewide tour, which concluded April 24.
"The statewide tour has been a wonderful opportunity to reach out to the people of Pennsylvania," Spanier said. "I have met with more than 10,000 people in 200 groups across 25 different communities and regions. I have found an incredible level of support for Penn State, great interest in our programs, and nothing but loyalty and enthusiasm for our missions of teaching, research and outreach.
"The warmth of the hospitality on our campuses and in our communities has been overwhelming," he added.
Starting Sept. 20 at Fayette Campus in Uniontown and ending on April 24 at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport, the tour was part of the president's statewide initiative to rededicate the University to the people it serves and to increase their understanding of Penn State and higher education in general. Stops included high schools, business groups or chambers of commerce, local media, receptions with local alumni and supporters, and area Penn State Cooperative Extension offices.
"It is difficult to overstate the impact the president has had on all he has seen on these visits," Robert Dunham, senior vice president and dean of the Commonwealth Educational System, noted. "Many people said he was the first president of any college or university to visit them and get to know them.
"Also, by getting to know the campuses of Penn State, he has now given CES greater prominence and more visibility and the campus faculty and staff have really seen him as a champion."
For many students at Lake Lehman High School in northeastern Pennsylvania, "he was the first college president they rubbed shoulders with and they were impressed with his humility," said school Superintendent William Price.
"His message was sincere; he let them know he cared and there is no substitute for that. He's a good listener. Also, the faculty liked his plans for taking Penn State into the 21st century," Price said.
At the Crispus Attucks Center in York, which provides a variety of programs such as day care, job training family services, Spanier met with the staff and the youths involved in the programs.
"He is an easy man to talk to, not an intimidating person," Robert Simpson, director of the center, said. "I told him that my concern is that Penn State needs to look at its cultural diversity programs and recruitment programs for minorities. The university does not reflect the diversity that needs to be. He said he is committed to those issues and I believe he is."
Another important message revealed during the visits was the vital role that Penn State plays in the lives of many towns and businesses.
Dick Miller, chairman of the Susquehanna Alliance, which comprises business, government and economic development leaders from the Greater Harrisburg area, said Penn State Harrisburg has been working with the alliance to make some things happen in the Middletown area.
"But we would like to see Penn State, as an institution, play a major role in the development of the entire complex -- including the Capital College and Harrisburg International Airport -- into a transportation center and research park, like the Research Triangle Park in North Carolina," Miller said.
Near Philadelphia, Chester County is seeing an increase in the number of information-based and technology-based corporations located there. Robert Powelson, president of the Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry, said his group was glad to hear about the "ongoing commitment to Penn State Great Valley, which is an important resource."
"We hope to see an expansion of the University's presence as a whole in Chester County," he said.
Dunham said it was critical to reinforce the idea that Penn State will continue to serve the education and economic needs of the people and the businesses of the state.
"Perhaps the one thing that surprised me was the intensity of belief in the importance of Penn State to the communities in which we operate," Spanier said. "Community leaders, elected officials and chambers of commerce made it very clear to me that Penn State is critically important to the future of our cities, towns and rural areas.
"Our provision of educational services and promotion of economic development are the key elements to the future of the communities that surround our Commonwealth Campuses," he added.
After completing such an intense schedule, one would expect the president to take a well-deserved rest, but in just a few weeks, he's heading back out to visit more Pennsylvania towns -- and taking two busses full of new faculty with him. (Click here for story.)
Lake Lehman School District superintendent Price said the president was welcome anytime.
"All institutions of higher education should take Dr. Spanier's lead in reaching out to schools and making their facilities and resources known," Price said. "We certainly will roll out the red carpet for him again if he comes back."
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