The Histories of Penn State
Penn State Intercom......May 9, 2002

Industry-driven beginnings

Penn State Wilkes-Barre
celebrates 86 years of excellence

Wilkes-Barre at a glance

Editor's note: Most people know the history of Penn State as that of a school chartered in 1855 at the request of the Pennsylvania State Agricultural Society to apply scientific principles to farming. Since that time, Penn State has grown from that one campus at University Park to 24 locations statewide, and each of those other locations has its own special history. What follows is the story of one of those locations.

By Debra Gildea
Penn State Wilkes-Barre WB_Surveyors

In May of 1915, two Penn State graduates, reacting to the needs of the anthracite mining industry, proposed the development of a Penn State Engineering Center in Wilkes-Barre. "King Coal" reigned supreme at that time in the Wyoming Valley and engineers were needed to improve mining methods and worker safety.

The response from local citizens and civic organizations was overwhelming, and on Nov. 7, 1916, evening classes for 150 students began in what is now Coughlin High School. The new Penn State Department of Engineering Extension offered courses in advanced mathematics, surveying, reinforced concrete and mechanics.

By 1923, three-year certificate programs were added in mechanical, electr ical, civil and mining engineering and later, three-year courses in aeronautical and textile engineering and a two-year course in air-conditioning were added.

During the years spanning World War II, the school, then known as The Pennsylvania State College Wilkes-Barre Technical School Center, offered tuition-free, government-sponsored courses to train women and older men to replace the younger men in industry who joined the war effort. The non-credit courses trained workers already in war production to take over more highly skilled jobs.

Women took courses to help in the production of war materials. WB_HayfieldHouse_old

Until 1947, all of the courses were offered exclusively in the evening. But, due to the persistent requests of returning veterans who wanted to earn a degree more quickly, four day-courses were initiated. The courses (business administration, building construction, industrial electricity, and mechanical and production tool design) were approved by the Veterans Administration under the "On-the-Job-Training" provisions of the G.I. Bill of Rights. Much of the success of the school can be attributed to the flexibility of its offerings. Programs were added and removed as demand directed.

Each passing year brought more change and growth to the school. In 1949, the Engineers' WB_HayfieldHouse_newCouncil for Professional Development recognized the engineering courses taught at the institute with accreditation. Then, during the 1953-54 academic year, the two-year program leading to an associate degree in engineering began. Thirty-nine students completed this program and were the first in the University to receive their associate degree in engineering. In 1957, the two-year Surveying Technology program was approved, the only one of its type in Pennsylvania. Today Penn State Wilkes-Barre is the only location in the commonwealth offering a baccalaureate degree in surveying.

In 1950, needing more space, the school moved its classes to the Guthrie Building in Wilkes-Barre. There it remained until the mid-1960s when Richard and Helen Robinson of Connecticut gave Hayfield House and the surrounding farm property in Lehman to the University. Valued at approximately $1 million, Hayfield House was built by coal baron John N. Conyngham and his wife Bertha in the early 1930s. The mansion was converted into administrative offices and classrooms.

The property's former 19-car garage now houses the Student Commons and bookstore. A 15-acre arboretum displays a wide variety of trees and shrubs, some imported from Europe.

Most of the original furnishings are gone from Hayfield House, but visitors still can enjoy the magnificent architectural aspects of the building and the unique characteristics of each room.

The Conynghams spent about four months each year at Hayfield Farm. They raised Highland cattle, Clydesdale horses, Chester White pigs, sheep and a variety of unusual animals, including buffalo and Sardinian donkeys. In addition to traditional vegetables and fruits, the farm also produced large amounts of hay and corn.

During the years it took to turn Hayfield House into administrative offices and classrooms, a new building housing five classrooms was erected. Here, drafting and architectural classes were conducted until the Center for Technology was built in 1990. In time, the library was expanded and other buildings were built to meet student needs.

Now a member campus of the Commonwealth College, Penn State Wilkes-Barre continues to grow in academic offerings and locations. Last year, the Kingston Center opened in a local middle school, for students seeking a two- or four-year business or liberal arts degree in an evening format.

Wilkes-Barre at a glance

* Mary E. Hines, campus executive officer

* 55-acre campus in Lehman

* Student enrollment of 898

* 39 full-time and 66 part-time faculty members

* Student/faculty ratio of 15 to 1

* First two years of about 160 Penn State majors

* Complete five bachelor's and six associate degrees

* Professional development programs

* Eight varsity sports

* 20 student clubs and organizations