Lehigh Valley's Thigpen retires as longest-standing director of academic affairs

After 35 total years of service to Penn State, Kenneth Thigpen will retire in December

Kenneth A. Thigpen will retire later this year after 35 years total at Penn State. Credit: Kate Morgan / Penn StateCreative Commons

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — After a distinguished career in higher education, Kenneth A. Thigpen, director of academic affairs at Penn State Lehigh Valley, has announced he will retire in December 2017 after more than nine years of service to the Lehigh Valley campus — and 35 years of total service to Penn State.

“Dr. Thigpen’s contributions to this campus have been invaluable, most notably to its growth and visibility. He has provided outstanding leadership in many areas, including the academic portfolio, financial and facility planning, and personnel review and management for faculty and staff,” said Tina Q. Richardson, chancellor of Penn State Lehigh Valley. “His work will continue to catapult the campus as a first-choice education option for students in the region for years to come.”

Thigpen’s collaborative efforts with campus leadership, faculty and staff helped develop the new Lehigh Valley Campus Strategic Plan, based on academic priorities. He was responsible for bringing several new majors to Penn State Lehigh Valley, including biobehavioral health, rehabilitation and human services, corporate communication, arts administration, health policy and administration, and project and supply chain management. He has worked closely with campus admissions and with the Office of the Vice President of Commonwealth Campuses to complete articulation agreements with nearby community colleges.

Thigpen initially retired from Penn State in 1999 with the rank of associate professor of English after 26 years on the faculty. He was the youngest faculty member in the College of Liberal Arts at Penn State when he arrived in 1973, and he is leaving the University now as the longest-standing director of academic affairs currently in the Commonwealth.

“Having spent exactly half of my life as an employee of Penn State, the time has come to bid a fond farewell. When I became the director of academic affairs of Penn State Lehigh Valley in 2008 after a nine-year hiatus from Penn State, it was wonderful to re-engage with the people of this University. I especially enjoyed the size of the Lehigh Valley campus because it has allowed me to get to know people better, and I feel I was able to have more of an impact; I could more clearly see the impact of our work and efforts to advance this campus,” said Thigpen. “I have been impressed with the people of this campus. We have outstanding faculty, a top-notched staff and amazing students.”

Thigpen also shared responsibility for moving the Lehigh Valley campus from its Fogelsville location to Center Valley in 2009, and redesigning classrooms, labs, the library, and offices to align with Penn State standards. His committee service to the University includes: Commission for Adult Learners, Council on Engagement, New Programs Working Group, Office of Undergraduate Education Assessment Coordination Committee, Administrative Council on Outreach, Student Transitions Task Force, Short Term Study Abroad Task Force, and as chair of the Task Force on Prior Learning Assessment.

“Ken Thigpen models for us the sage leader with the grand vision who gets things done. He draws people to him with his good cheer and can-do attitude. The extended Penn State community and indeed all of higher learning have benefited from his hands on the reins, and heart and soul in his profession,” said Simon Bronner, distinguished professor emeritus of American studies and folklore at Penn State Harrisburg.

“Dr. Thigpen has been a champion of academics, research and learning at Penn State Lehigh Valley, but his legacy will no doubt be his character. He’s a genuine and innate leader, who leads with humility and wisdom,” said Elizabeth Flaherty, honors program and arts administration program coordinator at Penn State Lehigh Valley. “He inspires greatness in those around him, and wants to see others succeed and be recognized for their efforts. I am truly honored to have worked with him, and I am thankful for all he has done for me and for this University.”

When asked to identify what has made him most proud during his nine-year tenure at Penn State Lehigh Valley, Thigpen could not name just one thing.

“We have moved from being a provincial, isolated campus to a leader, not just in growth, but in educational innovation,” he said. “We have grown and emphasized study abroad programs; established a Multimedia Innovation Center on campus, along with a new Virtual Reality room. We continue to be supportive of the arts, not just with our two art galleries, but also with our painting, metal arts and ceramic studios.

“We have added new degree programs in deliberately responsible ways that are responsive to the changing economic environment, and have not only started, but completed articulation agreements. There has also been a number of faculty promotions on this campus to full professor, which has been rewarding to support. It has been especially fulfilling to see our faculty recognized with University-level teaching awards. In short, we have come a long way!”

Thigpen has spent the fall semester graciously supporting the transition of the interim director of academic affairs, Douglas Hochstetler.

“To be successful in this role, I recommend being very supportive of your people, and supportive of the multiple visions of faculty. And also, maintain the things worth maintaining and move forward,” said Thigpen. “It’s a demanding job, but a rewarding one.”

Thigpen earned a doctorate of philosophy in folklore from Indiana University and a master of arts in humanities and a bachelor of arts in English, both from Florida State University.

He is looking forward to spending time with his family, and taking a trip in January to Antarctica with his wife, Ann Marie. Thigpen said he remains open to other opportunities and adventures. Thigpen’s family, friends and colleagues will attend a retirement celebration for him on Nov. 2 at Riverview Country Club in Easton.

Donations are being collected in honor of Thigpen for the Kenneth A. Thigpen Embedded Travel Abroad Fund to support future opportunities for students to study abroad. Contact Sharon Neders in the Development Office at or 610-285-5159 to make a contribution to this fund.

Last Updated October 17, 2019