Penn State York receives largest gift in its history

Gift creates and funds the Graham Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies

Penn State York has received the largest gift in its history from Donald C. Graham to create the Graham Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies at Penn State York. A continuation of a successful three-year pilot program, the center will enhance students’ career preparation through interdisciplinary coursework and internship and networking opportunities with local businesses.

“It is extremely gratifying for me to see initiatives like the Graham Center being developed at our campuses,” said Penn State President Rodney A. Erickson. “The center combines Don’s vision and generosity with the excellent faculty and educational resources at Penn State York. In doing so, it demonstrates the power of philanthropic partnerships to impact our students and, ultimately, the industries in which they’ll work and the communities in which they’ll live.”

The Graham Entrepreneurial Leadership Program, the forerunner to the new Graham Center, was established in 2010 with a major gift from Donald Graham. Believing that companies in the York region face a need for college graduates with well-honed critical thinking and leadership skills, Graham provided the program’s guiding vision. “I believe that entrepreneurial thinking, as I define it, is much broader than just what is usually thought of when we talk about entrepreneurialism, which is the starting up of a company,” Graham said. “Companies of any size require an entrepreneurial process to successfully supply products and services to the market. It’s very important that students are trained to appreciate and contribute to that process because it will improve their ability to serve their employer and themselves.

“I have a passion for entrepreneurialism,” he added. “What better way for us to serve the community and serve Penn State York than by helping them provide an important part of the learning process to students in an area that we care deeply about?”

“Interdisciplinary education is an important element of the program because it allows students to expand their knowledge base beyond the general scope of their major,” said Penn State York Chancellor David W. Chown. “But the real key is its unique structure, what we call a ‘trio process.’ That refers to the ongoing, reciprocal collaboration among students, faculty members and corporate partners in planning and carrying out, and then evaluating the results of, internship opportunities with companies in the York region.”

The Graham Center will carry forward the model established in the pilot program. It will coordinate those joint efforts to develop a tool box of skills for each student designed to support the host company’s culture and the unique demands of their particular workplace. Student interns receive performance appraisals and continuous feedback from the company, through their company mentor, that is shared and discussed with their Penn State York faculty member. Students in this leadership program experience company culture and work on real projects to benefit the students as well as the company or organization.

Students from four disciplines — business, engineering, human development and family studies, and information sciences and technology — have been involved in the program so far. Penn State York hopes to continue to expand the Graham Center to include other majors at the campus. Last year, 14 students completed internships at eight companies: The Graham Group, Dentsply, Glatfelter, Harley-Davidson York Vehicle Operations, Shipley Energy, GEA Refrigeration Technologies, New Standard Corporation and Glatfelter Insurance Group.

“We’ve learned by living in York, and working in York, and having employees in York — many thousands — the important role that Penn State York has played in terms of servicing our community by giving an outstanding educational opportunity to our community residents,” Graham said. “Of course that, in turn, provides employees who are well trained for our corporations that are located here in York.”

Graham is the founder of The Graham Group, an alliance of industrial businesses and investment management firms that trace their roots to a design engineering firm that Graham founded in Central Pennsylvania in 1960. Through his Graham Foundation, created in 1986, he has generously supported a wide range of community, educational, and environmental projects. His gift creating the Graham Center will establish an endowment to permanently fund the center’s operations, including the director’s salary, curriculum development, and speakers for the ongoing Visionary Leaders Lecture Series. The endowment also will provide scholarship support for students in the program with financial need.

“Don’s great success throughout his career testifies to his strengths as an entrepreneur and business leader,” said Bill Kerlin, chairman and CEO of Graham Capital Company (part of The Graham Group) and member of the Penn State York Advisory Board and the campus’ For the Future campaign committee. “That he has used those strengths to establish, and now permanently fund, an entrepreneurial leadership program at Penn State York speaks to his status as an important community leader, as well.”

Chancellor Chown agreed. “Don Graham’s commitment to the York community and to Penn State York in particular has been truly impressive to me,” Chown said. “This remarkable gift promises to significantly improve educational opportunities for our students, and the resulting benefits will get passed on to industry and the community. Don’s philanthropy will have a transformative impact and establish a magnificent legacy for him at our campus. We are deeply grateful for his generosity.”

For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students is a University-wide effort directed toward a shared vision of Penn State as the most comprehensive, student-centered research university in America. The campaign is engaging alumni and friends as partners in achieving six key objectives: ensuring student access and opportunity, enhancing honors education, enriching the student experience, building faculty strength and capacity, fostering discovery and creativity, and sustaining the University’s tradition of quality. The campaign’s top priority is keeping a Penn State degree affordable for students and families. For the Future is the most ambitious effort of its kind in Penn State’s history, with the goal of securing $2 billion by 2014.

Donald C. Graham made the largest gift in Penn State York's history to create the Graham Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies at the campus. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated October 15, 2013