Tom and Mary Ellen Litzinger create $1.2 million endowment for Shaver's Creek

Mary Ellen and Tom Litzinger with Penn State President Eric Barron and his wife, Molly, at the rededication for Shaver's Creek Environmental Center on Friday, Aug. 31. Credit: Trish Hummer / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Mary Ellen and Tom Litzinger have established the $1.2 million Mary Ellen and Thomas A. Litzinger Endowment at Shaver’s Creek through a bequest to ensure educational opportunities and a sustainable future for Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center at Penn State.

The couple also contributed financially to the recent renovation and expansion of the center, located in Petersburg, Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania: $35,000 toward the construction of the Litzinger Herpetology Center to house reptiles and amphibians and another $150,000 for the Litzinger Discovery Room.

Penn State President Eric Barron announced the gifts at the grand reopening of Shaver’s Creek on Aug. 31.

“We are so grateful to Tom and Mary Ellen for everything they have done for Penn State, especially this generous gift to ensure that Shaver’s Creek can continue its mission of environmental education, outreach and care of the natural world,” said Barron. “Their gift will help people of all ages explore the wonders of nature and provide future generations with a serene place to hike, explore and enjoy.”

Mary Ellen Litzinger began volunteering as an educator for school programs at Shaver’s Creek in 2006. She chaired the fundraising committee for “Building the Future of Environmental Education: a $1 million Capital Campaign” raising $1.5 million to contribute to the $7.5 million renovation and expansion of the center.

“We are elated to see this expansion become a reality. We have chosen to support Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center because its interdisciplinary outreach and educational opportunities support our core values, especially the promotion of sustainable natural resource use and the fostering of a respect for nature,” she said. “The center is a peaceful and healing place and we hope visitors will learn why it is important to treasure these pockets of nature.”

Rather than sustain a specific program, the Litzingers set up the endowment for general expenses and operating costs to ensure the center and its inhabitants are well cared for into the future.

“My husband and I established this endowment to support the staff, students and community members who work and learn at Shaver’s Creek, and to care for the reptiles, amphibians and raptors that are at the core of the center’s mission,” Mary Ellen Litzinger said. “From learning about plants and trees to engaging turtles, snakes and raptors — people of all ages need to closely observe and touch things to learn. We also recognize that the center collaborates with academic colleges across the University to offer courses in environmental interpretation, outdoor adventure education and leadership. We want to see these opportunities continue.”

Mary Ellen Litzinger began her career at Penn State in 1981 as a reference librarian and later became an instructor in the colleges of Engineering and Health and Human Development. She earned a doctor of philosophy in instructional systems from the College of Education at Penn State. Tom Litzinger completed his undergraduate degree in nuclear engineering at Penn State in 1977 and his doctorate at Princeton University, before returning to Penn State in 1985. He is currently the assistant dean for educational innovation, accreditation and digital learning, director for the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education, and professor of mechanical engineering.

The couple recently contributed to two scholarship opportunities at Penn State: $30,000, which combined with a match of an additional $60,000 by the University, created the Thomas A. and Mary Ellen Litzinger Open Doors Scholarship in the College of Engineering and a $705,000 bequest to the existing Thomas and Mary Ellen Litzinger Renaissance Scholarship.

“As a student from a working class family, I was very fortunate to receive scholarships from Penn State which allowed me to work less and focus more on my studies,” Tom Litzinger said. “I understand personally the impact scholarships can have for a student. Mary Ellen and I hope that our scholarships will make that kind of impact for future students at Penn State.”

These gifts will advance “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hard-working students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and affecting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit

Last Updated July 18, 2019