The Histories of Penn State
Penn State Intercom......November 14, 2002

Great Valley at a glance

Filling a niche

Great Valley 'races' to fulfill the
educational needs of the community

By David Jwanier
Philadelphia Region

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 history. Intercom is continuing to highlight those stories. GV_merion


What began as an assist in the "race for space" has led the University's graduate campus in suburban Philadelphia to reach for the stars.

Penn State Great Valley School of Graduate Professional Studies was formed 39 years ago in King of Prussia as the King of Prussia Graduate Center (KPGC), to provide graduate level engineering science programs to the nearby General Electric Goddard Space Center (now Lockheed Martin Management and Data Systems). The center, which was initially headquartered at the former Upper Merion High School building, carried on the University's mission to serve the specific needs of the community -- in this case mainly scientists and engineers in Montgomery County -- and provided courses for a modest student body of 80 during the first fall term.

GV_new_buildingPenn State King of Prussia's graduate student body grew as the scientific community learned of its scholastic reputation and, according to KPGC Director A. Witt Hutchison, the school's enrollment grew more than fivefold by fall of 1967, to 457 students.GV_night

According to Delores Wiant, a library assistant at Penn State Great Valley who started her University career at the original facility in 1967, a small but persistent faculty recruitment effort was a key to this growth.

"In the beginning, we had one librarian and one professor, but the faculty grew steadily from there," said Wiant. "Professors used to go to different companies and they actually did a lot of the recruiting for the graduate school."

Another factor in the center's growth was a University decision to provide courses for special education teachers in the Philadelphia metropolitan area, and these programs were well under way by the late 1960s. Math education graduate programs also were offered, taking advantage of the strong mathematics courses already present in the engineering curriculum. The Graduate Center was further strengthened in 1974 when it received approval from University Park to offer courses off-site at a local business, which would be the first in a long line of off-campus educational opportunities that benefited the campus, area companies and their employees.

While the center was blossoming, the condition of the original facility was deteriorating.

"We had bats in the building at one point, and roaches this big," said Wiant, putting her two pointer fingers a couple of inches apart. "The roof was leaky, and one time one of the professors constructed a funnel to carry water from the ceiling in his classroom out the window. The students all wore their coats in class due to the cold, but the professor didn't. Little did they know that he came prepared with thermal underwear."

On another occasion, Upper Merion School District was renovating one of its schools, so the district relocated numerous seventh-grade classrooms to the KPGC site for classes. This wasn't too much of a problem, because the King of Prussia Graduate Center operated at night -- except for one unforeseen circumstance that every former grade-schooler could appreciate.

"They made such a mess in the bathrooms, writing on the walls and such, that when they moved out, our staff painted the walls as far up as we could reach," Wiant recalled.

The mediocre condition of the facility, a desire to add professional development programs to the school's offerings and the introduction of the public administration graduate program in the mid-1970s necessitated a move to another facility in 1978.

The King of Prussia Graduate Center moved its operations to rented facilities at the Roland Elementary School in Radnor, which was closing. Wiant recalled, however, that the building was a bit of a "fixer upper," and that staff members helped out with interior painting and other manageable tasks to make parts of it more appealing.

It apparently became nice enough that one day a newly hired labor relations professor rolled out a sleeping bag and spent the night. That was all well and good until Helmut Weber -- the campus executive officer who succeeded Hutchison in 1968 -- brought some representatives from University Park to tour the new "campus." Weber was unaware of the faculty member's decision to spend the night, and quickly had to divert the visitors' attention to another part of the building, said Wiant.

The library assistant recalled that this was a kinder, gentler time, before computer technology rendered personal interaction limited because the students have access to computers at work and home. She can remember leaving books in her home mailbox for one student so he could pick them up while making his rounds as a policeman. When the student was done with them, he simply dropped them off in Wiant's mailbox for her to return.

"I really enjoyed the student interaction back then, and with so many items available online these days, you don't get that as much nowadays," she said wistfully, noting that personal attention is still available to those who desire it.

After four years in Radnor, Penn State was able to move its suburban Philadelphia professional graduate center back to King of Prussia, which Weber said would bring the school back to the place where it all started, while keeping in touch with its service area. The center moved to the former Gulph Elementary School and once again went through a name revision, taking on the breath-stealing moniker, Pennsylvania State University's King of Prussia Center for Graduate Studies and Continuing Education. Keeping with tradition, many classes were held off-site at businesses, or at other convenient locations in the area. At this point in time, master's degrees were offered in the areas of public administration, engineering, elementary education, math education, special education and urban and regional planning.

One of the key events at this location was the founding of the Penn State Technology Business Incubator in 1986. The incubator no longer is in existence, but it underlined the entrepreneurial spirit of Penn State Great Valley, and formed the impetus for future programs on campus.

In 1987, the graduate campus embarked on a truly entrepreneurial venture under Campus Executive Officer Lawrence Cote when the University agreed to help it acquire an 8.5-acre site in Malvern to construct a new $7 million, 75,000-square-foot instructional facility -- the first permanent university campus in the nation to be located within a corporate park. That same year, the school unveiled its new management program, and the following year, Penn State Great Valley School for Graduate Professional Studies opened its doors. By now, Penn State Great Valley had grown to a school of approximately 900 graduate students, with 51 full-time faculty and staff members.

Access to technology -- and the integration of technology into the curriculum -- are hallmarks of the Penn State Great Valley educational experience. This emphasis began early on under the leadership of Hutchison and Weber, and it has come into sharper focus under the direction of Cote, former Campus Executive Officer Madlyn Hanes and current CEO William Milheim. The Computer Services Center offers students 150 workstations, and classrooms are equipped for advanced multimedia presentations.

Currently, Penn State Great Valley is a leading regional provider of professional graduate education -- offering master's degree programs in the areas of education, engineering, information science and management. Its MBA program was named "Top Educational Program of the Year" in 2000 by the Eastern Technology Council, and nearly 3,000 students attend graduate or professional development courses.

Milheim plans to continue addressing the educational needs of the community. That's how Penn State Great Valley got its start nearly 30 years ago, and it's the foundation for the future success of the campus.  

David Jwanier can be reached at

Great Valley at a glance

* William D. Milheim, campus executive officer

* 8.5-acre campus in Malvern

* Student enrollment of 1,579

* 41 full-time and 75 part-time faculty

* Four areas of study: education, engineering, information science and management

* Average age of students is 37

* Students average six years of work experience

Since most students at Great Valley attend class at night, this is the view they have of the main building.