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New Penn State, Penn College presidents tread common ground

The symbiotic relationship between Penn State and Pennsylvania College of Technology was front and center on Oct. 4, as the new presidents of both institutions underscored their shared mission during a visit in Williamsport.

President Michael J. Reed welcomed Penn State’s Neeli Bendapudi for a daylong tour of Penn College’s main campus that coincided with the Fall Career Fair and included informal interaction with students, faculty/staff and community leaders/industry partners.

“You clearly have leaders who get it, you really do. You clearly have a team that really enjoys working together. That’s very, very critical,” Bendapudi told college employees during one of her afternoon get-acquainted sessions. “And I love the vision of your president, who said, ‘We are here to put our students in the most competitive position possible for a successful career.’”

Penn College President Michael J. Reed and Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi meet at the outset of her daylong visit to Penn College, a special mission affiliate of Penn State.
Penn College President Michael J. Reed and Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi meet at the outset of her daylong visit to Penn College, a special mission affiliate of Penn State.

Much of her appreciation for Penn College comes from her background and ongoing engagement with industry, and Bendapudi was impressed by the interaction among students and prospective employers during a Career Fair walk-through in Bardo Gym.

It also stems from being the oldest of three daughters in a family that periodically endured financially hard times in India.

“My own life was transformed through higher education,” said the Penn State president, the 19th person – and first woman – to hold the position. “Higher education is about thinking lofty thoughts. But, like you are doing here, it’s also about putting food on the table, dignity of labor and breaking those cycles of poverty. Because it impacts the individual, it impacts the family, it impacts their community.”

The president related her “ABCs of student success,” which she said were all on obvious display at Penn College: academic preparedness, a sense of belonging and cost containment. “If we can address these things, then we’re doing what we’re supposed to do.”

Why did President Bendapudi, in only her fifth month at a university with an $8.4 billion budget and two dozen campuses, choose to spend an entire day in Williamsport?

“This is part and parcel of the land-grant mission of Penn State,” she offered. “We are supposed to do three things, and Penn College does all three. No. 1 is about access and affordability, social mobility through education. The second thing is economic development; unlike other universities, it’s in our charter. And the third thing is research that makes an impact.”

“You do research here,” she emphasized. “It’s not research that’s appearing in a peer-reviewed journal, perhaps, but when you say, ‘What’s a better way to teach? What’s a better way to communicate? What is happening in the world of work? Do we need to be offering new courses?’ That’s all research. It’s what we’re studying to find solutions to problems.

“So, to me, Penn College really does live the land-grant promise.”

The two institutions also partner through Advocate Penn State, like-minded people committed to building the best possible future for graduates and the industries they go on to lead. Because Penn College receives its state funding from the same legislative source as Penn State, the collaboration furthers the joint objective of making education as affordable as possible for students.

The campaign champions the worth of a Penn State education in the face of a disparity in legislative appropriations to higher education. The university is asking that its per-student funding, which ranks last among the state’s public institutions, be increased to align with that of the next lowest-funded public university in the commonwealth.

That value is regularly visible at Penn College, where graduates not only attain the technical skills to be successful the first day on the job, but also the vision to effect future change – to make their workplaces more innovative, artistic and imaginative throughout their careers.

Robin L. German, a first-year student in construction management from Red Lion, enjoys an unexpected encounter with Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi during the Fall Career Fair at Penn College.
Robin L. German, a first-year student in construction management from Red Lion, enjoys an unexpected encounter with Penn State President Neeli Bendapudi during the Fall Career Fair at Penn College.

“I think what really amazed me about Penn College was how world-class it is,” she said during a Q&A with faculty and staff. “You know, you read something on a piece of paper and you see what the programs are that are being offered. I was already impressed by how you can have certificate programs, how you can get an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, even a master’s degree. But until you come here and see that the students are … learning on tools and machines and techniques that are not available widely – and maybe not at all – that is impressive.

“The second thing that really impressed me is the leadership. It really matters: Why are people doing what they’re doing. There seems to really be a focus on the mission; that’s how you know whether you’re going to be successful. Are they being driven by primacy of the individual or primacy of the mission?”

Other topics during the wide-open conversation were inclusion, with students and employees alike feeling like they belong; the importance of resurrecting students’ global experiences as the world emerges from a pandemic; and a seamless Penn College/Penn State affiliation to the benefit of the commonwealth long into the future.

“We are delighted that President Bendapudi could spend an entire day with us here at Penn College, getting a firsthand look at our exceptional labs and facilities, interacting with faculty and staff and – at Career Fair – witnessing the engagement between students and our business and industry partners, a Penn College hallmark,” Reed said. “She is clearly a strong advocate for our unique educational mission, and we welcome the opportunity for additional communication and collaboration.”

Joining Reed and members of his President’s Council for the day’s activities were Zack Moore, Penn State’s vice president for government and community relations (and a member of the Penn College Board of Directors), and Michael Wade Smith, senior vice president and Bendapudi’s chief of staff.

Reed assumed the presidency in July, with the retirement of Davie Jane Gilmour, and Bendapudi has served since Eric J. Barron retired in May.

For more about the college, a special mission affiliate of Penn State and a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.

– Photos by Cindy Davis Meixel, writer/photo editor

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