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New president builds on tradition in setting course for tomorrow – ‘Let’s get to work’

Despite being squarely in the theatrical spotlight during his inauguration as the newest leader of Pennsylvania College of Technology, Michael J. Reed was quick to divert that attention and look far beyond his own monumental day.

“The next chapter in our institution’s rich history is not about its president,” he said, “it remains steadfastly focused on students, mission and team. A chapter ignited by our past, inspired by tomorrow and committed to a ‘Future Made by Hand.’ With your invaluable input and support, I look forward to us seizing opportunities and solidifying (our) standing as an innovator, trailblazer and national leader in applied technology education.”

A full transcript of President Reed’s inaugural address follows:

In his inaugural address, President Reed reinforces the college's student-centered calling: "Our primary goal – which I seek to perpetuate in my service as president – is to place our graduates in the most competitive position to achieve long-term success, while meeting the current needs of employers in business and industry. To accomplish this, we must always place mission above self."
In his inaugural address, President Reed reinforces the college’s student-centered calling: “Our primary goal – which I seek to perpetuate in my service as president – is to place our graduates in the most competitive position to achieve long-term success, while meeting the current needs of employers in business and industry. To accomplish this, we must always place mission above self.”

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you, Sen. Yaw, and to the platform party, represented by members of our Board of Directors, Foundation Board, alumni, Academic Affairs, our student body and industry partners. I appreciate the support of our visiting college/university delegates. Thank you to all who are here today and watching online – your support means a great deal to me.

Special thanks to my wife, Christina; son, Gavin; and daughter, Cali, who are all here today, for their support, day in and day out. They are my true north – always helping to keep me grounded and energized.

Today, we honor how we are ignited by our past, inspired by tomorrow and committed to – what we like to call – a “Future Made by Hand.”

I am deeply honored and humbled to stand before you today as the eighth president of Pennsylvania College of Technology.

Penn College is truly unique among institutions of higher learning. As president, I pledge to do everything in my power to sustain and enhance the level of excellence embodied on our campus.

As Sen. Yaw described, our college’s storied past and evolution into a national leader in applied technology education began more than a century ago with vocational-education and training initiatives launched at Williamsport High School. Those efforts initially benefited returning World War I veterans; later, they helped individuals gain the skills needed to pull our nation out of the Great Depression.

Those 108 years of relevant, focused, high-demand, hands-on delivery of instruction have prepared students to lead within sustainable industries and essential career fields. It is the source of our institution’s DNA, and serves as a beacon for institutions seeking to replicate our success.

Our primary goal – which I seek to perpetuate in my service as president – is to place our graduates in the most competitive position to achieve long-term success, while meeting the current needs of employers in business and industry. To accomplish this, we must always place mission above self.

First and foremost, our decision-making must always reflect what is best for our students, our mission and our team. The foundation for this approach is well-established. My immediate predecessor as president, Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour, who served with distinction for 24 years, always said and practiced, “People make the difference.” She was right. Davie has been a role model to me and our greater community and a faithful steward of the institution. I look to build on the solid foundation that she and others have created.

The family matriarch – Elizabeth Reed, "90 years young" – joins her son for a campus tour earlier in the day. The president's father, Elmer D. Reed Jr., died in September 2021. (Photo provided)
The family matriarch – Elizabeth Reed, “90 years young” – joins her son for a campus tour earlier in the day. The president’s father, Elmer D. Reed Jr., died in September 2021. (Photo provided)

In leading this institution, I will bring my own unique outlook and perspectives. I am the youngest of 10 siblings growing up in a small, blue-collar home, so, by necessity, I know something about cooperation, competition and collaboration – not to mention patience and a little bit of self-defense. Looking back, the moments of greatest struggle provided the ideal platform for personal growth and to develop resiliency – I can’t thank my parents and siblings enough for always having my back, AND for never –and I mean never – making it easy. My mother is 90 years young – truly one of the toughest and most loving persons anyone will ever meet. She was teaching her children the power of grit well before Duckworth and the University of Pennsylvania coined the phrase. My mother is here today, along with some of my siblings – Nancy and her husband, Scott; my sister, Bev; and my brother, Shawn, and his wife, Karin. My other siblings – Kathy; Mary; Sue; Gwen; Jim and his wife, Sue – are likely watching remotely. My father and brother David are looking down upon us. I am truly grateful for all of you.

I am also a first-generation college student, so I appreciate the challenges that many of our Penn College students face when they arrive on campus to begin their studies. As an undergraduate, it took me some time to learn how to flourish in a new environment. I was fortunate to have some family and community mentors guiding me on my path, and I understand how vital it is to provide the needed support to help students find their footing and accelerate.

One vital measure of Penn College’s ongoing success is how well our students perform following graduation. Penn College proudly boasts a 96% placement rate, and a significant number of our alumni are leaders within their respective fields and communities. We have recent graduates reporting starting salaries as high as $125,000, with signing bonuses. Our success was recently confirmed in a national study conducted by Georgetown University. For graduates of four-year, public institutions within Pennsylvania, sorted by return on investment, Penn College outpaced ALL institutions. Yes, according to Georgetown’s data, our four-year graduates’ financial value outpaced those at all other public four-year institutions in the commonwealth when evaluating 10 years of earnings. Talk about “degrees that work.” In addition, U.S. News’ “Best Colleges” recently ranked Penn College in the top 10 in five separate categories among Regional Colleges-North.

If a student is looking for an exceptional college experience that leads to a high-paying, sustainable career, they may want to check us out.

A Penn College education is a tremendously impactful investment. While we strive to keep tuition costs as low as possible, an applied technology education – requiring state-of-the-art equipment and facilities reflecting the current workplace – is intrinsically more expensive to deliver than a traditional degree.

Accordingly, generating a rapid return on investment for students enrolled in our STEM-related majors is crucial, and it certainly helps that our graduates are “real-world ready” from day one in their careers. Our students benefit from talented faculty and program advisory committees with relatable industry experience and expertise, who can forecast what to expect in the modern workplace. Ultimately, our graduates get on the fast track for success in their career fields, advancing to leadership positions well before their counterparts.

As president, my aim is to retain and refine what works and explore ways to tweak and enhance areas where there is room for improvement. And, there is always room for continual improvement – no matter how well our mission is executed. We must always aspire to be our best and meet our mission.

The framework to reach the next level is already in place. We stand out among our peers for the common-sense approach to instruction that has guided us from the beginning. “Future Made by Hand,” one of our most popular branding themes, is not just a clever marketing concept. It is a genuine representation of the impact our graduates have on employers, who regularly tell us they will hire as many of them as we can produce. Many of our students have multiple offers within their growing fields before they graduate, and some have standing offers before they even begin their first day.

Many of you know our time-tested formula, but it bears retelling. On average, our students spend three hours in hands-on, industry-standard labs for each hour of classroom instruction to apply their learning. We have an industry advisory committee for every program, allowing us to keep current with the latest developments in a diverse range of career fields. Our curriculum is continually reviewed, and programs that fail to meet our high standards – or lose relevance – are removed, while others are added when an industry need is foreseen. The guiding principle is to offer only those academic programs that provide the highest value to our students. Fortunately, our nimble structure allows us to pivot quickly, whenever such needs arise.

We are encouraged by the 13% increase of new students we welcomed to campus for the Fall 2022 semester but, as most are aware, the pandemic has had a significant impact on college and university enrollment nationwide for more than two years. We must address head-on the enrollment challenges that remain and figure out a way to produce more highly skilled graduates for our nearly 2,000 industry and corporate partners. Even before COVID-19 began, colleges and universities – particularly those in our state and region of the country – were dealing with enrollment losses caused by increased competition and the continuing decline in the number of high school graduates.

It’s worth repeating: Industry leaders need more of our graduates, and to boost enrollment, there are concrete steps we will take to forge stronger connections with high school teachers, counselors and parents; some of that work has already begun, on many fronts.

In addition to high school students on a traditional pathway, we also recognize that there are approximately 70,000 students in CTCs (career and technology centers) and CTEs (career and technical education) facilities throughout Pennsylvania offering programs that align directly with many of our degree options. We also know that many of the teachers, counselors and students at these CTCs and CTEs are unaware of the life-changing educational opportunities awaiting them at Penn College. I want to thank the K-12 teachers and leaders who are in the audience today and – I promise you – we will be in touch.

Ask anyone involved with recruiting here at Penn College, and they will tell you that, if you can get a student to visit campus – to see firsthand our amazing facilities and equipment, interact with our accomplished faculty and experience our supportive environment – it is the most crucial step in the matriculation process. Look for amplified efforts in that regard going forward, as well as exploration of unique partnering opportunities with CTCs, CTEs, traditional high schools and two-year colleges.

Another key resource for us will be attracting working adults with more evening and weekend hybrid course offerings. For many of these students, it is the only practical path to earning their degrees. This fall, we are also reserving space in our on-campus housing for students with families, removing another potential impediment to their educational aspirations. This is in addition to our popular Dunham Children’s Learning Center, which provides high-quality child care for our parents who are completing degrees.

Our focus on apprenticeships is another aspect differentiating us from our peers. Apprenticeships help industry meet its need for highly skilled employees. Workforce Development at Penn College is a national, comprehensive, multisite provider of apprenticeship programs in an array of high-demand career fields.

The list includes mechatronics technicians; CNC precision machinists, industrial manufacturing technicians, plastics process technicians, robotics and automation equipment technicians, industrial maintenance mechanics, heavy diesel mechanics, and infrastructure maintenance technicians, among others. We work closely with employers to customize programs that accommodate their needs. We will continue to explore such workforce options to complement what is offered in our degree programs, and we will provide more stackable-credential pathways leading to the completion of a degree.

Additionally, look for increased efforts to enhance diversity and inclusion on our campus. Industry feedback and a campus climate survey identified an opportunity for us to better prepare ALL students as they enter culturally rich work environments as we strive to place all students in the most competitive position for long-term success.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the part that our Penn College alumni, especially our dedicated volunteer network of Alumni Tomorrow Makers, continue to play in attracting new students to campus and mentoring our current enrollees. Their life experiences and perspectives are a tremendous resource, and we endeavor to bring as many of them here as possible to provide counsel and offer support to current and prospective Penn College students.

In my work in higher-education administration – and in my previous experiences as a high school principal, teacher and counselor – I developed a team-focused, collaborative, transparent approach that will inform my work as president. We have an extraordinary talent base on campus – and through our community and corporate networks – that I intend to tap as we tackle the complex challenges and opportunities on our horizon. I believe the best ideas and solutions emerge when diverse points of view and data are solicited and evaluated. We will engage our supporters and community leaders in this process, as well.

I am a strong proponent of two-way communication, and I resolve to get out of my office and engage with people – on campus and off – whenever possible. I welcome input from students, alumni, faculty, staff and community leaders as we strive relentlessly to meet the needs of students and industry.

These are especially challenging times in higher education, but with challenges come opportunities. Let me be clear. The next chapter in our institution’s rich history is not about its president – it remains steadfastly focused on students, mission and team. A chapter ignited by our past, inspired by tomorrow and committed to a “Future Made by Hand.”

With your invaluable input and support, I look forward to us seizing opportunities and solidifying Pennsylvania College of Technology’s standing as an innovator, trailblazer and national leader in applied technology education.

Together, there is nothing we can’t achieve. Let’s get to work.

Thank you.

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