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Our History Proves Opportunities Exist In Hard Times

The following oped piece, written by President Davie Jane Gilmour, appeared in Feb. 8, 2009, editions of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette.

There was an uninvited guest at our new-year celebrations in 2009 – it was the growing concern about our economy and our future.

Families, organizations, and governments – overburdened by rising costs and uncertainty about living and doing business in a changing world – were left to wonder if there was any reason to celebrate.

When difficult times arise, human nature compels us to look for someone or something to blame. When fingers point in many directions without resolving any of the challenges before us, we experience a failure of confidence on many levels.

None of us are blind to the facts. We borrowed from the future to pay for yesterday. The responsibility of mounting debt is heavy on our shoulders. It will take a great deal of personal commitment and patriotism to restore our confidence, our communities and our country.

The good news is: History is filled with stories of Americans facing challenges and finding new paths to success. Giving up is not the American way.

American institutions – government, business, industry and higher education – must be advocates for positive change. By acting as partners in their communities, these institutions can play vital roles in restoring the well-being of our workforce and the confidence of our citizens.

Pennsylvania College of Technology is a modern iteration of “the Williamsport Plan,” a nationally recognized program developed to fight the effects of the Great Depression. The idea of partnering education and industry to support workforce development – a basic foundation of our college mission today – was unique in the 1930s and `40s.

At that time, when unemployment was rampant, visionary leaders in Williamsport were inspired by the needs of the local economy. They joined forces to analyze business needs, establish training programs to meet those needs and secure government funds to support training and employment. The founders of Williamsport Technical Institute (which later became Williamsport Area Community College and Pennsylvania College of Technology) and its local business and government partners understood that hard times may lead to new opportunities.

It is our challenge now to inspire the vision, develop the strength of character, and encourage the persistence required to succeed in a changing world. Our leaders must join hands to restore greatness to our community. Our goal must be to increase opportunities for our citizens. We must encourage the growth of business and industry. We must ensure that local residents have access to job training and education that can help them secure employment that offers family-sustaining wages. We must provide higher education to inspire hopes of advancement for those who live and work in our local community.

How ready are we – as individuals, as organizations and as a community – to face the uncertainties of our times? Do we have the skills required to succeed in a changing environment? Are we flexible, resourceful, and prepared to handle change? Have we learned from the past? Are we prepared for the present? Have we planned for the future? Are we making the most of our opportunities?

As a community concerned about its future, we must join forces to ensure that all of our residents have the opportunity to live the dream of American independence – life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We believe that access to education and training is crucial to individual, organizational, and community success. In this “college town,” opportunities are here for all our citizens and our businesses to gain information, education and experience to help them succeed.

The people of Penn College are committed to encouraging the success of all our fellow citizens. Many of our services have been in place for years – from workforce-development programs for business and industry (including state-funded, guaranteed free training for eligible companies) to grant-funded programs to help low-income, first-generation college students and those with documented disabilities succeed.

Others, like the new Marcellus Shale Education Training Center, developed in response to the emerging natural-gas industry in our region, as well as new bachelor-degree programs opening this fall to support growing employment opportunities in building sciences and sustainability and health information management, are recent initiatives that respond to current and future needs.

President Obama has challenged Americans to “lay a new foundation for growth.” We can begin here in our own community by enhancing our heritage with new ideas and applying new technologies in our homes and workplaces.

“In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned,” the president has declared. We all must be willing to change and to sacrifice selfish, immediate gratification in favor of long-term commitment to ourselves, our families, our businesses and our communities.

It will not be easy. Mending broken systems and building bridges that will carry us into the future will require some heavy lifting. We must be prepared to re-invest in ourselves and in each other. We cannot afford to do the same things we have always done and expect different results. It is time to re-educate ourselves so that we know how to live in a world that has drastically changed.

History encourages us to believe that we can meet the challenges before us; it also teaches us that we need leaders with vision and citizens with courage and strong work ethics to succeed.

This is a defining moment in time for our community and others like it across the nation. Your challenge – and mine – in 2009 is to be a part of the solution.

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