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Penn College: A Good Neighbor and Positive Community Influence

(The following op-ed article written by Dr. Davie J. Gilmour, president of Pennsylvania College of Technology appeared in the Sept. 28 edition of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette)

Happy New Year! Yes, it’s true. For students, parents, teachers and others associated with education, autumn marks the start of a new year. We look forward to new people, new places and new possibilities.

This fall, Williamsport is home to thousands of new men and women who are here to attend or be employed by our colleges. Some will be here for a year or two or four; others may stay for a lifetime.

Penn College enrolled 4,754 students from outside Lycoming County, including 433 from other states and 38 from foreign countries in Fall 2003. We also welcomed 17 new faculty and one new vice president who moved here from as far away as Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia. They have worked in positions at Lockheed Martin, General Electric and Spherion Corp., and on campuses including Old Dominion, Northeastern University, University of Miami, University of Kansas and University of Maryland in Okinawa, Japan. They are ready to put down roots and become part of our community, enriching us with their talents and experiences and their involvement (and that of their families) in area organizations and activities.

New people bring new life to a community. While it is important to honor our local traditions, I believe we also should welcome and respect new ideas and encourage growth. All children should be fortunate enough to grow up in places where their families can thrive and they can find the opportunities to fulfill their own dreams.

Is our community perfect? No place is perfect. Those familiar with more urban settings may find our pace a bit too slow. Those from small towns and rural homes may be overwhelmed by our city challenges. Our perspectives may be determined by our experiences, but our attitudes can evolve when we become actively positive even passionate about our community. I believe this area offers a perfect blend of rural, small town and city living. Opportunities are here; it is up to us to make the most of them.

New residents, who come here to be part of our local colleges, provide an opportunity for area businesses to gain new customers. I am happy to see signs in the windows of downtown merchants welcoming college students. I am pleased that a program we initiated this fall, allowing students to use their Penn College meal plan to purchase food items at neighborhood businesses (1100 West Third Street, Burger King, Sheetz and Wendy’s), was well-received. In only the first month, the eateries (all adjacent to our campus along West Third Street and Maynard Street) reported earning over $32,000 in the program.

At least 50 private landlords are renting properties to Penn College students this fall. While we opened new campus apartments (bringing our total available beds to 1,400), the demand grew as our enrollment climbed to 6,255. Our growth provides increased opportunities for those who are in the business of renting properties that are suitable for student residents.

In addition to opening our new Rose Street Apartments, the College unveiled new College Avenue Labs in the former HON building. I was pleased to tour with a former HON official. Hearing his praise reminded me how important it is to make the most of opportunities that are presented to us. Without HON’s generous gift to us, the building may have become an empty, abandoned city property. But the foresight of a business that wanted to leave something behind in Williamsport allows us to educate a new generation of industrial workers here.

Our employees and our students also leave something behind in the local community through their community service. Human service students volunteer at agencies ranging from the American Red Cross to local hospitals and nursing homes. Students in the School of Health Sciences assist with a variety of community health screenings and other healthy-lifestyle initiatives. Biology students assess the quality of Loyalsock Creek and join environmental technology students in a PennDOT highway-cleanup project. Construction students build items, including a stage for the City of Williamsport’s Recreation Commission. Hospitality students again prepare for the annual chocolate-house auction to benefit Habitat for Humanity. And there are many more who contribute individually and in groups to enhance the quality of life in our area.

I recently marked my fifth anniversary as president of Penn College. When the Chairman of our Board of Directors Dr. Robert Dunham reported to the Corporation for Penn State on our progress during those years, he quoted Gov. Ed Rendell, who said recently, “I wish I had 10 Penn Colleges stretched out across the length and breadth of this commonwealth.”

We are proud to be the one and only Penn College. We appreciate the governor’s confidence in us as we continue to earn our place as Pennsylvania’s premier technical college. We also intend to remain a positive influence on the future prosperity of Williamsport and Lycoming County and a good neighbor to the people here throughout this new year and for many years to come.

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