Wilkes-Barre chancellor touts history of community partnership, plans for future

sign at the entrance to Penn State Wilkes-Barre

entrance to Penn State Wilkes-Barre

Credit: Penn State

LEHMAN, Pa. -- Penn State Wilkes-Barre Chancellor Charles H. Davis offered an overview of the campus’ 100 years of history as a community partner in the Wyoming Valley and shared the formula for future successes with the University’s Board of Trustees, as part of the board’s regular summer meeting.

In May 1915, two Penn State graduates, reacting to the needs of the local anthracite mining industry, proposed the development of a Penn State engineering center in Wilkes-Barre. "King Coal" reigned supreme at that time in the Wyoming Valley and engineers were needed to improve mining methods and worker safety, according to Davis. The response from local citizens and civic organizations was overwhelming, and on November 7, 1916, the Penn State Department of Engineering Extension began offering evening classes in Wilkes-Barre for 150 students. Much of the success of the school can be attributed to the flexibility of its offerings. Programs were added and removed as demand directed.

Each passing year brought more change and growth to the school and in 1949, the Engineers' Council for Professional Development recognized the engineering courses taught at the institute with accreditation. In the 1953-54 academic year, the two-year program leading to an associate degree in engineering began. Thirty-nine students completed this program and were the first in the University to receive their associate degree in engineering. In 1957, the two-year surveying technology program was approved, the only one of its type in Pennsylvania. Today Penn State Wilkes-Barre is the only location in the Commonwealth offering a baccalaureate degree in surveying engineering.

Needing more space, in 1950 the school moved its classes to the Guthrie Building in Wilkes-Barre. There it remained until the mid-‘60s when Richard and Helen Robinson of Connecticut gifted the University the Hayfield House. Built by coal baron John N. Conyngham and his wife, Bertha, Hayfield House and the surrounding farm property remains the home of Penn State Wilkes-Barre to this day.

As of 2016, eight baccalaureate and four associate degrees can be completed through the Wilkes-Barre campus. Students also can complete coursework for the first two years of more than 160 of Penn State’s degree programs.

“Having been founded in 1916, Penn State Wilkes-Barre is the oldest institution of higher learning in the Wyoming Valley,” explained Davis.

Davis shared that the current campus culture is one of service leaders, with approximately 550 students populating the campus, as well as the faculty and staff.

“Campus culture at Penn State Wilkes-Barre is truly blended,” said Davis. “We combine the rigor of research with the leading trends of higher education curricular development and cap everything off with co-curricular support, on campus as well as in the community.”

Davis highlighted the campus’ three new degree programs; corporate communications, rehabilitation and human services, and business with an accounting concentration.

“Both our corporate communications, and rehabilitation and human services programs had their first graduates at the 2016 spring commencement exercises,” Davis said. “All of the graduates of these programs, still in their infancy on this campus, stepped off this campus gainfully employed.”

Davis ended his presentation with what he called the campus’ future success formula.

“What will make this campus continue to grow and thrive? Being entrepreneurially oriented through our continuing partnership with the Wilkes-Barre THINK Center, sustaining our community ties as a higher education partner, remaining industry focused to provide our graduates with the tools they need to succeed, and persisting in our competitive environment from an admissions standpoint.”