Penn State Berks celebrates early success of fundraising campaign

Dr. Hillkirk speaks at campaign kickoff

Penn State Berks Chancellor R. Keith Hillkirk speaks at the campaign kickoff on campus.

Credit: Penn State

READING, Pa. — Penn State Berks held a celebration April 25 to highlight the early success of the campus' efforts in "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a University-wide campaign to raise $1.6 billion by 2021. The University will measure the success of the campaign by its ability to fulfill three imperatives: open doors, create transformative experiences and impact the world.

Within the University campaign, each college and campus has its own fundraising goals. The focus of the Berks campaign will be raising capital for the creation of new scholarships for students; providing opportunities for transformative experiences for students outside the classroom; and making an impact locally, nationally and beyond through service learning, entrepreneurship, study abroad and a variety of other initiatives. In addition, funding will support the renovation of the Beaver Community Center to provide additional space for the college’s kinesiology degree program; student and faculty research in the fields of kinesiology and biomechanics; NCAA Division III athletic programs; and a new, state-of-the-art fitness center.

The Penn State Berks goal for the campaign is $11.5 million, and the college is off to a good start. During the Berks event, Chancellor R. Keith Hillkirk announced that the college has already raised more than $4.5 million toward its $11.5 million goal. With 36 percent of the campaign elapsed to date, Penn State Berks has attained nearly 40 percent of its goal for the five-year campaign, which began July 1, 2016, and will end June 30, 2021. 

“‘A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence’ will open doors of opportunity by dramatically increasing our scholarship support for students from every economic background and enabling them to finish their college degree on time,” explained Hillkirk. “The impact of the campaign will be felt far beyond the campus, providing support for life-changing experiences outside the classroom, and enabling Penn State Berks to extend our impact in the Reading and Berks communities though innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development initiatives.”

This progress was made possible, in large part, by the recent $3 million joint gift from two Penn State alumni couples, Irv and Lois Cohen and Vic and Dena Hammel. Their gift will establish the Cohen-Hammel Fellows Program, a comprehensive new scholarship program for outstanding Penn State Berks undergraduates. In addition to providing participants with significant scholarships, the program will prepare students for leadership within the Greater Reading community and beyond.

The Berks campaign is led by co-chairs Vic and Dena Hammel, who work with a group of nearly 30 fundraising volunteers. In addition to their gift to support the Cohen-Hammel Fellows Program, the Hammels have made major gifts to support the college’s Beaver Community Center renovation and need-based scholarships for students. 

The Hammels first met as undergraduates at University Park, where Vic studied accounting, and Dena studied speech pathology and audiology. They graduated in 1967 and 1968, respectively. Vic is the chairman of Rentokil Pest Control, North America, and the retired co-owner and CEO of Ehrlich Pest Control. Dena is a retired dialysis social worker and an active volunteer in the Reading community.

“Initially Dena and I agreed to co-chair the ‘Greater Penn State’ campaign for emotional reasons. Penn State is our alma mater and we met there 52 years ago,” Vic Hammel said. “But the more we got involved, the more we learned how much Penn State Berks contributes to our community and especially to the students, most of whom live primarily in and around Berks. So logic told us that supporting Penn State Berks was an ideal way to give back to the community where we raised our family. Co-chairing this campaign is the wonderful intersection of emotion and logic for both of us.”

The Berks campaign celebration comes on the heels of a gathering of nearly 1,200 Penn State donors, fundraising volunteers, and friends at Penn State University Park for “An Evening of Discovery” on Friday, April 20, to celebrate the early success of the “Greater Penn State” campaign. Guests heard from Penn State students and faculty and learned how their philanthropy can help the University to have an even greater impact within the Commonwealth and around the globe. To date, the University has raised 41.2 percent of the campaign goal, or $659,865,357.

University matching programs, which have enabled donors to multiply the impact of their gifts, have aided these early successes. Launched on July 1, 2017, the programs include the Open Doors Scholarship Program, the Graduate Scholarship Matching Program, the First-Time Endowed Scholarship Donor Matching Program and more. While the Graduate Scholarship Matching Program will end June 30, 2018, the Open Doors Scholarship Program will continue in a modified form and the First-Time Endowed Scholarship Donor Matching Program will continue unchanged through the end of the campaign in 2021, or until the University’s matching funds have been expended (whichever comes first).

“With the excellent progress we have achieved in the ‘Greater Penn State’ campaign so far, we are well on our way to achieving our vision of excellence. We can and should celebrate our progress, yet we still have more work to do,” Penn State President Eric J. Barron said. “I greatly appreciate the tireless efforts of our volunteers, staff and campaign leadership in getting us this far, and look forward to successfully achieving our goals to benefit Penn State, the Commonwealth and beyond.”  

To learn more about "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," visit To learn how you can help Penn State Berks reach its goal, contact the Office of Development at 610-396-6056 or email David Delozier, director of development, at [email protected].