READING, Pa. -- Penn State Berks Chancellor R. Keith Hillkirk highlighted the college’s 60-year history of community engagement and educational leadership, while discussing the growth and transformation of the campus, during the University’s Board of Trustees meeting today (July 20) on the Berks campus.
Penn State Berks is celebrating its 60th anniversary throughout 2018. The campus was established when Wyomissing Polytechnic Institute (WPI), a training school for textile industry workers that Penn State helped to facilitate, closed its doors in 1958. WPI’s facilities were offered to Penn State for the establishment of a Commonwealth Campus, and the Board of Trustees accepted the offer. The new location, known as the Wyomissing Center of the Pennsylvania State University, opened in the fall of 1958.
Poised for growth, the campus moved to a 106-acre site in Spring Township in 1972 and was renamed Penn State Berks campus. Over the last six decades, the campus has expanded to 258 acres with 31campus buildings, with an enrollment of more than 2,700 students from across the United States and other countries.
Evolving from its roots as a two-year industry training school, Penn State Berks has become a residential four-year campus, offering 25 baccalaureate and associate degrees and an MBA degree program, in partnership with Penn State Great Valley.
“From its inception, Penn State Berks has engaged in and with its larger community,” said Hillkirk. “Over the past six decades, that engagement has changed along with shifts in community demographics and economics, and through the evolution of the college from a two-year Penn State campus into the larger and more complex institution that it is today. That transformation continues.”
Through its three academic divisions – Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (HASS); Engineering, Business and Computing (EBC); and Science – Penn State Berks has made a significant impact on the community it serves.
In the HASS division, one area of focus is helping to transform the lives of youth in the City of Reading through two programs in partnership with Reading School District: the Penn State Educational Partnership Program (PEPP) and the Professional Development School. Beginning in the early 1990s, PEPP has served thousands of at-risk middle and high school students through educational after-school programs and activities. An extension of Penn State Berks’ early childhood and adolescent education degree program, the Professional Development School was established to help prepare student teachers and to form supportive partnerships with parents and caregivers.
In the EBC division, partnerships with business and industry provide students with real-world experience. The Berks Learning Factory has connected more than 800 students to about 40 sponsored projects since its inception. The Flemming Creativity, Entrepreneurship and Economic Development (CEED) Center serves to inspire an entrepreneurial mindset among students and to foster economic growth and development in the Greater Reading area. The center provides resources including 3-D printing technology, as well as networking and mentorship opportunities. Several students and alumni have started successful businesses with the guidance they received through the CEED Center.
Within the Science division, community engagement focuses on enhancing the health and wellness of the communities that the college serves. Through initiatives such as the Exercise Is Medicine program, students help to educate community members about the benefits of physical fitness. FITT Youth is a collaborative effort between Tower Health and Penn State Berks to combat obesity in children who have been referred by their pediatricians. Meanwhile, the Center for Innovation in Agriculture and Sustainability is an initiative that connects community members to the latest in research and practice.
Penn State Berks also is home to a number of multidisciplinary academic centers, including the Center for Service Learning and Community-Based Research. Since its founding in 2010, nearly 50 college-community projects have been completed through the center. In 2018, the center was honored with the Penn State Award for Community Engagement and Scholarship.
Hillkirk also spoke about Invent Penn State, the $30 million Commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student success, launched by Penn State President Eric J. Barron in 2015. Penn State Berks, in partnership with Penn State Health St. Joseph, was awarded two $50,000 Invent Penn State grants, leading to the creation of the Langan LaunchBox. As an innovation hub, the Langan LaunchBox provides a physical meeting space in Reading for budding entrepreneurs to discuss their business plans with community mentors and includes many resources, such as 3-D printing technology.
The Langan LaunchBox is also home to health and wellness initiatives focused on residents of Reading. One such initiative is the Veggie Rx program, where physicians “prescribe” produce vouchers that can be redeemed at various locations. The program is coordinated by an employee of the college and health network.
“The Invent Penn State program is enabling Penn State Berks to partner with our sister campus, Penn State Health St. Joseph, to expand our presence and engagement with the greater Reading community,” said Hillkirk.