Garrett D. Corneliussen, now employed by Tesla, captures an onstage moment with President Davie Jane Gilmour while serving as the student speaker at the Fall 2017 commencement ceremony. He earned a degree in welding and fabrication engineering technology

President's Message

‘People make the difference’ – then and now

Published December 6, 2018

It has been two decades since I first spoke to an all-college audience about the foundation of a leadership philosophy that has always guided me in my role as president of Pennsylvania College of Technology. “People make the difference” was as appropriate in 1998 as it is today, and it helps to explain the success story that is Penn College.

The college community knows how much I like to end my remarks with an inspiring quotation. As I was preparing my 20th spring all-college address, nothing I found seemed sufficiently inspirational – or aspirational. Then I recalled my first address as a new president, and I remembered the origin of “people make the difference,” which has served as a touchstone for me ever since.

As I reiterated for the faculty and staff who gathered at the end of the 2017-18 Academic Year: “You matter – you matter to your family, to our students and to your colleagues. Never doubt that you matter, and that what you do makes a difference. Please keep caring, sharing and believing in Penn College. I do.”

Penn College has, in many ways, realized its aspiration to become a national leader in applied technology education. We have long known that our mission and model attract students who seek stable, lifelong employment in never-out-of-vogue career fields. Increasingly, those beyond our immediate sphere are learning about this former “best-kept secret,” nestled as we are in the mountains of northern Pennsylvania, yet within a few hours’ drive of bustling metropolitan hubs. We are the college that produces the graduates who fill the jobs that the workforce needs – the “tomorrow makers,” as I like to call them.

This progress would not be possible without the steadfast support of the faculty, staff, retirees, students and alumni – not to mention the donors, friends of the college and elected officials – who serve as vocal ambassadors in our local communities, the region, the nation and the world.

We are the college that produces the graduates who fill the jobs that the workforce needs – the “tomorrow makers.”

To help us tell the compelling stories of the tomorrow makers who exemplify our unique approach to higher education, we enlisted the support of an accomplished branding agency from one of the aforementioned metropolitan centers: Philadelphia-based 160over90. The ambitious campaign began with an inward look to identify the language and graphic elements that best convey our mission and values to the outside world. You may have already seen evidence of this campaign in a wave of new printed marketing materials, ads, billboards and TV commercials – and in the refreshed design of this Impact Report. Video and website refinements are also on tap. I think you will be impressed with the results – how they help define us and distinguish us from our peers.

One of the highlights of an eventful 2017-18 was the dedication of the Maj. Gen. Fred F. Marty Veterans and Military Resource Center, which serves as a comprehensive resource for the hundreds of veteran and military students we enroll at Penn College. The past year also marked the launch of our Army ROTC program’s new affiliation with Bald Eagle Battalion, and our Penn College cadets are already taking on key leadership roles.

Construction took place throughout Spring and Summer 2018 on the Dr. Welch Workshop: A Makerspace at Penn College, which officially opened in August in the Carl Building Technologies Center. Many thanks to the Welch Family: Mary L. Welch and sons Scott, Graham and Marshall III, who dedicated a special gift to memorialize Dr. Marshall Welch Jr. Kudos also to the students who conceived the design for the space, which will foster student, faculty and staff innovation: Thomas P. Abernatha, of Williamsport, and Christopher D. Fox, of York, who have earned associate degrees in architectural technology, and John A. Gondy, of Glenmoore, a senior in residential construction technology and management: architectural technology concentration.

The college was also fortunate to be gifted with a facility by UPMC Susquehanna that, once renovations are completed, will serve as the new home for practical nursing and other training programs offered through Penn College
 at Wellsboro.

With the help of a U.S. Economic Development Administration Grant, we have begun construction on a welding expansion that will allow us to enroll up to 60 more welding students annually in a popular program that helps satisfy that industry’s demand for highly skilled workers. The lab expansion, being constructed in the Lycoming Engines Metal Trades Center (named for a company that employs many of our graduates and provides vital equipment and advisory support) is expected to open for the Fall 2019 semester.

A generous gift from Shell Polymers has enhanced our efforts to provide highly skilled graduates for another industry – plastics. The funding enables the college and our Plastics Innovation & Resource Center to enhance and upgrade the academic and research lab now known as the Shell Polymers Rotational Molding Center of Excellence. We envision some of our graduates playing a role in Shell Chemical Appalachia’s multi-billion-dollar petrochemical (ethane cracker) complex under construction less than 250 miles away in Beaver County. The facility will employ 600 workers to produce the ethylene that is used in products ranging from food packaging to automotive parts.

The year saw an expansion of our relationship with SEKISUI SPI, which has been a valued partner of the college for years. It hires our graduates, provides internships, sends employees to workforce training and works on projects with the PIRC. The company also supports student scholarships and provides funding to bring the SPE Foundation PlastiVan program here to educate students in grade five and older about the importance of plastics and careers in the industry.

I’m proud to say 2017-18 saw the best participation ever in study abroad opportunities for our students, some of whom may have never before traveled out of the country or even flown in an aircraft. Global experiences can enrich the life of any college student, but at Penn College, students often practice skills and provide services related to their chosen career fields, making a difference in people’s lives in the bargain. A prime example was the nursing students’ participation in a volunteer-led medical clinic in rural Guatemala, where chief among the lessons learned were gratitude and patience. The students saw up to 300 patients daily, administering services related to oral health, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and general medicine. Check out Penn College’s Instagram site for more examples of our wonderful study abroad initiatives.

To close the book on 2017-18 – and to offer inspiration for 2018-19 – allow me to finish with another quotation, this one from a tomorrow maker who is already making his mark in the workforce: December 2017 welding and fabrication engineering technology graduate – and commencement speaker – Garrett D. Corneliussen, employed by Tesla.

“Penn College definitely made my passion and dream a reality. I came in knowing what I wanted to do, but had no idea where it would take me, the people that I would meet because of it, and the experiences that I would have. And coming here just changed my whole life completely, made me super excited about what I was learning, and just reinforced everything that I thought it would be, and is now sending me out into the real world with skills that I don’t think I could get anywhere else.”

Our people mattered – and made the  difference – for Garrett and for many others like him. It is why, after 20 years as president, I continue to believe in Penn College.