Centennial Documentary to Premiere in January on WVIA-TV

Published 12.18.2014

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From its humble inception as a basement vocational-technical shop at Williamsport High School in 1914 to its standing today as a special-mission affiliate of Penn State, Pennsylvania College of Technology and its predecessor institutions have continually met workforce demands.

The college’s 100-year commitment to that noble objective is explored in a one-hour documentary airing throughout northeastern and northcentral Pennsylvania in January on WVIA-TV. “Working Class: 100 Years of Hands-On Education” will premiere on the PBS-member station on Jan. 13 at 7 p.m.

Produced by Penn College and WVIA Public Media, the documentary reveals myriad challenges the college has overcome in honoring the dignity of work and embracing workforce needs. Through interviews with multiple generations of key college officials, and archival photos and video, the documentary brings to life the institution’s enduring commitment to the working class, defined not only as a group contributing to the workforce but also a classroom engaging students in traditional, general education and relevant, hands-on activities.

“We knew there were important stories to tell for our 100th anniversary about the founding of the institution and the many challenges that were faced over the past century,” said Elaine J. Lambert, special assistant to the president for creative development and public relations, and an executive producer of the documentary. “We chose to produce a film because we felt it was important to share the history in a video format in addition to printed materials.”

"Working Class: 100 Years of Hands-On Education" to premiere Jan. 13 on WVIA.The college has published several books during the past few years, focusing on different aspects of the institution’s unique story.

“The documentary introduces viewers to the college’s humble beginnings in 1914 and then leads viewers on a journey through World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, post-war years and beyond – to the present day,” Lambert said. “It depicts the college’s role in providing education that meets local, regional and statewide needs and reveals the transformation from a high-school industrial arts shop to Williamsport Technical Institute to Williamsport Area Community College to finally Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education.”

Interviews with several college officials are featured in the program, including current President Davie Jane Gilmour; past presidents Robert Breuder, William Feddersen and Kenneth Carl; and, via audiotape, George Parkes, the founder of Williamsport Technical Institute. Two dozen other individuals were interviewed for the documentary. Professor emeritus Daniel J. Doyle conducted many of the interviews as part of an oral history project he initiated.

National figures were interviewed as well for “Working Class,” to reveal how the college’s history can serve as a template for combating the skills gap hindering the labor market of today and tomorrow. Those interviews include U.S. Sen. Bob Casey; Jennifer McNelly, president of the Manufacturing Institute; Sandra Magnus, a former astronaut and current executive director of the American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics; Jeffrey Wilcox, vice president of engineering at Lockheed Martin; and skilled-trades advocates Mike Rowe and John Ratzenberger.

Christopher J. Leigh, video production coordinator, and Thomas F. Speicher, writer/video editor, spent several months producing, writing and editing the documentary, which in addition to its Jan. 13 premiere will air on WVIA-TV Jan. 15 at 7 p.m., Jan. 18 at 5 p.m., Jan. 27 at 7 p.m., Jan. 29 at 7 p.m. and Feb. 1 at 5 p.m.

“The documentary continues the strong collaboration of WVIA Public Media and Penn College to produce high-quality films and television programs that address critical needs of our region,” said WVIA President and CEO Tom Currá, who served with Lambert as an executive producer of the program. “Throughout its 100-year history, Penn College’s positive impact on the community has been inspirational, and WVIA is proud to share its mission for years to come.”

During the past few years, WVIA and the college have partnered to produce the award-winning career awareness series “degrees that work,” which introduces students, teachers and parents to rewarding and often overlooked opportunities in technical fields.

According to Currá, WVIA hopes to distribute the “Working Class” documentary to other PBS stations throughout Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Maryland.

For more about Penn College, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.