Penn State

How does Penn State focus on its land grant mission? Barron touts programs, partnerships

How to help stop the spread of the spotted lanternfly

Penn State Extension shares how to identify and remove eggs of the spotted lanternfly which is an invasive bug in eastern Pennsylvania.
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Penn State Extension shares how to identify and remove eggs of the spotted lanternfly which is an invasive bug in eastern Pennsylvania.

Penn State President Eric Barron wants the university to focus on its “land grant mission” as an “institution in service to society,” his Friday presentation to the Board of Trustees highlighted.

For Barron, fulfilling that land grant mission means providing universally-available knowledge and research to address issues and create new opportunities, providing opportunities for students to engage in outside-the-classroom learning and strengthen partnerships with the community that informs the work faculty and staff are doing while benefiting society.

Penn State’s research enterprise has a “big impact on society,” according to Barron’s presentation, and its scope of community engagement — everything from agriculture, business, clinical services, economic development, environmental sustainability — is a strong statement about the depth and breadth of the university’s reach.

In an oft-touted statistic, Barron’s presentation noted the 96% of Pennsylvania residents who live within 30 miles of a Penn State campus benefit from a myriad of projects, business innovators and services offered by the university’s brick-and-mortar outposts.

With 24 campuses, Penn State also provides 67 Extension offices, 21 LaunchBoxes, two Penn State centers (one at University Park and one in Allegheny County), two Osher Lifelong Learning institutes (one at University Park and one in York County), two small business development centers (one at University Park and one in Mifflin County), Shaver’s Creek in Huntingdon County, the Justice and Safety Institute at University Park and WPSU television and radio stations, which cover 515,000 households in central Pennsylvania and have 450,000 listeners in 13 counties, respectively.

Penn State Extensions, which are located in every Pennsylvania county, are “problem solvers,” Barron said in his presentation.

For example, his presentation highlighted, Penn State Extensions have performed extensive research, educational campaigns and eradication efforts of spotted lanternflies in Pennsylvania, thought to be one of the most destructive invasive species to the grape, tree-fruit, hardwood and nursery industries. Their research has received about $1 million to date and Penn State’s identification efforts have led to website visitor reports of 18,000 spotted lanternfly sightings.

Through Penn State Outreach, the university is able to deliver content developed by university faculty that reaches 67 Pennsylvania counties, all 50 United States, and 21 countries, Barron said. Through outreach, Penn State is also trying to bolster “meaningful learning opportunities” for students, he said.

“We have known from lots of experience that an engaged student is a better student,” Barron told the Centre Daily Times last week.

In 2020, Penn State will be launching an online portal to help connect students with a variety of engagement activities and supplement the HUB office for student engagement, according to Barron’s presentation.

Through the student engagement grant program, over 500 students had more than $600,000 in research, study abroad and service learning funded. Twenty-two students were hired out of the internship program, eight faculty fellows and two faculty scholars were sponsored and over 2,500 students visited the engagement space last year, according to the presentation.

With industry partnerships, Penn State is also playing a large role in workforce development, said Barron.

Some campuses offer specialized programs for adult learners, like accelerated degree programs and classes that meet nights and weekends, non-credit workforce contract training and continuing education supporting local communities through career focused programs, according to the presentation. Since 2016, the continuing education program has served over 1,000 companies and enrolled 3,000 adults in classes.

Penn State also offers a leadership development series featuring customized professional development course offered at a workplace, on a Penn State campus or online.

For Penn State, using centers and institutes to research and provide solutions to real world problems is at the center of the university’s land grant mission, according to Barron.

In these centers, Penn State is able to “combine expertise across a lot of different areas,” including innovative ways of addressing the opioid epidemic, sustainability, reducing the burden of cancer and studying the impact of the natural gas industry. According to the presentation, much of this work is done in conjunction with communities the university is serving, like a traffic safety project with the State College Police Department and a project expanding community greenhouses at Penn State Behrend in Erie, both part of the Sustainability Institute.

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Sarah Paez covers Centre County communities, government and town and gown relations for the Centre Daily Times. She studied English and Spanish at Cornell University and grew up outside of Washington, D.C.