In the spirit of Homecoming, Valley Magazine chatted with Penn State’s Vice President and Dean for Undergraduate Education, Dr. Robert Pangborn, to discuss everything from university tradition to favorite campus hangouts.
Valley Magazine: You started at Penn State in 1979 as a professor of engineering mechanics, how have you seen the university grow since then?
Dr. Robert Pangborn: It’s obviously a lot bigger in terms of enrollment, and the research programs have grown significantly. With that growth has come expansion with the number or variety of programs the university offers.
VM: What do think has contributed the most to this growth?
R.P: There was an intentional effort to provide greater access to students in both Pennsylvania, out of state and international. The university has grown and provided the resources for expanding the programs needed to serve the students. The fact that we are also a land grant institution provides access to students from variety of cultural and economic backgrounds.
VM: You recently became vice president and dean for undergraduate education. What inspired you to take on this role?
R.P: I’ve worked for 25 years at the college level, serving as an administrator for half those years, so I knew that taking on the vice president role would allow me to do many of the same kinds of administrative oversights on a bigger playing field. There were parts of the job I was really intrigued by. The analytical side of enrollment management (admissions, registrar, student aid) intrigues me. This role puts my skills as an engineer to good use in a different kind of area and focus.
VM: This year’s Homecoming theme is: “Generations Evolve, Tradition Remain.” As a Penn Stater, what does this mean to you?
R.P: The university is steeped in tradition—it’s one of the things that is a strength of Penn State. We have that land grand origin which helps people associate with humble beginnings of the university. They’re very proud of the evolution of what used to be a farmers high school, into a college, in to a full-fledged, vibrant university. Those steps have built a tradition that has created the loyalty and sense of attachment to the university that you can see in our alumni. Looking at the other half, generations evolve reminds me of the fact that we are always in an evolutionary state— changing, getting better, and attracting new students that come about their education in new ways. Those traditions provide an important grounding.
VM: What does Penn State Homecoming symbolize for you?
R.P: It’s a chance for alumni to come back to the university, catch up on their school and see how the new students are thinking about the university, their lives and the world. It’s a chance for Penn Staters to reconnect and come home to place they feel strongly about. Our school is a foundation for what they’ve been able to accomplish in their lives and careers.
VM: Could you tell me about your fondest memory of Penn State Homecoming?
R.P: One of my favorite parts of Homecoming is the parade. It’s an opportunity to see students and student groups from all around the world, involved in all kinds of different interests and facets of the university, exhibiting all the different talents and interests that come with a large university. There are students here from all countries and traditions with different disciplines and goals. The Homecoming parade is where they are all coming together and celebrating the diversity of the university. As a longtime member of the volunteer firefighting department here in State College, it’s always been a fond memory of mine when I used to get to drive the fire engine in the parade. We even had the Nittany Lion in the passenger seat and the cheerleaders in the hose bed!
VM: How would you describe Penn State in one word?
VM: What is your favorite spot on campus?
R.P: My favorite spot would be the Pollock corridor. During passing time, students come out of their classes and you can see them bustling here and there, talking about what happened in their classes and on their cell phones with friends. These moments symbolize what’s going on at the university. Students are always moving on to the next great thing.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Pangborn