Penn State Greater Allegheny aims to bridge racial divide in neighboring communities

PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE—Jacqueline Edmondson, PhD, chancellor and chief academic officer at Penn State Greater Allegheny, seated, and Monique D. Peterson, administrative assistant and PSUGA student. Dr. Edmondson plays an important role in leading diversity efforts for the school. (Photo by Diane I. Daniels)

Jacqueline Edmondson, PhD, is a true believer in education.
The chancellor and chief academic officer for the Penn State Greater Allegheny (PSUGA) campus, she is devoted to raising awareness and consciousness in the students that attend the campus. She’s also concerned about the needs of the region.
Nearing a year into her new position, Dr. Edmondson holds firm to the campus’ mission and values. Its mission is to inspire students to be greater by offering a transformative educational experience by serving as a catalyst for individual and social change, committed to improving the community and the world around them. Their values are: student success, global excellence, diversity, equity and engagement.
Often referred to as a small campus with a large vision, Dr. Edmondson says PSUGA aims to engage all students in learning about and leading efforts that value diversity and equity. One of her initiatives to accomplish such goals is the Crossing Bridges Summit. Campus officials describe the four-part undertaking as a pivotal moment for PSUGA as they reach out to their neighboring communities to better understand the role the campus can play in addressing social needs in the region. Particular importance to them is how the campus can play a role in bridging the racial divide in communities.
Components of the Crossing Bridges Summit consist of a Speakers Series, Summit Talks, Unity Talks and the Visiting Scholars Series. Kicked off during the 2017 fall semester, the Speakers Series is designed to bring prominent figures to campus, offering different perspectives to bear on questions of race and racism in the United States and the Mon Valley. Scholar and public intellectual Dr. Michael Eric Dyson was the fall speaker, and McKeesport native, Penn State University and NFL football player and international businessman Brandon Short is the spring speaker. Short will speak at the Wunderley Gymnasium, May 2, at 7 p.m.
Summit Talks consists of the gathering of the speaker, faculty, staff, students and community members to discuss major points the speaker shared for the purpose to engage participants in identifying actionable items for the campus to pursue as they work to be an agent for change.
With the purpose to engage students, faculty, and staff in honest dialogue about issues that concern students, Unity Talks are campus-based discussions that focus on topics that emerge from student dialogue about race and racism.
The Visiting Scholar Series is designed to bring intellectuals, artists, activists and others to campus for a year-long engagement involving teaching, community outreach, research and/or creative performance to sustain and provoke efforts to provide an equitable and diverse educational experience that inspires the sociological imagination working toward a different and more just world.
Involved in the McKeesport area dating back to its Penn State College days in 1934 while offering technical course training to industry workers, Dr. Edmondson says their commitment to the city remains strong. Last fall they opened the Penn State-McKeesport Community Center in the former YWCA building, located at 410 9th Street. Utilizing a three-year, $50,000 Invent Penn State Grant, the center’s purpose, Dr. Edmondson said, is to conduct community-based education, outreach and supportive programming to the community. Assisting of small business owners and entrepreneurs is also a focus of the center.
“We want to help get businesses started in the region or to help people move their business to the next step. Being able to leverage Penn State’s resources to assist is an advantage,” she said.
As a land grant institution, she said Penn State’s president, Eric Barron, has a vision for them to be economic drivers in communities. Under staff leadership of Eric Ewell and Aaron Whigham, programming has ranged from basic computer skills to resume-building workshops, support for small business startups and safety workshops. Utilizing a street team that operates in the center, Dr. Edmondson said that team assists in identifying community needs. As a result, during a November 2017 turkey drive, 50 families were fed during Thanksgiving, and during the Christmas season, the student government conducted a community toy drive. Currently, the campus is addressing food insecurities through an outside food pantry, which is available for students and the community. The PSUGA campus was also the first to have a free store operated by students, which opened last fall.
Located on a 52-acre campus, Dr. Edmondson says PSUGA is a special place. “When I listen to alumni talk about the campus, one of the things they say is that the campus really takes them in providing a sense of family and community lifting them up to reach their goals.” She added that the faculty, staff and students are committed to one another and committed to making sure the students are successful.
Believing that there is a need to be connected to the region, Dr. Edmondson says her plans as chancellor and chief academic officer are to add degree programs to do so. She also said the school is creating an Energy Engineering program for the next three years until their labs are built and then it will become a full four-year degree in the year 2020. Associate degrees have also been created.
Other PSUGA academic programs include bachelor’s degrees in: Administration of Justice; Biobehavioral Health; Business; Communications; English; Information Sciences and Technology; Letters, Arts and Sciences; Project and Supply Chain Management; and Psychology, and the first two years of more than 160 Penn State degrees. Minor Degree programs are offered in Business, Civic and Community Engagement, Communications Arts and Mass Media, English, IST, Psychology, and Sustainability Leadership. Credit certificate programs covering a range of topics and credit and noncredit continuing education programs are also offered.
Dr. Edmondson is a Harrisburg native. Her faculty appointment and academic home is in Penn State’s College of Education where she taught undergraduate and graduate courses in literacy and policy. She served as associate vice president and associate dean for undergraduate education at Penn State, as associate dean for undergraduate and graduate studies in the College of Education; and was the associate dean for teacher education and undergraduate programs in the college. Her Penn State career began as an assistant professor of education where she advanced to professor of education. Her faculty career began at the University of Minnesota Morris. She earned her doctorate in curriculum and instruction, a Master of Science degree in educational psychology and a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary and Kindergarten education, all from Penn State.
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