Making good on Mary Behrend’s investment

Ralph Ford, Chancellor of Penn State Behrend

Ralph Ford, Chancellor of Penn State Behrend

Credit: Penn State Behrend

I often wonder if Mary Behrend ever imagined that her Glenhill Farm would still be growing so many years after her gift created Penn State Behrend. Could she possibly have envisioned that her investment in the future would pay off so handsomely?

Today, we’re a destination—enrolling more than 5,000 students from across the United States and forty-plus other countries. More than 400 faculty members guide students toward completion of nearly fifty undergraduate and graduate degrees across four academic schools. In the 1970s, we became the first Penn State location outside of University Park to offer four-year degrees; our graduates now number in the tens of thousands— alumni who are leaders in the Erie region and around the world.

As northwestern Pennsylvania’s research institution, we support multi-million-dollar research programs. Our faculty are engaged in a wide range of research endeavors: bioluminescence as an energy generator, fuel cell technology, cybersecurity, prevention of bullying. In a great many of these activities, our students are researching side-by-side with our faculty.

We’re a driver of the Erie economy. A top 20 employer in Erie County. A supplier of high-performing talent to a multitude of businesses. A launch point for faculty-led companies like Beaumont Technologies and Larson Texts.

Decades ago, we played a pivotal role in the growth of the region’s plastics industry, creating a plastics engineering technology degree that’s still one of only six accredited in the country. Today, in our Innovation Commons, teams of students are helping entrepreneurs turn their ideas into marketable products and services; to date, they’ve worked with seventy-plus innovators, supported three start-ups, and been named as inventors on five patents.

Our open-lab model of academic-industry partnership is drawing companies to our technology and research park. Knowledge Park is currently home to twenty-one companies employing more than 500 people. Growth in the park continues with the recent opening of an R&D center by biodiesel manufacturer HERO BX and the anticipated fall arrival of 200-plus employees of Erie Insurance.

As the local leader in outreach, we’re making an impact well beyond our campus borders. Our Youth Education Outreach staff engages with 23,000 young people and teachers through a rich array of programs. Our Economic Research Institute of Erie provides area decision-makers with quarterly snapshots of the region’s economic activity. Our Pennsylvania Sea Grant program works to sustain the Commonwealth’s coastal resources. In all, we operate more than three dozen centers and initiatives serving business and industry, youth, and regional development.

So as we enter our 70th year, I like to think that if Mary Behrend was gazing out a window of Glenhill Farmhouse today, she would be more than pleased with the view.

As always, I invite you to share with me your thoughts and ideas.


Chancellor Ralph Ford
[email protected]