Patricia Best named 2009 Renaissance Fund honoree

University Park, Pa. -- Educator Patricia L. Best knows firsthand how important scholarships are to those seeking a college degree. When she attended Ohio’s Bowling Green State University as an undergraduate, she received assistance during her four years of study from an academic scholarship. She was the first in her family to attend college, and graduated with honors with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education.

“That scholarship at Bowling Green meant a great deal to me and to my family in helping me to reach my goal of becoming an educator,” said Best, who eventually became superintendent of schools in the State College Area School District. “I was fortunate enough to have benefited from the generous investment of others.”

Now Best has been named Penn State’s 2009 Renaissance Fund honoree, and will be recognized at the 33rd annual Renaissance Fund dinner, according to Charles W. Rohrbeck, president of the fund’s board of directors.

Each year, the Renaissance Fund honors an individual or couple who, through a lifetime of service, has contributed greatly to the Penn State and State College communities. In its selection process, the fund's board of directors seeks to recognize individuals who have deep roots in the Centre Region, close relationships with civic and University leaders, and a commitment to philanthropy.

“Fifty percent of our current Renaissance scholars are, like Patricia Best, the first of their families to attend college,” said Rohrbeck. “Those students who attend the dinner will see someone who can serve them as a role model for a successful life.”

He noted that the first Renaissance Fund honoree, in 1977, was Jo Hays, who was also a State College superintendent of schools.

“In this 40th year of the Renaissance Scholarship program, it seems appropriate that we honor Dr. Best who, like Jo Hays, has served our community well in so many ways,” Rohrbeck said.

This year's program will be held Wednesday, Nov. 4, at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel on the University Park campus, with a 6 p.m. reception, followed by dinner at 7 p.m.

The annual dinner raises money in the honoree's name. Contributions are used to endow Renaissance Fund scholarships, which are awarded to academically talented Penn State students with the greatest financial need. Since the fund's inception in 1969, $8 million has been raised. During the 2008-09 academic year, 523 Renaissance scholars received $624,141 in scholarships.

“It is humbling to be among the company of past recipients and a privilege to join their ranks,” said Best. “It’s clear that this philanthropic effort has far-reaching benefits, for the future of the Renaissance Fund scholars, for their communities, our nation, and our world. What could be of more lasting value than that?”

After graduating from Bowling Green, Best taught high school English and French in Bucyrus, Ohio. In ongoing efforts to improve her teaching and the school district’s curriculum, she studied in France for a summer, went back to school and earned a master’s degree in English Education from Ohio State University and a graduate-level certificate in guidance counseling, and initiated a four-year French language program at Bucyrus High School.

Best moved to State College in 1977, beginning three decades of service to the school district and the community. Following a year at the State College Area High School as a substitute English teacher, she joined the faculty as a guidance counselor. Continuing her commitment to lifelong learning, she earned a doctoral degree in counselor education at Penn State, and was appointed to her first administrative position at State High under the leadership of Superintendent Seldon Whitaker. For 11 years she was responsible for strategic planning, research, public information, curriculum and staff development, and diversity initiatives.

She was promoted to assistant superintendent in 1995, then to superintendent of schools four years later. For 10 years Best was responsible for the annual education of more than 7,200 students and leadership of 1,400 faculty and staff. She oversaw significant changes in delivery of instruction, integrated technology and computers, and provided innovative programming for special needs students. She retired from the school district in June 2009.

Best said that a love for learning, schooling, and children has fueled her passion for education. Last fall, she was standing outside Lemont Elementary School with the principal as school dismissed. A young girl came bouncing out the door with her backpack in hand to meet her mother.

“She raced to her mother and said excitedly, ‘Oh Mom, I just love school!’” Best explained. “I thought that is just how I have always felt and what I wish for every student.”

Best’s passion for community involvement mirrors her passion for education. “Ultimately, what holds a community together is if people are willing to invest in it,” she said. “Community service is an incredible opportunity -- not an onerous obligation -- to improve the quality of many lives.”

Best has been involved with and held leadership positions in many community and educational organizations, including Leadership Centre County and the Chamber of Business and Industry of Centre County, where she served as board chair from 2006-08. In 2006, she was elected state president of the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators.

Additionally, she has been a key supporter of partnerships between the school district and Penn State’s College of Education. Two nationally recognized partnerships are the Professional Development School initiative, which pairs district teachers with Penn State student interns, and the LifeLink PSU program, a transition program for high school special-needs students. She has also served as president of the Penn State Chapter of Phi Delta Kappa, an education honorary society, and is a member of the boards of Penn State Outreach, the Center for the Performing Arts, and the College of Education Alumni Society, from which she received the Alumni Leadership and Service Award.

Best and her husband, Thomas Ray, live in State College and have three sons, David, Thomas, and Josh. In her retirement Best says she hopes to travel and also to continue her various volunteer and professional activities.

For Renaissance Fund dinner information, or to make a contribution to the Renaissance Fund, contact Kathy Kurtz in the Office of Annual Giving at (814) 863-2052 or e-mail klk13@psu.edu.
 

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Last Updated November 18, 2010