New University initiative reaches out to local governments

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – A new Office of Governmental Affairs initiative is bolstering town-gown relations by streamlining points of contact with local officials and building on extensive community relations efforts already in place.

Launched in February, this new Local Government and Community Relations initiative is described “as a dedicated University resource to promote and support strategic and coordinated engagement with local governments and community organizations,” according to Penn State’s Vice President for Governmental Affairs Michael DiRaimo.

“The growth of Penn State and the surrounding region, makes town and gown relations more critical and complex,” said Margaret N. Gray, director of Local Government and Community Relations. “We’re creating new channels of communications and supporting existing partnerships to foster and enhance mutually beneficial relationships.”

Gray, who has extensive experience working with both government agencies and nongovernmental organizations, said the importance of positive town-gown relations cannot be overstated. 

“Penn State touches every part of the commonwealth in some way and our interactions with local government agencies and communities are imperative not only to Penn State’s well-being, but also to the well-being of the Centre Region and its citizens,” Gray said. “As the commonwealth’s land-grant university, Penn State is committed to the success of our communities and its people.”

This new component of the Office of Governmental Affairs focuses on the five municipalities that include the University Park campus: State College Borough and Benner, College, Ferguson and Patton townships; as well as the Centre County government; the Centre Region Council of Governments; local school districts; various municipal authorities; and business and nonprofit organizations dedicated to promoting economic development and vitality, and the delivery of social services. 

The goals of the program are:

-- To develop and enhance the University’s relationships with local government agencies and officials, community organizations and constituencies, and local businesses and business associations;

-- To maintain an awareness and understanding of programs, issues and activities across the University that involve local governments, community organizations and businesses;

-- To promote mutually beneficial outcomes on University- and community-related initiatives; and

-- To facilitate strategies and coordinated campus responses to University, local governmental and community public policy issues as well as tracking federal and state initiatives and priorities.

DiRaimo, Gray and colleagues in the Office of Governmental Affairs have met with more than 70 officials over the program’s first seven months as well as those Penn State units most engaged with local government and the community. Offices such as Outreach, Student Affairs, Finance and Business, Academic Affairs and Intercollegiate Athletics all interact with multiple municipalities and community organizations, Gray said, and now the University as a whole has a better grasp on all of those efforts.

Through this new initiative, the Office of Governmental Affairs also will build on the efforts of the Borough of State College’s Community Engagement Office, a partnership established in 2013 between Penn State’s Office of Student Affairs and the State College Borough to promote and improve the quality of life for neighbors and to augment the off-campus student-resident experience. The Community Engagement Office, in conjunction with Penn State’s Office of Student Affairs, recently kicked off the 2015-16 school year with the LION (Living in One Neighborhood) Walk and LION Bash, two downtown events promoting town-gown interaction. 

In the coming months, Gray said the program she oversees will continue to build relationships, facilitate contact and communication among University leaders and local officials, and plan information sessions and presentations on relevant topics such as enrollment and the Invent Penn State initiative.

Last Updated September 25, 2015