Penn State New Kensington focusing on sustainability, poverty and STEM

October 22, 2014

Penn State New Kensington is moving forward on its strategic plan, which was outlined Aug 21 at the annual “State of the Campus” address. The plan features seven paths to the future:

-- strengthen educational experiences and enhance the quality of academic programs;
-- transform education by exploring how technology and pedagogies can expand opportunity and discovery;
-- help build local communities;
-- resource development to keep higher education accessible;
-- become the leader in student-centered education;
-- advance an eco-friendly and healthy campus environment;
-- embrace diversity and prepare students for a global environment.

The three key initiatives cut across several of the strategic goals and highlight the campus’ intent to become an even more important leader in the community. Sustainability, poverty initiatives and STEM programming are the key ingredients in the campus plan, and the campus is engaging the community in these critical areas.


Funded by an $11,000 grant from the Penn State Sustainability Institute, the campus opened a compost site and installed composting bins in Café 780. The compost site is nourished with pre- and post-consumption food waste from the campus' main eatery. The goal is to turn the campus into a living laboratory and give students the skills they need to become sustainability leaders within the community. In conjunction with the sustainability endeavors, a public Backyard Composting Workshop was held in the Conference Center. Ellen Keefer, a Penn State Master Gardener with Westmoreland Cleanways, offered tips on providing the right environment for composting microbes and turning garden waste into nutrient-rich compost.

In addition to focusing the next generation of students on sustainability, the campus intends to affect our sustainable future by moving lessons, visibility, education and action into our local communities over the coming years.

“The need for sustainability has never been greater,” said Kevin Snider, chancellor of the campus. “We are poised to do even more during the next five years to help our community.”


According to the Westmoreland Community Action website, one-fifth of the residents of New Kensington, Arnold and Lower Burrell, approximately 5,807 people, live in poverty. In an effort to combat poverty in the Alle-Kiski Valley, Snider created a campus Poverty Committee tasked with collaborating with nonprofit organizations to assist with poverty-related programs.

“Poverty has emerged as a significant issue across the region as almost 30 percent of citizens in three of our closest municipalities live at or close to poverty levels,” Snider said.

The committee sponsored a poverty summit Oct. 14 to understand the scope of poverty in local communities. More than 40 community leaders and nonprofit organization members joined campus students, faculty and staff and explored the issues of poverty.

The committee’s next steps are to hold additional discussions, initiate an awareness campaign, create a list of nonprofit agencies’ poverty missions, and develop research and learning opportunities for campus faculty and staff to address the causes of poverty and the way out of poverty.

Prior to the summit, the committee has worked with community agencies on various service projects, including Day of Caring projects. During the summer, the campus Lion Ambassadors, a student organization, helped at the Food Pantry at Mount St. Peter Parish in New Kensington. The volunteers packaged and distributed food to families and individuals. At the Day of Caring in September, campus volunteers painted a Westmoreland Country Food Bank warehouse in Delmont.


The campus is collaborating with the community on a number of innovative projects to help raise the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) skill sets of public school students in the local area. The efforts are designed to enhance the region and attract business and innovation so that the community can better stem economic decline in this region that has occurred over four decades. Buoyed by a $300,000 grant from the Grable Foundation, the campus is working in concert with local school districts to establish a technology model, based on the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon University. The lab explores innovation and deployment of technologies to enhance teaching and learning.

“Our reputation as a regional leader resulted in our taking leadership in helping to address the STEM needs of school districts,” Snider said. “We currently are leading an effort to develop a regional approach to STEM education across six and ultimately 15 school districts in the AK (Alle-Kiski) Valley that shares the best STEM teachers in each grade within the region. Our forays into these areas will be offered as models for other campuses.”

This collaboration emerged from the campus’ previous joint effort with two local school districts to develop a STEM Academy. The STEM Academy is focusing on one-credit courses to introduce high school sophomores and juniors to STEM related fields and to illustrate the types of skills and preparation needed to engage in those professions.

The campus is also engaging in other ways to achieve its strategic goals. During the summer, the campus completed a multi-year upgrading of its facilities, including:

-- Starbucks kiosk in the lobby of the main entrance;
-- new pergola for the courtyard outside of Café 780;
-- renovated Biomedical Engineering Technology and Radiological Sciences labs and classrooms;
-- air conditioning in the Athletics Center and a new pilates/yoga studio;
-- new field for the softball team at the Alcoa Technical Center, on the corner of Seventh Street Road (Route 780) and White Cloud Road.

But, the campus isn’t done yet. Students will continue to see advances as the campus strives to maintain a plant that exudes Penn State quality. In addition to more maintenance projects, the chancellor has appointed an Arts Committee to develop a plan for utilizing art to enhance the educational environment on campus.

“Art is such an important part of stimulating and recognizing creativity, innovation and critical thinking,” Snider said. “Now that we have a gorgeous campus, we can focus on using it to encourage thinking and problem solving throughout our facility. My dream is that we become recognized for the way we have done that throughout our facility.”

Over the next several months, faculty and staff will develop the pathways by which the plan is fully realized at the end of five years. Faculty will develop a plan for exploring how pedagogy and technology can be used to enhance learning and opportunity, develop opportunities that continue to make our programs a first choice for increasing numbers of students, and develop and implement new academic programs.

“These and the other initiatives will be highlighted over the course of our march toward a new phase in our academic future,” Snider said.

To view the full strategic plan, visit


  • Chancellor Kevin Snider

    Penn State New Kensington Chancellor Kevin Snider delivers his annual "State of the Campus" address Aug. 21 to faculty and staff.

    IMAGE: Bill Woodard

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Last Updated October 23, 2014