Land, space, sun or sea, Penn State is the place to be

By Ben Manning
June 20, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — “We’re really good at a lot of stuff,” said Neil Sharkey, vice president for research at Penn State, reflecting on Penn State's status not only as a Land-Grant university, but also a Space Grant, Sun Grant and Sea Grant university.

“What really is remarkable at our institution is our breadth, and not just our breadth, but our depth within all these areas. It is our broad research, scholarship, teaching, extension and discovery enterprises that encompass all areas of science that have helped us gain these important designations,” Sharkey said.

Oregon State University is the only other university in the country that can claim all of these designations. These designations signal a university’s ability to receive federal funding for research projects that benefit the larger community. This quadruple honor means that Penn State is deeply engaged in solving some of the most pressing challenges we face as a society.


Penn State has been a Land-Grant University since 1862. “It really set the stage for a new kind of education in America, which was based on agriculture and the mechanical arts initially, but the idea was practical,” said Tom Richard, professor of agricultural and biological engineering. “How do we actually help people beyond the traditional class education that the European universities and the early universities in America pioneered, and really look at what we can teach people to help them succeed in business and civil society, in all of the different dimensions?”

Land-Grant universities historically have been charged with serving their communities and the world by not only teaching the next generation of professionals, but also by using the knowledge they create to respond to current social and economic concerns.

Richard said that spirit of giving back to the community is also a part of the other three designations that highlight Penn State’s research expertise. “So it’s part of our core, part of our DNA to do that kind of education, research and engagement. The fact that we’re doing it in every single opportunity is a statement to both our capability and our commitment.”

Sun Grant

Richard also is director of the Penn State Institutes for Energy and the Environment, as well as director of the Sun Grant Center.

“Penn State is among the very top tier of the energy universities in America,” he said. “Today we rank in the top five of all of the major categories of energy, from fossil, to renewables in energy, to grid technologies, to environmental impacts, to the policy opportunities. We’re performing cutting-edge research in all of those areas.”

As Richard indicated, Sun Grant universities are considered to be at the forefront of research and innovation involving bioenergy and biofuels production and were created to lead the nation toward a renewable, sustainable, domestic energy industry.

Sea Grant

The University provides research and extension support for the Commonwealth’s rivers, watersheds and the Great Lake connection; and, as part of the National Sea Grant network, Penn State works with other universities to share resources and research. Penn State earned the Sea Grant College designation in April of this year. The designation reflects a sustained commitment to managing marine and coastal resources across the Commonwealth, including the Lake Erie, Delaware River and Susquehanna River watersheds.

There are 33 Sea Grant programs that serve as the core of a national network of more than 300 institutions involving more than 3,000 scientists, engineers, educators, students and outreach experts. The network institutions address issues such as coastal hazards, sustainable coastal development and seafood safety.

“Sea Grant status adds opportunities for students at all levels to conduct research and be better prepared for coastal-related careers. Also, by supporting K-12 education many of these programs help make our next generation of adults better stewards of their environments,” said Sea Grant Director Bob Light. “These programs also engage the pipeline of future Penn State students, many of whom will choose the University due to their early experiences.”

Space Grant

As a Space Grant College, students at Penn State have opportunities for undergraduate and graduate research and discovery. They also have the opportunity to work on NASA projects.

A few of the goals of a space grant institution are to encourage interdisciplinary training, research and public service programs related to aerospace; promote a strong science, mathematics and technology education base from elementary through secondary levels; and recruit and train U.S. citizens, especially women, underrepresented minorities, and people with disabilities, for careers in aerospace science and technology.

“These are great programs that provide wonderful opportunities for our students to have their higher education experience enhanced,” said Pennsylvania Space Grant Consortium Director Chris House. “Also, students who participate in these programs ultimately go on to attend competitive graduate schools or be recruited by outstanding employers.”

“We don’t sacrifice quality for breadth,” Sharkey said. “I think these four designations simultaneously speak to the comprehensive nature of a Penn State education. They also speak to our commitment to develop a scholarship of relevance that clearly serves the needs of the nation and the world.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated June 22, 2016