Penn State Harrisburg hosts Strategic Plan forum, focus on 'Enhancing Health'

MIDDLETOWN — The last in a series of public forums focused on the University’s long-range Strategic Plan took place on April 7 at Penn State Harrisburg. Faculty, staff and students from across the University participated in person and via livestream in the forum, “Enhancing Health.”

"Enhancing Health" is one of the thematic priorities in the Strategic Plan, which provides a vision for Penn State's future. Enhancing Health calls for the University to be a leader in promoting quality of life through comprehensive approaches to enhancing personalized and population health, achieved through a commitment to and investment in relevant research, education, clinical practice and outreach. 

Panelists included Enhancing Health Strategic Plan steering committee members: Leslie Parent, committee co-chair and associate vice president for Health Sciences Research; Nan Crouter, committee co-chair and dean of the College of Health and Human Development; Craig Hillemeier, co-chair of the Enhancing Health Strategic Plan executive committee and dean of the College of Medicine; and Keith Hillkirk, member of the Enhancing Health Strategic Plan executive committee and chancellor of Penn State Berks. Padma Patil, planning and research associate in the University’s Office of Planning and Assessment, moderated the forum, which included a welcome from Chancellor Mukund Kulkarni.

“The forums really are where the most exciting work is going to be done, because those are the opportunities for us to hear from the University community with reactions and questions on what we’ve done do far and maybe help us guide the process as we move forward,” Parent said.

The Enhancing Health steering committee reviewed all the Penn State units’ strategic plans that contained any health-related initiatives to develop a list of goals. These include: enhancing the health of the Penn State community -- students, faculty, and staff; enhancing education and student engagement in the area of vulnerable populations and health equity; building a research infrastructure that supports excellence in biomedical and health research; and investing in biomedical and health research excellence by focusing on cancer.

Questions that emerged at the forum centered on themes such as promoting better health for staff and faculty; better communication about health and wellness resources the University already provides; biometric screenings and personalized health plans for faculty, staff and students; campus health and wellness centers; and campuses teaming up to share mobile resources.

“We tried to take a comprehensive view of health,” Crouter said. “It’s not just physical health, but also stress and feelings of wellbeing, all of which are linked to things like exercise, sleep and healthy diet. It sounds like there is a fair amount of interest in trying to do some innovative things to improve faculty and staff health. We’re also interested in trying to be trailblazers with student health as well.”

Other discussion topics included smoke-free campuses, implementing campus smoking policies and smoking cessation programs; nutrition incentives for students; immunizations; and holistic approaches to health care. Mental health resources for students and research into the extent of mental health issues for students were also areas of discussion.

“We have identified increased student need and demand for counseling services and psychological health over the past year or so,” Hillkirk said. “There is a study being conducted looking at all Penn State campuses and analyzing and reviewing what psychological services are available to students.”

“There is a real spirit throughout all of our strategic aims to make sure that we deal not just with our own students, faculty and staff but with people in the Commonwealth and throughout the country and, indeed, the world, through the various initiatives.” 

The panelists also discussed the future of health research and how Penn State can be a leader in health-related issues and development throughout Pennsylvania, the United States and the world, including in the areas of research, health disparities and vulnerable populations, as well as sexual and domestic abuse.

“There is a real spirit throughout all of our strategic aims to make sure that we deal not just with our own students, faculty and staff but with people in the Commonwealth and throughout the country and, indeed, the world, through the various initiatives,” Hillemeier said.

There was widespread interest in the opioid and prescription drug crisis in Pennsylvania and the possibility that Penn State could become more involved in addressing the issue. Parent discussed research and clinical initiatives that Penn State is involved in, including a center focusing on addiction research and treatment.

“I just want to emphasize how important a problem this is, because sometimes people who aren’t working close to the problem don’t realize the pervasiveness and the magnitude of opioid addiction,” Hillemeier said. “This is a clear and present problem that we have to deal with in society. We have a real obligation to make sure people understand that.”

Crouter added that as they continue the conversation on enhancing health in the Strategic Plan they should think more about opioid addiction as a theme. 

“As I looked around the audience, there was a lot of head nodding and there is probably expertise and interest in different pockets of the University that we can pull together on this issue,” she said.

In observing the forum, Neil Sharkey, vice president for research at Penn State, said that he was reminded of Penn State’s land grant mission. 

“Much of this conversation resonates tremendously with what our institutions should be about,” Sharkey said. “We are a land grant institution. When I listen to this conversation on integrating and weaving ourselves into the state and beyond, it’s what our mission should be, and I think a lot of the strategic planning that has gone on, not just in health, but in some of the other areas that really have a focus on land-grant. I am encouraged.”

For more on the Enhancing Health Strategic Planning Forum, including a video of the forum and supporting documents, visit

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Last Updated April 26, 2017