Barron discusses impact of community engagement efforts across state and beyond

May 03, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State’s community engagement efforts — including continuing education courses offered at 1,000 companies across the state, a public broadcasting network with one of the largest geographic coverage areas in the country, preservation of 86,000 miles of waterways that flow into the Chesapeake Bay, and collective student volunteer hours totaling 3.9 million hours each year — impact the lives of citizens and help to make Penn State a modern land-grant University, according to Penn State President Eric J. Barron.

With 67 Extension offices, 21 Invent Penn State LaunchBoxes, and a host of other centers and institutes, Barron discussed the positive effect that Penn State’s public service and engagement have across the Commonwealth and beyond in a presentation to the Board of Trustees at its Friday (May 3) meeting. 

“I don’t think you could find another university in the country with a reach that spans the generations, geographies and disciplines that Penn State’s does,” Barron said. “Through our community engagement efforts, we’re able to fulfill our land-grant mission of teaching, research and service, while helping to better the lives of Pennsylvanians every day.”

Describing the scope of public service efforts as “vast,” Barron said the University has an impact in areas as varied as agriculture, business and industry, youth and families, community development, the environment and sustainability, health and wellness, justice and safety, and K-12 education across the state. 

“We know that out-of-classroom engagement can support students’ academic and social development, as well as help to prepare them for life after graduation. As we strive to serve society, we’re also focusing on creating ways for our students to participate in rich learning opportunities outside of the classroom, whether it’s a service-learning project or undergraduate research,” Barron said.

At the board meeting, Barron shared examples and outlined hubs of community engagement across the state, including:

Penn State Extension

For more than 100 years, Penn State Extension has translated scientific research into real-world applications for a diverse audience. By collaborating with statewide teams of researchers and educators, Extension agents address timely issues, such as stopping the threat of Spotted Lanternfly, protecting the Chesapeake Bay water quality and improving pollinator health. Each year, more than 50,000 people register for Extension workshops and conferences, while 45,000 people attend Penn State’s annual Ag Progress Days

Student Engagement Network

A joint initiative from Undergraduate Education, Student Affairs and Outreach and Online Education, the Student Engagement Network connects students with experiences that empower them to make a positive impact as citizens and leaders of the world. The network’s grant program — which has awarded more than 500 students — helps students from all economic backgrounds to participate in out-of-classroom learning opportunities. In addition to the engagement space in the HUB-Robeson Center at University Park that has attracted more than 2,500 student visitors, a new portal is expected to launch in December 2020. 

Penn State Outreach

Penn State Outreach engages individuals in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, 50 states and 21 countries through programs such as the CITY Program at the Pittsburgh Center, Shaver’s Creek Environmental CenterOsher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), and WPSU public broadcasting, among many others. In 2018, more than 16,000 students participated in academic courses and research, and more than half a million households tuned in to WPSU. 

Industry partnerships and economic development

With a focus on lifelong learning and statewide economic development, the University offers specialized and hybrid academic programs for adult learners at its Commonwealth Campuses, on-site workforce training tailored to business needs, and continuing education offerings in local communities throughout Pennsylvania. Since 2016, Penn State’s continuing education programming has served more than 1,000 companies and organizations, enrolled more than 3,000 adults in professional and skills development classes and 10,000 youth in camps. 

Centers and institutes

Penn State translates research conducted at interdisciplinary centers and institutes into programs and policies to address pressing issues, such as the opioid epidemic and shale energy production. Outreach efforts include the Northern Appalachia Cancer Network, which is helping to reduce the cancer burden among rural residents in Pennsylvania and New York through education, training and research. In addition, the Sustainability Institute’s Sustainable Communities Collaborative facilitates partnerships among Penn State classes and communities to advance sustainability goals. In 2017-18, more than 1,200 students at six campuses engaged with 51 community partners on nearly 100 projects.

“Since its founding, Penn State has been an institution in service to society. With initiatives spanning the environment to economic development and more, the profound impact the University has on surrounding communities is inspiring,” Barron said. “We will continue to explore new opportunities and ways to contribute knowledge that addresses the problems of our time and supports Pennsylvania communities, the nation and world.”

Barron's presentation can be accessed online at

Last Updated May 03, 2019