The Evolution of Business-Education Partnerships
by Dr. Daniel A. Wubah, President of Millersville University of Pennsylvania and Board Member of the Lancaster Chamber
In September 2017 while visiting Ghana, a family member told me that we had relatives in Pennsylvania, but I never imagined that they lived in Lititz on the outskirts of Lancaster. Fast forward to July 2018, I arrived at Millersville University as the newly minted 15th president. A few weeks later, I was invited by Mr. Baldridge, president of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to consider serving on the Board of Trustees, which I accepted with alacrity. Shortly thereafter, I received a call from my relatives nearby who later came to pay homage to me in my role as chief in Ghana. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that after living in four different states during the past three decades, my journey will bring me to a thriving community like Lancaster County. For that I am grateful.
Millersville University (MU) and the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry trace their roots to the mid-nineteenth century when community leaders were collectively engaged in enhancing the quality of life and commerce in the region. Founded in 1855, Lancaster County Normal School, the progenitor to MU was established as the first normal school in Pennsylvania with the ideals that teacher preparation and classical learning are essential elements of public education and enlightened citizenship. Thomas H. Burrows, architect of the Pennsylvania General System of Education, and James Pyle Wickersham, a pioneer in teacher education and the second principal of Millersville State Normal School, were community leaders who saw the need for a quality teacher training institution to support the development of the Commonwealth’s emerging public education system. With a belief that the Lancaster community was a beacon of innovation and progress, Wickersham was responsible for the development of the curriculum which served as the model for other normal schools in the state and set the early standard for teacher training.
Since 1855, when the inaugural class session took place, MU has been a Lancaster County institution committed to the education, economic growth, and welfare of local citizens. The university has grown and evolved alongside the city and region while adjusting to meet the changing needs of the population. Through peacetime and wartime, economic strife, and financial resurgence, the university and the business community have weathered the storms and faced the challenges together. For example, during the twin hardship periods of the Great Depression and World War II, the university continued to train teachers to support the regional economy through partnerships with the Lancaster Board of Trade.
Just as Millersville University’s name and programs have evolved to meet the needs of the community, the Lancaster Chamber has also changed over its 150-years history. The links between the two organizations in the early days of the Normal School and the Lancaster Board of Trade are noteworthy.
For example, Christian Herr was a founding member of the Board of Trustees of the Lancaster County Normal School, and his son, Thomas Herr was also a founding member of the Lancaster Board of Trade. Also, the Wickersham Family were influential members of the Lancaster Board of Trade during its early years. After a century and a half, the university and chamber have forged a stronger bond by focusing on the prosperity of Lancaster County and south-central Pennsylvania.
While the core educational mission of the university has remained constant since its founding, the impact on the community has grown as the need for a skilled and competent workforce has increased. By transitioning to a state teachers’ college in the 1920s and becoming a multi-faceted state college with graduate degrees in the early 1960s, the university demonstrated a commitment to a diverse educational experience as well as collaborations with community partners to respond to local and regional workforce needs. The first graduate programs that began in 1959 focused on the need for high-quality teachers with advanced credentials in elementary education, vocational education, and counseling to meet the rapid post-war population growth that saw Lancaster County eclipse the 250,000-population mark between 1950 and 1960. At that time, the university changed its name to Millersville State College.
This evolution in purpose and programming continued through the 1980s as the university grew and diversified its curriculum at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The modern Millersville University emerged in the mid-1980s with the creation of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education by the state legislature in Act 188. Working with local business leaders, President Joseph Caputo championed the emergence of a coordinated system to improve the access and quality of public higher education in the county and region. The attainment of university status during the Thornburgh-Casey years initiated a process of diverse professional training in the liberal arts, business as well as economic education, while maintaining a strong teacher preparation curriculum.
As Lancaster County’s demographic profile has shifted towards becoming a destination for retirees from the northeast US in recent years, the chamber and the university have paid attention to the workforce needed to support a prospering community. For example, Millersville University is one of the leading producers of healthcare professionals to support this growing population. During the past two decades, economic demands have led to the need for bachelors and masters trained nurses, social workers, emergency managers, and business leaders. In response to this demand, the university has developed interdisciplinary programs that lead to career-ready skills for our graduates. This has been made possible by the generosity of alums and supporters such as Liselotte Wehrheim, class of 74, who left a gift of $4.2 million for the MU Department of Nursing. Recently, Dr. Samuel Lombardo and his wife, Dena, donated $8 million to the university to support our new College of Business, with the purpose of educating skilled workers to support small and medium-sized start-ups and innovative entrepreneurs.
Millersville University’s engagement with Lancaster County extends beyond educating a skilled labor force to providing cultural and civic opportunities to the community. This past year, MU celebrated the tenth anniversary of the purchase of the Ware Center in downtown Lancaster. Coincidentally, this acquisition brought the university back to the very block in Lancaster City where the first teachers’ training sessions were held. The Ware Center addresses the university’s priority in community engagement by showcasing a wide array of performing arts, hosting community groups such as Hourglass Foundation, SCORE of Lancaster Lebanon, city government, and Lancaster Chamber events and programs, as well as several youth programs and international performers throughout the year. This facility also enables the university to connect in meaningful ways to the city by facilitating civic and corporate partnerships that contribute towards local and regional development. Such efforts have led to recognition of the university by the Carnegie Foundation as a “Community Engaged” institution. Also, the Ware Center and the adjacent Fulton Theater, have become a hub of cultural activity that contribute towards the vibrant arts and culture renaissance in downtown Lancaster. We will continue to open our doors, our stage, and our meeting rooms to community groups so that we can help bring people together to address critical issues in the local community and region.
Now more than ever, MU is striving to meet our core value of “public mission” by serving as an anchor institution and community asset. We do so by sharing the core values of the chamber by equipping our students with skills needed to serve our community well in whatever industry or business they find themselves. As Lancaster’s major public institution of higher education, we will continue to play a unique role in supporting workforce development, assisting community problem-solving and engagement, fostering diverse arts and cultural activities and making a positive economic impact. Ultimately, MU’s function in Lancaster simultaneously intersects and aligns well with that of the chamber.
On behalf of our university, I congratulate the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry on the milestone anniversary of 150 years. As president of Millersville and a board member of the chamber, I am honored to serve these two organizations and be part of a vibrant and prosperous Lancaster community.
The Lancaster Chamber is proud to be celebrating its 150th Anniversary this year, alongside our business and education communities. In the month of August, our content theme will be focused on business-education partnerships – sharing stories of our businesses and education leaders contributing to a thriving workforce pipeline. This article was first printed in our 150th Commemorative Edition of Thriving Magazine, you can read more here: 150th Commemorative Edition of Thriving Magazine