When Kenshay Kerr began considering colleges, the Long Island resident could take his pick from a list of nearby schools in the greater New York area.
Kerr, however, didn’t want to stay in New York. He wanted to attend a high-quality, popular college, one that was out of state. This led him to Penn State Harrisburg, where he now is in his senior year.
“Originally, I was going to spend my first two years of college at the Harrisburg campus and finish my last two years at Penn State’s University Park campus,” said Kerr, a business marketing major with a minor in human resources management. “Then I found out that Harrisburg had everything I wanted.”
So what did Kerr want?
“I was looking for a sense of community,” he explained. “I loved the idea of how comfortable you felt and how it felt like a home away from home. I like all the people, the professors, students, friends. Everybody has a strong bond together.”
Since that day, Kerr has made the most of his decision. He’s a resident assistant and the campus’ current Student Government Association president.
That same sense of community has helped carry Penn State Harrisburg into what is now its 50th year.
The campus opened in 1966, the same year that The Beatles performed their last tour, Adam West was TV’s Batman and the Vietnam War raged. Penn State University purchased the 218-acre parcel off of state Route 230 in Lower Swatara Township from the state for $1. Previously, the land was the site of the former Olmsted Air Force Base. Before that, it was the Keystone Farm.
“The campus used to be a pickle farm, so we will have a ‘Pickle Day’ as part of our 50th anniversary celebration,” said Marissa Hoover, Penn State Harrisburg’s associate director of development and alumni relations. “One of the people on campus will make pickles and give them to the students.”
Of course, Penn State Harrisburg is celebrating with much more than pickles for its 50th year. There’s a “We Are Weekend” on Oct. 14 to 15 that’s chock-full of events and a 50th anniversary movie series in January, among many other events.
When the campus opened in 1966, its enrollment totaled just 18 students and offered courses only in humanities and social sciences. Since then, it’s swelled into a full-fledged, comprehensive graduate and undergraduate school of nearly 5,000 students.
Today, the campus offers more than 65 degree programs ranging from associate to doctorate levels, as well as NCAA athletics, club sports and intramurals, plus more than 70 student clubs and organizations.
In commemoration of the 50th anniversary, a new, 70,000-square-foot Student Enrichment Center just opened. The three-story building includes a 400-seat auditorium and stage area, bookstore, food service area, convenience store, spiritual center, student service offices, and a large living room area for students to gather.
Hoover, who first came to the campus 12 years ago as a major gift officer and has served as the women’s head basketball coach, said that she was there when the campus first opened its doors to freshmen.
“Today, we’re starting to be a destination,” she said. “We have everything they want in a smaller campus. We’re like a plane at the end of the runway. There’s so much more we can do for people in the region. We offer career services and cultural enrichment. We’re looking for an influx of partnerships. We’re growing so fast, but we have the capacity to be even bigger.”
So, after 50 years of continuous growth, what does the future hold for Penn State Harrisburg?
Hoover said that campus administrators are “looking to build a soccer stadium,” as well as initiating lacrosse and field hockey sports.
“With only one athletic building, we need more athletic space,” she noted.
The school hosts international students, but Hoover said that administrators want more U.S. students to travel and study abroad.
“If I could change anything about our school, it’s that we’re a hidden gem,” Hoover said. “We want the region to know how much we have to offer.”
For more information about Penn State Harrisburg, visit www.harrisburg.psu.edu.
Penn State Harrisburg has events planned throughout the academic year to mark its 50th anniversary. These include:
Sept. 6 to Nov. 4: 50th Anniversary Lyric Writing Contest for students
Sept. 16, 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.: United Way Golf Tournament, Sunset Golf Course
Sept. 27 to Oct. 4, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.: “1+1 Penn State Harrisburg History” interactive installation
Oct. 4, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.: “Penn State Harrisburg” book signing with Heidi Abbey Moyer at bookstore
Oct. 6, 8 to 11 p.m.: “Bonfire in the ‘Burg” with free food, giveaways, entertainment
Oct. 14 to 15: “We Are Weekend” celebrating the campus’ anniversary, including an alumni awards dinner, time capsule opening, concert, reunions and more
Oct. 27, 8:30 to 11:30 p.m.: Lion Ambassador’s Ghost Tours
Jan. 20, 7 to 10 p.m.: 50th Anniversary Movie Series, Student Enrichment Center
Feb. 9, 12 to 3 p.m.: “Pickle Day,” a pickle tasting to commemorate the campus’ origin as a cucumber farm.
Feb. 16, all day: “Advancement of Entrepreneurship in Central PA” discussion
Feb. 20, 7 to 9 p.m.: American Studies presentation by original faculty member Henry Glassie, library
March 23, 5:30 to 9 p.m.: MBA Group reunion, Capital Union Building
April 8, 6 to 9 p.m.: “Once Upon Our Campus,” Student Enrichment Center
April 20: 50th Anniversary Time Capsule Closing
For a full schedule of events, visit www.harrisburg.psu.edu/50th-events.
Author: Phyllis Zimmerman