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College of Education > News and Publications > News: Oct. - Dec. 2010 > Reflections on the Power of the Penn State Network

Reflections on the Power of the Penn State Network

Dean Monk's column for Connections, November 2010


Dean's Message

(November 2010)


Some recent events have reminded me about the importance of what we sometimes refer to as the Penn State network. For example, I recently attended a statewide conference sponsored by the Pennsylvania Association of Colleges and Teacher Educators (PAC-TE). Penn State was very well represented at the conference, both by current faculty and students and also by graduates of our numerous programs who have gone on to hold significant positions in other colleges and universities throughout Pennsylvania.

I had one particularly memorable conversation with a group of graduates. These graduates were using the conference as an opportunity to become reacquainted and to reminisce about their days at Penn State. They wanted to meet me and tell me how meaningful the Penn State program has been in their lives. The stories they told were powerful and poignant and made me proud to be a part of Penn State.

Later that week, we held the Educational Leadership brunch the morning of the Michigan football game. This is an annual event that brings graduates of our Educational Leadership program back to campus. Again, the underlying Penn State network became obvious and the attendees used the brunch as an opportunity to become reacquainted and to share memories of their days at Penn State. We asked several students and recent graduates to share thoughts, and the students spoke eloquently about how meaningful the program has been to them. It was a reminder to me about the dedication and effectiveness of our faculty members and advisors. Again, this was a feel-good moment for me as dean of the College.

We also recently held a meeting for the seven new students who are being supported by the new Dean’s Graduate Assistantship (DGA) program. These students are just beginning their Penn State experience, and it became abundantly clear that they are working closely with their faculty advisors and that events are unfolding that will turn into positive memories that they will share with one another at future events, long after they have graduated and gone on to pursue their careers.

These are all examples how the Penn State network can affect the alumni of our graduate programs, but the network is also alive and well at the undergraduate level. Here we are dealing with large numbers, and we know that roughly half of the 40,000-plus living alumni of the College finished an undergraduate program in the College and reside within Pennsylvania. Many of these graduates are teachers in K-12 schools throughout Pennsylvania, but other career paths are also in the mix. My impression is that this network is less well organized and that fellow Penn Staters who are working as, say, teachers connect to one another largely through word of mouth and other more informal mechanisms. There are a few more formally organized efforts like the creation of the Affiliated Program Group (APG) for graduates of the Professional Development School, but these are the exception rather than the rule.

We know quite well that one of the very attractive selling points for Penn State is the opportunity it offers prospective students to become part of a powerful network of fellow Penn Staters. In some cases, these networks develop organically and have authentic grassroots dimensions. The seven DGAs mentioned that an important reason they chose to come to Penn State was the fact that they had a personal contact from at least one Penn State graduate who sang the praises of the program. I am quite confident that something similar goes on at the undergraduate level and that Penn State graduates work effectively and largely behind the scenes to encourage high school students to consider our University. This is a very precious resource for us as a University and as a College, and I am wondering about what we can do to encourage and further develop the power of these networks. We would not want to do anything to interfere with the informal, grassroots efforts that are already happening, but we are well advised to do what we can to strengthen networks, particularly within Pennsylvania.

Several ideas are in play, and I welcome your reactions and also encourage you to think about other steps we could take. For example, we could make an extra effort to sponsor Penn State College of Education alumni gatherings at various statewide conferences that take place. There are quite a few of these, and we do not have the resources to sponsor events or receptions at all of these conferences, but I think our graduates would appreciate having an extra opportunity to come together in the context of these conferences to learn more about each other. We make some efforts along these lines at the national level (for example, we sponsor a reception each year at the AERA conference), but this would involve an extra effort to develop connections within Pennsylvania.

A second idea involves doing a better job at identifying our graduates in different roles within education throughout the Commonwealth. For example, we should be able to generate a list of current superintendents, principals, and teachers in Pennsylvania schools who have a Penn State connection. This would be useful information for us to have and it could also be of interest to our graduates.

A third idea is being developed by our Alumni Society board of directors and involves developing a mentoring program that would connect alumni with students who are reaching the completion of their programs and who are about to enter the workforce.

The final idea I will mention involves trying to build stronger networks among students while they are still enrolled. The Blue & White Society is organized by the Alumni Association and is designed to introduce students to what the Association offers to alumni. We are thinking about ways to encourage larger numbers of our students to join. We are also thinking about sponsoring events at significant milestones in our programs. For example, our undergraduate students all have some kind of capstone, clinical experience. It might be desirable to invite students who have reached this stage to an open house at the dean’s home to recognize their accomplishments and to offer support and encouragement. The logistics surrounding such an event are daunting, given the number of students we serve, but perhaps we should give this a try and do some experimenting.

I welcome your thoughts about these ideas and recognize that there may be things we could do that we have not yet thought of. Your thoughts about these are welcome as well. In the meantime, please accept my thanks for all that is currently going on within the College to generate the stories that our graduates enjoy sharing. There is remarkable loyalty to the College of Education and we can all be very thankful for this extraordinarily precious resource.


David H. Monk