Diversity and demographics:
As a moral, educational and business imperative, Barron has led Penn State in making ongoing investments in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) across every campus. As incoming students continue to be more diverse, he has worked with students and a broad range of stakeholders to advance equality and foster a more welcoming and inclusive campus community through services and support; education and scholarship; recruitment and training; dialogue; and awareness. During Barron’s tenure, DEI efforts have served as a core component of the Penn State Strategic Plan, and much of the work to foster and support DEI is detailed in the University’s Action Together website. While important progress has been made in this area, Barron also has maintained that there is more work to do.
In his update, Barron reviewed progress against goals shared with the board and community last year.
Efforts continue to establish an enterprise approach to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion that seeks to assess and focus Penn State’s investment in DEI programs and staff, discover gaps in investments and create more effective programs. This includes plans to create a chief diversity officer position reporting to the president, and an effort to conduct a University-wide inventory to identify individuals who already have advancement of diversity, equity and inclusion as an official focus of their position. The effort identified more than 80 individuals University-wide, and efforts to coordinate their important work will continue.
Barron also reviewed work underway to formalize DEI as part of Penn State’s education and scholarship mission. This includes the recently announced pilot program for BUILD @ Penn State, which is intended to provide anti-bias education for employees starting in the fall of 2022; the formation of the University’s Center for Racial Justice and a national search for its founding director; and advancing national leadership in anti-racist scholarship spearheaded by Penn State Dickinson Law.
Efforts continue, too, to establish best-in-class programming in the areas of employee onboarding, mentoring and retention. Barron said the University has developed a New Employee Onboarding program that sets a welcoming tone and creates a consistent experience for all employees; hired a new diversity, inclusion and belonging program manager within Human Resources; rolled out a DEI training series for Human Resources recruiters to increase their knowledge and skills related to developing more diverse candidate pools for faculty and staff positions; and launched a pilot diversity mentoring program for employees from underrepresented groups in Penn State Finance and Business.
Technology and curriculum delivery:
At Barron’s direction, for the past eight years Penn State’s leaders have engaged in an ambitious rethinking of the University’s approach to technology and curriculum delivery. Barron’s vision has been to structure learning and technology to provide students with a seamless, 24/7/365 online experience while making the University more integrated and flexible, allowing students, faculty and staff to achieve their goals regardless of their location in the world. Under his One Penn State 2025 vision, the goal is to provide students with access to lifelong learning that allows them to return to the University as their educational needs shift through time, efficiently meeting professional and societal needs in a timely manner.
Barron shared information about continued efforts to make the vision a reality, including the creation of “Elevate,” a web-based tool to help faculty and advisers proactively identify students who may benefit from outreach, to keep them on track and boost success; implementation of a pilot test-optional admissions process through the next two years; and introduction of efficiencies into LionPATH, the University’s student information system. He also discussed efforts to coordinate and deliver responsive learning through micro-credentials, including production of a comprehensive report on the topic; improvements to the Penn State Go mobile app and implementation of Starfish analytics to provide insights and improve student success; and progress toward launch of an enterprise client relationship management system to enable Penn State to deliver on the goals of Penn State 2025 and the University’s strategic plan.
“My time as Penn State president has been the most rewarding phase of my career, and I am grateful for the support of so many from across the University and community, from students to faculty and staff, and to my administrative team,” Barron said. “Together, and with the support of our trustees, we have been able to achieve so much. While I am retiring, the University’s important work will continue under the leadership of President-elect Neeli Bendapudi, who I am confident will lead Penn State with integrity and intelligence.”
“I’m extraordinarily proud of all that we have achieved together,” wrote Barron in his farewell entry on his blog, Digging Deeper. “(Penn State has) a top 1% world ranking; a comprehensive approach to access and affordability, 18 research fields in the top 10; record research expenditures that topped $1 billion; a decade of ranking in the top five for corporate recruiting; an enviable bond rating; an all-time record for philanthropy; a truly remarkable success in entrepreneurship and innovation, and so much more.”
“Molly and I are grateful for the support and spirit that we have experienced at University Park and on Penn State campuses across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” he wrote. “Thank you to all of you – the Penn State family – who have all been part of my family’s journey. We are better for knowing you and lucky to have been part of a place that makes saying goodbye so very hard.”