Q. According to the American Council on Education, the average term a university president typically serves is 7 or 8 years, yet you've been president at Penn College for 18 years. To what do you attribute your tenure?
GILMOUR. It’s a number of things. First of all, I have a great team of people to work with. We have introduced new people, which means we have new ideas. I think, too, it’s also because I was a faculty member here. I have sat in the positions they are now in. I bring credibility and a different perspective than others may bring.
Q. Many universities offer associate degrees and 4-year baccalaureate degrees, how is Penn College different?
GILMOUR. Penn College is a place where you can come and get a 2-year degree and can go right into the workforce or stay and pursue a 4-year degree, or you also have the option of completing your baccalaureate degree online. On top of that, we offer the full collegiate experience. However, it’s our programs and our curriculum that set us apart. You’re not going to find “Mechatronics” at other colleges. Our 4-year degrees are all connected to our Center of Excellence at the two-year level. It goes all along with “degrees that work.”
Q. What kind of students enroll at Penn College?
GILMOUR. Students come here because they have a good idea of what they want to do and have a passion or interest in a particular area of work. Fewer than 100 students enter undecided. We’ve got first-gen students and those where every family member has been to grad school. We’ve had an entire family where each child, four total, came to learn a segment of a business so they could take over the family business when the time came.
Q. Can you explain the significance of the #degreesthatwork hashtag/tag line and how did it come about?
GILMOUR. Our marketing team in Public Relations & Marketing came up with it and we liked it so much we decided to trademark it. It really describes us well. We are about degrees that will get you jobs and careers.
Q. What are the highlights of your presidency so far? What you want for Penn in the future?
GILMOUR. My most rewarding times are times spent with students—graduation, honors ceremonies, celebrating the college’s 100 year anniversary. I have this saying on my wall: “If you are gone tomorrow, what do you want to be remembered for.”
For me, the answer is:
• I put students first at the institution.
• We have raised our academic standards and yet we still offer students the opportunity for higher education.
• We are a very important part of our community. We’ve reconnected the college to the community.
One of the first things I did as president was lower the fees for childcare on campus for students. I want to do anything I can do to help the students have a better opportunity.
One highlight of my career as president has been teaching in the freshman experience program. Every new student has to take a one-credit class on the same topic. By mid-terms, students were saying this is the best thing I ever did.
Q. What kind of student thrives at Penn College?
A student who has passion and understanding of the major they are selecting is the ideal Penn College student. It’s not easy. If you are an aviation student you are in class from 8-4:30 all day. Most of our students are in class for the good part of the day. (It’s actually a big advantage we have.) A student who wants to do hands-on is going to thrive here. You start the very first semester. Students want to experience what they are studying right away.
Students have to be fairly committed and can expect two hours of homework for every hour they are in class. We have standards. There‘s no room for Ds or Fs; you have to have a C or better to continue. If you get stuck, we will meet you half-way. We offer a tremendous amount of support but you need to know that you are taking a seat away from someone who really knows what they want.
Q. What would you want parents to know about Penn College if they have a teen trying to decide where to go to college?
GILMOUR. We offer recession-proof majors that help sons and daughters fulfill a passion that will change their lives. If they like hands-on learning and want to experience breadth and depth of opportunity, they should take a look at Penn College. Students can come for an undecided semester, and get exposed to a variety of majors. We usually can help them within the first semester; rarely does anyone take a year to decide on a major. Some colleges give you two years to declare a major, which probably means 1 to 1.5 years extra of college. We are not about that. I don’t think that’s fair. If you are that uncertain we are probably not the place for you.
Q. So, what do you like best about being president of Penn College?
GILMOUR. Making a difference – from the simplest thing to some of the most complicated things. It inspires me every day. If I can clear the pathway for something innovative or creative to happen, that’s very reassuring to me, very rewarding. I don’t like to say “No” very often. I like to say “How” – “How can we do it.”
I have to credit my personal success with my family. They were huge education supporters. My dad was a welder. From him, I learned about hard work, volunteerism, and getting the job done. My dad taught me not to see gender. He once took me to an Orioles game on “Bring your son to the game” day.
I grew up learning what’s really important in life – you grow up respecting people. You always take the high ground, you tell the truth and you move on. It has served me pretty well.
We offer recession-proof majors that help sons and daughters fulfill a passion that will change their lives.
Penn College Snapshot:
- Tagline: #DegreesThatWork
- Enrollment: 5,623
- More than 100 degree programs
- Average class size: 17 (18:1 student-faculty ratio)
- NCAA Division III athletics
- Military-friendly by G.I. Jobs
- Location: Williamsport, PA