ABINGTON, Pa. — New Penn State Abington Chancellor Margo DelliCarpini began her tenure Jan. 4, arriving during a particularly challenging time on campus and in the nation due to the pandemic and political and social upheaval. But her energy, engagement, and lengthy list of achievements bode well for the future of the suburban Philadelphia college.
DelliCarpini, who arrived at Abington from The University of Texas at San Antonio, has compiled an accomplished record of strategic leadership and a demonstrated commitment to student access and success, academic scholarship, community outreach, and diversity, equity and inclusion.
In an interview last week, DelliCarpini reflected on her career thus far and shared her vision for Penn State Abington.
Penn State Abington (PSA): As you look to the future as chancellor of Penn State Abington, what lessons from your life and your career do you feel have molded your vision and style as leader of the campus?
DelliCarpini: It comes full circle from my research on collaboration. I’ve seen the benefits of collaboration throughout my professional career. I think about how we connect students to faculty and to economic and community partners in ways that will enhance their learning outside of the classroom and make important connections to professions. I’m a firm believer in strong community partners and how we think about innovative and unexpected synergies that benefit all of the partners. One of my roles is helping to facilitate and see those connections and enhance what we are doing through collaborative practices.
Another role that I will fulfill is good stewardship. I would characterize myself as a servant leader but not at the expense of thinking outside the box and asking those ‘imagine if’ questions so we can position Abington for success. We need to think about the long-term benefits and our legacy.
"We must continue our mission of education, research, community engagement and service and do so in way that centers the health, safety, and well-being of our students and find new and innovative ways to respond to external challenges."
— Margo DelliCarpini, chancellor, Penn State Abington
PSA: You are arriving at Penn State Abington at a time often described as unprecedented. What opportunities do you see in this unique time?
DelliCarpini: The real opportunity is to address digital equity and access, the digital divide. This has been placed at the forefront of our national conversation as never before. It’s an opportunity to address it in our communities and make changes that are sustainable.
We have had to pivot in an unprecedented way in higher education and really examine everything from business practices to how we provide instruction to how we recruit and retain students and support faculty. Apparent opportunities are to develop flexible programs for students that meet the needs of traditional and nontraditional students.
Recent research suggests that nearly 75% of students who are in post-secondary educational settings do not fall under the definition of "traditional students"; that is, students who live at home and are supported by their parents. We have a lot of nontraditional students at Abington. We need to develop programs that allow for timely, cost-effective degree completion outside of traditional schedules. We must construct opportunities for innovative course offerings, schedules and pedagogical approaches and new ways to for students to connect with future employers and communities.
The strategic partnerships Abington is engaged in, and the new partnerships I will work to develop, provide our students with experiential learning and opportunities for community engagement and connections to the careers that we are preparing them for. I see the region and the City of Philadelphia as an extension of our campus.
We need to think about how we are improving the hybrid learning environment by increasing the use of open-source material and the more fulsome use of augmented and virtual reality and immersive technologies. It’s not just the cost savings; it’s so that we are remaining at the forefront of information.
We must continue our mission of education, research, community engagement and service and do so in way that centers the health, safety, and well-being of our students and find new and innovative ways to respond to external challenges. We need to look at these challenges and collectively address them and be innovative, collaborative and out of box problem solvers.
Another piece is that society is confronting the results of racial injustice and oppression. We have the opportunity to educate and lead by example in areas of social justice and inclusive excellence. I think that we can do this effectively through engagement by creating a campus climate that serves as model of equity, mutual respect and accessibility that centers diversity, equity, inclusion and inclusive excellence not just through our statements, but through our actions.
We must also create a broad campus responsibility to hold ourselves accountable. We are not just speaking our values but living them and addressing and confronting these issues. My commitment is to work to address these issues across campus and create and build capacity for diversity, equity and inclusion.
PSA: What qualities about Penn State Abington inspire your optimism about the College’s future?
DelliCarpini: I’m excited that Abington is the most diverse campus within Penn State. My professional career has been spent at institutions that provide access to populations that have been historically denied access. I’m attracted to places that provide access and opportunities and value social justice, inclusivity and community engagement. I see it across all sectors of faculty, staff, and students at Abington. In my onboarding materials, every single person mentioned the importance of and commitment to diversity. I’m excited because my core values are aligned with the values of people I am encountering. This alignment offers great opportunities to make a difference with students and communities, to create a model campus where students and others come to us because we are leaders, and we set an example.
Also, given Abington’s location in the metropolitan Philadelphia region, we have a real opportunity to leverage place and really partner with surrounding communities and resources. With the region’s cultural and economic partners, we can create co-curricular opportunities for our students and make connections.
PSA: What do you foresee as the greatest challenges facing Penn State Abington and/or higher education in the near future?
DelliCarpini: COVID-19 rocked the world of higher education. We had to step back and really examine everything, operational models, how we teach, modes of delivery all while keeping the health, safety and well-being of our campus communities at the center of all of our decision-making. We are facing financial challenges as an industry due to the health pandemic. In addition, we are confronting bias, equity and racial injustice, which has been compounded by COVID-19.
I think that collectively, in order to be successful, we need to solve these problems. We are resilient, relevant and adaptable. We don’t want to lose sight of the importance of higher education. It is a public good, an engine of economic and social mobility. It has the power to transform lives and create long-term intergenerational positive impact. There is the cliché that there are opportunities in crisis, but there is also the phrase about innovating at the intersections where can we find opportunities to address challenges that we face. I think that is what will define us as successful.
"Believe in yourself and believe in your abilities."
— Margo DelliCarpini
PSA: As a first-generation college student yourself, what is your message to the large first-generation student population at Abington?
DelliCarpini: If I could go back and tell 19-year-old Margo anything, it’s the same message I would tell Penn State Abington students: Believe in yourself and believe in your abilities.
As a first-generation student, I had to learn everything from scratch. I didn’t have someone to tell me why I needed to see the bursar or the registrar. My message is that you belong, and you can do it.
People who I connected with as informal and formal mentors had the greatest impact on my success. It would have been a much more challenging pathway had the faculty I connected with not taken on the mentorship roles that they did. They saw me and saw my potential. So seek out mentors — make connections, and draw on the support they offer. And then because of those experiences, you should pay it forward and clear the way for those that come after you. There always needs to be a hand reaching out to bring someone forward.
PSA: What is something that students would be surprised to know about you?
DelliCarpini: I cannot sing. In fact, it’s painful to hear me sing, but I love to sing so I have developed a shameless approach to karaoke. I bought a karaoke machine, and we used to host karaoke parties before we had to wear masks. I’ve even won awards, not for my singing but for my passion about the songs. We hosted karaoke-themed parties at our house in San Antonio. We took it to the next level when people had to come prepared with a solo and a duet to perform and then they had to come in costume to look like the singer.
PSA: What are you most excited about to experience in Philadelphia?
DelliCarpini: I’m really eager to explore the city and surrounding areas. We are living in the city, and I’m looking forward to the reopening of the museums and other cultural spaces. I’m an armchair history buff so I’m really interested in seeing the historical sites. I’ve seen incredible beauty on my drive to campus. I’m originally a northeasterner from New York, and now I’m excited to get to know my new home region.
About Penn State Abington
Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century, public higher education within a world-class research university. With about 3,700 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 22 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics, and more.