Abington chancellor discusses state of higher education, diversity and inclusion

ABINGTON, Pa. — Margo DelliCarpini, chancellor of Penn State Abington, was joined by the leaders of three universities in the Philadelphia region for the discussion, "Education Innovation: How the pandemic transformed higher education," at the Invest: Philadelphia 2021 conference last week. 

DelliCarpini, Christopher Domes of Neumann University, Michael Mittelman of Salus University, and Christopher Fiorentino of West Chester University formed the panel and shared challenges and opportunities from the pandemic. DelliCarpini said that Abington kept focused on student success and ensuring that students had access to academics. 

“In the early days of the pandemic, our number one challenge was meeting the technology needs of our students, making sure they had computer access, access to the internet, and more general support services for troubleshooting,” she said. 

She praised the IT staff on campus, calling them heroes for helping faculty, staff and students make the shift to remote learning and working. 

“As a result, we’ve greatly adapted our use of technology in a real value-added way. Our faculty and staff have come away stronger as a result of having to adapt to these new technologies and to collaborate in the new digital environment,” DelliCarpini said. 

“One of the things we found was that students, faculty, staff needed to be together, whether virtually or on campus. One of our areas of focus was building community in this new virtual world,” she continued.

"We really take a holistic and enterprise approach to supporting our diverse student population at Penn State Abington, focusing on academic and non-academic supports. The pandemic has further focused our efforts on equitable access and removing barriers that our students face."

— Penn State Abington Chancellor Margo DelliCarpini

Diversity, equity and inclusion

Throughout the pandemic, the spotlight has shined on bolstering diversity and inclusion. DelliCarpini was asked how Abington, the most diverse campus within Penn State, addresses increasing access to and creating a more equitable environment for higher education in the region. 

“At Penn State Abington, we are committed to equity, access and inclusive excellence. Our work has to be carried out intentionally, institutionally and systemically. It really has to be a campuswide approach,” she said. 

More than 50% of Abington students identify as people of color and 40% are — like DelliCarpini — first-generation college students.

“Disparities in education and health care, which have existed, were really brought to the forefront as a result of the pandemic. As institutions of higher education, we can and should take a leadership role in addressing these inequities. It’s imperative that we invest our efforts and energy around creating equitable and inclusive campuses, so we have the right supports for our students to keep them enrolled, to keep them successful, and to connect them to the professions they are going to go into once they leave us,” she said.

DelliCarpini explained that the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is a cabinet-level position at Abington, and its staff has been expanded. 

“We have a number of very intentional and very aligned initiatives that create an ecosystem of support for our students that are housed in units across campus. They have an academic focus, but we look holistically at these supports,” she said. 

Among the efforts:

  • Pathway to Success: Summer Start (PaSSS), which focuses on transitioning first-generation college students to Abington
  • An advising pilot program that will be launched this fall which is “an approach to student success often referred to as high-tech, high-touch, in which data informs how Abington is holistically approaching student advising in a very personalized way,” DelliCarpini said.
  • Financial supports including the Korman Promise Scholarships for sophomores, juniors and seniors who demonstrate need.
  • The "I’m First" mentoring program for first-generation college students who are paired with faculty or staff members who were once first-generation students themselves.
  • Food insecurity is targeted through the Philabundance fresh food market on campus and the student-run LionShare food pantry.

Abington also focuses on faculty development and support of diverse populations including:

  • The Center for Intercultural Leadership and Communication   
  • Faculty learning communities focused on equity pedagogies
  • The Global Awareness Dialogue Project, where faculty are learning about global and cultural issues and engaging in culturally relevant pedagogies so that they are addressing the needs of all of Abington learners. 

“We really take a holistic and enterprise approach to supporting our diverse student population at Penn State Abington, focusing on academic and non-academic supports. The pandemic has further focused our efforts on equitable access and removing barriers that our students face,” DelliCarpini said. 

See the entire panel discussion at the Invest: Philadelphia 2021 conference here.

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 nearly 3,500 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 23 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer Honors College, NCAA Division III athletics and more.