Penn State Harrisburg

Two master’s programs celebrate 40 years

The 2012-13 academic year marks the 40th anniversary of creation of Penn State Harrisburg master’s degrees in public administration and American studies, two of the college’s 25 master’s programs.

When it was founded in 1966, Penn State Harrisburg was the only Commonwealth Campus to be given the mission of providing innovative and interdisciplinary programs as an upper division (undergraduate juniors and seniors) and graduate center. Six years later, these two graduate programs were approved.

“What [the campus] had was an enthusiastic and dedicated faculty, each trying to help the campus achieve its mission of being ‘innovative and interdisciplinary,’” said Dr. William Mahar, who joined the college’s humanities faculty in 1971 and retired as the college’s senior associate dean for academic affairs in 2006.

Innovation was key in the creation of the M.P.A. program, a hybrid developed by combining the existing master’s of administration and the public policy concentration of the undergraduate social science degree. The result was, and continues to be, a degree for those with career interests in government, health administration, and human services and nonprofit organizations.

The M.P.A. is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) and is ranked in the top 25 percent of public administration/policy programs by U.S. News and World Report.

“Due in part to the success of the M.P.A. program, the Penn State Harrisburg School of Public Affairs was designated the ‘flagship’ campus for public affairs education within Penn State,” said Dr. Jeremy Plant, program coordinator of the online M.P.A., a joint collaboration between Penn State Harrisburg and Penn State World Campus.  

In 1988, Penn State Harrisburg added a doctoral program in public administration, the first Penn State doctoral degree to be offered completely outside of University Park.

The American studies degree met the goal of being interdisciplinary, incorporating multiple subjects like art, popular culture, and history into its content. Approved in 1972, the program grew quickly and gained strengths in the areas of folk and popular culture, heritage and museum studies, material culture studies, and ethnic and regional studies. By the 1980s and 90s the program had reached milestones: receiving the college’s first external grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and first Fulbright Scholar grants and becoming headquarters for the Eastern American Studies Association.

The American studies bachelor’s and master’s degree programs were followed by a doctorate degree program, which admitted its first cohort in the fall of 2009 and has exceeded original enrollment projections.

“After 36 years, the foresight and commitment of the first American studies faculty and their subsequent colleagues were realized when the Graduate School and the University administration approved the American studies doctoral program,” said Mahar.

According to the program’s director, Distinguished Professor of American Studies and Folklore Dr. Simon Bronner, continued development is planned.

“In the future, the program expects to continue globalizing with study-conference opportunities and visiting scholars/students. It also will be localizing with more regional outreach and field schools,” said Bronner.