West Chester University Closes Out 150th Anniversary Celebration With Community Open House

3 Women show off some West Chester University 150th anniversary T-shirts
Image via West Chester University.
3 Women show off their West Chester University 150th anniversary T-shirts at the April 23 open house.

It was like visiting an academic theme park, where the thrill of a roller coaster was replaced with the excitement of scientific and artistic exploration, eye-catching technologies, and enthusiastic students and faculty showcasing what they most cared about.

West Chester University closed out its year-long celebration of its 150th anniversary with an open house recently. The community was invited to visit the campus at 700 South High Street in West Chester and see what the students, faculty, and staff have been doing lately.

“A university is not a collection of buildings. It’s a collection of people. This is just an incredible collection of people,” remarked West Chester President Dr. Chris Fiorentino during the 150th-anniversary closing ceremony.

Visitors stopped off at the various departments where students and professors provided hands-on activities,

Here’s a sample of what people experienced:

  • Healthy cooking demonstrations from the nutrition students (and free samples),
  • Performances from the Wells School of Music
  • A production of “Into the Woods” by the Theater and Dance students.
  • Art exhibits by senior fine art students
  • Digging up artifacts from the Anthropology Department
  • A 3-D virtual reality demonstration of the human body at The Anatomage Table
  • Watching 3-D urban modeling in action at the Exton Crossroads
  • Watching a 3-D printer at work
  • Programming robots
  • Visiting a drone

Free music, games, and refreshments accompanied all the demonstrations.

West Chester cheerleaders try their hand at a bean bag toss. Image via West Chester University.

The open house also coincided with alumni weekend with many graduates back on campus for the open house.

One group of alumni who graduated in the 1970s was checking out the new science and engineering building.

A woman in West Chester has walked the perimeter of the university but hasn’t been back on campus so the open house offered an opportunity.

“I particularly like to hear about what the students are doing,” she said.  “I’m feeling much better about our future.”

Book Collection

The open house was a chance for the university to unveil the Rudine Sims Bishop African American Children’s Book Collection to the public.  She is considered to be the “mother of multicultural literature in children’s literature,” particularly for African-Americans.

Her books fill a need for Black children to see themselves in the books they read.

Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop gifted her book collection to the university at the same time the College of Education and Social Work received a grant to recruit under-represented teachers from the college and talk with them about ways to diversify their teaching, including diversifying children’s literature in K-12 schools.

Resource to the Community

The open house also highlighted a community tutoring program that trains education majors to be reading specialists by working to improve the reading skills of kids in the community.

“Our 150th anniversary year has been an extraordinary opportunity to show what it means to make a difference in people’s lives, to be a critical resource at all times, and to take action as a good neighbor,” Dr. Fiorentino said in his closing remarks.

The 30-year Reading Center is so popular in the community there’s a waiting list to get into the low-fee to no-fee program, said Literacy Professor Kevin Flanagan.

“The center has served hundreds of adverse children and their families in the West Chester community and the surrounding region,” he says. “It’s also prepared hundreds of reading specialists and literacy leaders.”

Robots, 3-D printers, and virtual reality

In the mathematics department, guests had a chance to program remote rovers, use a 3-D printer and visit a virtual reality station that used a museum virtual field trip app to place a human body in the space that can be studied in 3-D.

Visitors try to program remote rovers at a mathematics department demonstration. Image via West Chester University.

The technology preps future teachers for what they’ll see in their schools., says Dr. Chris Penny. “We’re trying to keep pace. We try to be responsive to what’s happening in schools but we also want to be leaders to show what is possible,” he added.

Environmental lab

In the new science and engineering building, visitors had a chance to try experiments with infrared light, radioactivity, and air particulates.

College senior Sabrina Fedrigo, an Environmental Health Science major, loves that all the sciences are now in the same place.

“I think having the most up-to-date technology trains the students to use it and has us prepared for doing this in the real world,” she said.

Checking out universities

Tikneia Major, a West Chester University alumna, with a BA and Master’s from West Chester, was showing her niece around campus. Aariyah Gary is checking out colleges.  

They happened to show up during the open house weekend.

Major liked seeing all the changes on campus.

“For me, it’s nostalgic because I see some of the old things of the campus and how it used to be, but I’m also seeing the changes and how we’ve grown as a university and what we have to offer now,” she said.  

Aariyah said she definitely likes West Chester “a little bit higher over Pitt.”

Her favorite thing?  The community. “I like how everyone is out here doing things.”

R2 Research Status

President Fiorentino noted in his 150th anniversary closing remarks how the university started as an institution of teacher education and has evolved to become an R2 research university.

While that is a proud achievement, he said the university remains as focused as ever on student success.

“It was not a strategic goal to achieve this status,” he said. It came about because the university added doctoral programs and a higher amount of sponsored research, creating more opportunities for students moving forward.

150 Forward Campaign

And although the 150th anniversary year celebration has ended, the fundraising campaign continues, with two years left to go.

Some of the key players in West Chester University’s year-long 150th-anniversary celebration. Image via West Chester University.

“We’ve hit our $50 million level at this point towards a $65 million goal,” Dr. Fiorentino said. “It would be great to be standing here in a couple of years and talking about how far we went over the $65 million target.”

To be continued

The 150th-anniversary open house officially came to a close with the sealing and burial of a time capsule to be opened in 150 years. 

Dr. John Villella, vice president of University Affairs, summed up West Chester University’s long voyage through time. 

 “As we conclude this journey, those first150 years, we can look back with a great sense of pride on what this institution has done literally for hundreds of thousands of students,” he said. “I’m incredibly excited about what the next 150 years will be.” 

Find out more about West Chester University.