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Forums will look at Penn State Harrisburg, Middletown borough relationship

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 1/31/18

Middletown residents interested in the relationship between the town and Penn State Harrisburg are invited to attend a series of three public forums on “Town and Gown Relationships” to be …

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Forums will look at Penn State Harrisburg, Middletown borough relationship

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Middletown residents interested in the relationship between the town and Penn State Harrisburg are invited to attend a series of three public forums on “Town and Gown Relationships” to be held Feb. 11, Feb. 18 and Feb. 25 at the Presbyterian Congregation of Middletown at Union and Water streets.

Each of the three forums will be held from 9:15 to 10:15 a.m. in the Fellowship Hall of the church.

The forums are being organized by Susannah Gal, associate dean of research and outreach and a professor of biology at Penn State Harrisburg. Gal has lived around the world but called Middletown home since 2015. She is also a member of the Press & Journal Editorial Board.

“I’m standing in both camps,” Gal told the Press & Journal, as a borough resident and as a member of the faculty and staff of the growing campus.

Each of the forums will offer a unique perspective, so residents can attend one or all three.

In the first forum on Feb. 11, Gal will talk about her experiences living in other college towns in Massachusetts and New York, and now in Middletown.

She will also present and lead a discussion on results of a survey that was conducted in 2017 of Penn State Harrisburg faculty and staff who live in Middletown regarding the relationship between the campus and the community.

During the second forum Feb. 11, Middletown Borough Councilors Ben Kapenstein and Dawn Knull and Mike Woodworth of the borough’s Human Relations Commission will describe the opportunities they see in developing the relationship between the borough and Penn State Harrisburg.

For the last forum on Feb. 25, students of Penn State Harrisburg will share their perspectives on the relationship between the town and the campus, and their thoughts on what can be done to improve interactions between students and Middletown residents.

Gal hopes for “maybe 30 minutes” of presentations during each forum, leaving the rest for conversations and interaction among those attending.

She credits the idea for the forums to Bruce Humphrey, interim pastor at the Presbyterian Congregation where both Gal and her husband attend and are active in the church choir. Humphrey also offered use of the church, she said.

Humphrey has the perspective of having been on both sides of the town and gown relationship. He was on the faculty of a college in Sitka, Alaska; and he has pastored churches elsewhere in the United States in towns and cities with a college or a university, such as in Prescott, Arizona, and in San Diego.

Since arriving here two years ago, Humphrey said he has come to realize there is “not a whole lot of a relationship” between Middletown and Penn State Harrisburg. He hopes the forums at Presbyterian Congregation can help to change that.

“We could do better with this,” Humphrey told the Press & Journal. “We need to do some work to make it better.”

Much discussion has been devoted over the years about how Penn State Harrisburg and its students in particular can support growth of the Middletown economy.

This is one factor in the relationship, but there are many other ways that the borough and the campus can benefit from each other, Gal said.

The challenge is that borough residents and the campus community don’t know enough about each other, and these forums is one way to start filling that information void.

“Do (borough residents) know that they can use the pool and the library?” Gal noted. “I don’t think many people know of the resources we have here. I think it’s a relationship that right now is blossoming and developing and has potential. There are not strong negatives but I don’t think (residents and Penn State Harrisburg) realize the strong positives, because I don’t think they know enough about each other.”

Gal is encouraged by the borough’s newly reconstituted Human Relations Commission planning a cultural diversity event to be held at the MCSO on April 7. The commission is working with Penn State Harrisburg on coordinating the event, which is modeled on an annual event that occurs in Hummelstown.