Campus History

Campus History

Penn State Lehigh Valley is the oldest continuously operating campus outside of University Park. The campus has a rich history of over 100 years. Below is a brief look at Penn State Lehigh Valley over the years.


In the early 1900s, Pennsylvania State College President Edwin Sparks' vision of the land-grant institution mission and his emphasis on lifelong learning leads to the establishment of "extension courses" throughout the state.

Through the efforts of a local citizens' committee in cooperation with Penn State's School of Engineering, the first permanent Penn State technical center is established in the attic of the Stevens School at 6th and Tilghman Streets in Allentown in 1912. The center offers evening courses in engineering subjects.

1917 - 1918

During World War I, women enter the classrooms at the Allentown Engineering Extension for the first time. Most of the women trained at the extension fill positions in the drafting rooms of the steel and cement industries in the Lehigh Valley.


Programs in "Foreman Training," which eventually expand to become the current Management Development program, begin. Today, Penn State Lehigh Valley ranks as one of the leading providers of Management Development programming in the state.

The extension center provides "continuation school" one day a week for young workers in silk mills and other factories in the area.


Bethlehem Steel offers all employees the opportunity to enroll in shop and engineering courses at the Allentown Extension School. From the beginning, the extension school works to partner with industries in the area to provide needed skills. The instructors, drawn from local businesses, ground the courses in practical application as well as theoretical learning.


At the Allentown Fair, extension students who are also employees of the many silk mills in this area, display silks designed and woven in the Textile Engineering School. Also displayed in the Extension's tent are an illuminated map of Pennsylvania and a static electricity machine.

1941 - 1945

The Allentown Branch School responds to the call to train local workers in skills vital to the war effort via the Engineering, Science, and Management War Training (ESMWT) program, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. During the war years, over 4,000 people enroll in classes offered in the Allentown district.

Classes are held in 12 centers including Central Junior High School, Raub Junior High School, the former Lehigh Valley Transit building at 14th and Gordon streets, and at Muhlenberg College which collaborates with Penn State in offering the program. Other partners in the effort include Convair and Consolidated Vultee Aircraft. Two all-women classes are trained in aircraft detailing to work at the Allentown divisions of these companies.


Returning veterans of WWII, eligible for financial aid for education through the G.I. Bill, want to complete training as quickly as possible to return to the workforce. The extension programs offered in engineering and business at the Allentown center were traditionally offered evenings over a course of 3 to 5 years to men who were employed during the day. In response to the needs of the veterans, these technical programs are condensed into one year non-credit daytime programs in electrical technology, mechanical design, and business administration. These programs are the precursors of the associate degrees in these fields.


To house the burgeoning one-year daytime institutes, the center moves to a former cigar factory, silk mill, and boys' club at 725 Ridge Avenue.


The school is renamed the Allentown Center, and the daytime technical institute is reorganized as a two-year Associate in Engineering degree program. Penn State is the first major university to develop associate degrees, a concept which is quickly adopted by other universities across the country.

1965 - 1968

As the baby boomers generation enters college en force, enrollment in the programs grows and the center soon needs to rent additional space in high schools, hotels, and the Jewish Community Center. At the same time, enrollment at the main campus in University Park swells beyond its capacity. Across the state, other Penn State centers and campuses offered the first two years of a Penn State baccalaureate degree to ensure students from their communities access to a Penn State education.

Many community members and organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Morning Call newspaper, area labor union leaders, and state legislators from the Lehigh Valley join with the Advisory Board of the Allentown Center to begin the process of expanding the center's mission to include a two year baccalaureate transfer program.


Mohr's Orchard donates 40 acres of land near Fogelsville for a new Penn State Allentown campus.


The Allentown Center leases the former Upper Macungie Elementary School as temporary housing until the new campus can be constructed, and undergraduate courses are added to the curriculum.


Penn State Allentown Campus moves into its new home on Mohr Lane in Fogelsville.


Led by Coach Jim Young, the Penn State Allentown Campus cycling team wins the first of several National Collegiate Cycling Championships.


The Lehigh Valley Writing Project (LVWP) begins with a summer institute designed to encourage the teaching of writing across the curriculum. Using a teachers-teaching-teachers model, the program inspires teachers to design and incorporate new methods of teaching writing in their classes. Over the next ten years, the LVWP expands its programming and is recognized as one of the most active and innovative sites of the National Writing Project.


As the city of Allentown grows into a major metropolitan area, it faces challenges common to larger urban areas. High schools in the area begin to experience higher dropout rates. The more culturally- and economically-diverse population brings new educational needs and opportunities.


During the summer, Visiting Scholars from universities in Puerto Rico join the faculty of the pre-college youth programs. This begins an ongoing relationship between Penn State Allentown Campus and Puerto Rican universities such as the University of Puerto Rico, the University of Turabo, and the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico.


Penn State Lehigh Valley campus joins with Berks campus to create a new Penn State college, Berks-Lehigh Valley College. The new college immediately begins to develop four-year baccalaureate degree programs, giving area students the option of staying close to home while completing a Penn State degree.


Penn State Lehigh Valley becomes the site of the English as a Second Language graduate degree program of the University of Turabo, Gurabo, Puerto Rico. The ESL program is a cooperative venture between the Lehigh Valley Writing Project and the University of Turabo supported by a grant by the U.S. Department of Education. Although classes are held at Penn State Lehigh Valley, the students visit Puerto Rico to work with Puerto Rican colleagues and students, increasing their understanding of both Hispanic culture and the Spanish language.


The first baccalaureate degrees are awarded by the Penn State Berks-Lehigh Valley College to Business Administration and Electro-Mechanical Engineering Technology students. Other baccalaureate degree programs in Information Sciences and Technology, Culture Studies, Kinesiology, and Science had begun, and a sixth baccalaureate degree, the Bachelor of Science in Applied Psychology, is approved.

Fifteen teachers from the Allentown and Reading school districts are awarded the first Masters in Education degrees in Teaching English as a Second Language upon completion of the joint University of Turabo/Penn State Lehigh Valley program.


In March, Penn State Lehigh Valley opened a Corporate Learning Center off Rt. 512 in Bethlehem as a way to service the entire Lehigh Valley. The 10,000-square-foot facility houses the continuing education department and also offers traditional classes, professional training, and corporate training.


Penn State restructures the university across the state. Penn State Lehigh Valley is split from the Berks campus and becomes part of the University College.


In 2009, spurred by the continued growth of the campus, Penn State Lehigh Valley began writing a new chapter in its history with the purchase of a facility at 2809 Saucon Valley Road in Center Valley. The three-story Saucon Building and surrounding property serve as the new main campus of Penn State in the Lehigh Valley, and provide expanded space and opportunities to foster the success of current and future students.