Advancing a Vision
How forward thinking gave rise to the college-and propels today’s research
In 1963, Eric Walker, then Penn State’s president, invited a select group of faculty and staff from across the University to his home. Walker had a rather ambitious assignment for them—he wanted them to imagine what the University should look like in 1980. He asked them to consider questions such as how would the University be structured, whom would it serve, and to what societal needs would it be poised to respond.
Walker’s timing was perfect. The 1960s were a time of political and social upheaval in the U.S., and Penn State was not immune to the impact of the social change that resulted. Later in the decade, Walker himself would be a target of student discontent. But Walker knew, even in 1963, that Penn State had to prepare if it were to thrive in a changing world.
Serving on the committee-dubbed the 1980 Committee—was Dr. Donald Ford, head of the University’s Division of Counseling (a forerunner to the Division of Undergraduate Studies). He and his fellow committee members engaged in what would today be called “blue-sky thinking” in order to arrive at their recommendations. “We didn’t get involved in politics,” Ford recalls, “and we didn’t do any statistical analyses. We took a visionary approach to discussing how the world would change between then and 1980 and how the University would respond.”
When the committee submitted its final report to President Walker, it contained several key recommendations. Among them were that the University should adapt to society’s needs by focusing on human problems and issues such as family life, health care, and changes in women’s roles in society. The committee recommended that the University establish a new college that would bring together multidisciplinary knowledge and focus on the promotion of positive human development.
President Walker circulated the committee’s recommendations throughout the University and found an ally in Grace Henderson, dean of the College of Home Economics. “Penn State had the most visionary dean of home economics of any place in the nation,” explains Ford. Henderson believed that home economics programs had to adapt to societal changes or be left behind. With the support of her home economics faculty, Henderson threw her support behind the proposal and recommended that the College of Home Economics serve as the cornerstone of the new college, which would be called the College of Human Development.
Meanwhile, President Walker had big plans for Ford. He was so impressed with Ford’s contributions to the 1980 Committee and to other University committees that he asked Ford to head the new college. Ford was charged with no easy task—building a college, unlike any other in the nation, from the ground up. By now, he was familiar with the visionary thinking needed to accomplish such a task.
Ford developed a college based on three main themes that would guide the college’s research and teaching.
A Developmental Approach
Ford’s vision was for the new college to have a developmental and preventive approach. It would focus on the “fullest positive development of people’s capabilities” as well as on preventing problems before they arose.
A Focus on Individuals, Families, and Communities
Ford recognized that a way to promote human development and prevent human problems was to improve the way people live. The new college’s mission would be to improve the quality of services to individuals and families, as well as to improve their communities.
A Commitment to Collaboration and Connectedness
Ford understood that the complexity of human problems required the expertise of people from various disciplines. He proposed that the new college be designed to bring together people from different academic backgrounds to examine problems from a variety of angles.
The College of Health and Human Development was founded on the shoulders of men and women with great vision—from Eric Walker, who knew that Penn State had to change to better respond to society’s needs; to Grace Henderson, who saw how the principles behind home economics could be incorporated into the new college; to Donald Ford, who built a first-of-its-kind college devoted to improving people’s lives.
Forty years later, faculty and staff in the College of Health and Human Development extend that vision. The three themes that Ford identified then—a developmental approach; a focus on individuals, families, and communities; and collaboration and connectedness—are the cornerstones of the research being conducted by faculty and students in today’s College. In the coming pages, you’ll see examples of the ways in which faculty—and often students—are improving people’s lives through their research discoveries.