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Ryan reflects on 13 years as leader of Outreach
| When Dr. James H. Ryan, vice president for Outreach and Cooperative Extension (O&CE), retires, he will bring to a close a 22-year career with Penn State, the last 13 years as head of the Universitys unified outreach unit, the largest in American higher education. Dr. Craig D. Weidemann will replace Ryan July 1 (see story).|
Ryan, 60, will embark on the next stage of his lifeone that will continue to keep him and his wife Diane K. Ryan, executive director of the Penn State Alumni Association, who also is retiring, challenged both intellectually and personally. They plan to travel, read, explore the battlefields of the Civil War, spend time fly fishing, golfing and exploring nature. Jim Ryan also would like to increase his understanding of opera, Chinese art and wildlife photography, as well as undertake a genealogy search.
He and Diane are moving to Laporte, Pa., in Sullivan County, where they have a vacation home in the mountains.
As he reflected on his legacy as vice president for Outreach and Cooperative Extension, Ryan said, Weve made outreach a common understanding and a common word in the University. Outreach is no longer on the fringe of the academy; its now a mainstream activity. At the same time, there is greater participation and greater interest by faculty in conducting outreach, as illustrated by the stories we report in Penn State Outreach magazine.
As we have strived to reinvigorate the Universitys outreach mission, weve had the leadership and support of President Spanier, Provost Erickson and other advocates like me, he said. I leave Penn State with the visibility of outreach and commitment to outreach enhanced throughout the University.
Ryan added, We also have an extraordinary group of very talented people committed to outreachcommitted to supporting faculty and working with our clients and constituents. Its been a pleasure bringing the best people Ive ever worked with together. I know their energy and commitment will continue. Im happy that Ive been a part of helping to create the outreach organization at Penn Staterecognized as one of the best in the country. We have been successful, because of the quality of the people, their vision and their passion for what they do everyday to bring the scholarship and research of Penn State to the people of Pennsylvania, the nation and the world.
He began his journey with outreach in 1988, when President Bryce Jordan asked him to chair a task force on the future of lifelong learning at the University. At the time, Ryan was campus executive office at Penn State Wilkes-Barre.
We conducted an environmental scan, developed a set of guiding principles and provided recommendations and an action agenda to the administration, he said.
A key task force recommendation was the appointment of a vice president and dean for Continuing Education within the central administration. Task force members discussed creating a separate college for lifelong learning, but decided lifelong learning needed to be mainstreamed in all academic colleges.
In 1990, Jordan asked Ryan to implement the lifelong learning plan outlined by the task force. Much has happened since then.
We have built a very strong infrastructure in support of the colleges, and we have a large group of professionals to work with the colleges to develop and deliver outreach programming, he said.
There are more than 800 employees throughout Pennsylvania who are focused on the Universitys outreach mission, from Continuing Education, Cooperative Extension, Distance Education/World Campus and Public Broadcasting. They are supported by central offices in their program development and delivery initiatives. The outreach organization now has well developed research, marketing, program development and delivery capabilities and a strong development and fundraising capability (see story); faculty participation has increased dramatically; and there are many partnership activities taking place University-wide.
Ryan highlighted other important accomplishments:
There have been so many changes in our organization during the last 13 years, Ryan said. For large organizations like ours, change is essential. In a sense, if we are true learners and innovators, we will never arrive at our destination, because as we move forward, we push the frontiers ahead of us. Thus, a quality organization, which we strive to be, can never really arrive at permanent excellence. We can only move toward it, always in the state of practicing the disciplines of learning to become better. And that, after all, is what we have been attempting to accomplish togetherthe creation of a learning organization.
Some of the challenges Penn State Outreach faces include assisting faculty in achieving the outreach and engagement ideal, finding new models to engage with communities, continuing to collaborate and coordinate to avoid duplication of efforts and to create synergy, finding new ways to fund programs, using technology in innovative ways to provide access to students and clients and continuing to focus on quality and customer service.
He came to Penn State in 1981 as campus executive officer at Penn State Wilkes-Barre. Previously, he was director of the Division of Continuing Studies and dean of the Evening College and associate professor of continuing studies and public and environmental affairs at Indiana University at South Bend from 1974 to 1981. He held administrative and faculty positions at the State University of New York at Buffalo from 1964 to 1974.
Ryan has made numerous presentations at national and international conferences and is the author and editor of many book chapters and articles. He has held many leadership positions in higher education, Pennsylvania and community organizations. He has served on the editorial board of the Journal of Public Service and Outreach and Affiliations, is a member of the International Council for Distance Education and has served in a number of capacities, including as a member of the board of directors, with the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. He has chaired the Centre County United Way board of directors and led the Penn State United Way campaign and served on the board of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.
Among the many recognitions and acknowledgements he has received is the International Futures Award for Exceptional Innovative Leadership in Continuing Higher Education from the University Continuing Education Association.
What he will miss most in retirement is the people he has worked with over the years.
They are truly great colleagues to work with, Ryan said. Weve had some extraordinary challenges, and weve succeeded in meeting them, because of the quality and talent of the people in Outreach and Cooperative Extension and the faculty we support.