O'Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship

As a Franciscan institution, the university's mission compels Alvernians to be like St. Francis and serve as a source of transformation for students, the institution, and the community. The O'Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship celebrates the Catholic and Franciscan tradition and plays a pivotal role in educating students for participation in a global economy.


Through Reading CollegeTowne, the O'Pake Institute continues its mission of transformation. The institute serves as a catalyst for educational and business expansion, including a student-centered business incubator in downtown Reading.


Recognizing the importance of economic development and entrepreneurship, Alvernia continues to educate from its mission-based perspective, forming ethical leaders with moral courage to do well and do good.



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The O'Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship is envisioned as a catalyst in the development of entrepreneurial programs and economic growth in both the Reading community and in higher education.  

Focus Areas

O’Pake provides a support system that can elevate aspiring and existing entrepreneurs as well as provide experiential learning opportunities for students, clients, and mentors. The Institute is tiered into six functional areas:

  • Business Incubator
  • Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL)
  • Technology Transfer
  • Financial Services & Partnerships
  • Academic Services & Partnerships
  • Professional Mentors & Professional Service Providers

Dr. Rodney Ridley, associate provost and vice president, is the chief operating officer of the institute.

Ridley has more than 28 years of higher education experience and has held myriad positions from research assistant and engineering professor to his current role as executive director of The Allan P. Kirby Center for Free Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at Wilkes University. He also has served in numerous private sector engineering capacities, earned numerous awards, including the 2017 Pennsylvania Acceleration Educator of the Year and holds 27 U.S. patents.

Ridley earned a doctorate in engineering science and mechanics and a master's degree in electrical engineering from Penn State University as well as a bachelor's degree in physics from Lincoln University.

Academic Programming

In collaboration with the Berks County Community Foundation and the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, Dr. Ridley will lead efforts to develop a student-centered business incubator with O'Pake, which will provide training and support to help new and startup companies. Dr. Ridley will also explore applied engineering and business programs to be located in downtown Reading. These initiatives will enhance the growth of Alvernia and stimulate economic redevelopment.


The concept of "centers" at Alvernia emerged as a result of campus discussions and meetings with local community leaders during late 2005 and early 2006. At that time, it was announced that Alvernia would develop two centers: the Center for Community Engagement and the Center for Ethics and Leadership.  

In 2007 the Center for Ethics and Leadership was created. During the period from its founding into 2011, the center was headed first by Theology Professor Gerald Vigna and then by Biology Professor Spencer Stober. 

In late 2010, Alvernia Trustee State Senator Michael O’Pake died, leaving a generous bequest to the university, which was endowed to support the center. In 2012, in honor of Senator O’Pake, the center was renamed The O’Pake Institute for Ethics, Leadership and Public Service and R. David Myers was appointed director. The scope of the institute was expanded to include a focus on public service and public policy and its orientation was adjusted to include an additional emphasis on the broader community outside of Alvernia.  The institute became more engaged in community development work and was instrumental in forming the Berks Alliance, the collaboration of nearly two dozen anchor institutions in the region.

In 2019, the institute transitioned to the O’Pake Institute for Economic  Development and Entrepreneurship to expand its scope, support the Reading CollegeTowne strategy for redevelopment in downtown and strengthen experiential learning opportunities for students. Dr. Rodney Ridley has been appointed as associate provost and vice president and chief operating officer for the institute. Ridley begins his new appointment in January 2020.



Student Centric, Student Led Initiatives

Students are at the core of the institute’s mission. O’Pake matches students' educational interests, passions, and talents with distinctive hands-on experiential learning opportunities. Through these opportunities, students build their resume and elevate their professional profile while simultaneously impacting economic development in the Greater Reading area.


Business Incubator

The student run incubator will provide experiential learning opportunities for students of all disciplines. This initiative will allow students to create, collaborate and lead while they provide hands-on support to new ventures and entrepreneurs in the community.


Industry and community partners, such as Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, Berks County Community Foundation, and the SCORE Berks Schuylkill Chapter, will provide resources and professional mentoring to students and entrepreneurs.


Fellows Program

The O’Pake Fellows Program provides elite undergraduate and graduate students with hands-on distinctive experiential learning opportunities. Students of high academic standing, from diverse majors and backgrounds, can work directly with regional entrepreneurs, small business owners, faculty researchers and industry leaders. 


Through distinctive hands-on experiential learning, this premier student powered organization strives to be a catalyst for entrepreneurship and positive economic change in Reading and Berks county. Simultaneously, the program will provide long term enhancement of Alvernia University’s academic reputation, student experience and resources. 


Project #6

The “first five” projects on a company’s strategic to do list are typically high priorities with a high level of associated risk. Project #6 typically involves less risk. While Project #6 is still important and necessary, the company often lacks the human resources to complete it.


Thus, with the help of O’Pake, Alvernia students can employ their skills and talents to work on a company’s Project #6. This mutually beneficial partnership provides Alvernia students with valuable hands-on experiential learning opportunities while the company benefits from the successful completion of their Project #6.


Contact us

Dr. Rodney Ridley
Associate Provost and Vice President / Chief Operating Officer for the O'Pake Institute


Donald Schalk
Director of Business and Corporate Development / Director for the Center of Entrepreneurial Leadership


Michelle Lehman
Director of Student and Client Service


Carolyn Gibson
Coordinator, O’Pake Institute for Economic Development & Entrepreneurship
610.796.8302 external
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O'Pake Institute
Dr. Rodney Ridley
Institute Expands Scope
O’Pake shifts focus to economic development and entrepreneurship, serving as a catalyst for educational and business expansion.
Adult Education Info Session - Philadelphia
Open House - Schuylkill
Back to School Social & Networking Event - Reading
Open Campus - Schuylkill
2022 AWC Luncheon
Adult Education Virtual Info Session - Philadelphia