Building Blocks

The public phase of Alvernia’s comprehensive campaign will focus squarely on partnerships as drivers of growth and change.

By Claire Curry

The public phase of Alvernia University’s comprehensive campaign officially kicked off in October, though the wheels of progress have been in motion since 2020. To date, the university has raised over $55.5 million of the campaign’s $70 million goal, and the support is already raising the bar for academic excellence, increasing access to higher education, engaging students in new ways and fueling growth throughout the business community.

• Hundreds of nursing students are learning the latest advancements in healthcare in Alvernia’s 55,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art John and Karen Arnold School of Nursing facility, which opened in the fall at the John R. Post Center at Reading CollegeTowne
• The first students to enroll in the university’s engineering program in 2020, its inaugural year, are continuing to gain hands-on experience interning with top industry leaders — partnerships that are paving the way for job opportunities and creating a direct pipeline of qualified job candidates.
• Students at Alvernia’s O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship are helping local businesses grow and flourish while expanding their own skillsets.
• Originally established in response to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hope Fund has helped over 1,000 students navigate uncertain times and secure their college education through emergency aid.

These are only a few of the ways that the funds raised in the quiet phase of the Partners in Progress Campaign have made a difference among Alvernia’s students and throughout the Reading and Pottsville communities. The public phase of the campaign will continue to focus squarely on partnerships as the drivers of growth and change.

“This campaign is helping us rethink higher education,” said Tom Minick ‘98 M ‘10, vice president of institutional advancement at Alvernia. “And the central component of this movement at Alvernia is partnerships: partnerships in philanthropy; partnerships with potential employers, in internships, in projects and experiential learning opportunities for our students; and partnerships with the community. What we’ve done is partner with local businesses to look at their employment needs and how we can help fulfill them.”

Ultimately, the mission is to create learning and employment opportunities for Alvernia students, fuel economic development, and address the needs of the local business sector and community residents — all through the campaign’s four pillars: access and opportunity to higher education, academic engagement, community engagement, and student success.

John and Karen Arnold School of Nursing

Photo: Alvernia’s state-of-the-art John and Karen Arnold School of Nursing opened in the fall at the John R. Post Center at Reading CollegeTowne.

The campaign has already made significant strides in each of these areas, thanks to partnerships with public entities and private benefactors who share Alvernia’s vision. Among them are John R. Post, who made the largest gift in university history in support of the John R. Post School of Engineering; Greg Header, ’97, and his wife, Stacey, who invested the school’s largest alumni gift to provide scholarships for students in the Header School of Business; and John and Karen Arnold, who made the largest trustee gift to create the John and Karen Arnold School of Nursing and the Interprofessional Healthcare Simulation Center at the Post Center.

“We’re so grateful for the visionary leadership gifts that these families have provided to the university,” says Alvernia President Glynis A. Fitzgerald, Ph.D. “It allows us to meet very defined goals: expanding nursing, developing engineers, supporting our business students. Collectively, those gifts elevate the entire university and allow us to think more expansively about what we can do to continue to expand Alvernia values in new and different ways.”

The outcomes of the campaign’s success are tangible and transformational. The John R. Post Center, a 250,000-square-foot living and learning facility that helped spark 2 million square feet in redevelopment along Penn Street in downtown Reading, opened in 2021. According to Minick, more than 2,000 Alvernia students pass through the center in any given week, boosting foot traffic and revenue for local businesses. What’s more, 40 students live in housing there now — a number that is expected to nearly quadruple by the time the project is fully completed.

Since it was established three years ago, Alvernia’s O’Pake Institute for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship has already assisted 300 local businesses in a wide range of ways, including strategic planning, marketing and financial consulting.

Pottsville CollegeTowne, which opened in early 2023, is also breathing new life into the surrounding community, strengthening Alvernia’s relationship with the Joseph F. McCloskey School of Nursing, and providing graduate and continuing education students with high-tech facilities and opportunities to learn by doing.

“There’s an anatomy science lab to support the university’s healthcare programs, and they are expanding the teacher education and certification programs and adding new bachelor’s degrees,” said Stephen Najarian, Partners in Progress campaign co-chair, real estate developer and partner at Southern Berks Land Company. “It’s going to create opportunities for Pottsville-area students that didn’t exist before. This is really an exciting time.”

Partnership with BCHC

Photo: Berks Community Health Center President and CEO Mary Kargbo and Alvernia University President Glynis A. Fitzgerald, Ph.D., hold a rendering for the new community-based health center planned for the former American House in downtown Reading.

Growing needs for the future

Alvernia’s forward thinking is already altering the education students receive and the faces of the surrounding communities, and there is much more on the horizon. For example, a recent partnership between the university and Berks Community Health Center will broaden access to healthcare for downtown Reading residents. The former American House property at 354 Penn Street will expand the Reading CollegeTowne footprint and opportunities for nursing and physician associate students to get clinical experience just steps away from their classrooms.

“[Alvernia’s] nursing program is currently rated as one of the top 500 programs nationwide by U.S. News and World Report,” Najarian said. “The demand for nurses has never been higher, so to meet that demand, you need state-of-the-art facilities to attract nursing student candidates.”

In March, the first cohort of Header Scholars will be awarded scholarships to study business at Alvernia, and the endowment established by Greg and Stacey Header will grow the scholarship program to benefit even more recipients over time. Likewise, the university plans to allocate campaign proceeds to expand the Hope Fund to increase access to education for those with financial need and other barriers.

“[The Partners in Progress Campaign] may have changed the trajectory for the school forever,” said Jeffrey Rush, campaign co-chair and senior executive vice president and director of sales at Fulton Bank. “And it gives us the chance to change the course for Reading.

“You can boost the endowment which boosts enrollment and provides an even better experience for the students. Those businesses that move because they need to find talent now have qualified candidates graduating right in their backyard. Businesses that are headquartered here are staying because the community has become more vibrant and more diverse.”

The early results from the campaign are cause for celebration. But significant needs remain, making the success of Partners in Progress that much more important to ensure the momentum continues.

“We are appreciative of the generosity of so many during the quiet phase of the campaign, but more work remains,” Minick said. “Your involvement and support, at any level, are integral to our success. Together, we can create a legacy that will resonate for generations to come.”