New Penn State University President Speaks in Lehigh Valley
By Colin McEvoy on November 18, 2022
Five months ago, Neeli Bendapudi became the first woman and the first non-white person to serve as President of Penn State’s University. This week, she visited the Lehigh Valley to share her story, discuss the future of the university, and share her thoughts on economic development and entrepreneurship.
“It’s appropriate to talk about entrepreneurship and the entrepreneurial spirit right here in the Lehigh Valley,” Bendapudi said. “Here is an entire region that has revitalized itself only through entrepreneurship. The Lehigh Valley is a beacon of what growth can look like. You really are an exemplar.”
Bendapudi spoke at the Penn State Lehigh Valley campus in Upper Saucon Township on Nov. 16 as part of an event organized by the university and Lehigh Valley LaunchBox through its ongoing series LaunchBox Ladies, which focuses on female entrepreneurs and business professionals.
Bendapudi said she loves LaunchBox in particular because of its focus on entrepreneurship and economic development, both of which she described as crucial elements of the mission of Penn State University and higher education in general.
“It is part and parcel of our mission,” she said. “You will find economic development everywhere that is investing in education. Why? Because they know that is the path towards a robust economy. When it comes to jobs, people come and people stay in search of talent.”
Bendapudi has had a 30-year career in academia. Raised in India, she moved to the United States to pursue her doctoral studies at the University of Kansas. She served as President of the University of Louisville for three years before she was selected as the 19th President in Penn State’s history in May.
Bendapudi stressed the importance of having an entrepreneurial mindset, not just in business but in all ventures. She said such a mindset requires three things: proactivity, innovation, and a tolerance for taking calculated risks.
“There’s all kinds of misconceptions that all entrepreneurs are easy risk takers, and actually, research shows that’s not it,” she said. “They have a higher risk tolerance, a higher risk appetite, and they’re less afraid to fail. But the risks they take are calculated risks, it’s not risky behavior. It’s about, ‘How do I mitigate risk?’”
She also discussed the impact COVID-19 had on Penn State University and the higher education community in general. In a very short amount of time, PSU was able to shift to online classes and learning opportunities that were previously unavailable or limited.
““We always think there are these gigantic bureaucracies, but I think the biggest lesson the pandemic taught higher education is that we can be nimble,” she said. “We can turn on a dime.”
Bendapudi said she turned down the offer to lead Penn State University when first approached, but quickly realized she needed to reconsider. With 24 campuses in Pennsylvania and 96% of the state’s residents living within 30 miles of one of its locations, she said the university network would be valued at $8.6 billion if it were a business enterprise.
“The more I looked at Penn State, the more I knew this was an opportunity of a lifetime, and I could not pass it up,” she said. “There is no university like Penn State in the country. Period. Full stop.”
Bendapudi discussed challenges Penn State faces in the future due to budget issues in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., and questions about higher education funding down the road. She asked everyone in the audience to visit advocate.psu.edu and learn how they can help support and advocate for PSU in the face of these challenges.
The vent with Bendapudi was hosted by Dr. Tina Richardson, Chancellor of Penn State Lehigh Valley, and a member of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC) Board of Directors.
Since it was formed in 2015, Lehigh Valley LaunchBox has been connecting aspiring entrepreneurs with microgrants, co-working space at Velocity in downtown Allentown, legal and intellectual property services, business advice and mentorship.
LaunchBox is a Penn State- and community-sponsored business accelerator program created as part of the Invent Penn State initiative. George Lewis, LVEDC Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Research, serves on the Lehigh Valley LaunchBox Advisory Board.
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