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The educatorPenn State Harrisburg chancellor oversees growth, change

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Mukund Kulkarni has risen from assistant professor to chancellor in his 30 years at Penn State Harrisburg.
Mukund Kulkarni has risen from assistant professor to chancellor in his 30 years at Penn State Harrisburg. - (Photo / )

In the 30 years since he joined Penn State Harrisburg as an assistant professor, Mukund Kulkarni has risen through the ranks to become a professor of finance, director of the school of business administration, senior associate dean for academic affairs and, finally, chancellor — the institution's top administrator.

In that time, he's also seen the school rise from a junior, senior and graduate-student-only institution to the second- largest campus in the Penn State system, behind only University Park, with freshmen and sophomores gradually added to the population between 2001 and 2004. In fact, during the past decade or so, Penn State Harrisburg's enrollment has risen nearly a third, to about 4,600 total students.

With Kulkarni at the helm since 2010, the school has also added a variety of degree and research programs, many specifically geared to address the needs of local industries. It's also made countless improvements to its classrooms, buildings and technological infrastructure, all with the goal of making Penn State Harrisburg a premier educational institution in southcentral Pennsylvania.

Q: Did you plan to have a business career when you were young, or did you always want to enter academia?

MUKUND KULKARNI

Works: Penn State Harrisburg

College: University of Kentucky

For fun: Reads books on his Kindle and binge-watches “House of Cards” and “Homeland”

Favorite vacation spot: Scandinavia

Other careers he considered: Banking

One thing colleagues would be surprised to learn about him: He had short stories published as a young man and plans to return to writing fiction when he retires.

A: I had planned to get into banking, but while I was in the Ph.D. program at the University of Kentucky's business school, I was required to teach a course or two. And at some point my mentor took me aside and said, “Teaching is your calling.” I'm glad it happened because teaching was always one of the most satisfying parts of my career. I don't do it anymore because my attention is devoted to so many other things, but if I had to do it all over again, I would do it the same way.

In light of the recession and other ongoing challenges in the world of finance, what would you try to convey to students who want to get into that field today?

You always have to teach sound principles of financial management, of course, but because of what happened in 2008, I would spend more time teaching that it takes good judgment and that you have to consider the impact of your actions on others.

You became chancellor five years ago, but you've actually been at Penn State Harrisburg for 30 years now. What are some of the biggest changes you've seen in the time you've been there?

We've become the largest PSU campus outside of University Park, and compared to the other colleges we're also the largest in terms of number of degrees granted, research money, construction and so on. Also since I've been chancellor, we became nationally accredited by the AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business), one of the few colleges in this region that are. In fact, all of our professional degree programs are nationally accredited, which is rare. I consider that a tremendous success.

What degrees has the school added in recent years that you're particularly glad to see?

"Many of the majors we’ve added have primarily been at the request of local industries."

Many of the majors we've added have primarily been at the request of local industries. For example, this area is such a big transportation and warehousing hub that it was only natural for us to offer a supply chain management program. Also, we offer more branches of engineering than we used to at both the undergraduate and graduate levels because local industry wanted us to. We also have more programs now in public affairs and public administration since we're in the shadow of state government here. And we have a degree in homeland security that's very popular.

The student population at Penn State Harrisburg has grown substantially in the past 10 years. How have you managed it?

We used to have classes only for students in their junior or senior year and for graduate students, so when we opened our doors to freshmen and sophomores, our enrollment really took off. But we did it gradually. We were very careful to admit only the number of students we could serve as we increased staff and grew our infrastructure to where it is now.

What do students like about Penn State Harrisburg? And what improvements would they like to see?

At least two or three times a week I'll stop to ask a group of students what they like about our campus, why they decided to come here and if there's anything I need to know to make it better. They like the faculty, the small classes, the quality of teaching and the continuous improvement of our grounds and buildings. But they think we need more restaurants and shopping near the campus, which is something we'll have to work on with the local municipalities.

What are some of your long-term goals for Penn State Harrisburg?

Since we spend more money on research than any other PSU campus except for University Park, I want that research to be beneficial to the community and local business so we can play a significant part in the region's economic development. That's a primary reason why we started a center for entrepreneurship and innovation — so we can take our intellectual capital and find ways to commercialize it, and so we can provide tools to people who have ideas and don't know what to do with them. We want to help them take their ideas from the garage to Penn State.<

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