HACC foundation approves $526,600 for three projects

Funding from the HACC Foundation supports programs and projects that benefit students collegewide, including students enrolled in programs at HACC’s Public Safety Center. PHOTO/PROVIDED

Harrisburg Area Community College’s nonprofit foundation approved to allot $526,600 in private contributions to the Harrisburg-based college on Wednesday.

The funds, which were raised by the HACC foundation through both individual and organizational donors, will be used as follows:

• $351,000 to pay a portion of the 2020-21 annual debt service payment for renovations to the school’s Bruce E. Cooper Student Center, which were completed in 2017.

• $167,950 to subsidize the debt service for a bond for its Senator John J. Shumaker Public Safety Center. The center, which completed its first phase of construction in 2012, offers fire, EMS and law enforcement training.

• $7,650 to Phi Theta Kappa for its yearly funding and also to support conference travel for students and membership assistance for students in need of financial help.

“Funding provides high-performing students access to opportunities they would not normally receive,” the college wrote in a statement.

HACC is the largest of Pennsylvania’s 14 community colleges, offering 100 associate degree, certificate and diploma programs to approximately 17,000 students. The school’s nonprofit foundation was established in 1985 to raise private and corporate revenues for HACC.

Community colleges change lives, build economies

Right now, everyone is trying to make difficult decisions about a future that looks anything but clear. The economic implications of the global coronavirus pandemic will be felt for years to come in every sector of society. As unemployment continues to rise, citizens may want to train for more stable careers, but are afraid they cannot afford it. 

As state legislatures face multi-billion-dollar budget deficits, they may consider funding cuts for community colleges. Although it may seem difficult today to justify the investment, it is more important than ever to promote the value of a community college education – a value that will continue to have significant, long-term and positive impacts on our local and state economies. 

I am a passionate advocate for education that transforms lives and destinies, and it is my personal and professional mission to convince people that community college should be the first choice when it comes to their education. When I engage with different stakeholders, I often share success stories of graduates, testimonials from current students and examples of innovative workforce development offerings. The story that does not often get told, though, is about the vast economic benefits that flow from the community college to the actual community. 

In fall 2019, HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, commissioned an economic impact study to quantify just how widespread those benefits can be. The results of the HACC study – which was conducted by Emsi for HACC’s 2017-18 fiscal year – are profound.     

Taking into account the College’s operations, construction spending, student spending and alumni impact, the report concludes that HACC added $1 billion in income to our service region during the analysis year. The report noted that “one out of every 90 jobs in the HACC

Service Region is supported by the activities of HACC and its students.” 

HACC has an alumni network of more than 95,000 proud graduates. Today, thousands of those HACC alumni work and live in our 11-county service region. In return for their investment in a community college education, these alumni receive higher future earnings that will continue to increase throughout their working lives. For example, HACC graduates in 2018 who earned their associate degree will see annual earnings that are $8,600 higher than a person with a high school diploma or equivalent working in Pennsylvania. In 2017-18, HACC alumni generated $838.3 million in added income for the regional economy. As our alumni network continues to grow, their impact will, too. 

Health care is just one sector of our economy that would suffer immensely without the regular flow of highly skilled graduates. In our 11-county service region, the report found that “HACC’s spending and alumni in the Health Care & Social Assistance industry sector supported 3,353 jobs in FY 2017-18.” From an ever wider societal vantage point, numerous studies conclude that education correlates positively with health and lifestyle and that educated individuals tend to spend less in the long term on health expenses and services. 

The immediate satisfaction of earning a community college credential and either starting or advancing in a career cannot be discounted. We experience this shared sense of elation and achievement every time we celebrate a graduation. But the long-term impacts of community college extend far beyond the day of graduation. The bottom line – when we invest in community colleges, we all benefit from the economic return in our communities.  

Dr. John J. “Ski” Sygielski is the president and CEO of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, and can be emailed at [email protected] or contacted on Twitter at @HACCSki. View CPBJ’s interview with Dr. Ski here.

Friends, co-workers remember Vera Cornish as mentor and inspiration


News traveled swiftly last week about the unexpected death of Vera Cornish, a midstate icon who left her mark on Harrisburg’s business and nonprofit communities over several decades through her words, deeds and her ability to bring people together.

When Cornish took the stage in front of an audience, her outgoing personality and positive outlook on life was infectious to those who watched and listened.

To get an idea what the professional life coach and publisher of The Urban Connection of the Capital Region magazine in Harrisburg could do to motivate people, watch her keynote speech from August’s convocation at her alma mater, Misericordia University in Dallas, Luzerne County. During the roughly 15-minute speech, Cornish managed to get young and old alike to stand and dance to the Frankie Beverly & Maze funk song “Before I Let Go,” after getting the crowd to ponder what truly exhilarates them and makes them want to jump out of bed.

Cornish, 64, also spoke about her path to higher learning, becoming the first person in her family to graduate from high school and college, and eventually earning a master’s degree in education with a specialization in multicultural curriculum development from Misericordia in 1993.

She didn’t grow up in a family that sat around the dinner table and talked about future opportunities, she said. But what was instilled in her was that education was her “pathway to freedom.”

“The energy you put into something is going to determine the results that you get out of whatever you do,” Cornish said in the speech. “Take action on the things you want to become true in your life.”

Her Life

Originally from Wilkes-Barre, Cornish knew an education was what would allow her to succeed. So, she scrubbed floors for 50 cents an hour and work as a maid for wealthy residents in the Poconos to pay for her schooling at Penn State. She would go on to teach after graduation and eventually pursued an independent study program at Misericordia.

It was when she moved to Central Pennsylvania in 1995 that she began to leave her mark on a wider audience, serving as the first director of institutional diversity at Harrisburg Area Community College.

Dr. John J. Sygielski, president of HACC, said Cornish paved the way for her successors in the role of promoting diversity and inclusion at the college. Cornish always served as a strong advocate for studying at HACC and the benefits of students pursuing a community college education, he said.

Sygielski said Cornish served as a mentor to many of the staff at the school, and he would call on her often for advice. He said in his first week as president in 2011, Cornish personally drove him to State College to introduce him to educators at Penn State she felt would be important for him to know.

Cornish’s impact on Harrisburg itself may have been even greater than just HACC. She created the annual Martin Luther King Breakfast and The Women of Heritage Leadership Breakfast.

Through her company Cornish & Associates, she advised organizations small and large on empowerment strategies and diversity in the workplace since 1999, teaming up with The Hershey Co., The GIANT Co. and Capital BlueCross. One of her most recent works, the book “Dare to Dream,” published last year, is filled with motivational stories from her life.

Connectivity was Cornish’s most important personal trait, brokering to serve as a facilitator for conversations, Sygielski said.

“Her legacy will be bringing people together to enhance the communities that are part of this tapestry of Central Pennsylvania, as a bridge builder, as a connector, as a cheerleader, as a promoter, engager and challenger,” Sygielski said.

Community Tributes

Tributes to Cornish began appearing early on after the news of her passing on Feb. 26.

David Black, president and CEO of the Harrisburg Regional Chamber & CREDC, said Cornish was serving on the Chamber’s board when he joined the organization in 2001, becoming fast friends. Black pointed to her welcoming and encouraging nature and her belief in the potential of Harrisburg as a community.

“Vera was a force in our region,” Black said. “She was a strong advocate and passionate participant in the advancement of diversity and inclusion in all aspects of our region, particularly our business community.  She was always upbeat, always had a major hug for friends old and new, and she was always working a room, connecting people and causes in her unique powerful, yet gentle and kind style.”

Vera Cornish, left, is joined by Una Martone, president and CEO of Leadership Harrisburg Area, center, and the late Colleen Nophsker, a former Leadership Harrisburg committee member at an event a few years ago. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

Una Martone, president and CEO of Leadership Harrisburg Area, met Cornish in 2007 when she started working for the organization. Even before they met, there was “a huge build-up” of the way people spoke about Cornish and what she had done for the community, she said.

When they finally met, Cornish greeted her with a hug and was quick to give her insights and suggestions to improve Leadership Harrisburg. Cornish also didn’t hesitate to accept Martone’s offer to volunteer with the group, serving for years on the marketing and public relations committee.

“Not only did I get the chance to meet this community icon, but I had the chance to work with her almost right away,” Martone said. “She was full of openness, honesty, candidness and frankness. She did not hold back, and because of that everybody around her learned. We gained new perspectives. She wanted people to learn and gain insights.”

In Cornish’s own words, her own experiences guided her life lessons for others to follow.

“Learn from the past, live in today and cast a vision for your future,” Cornish said at the Misericordia speech in August. “Build relationships with great people. Some will be for a season, and some will be for a lifetime.”

Why apprenticeships are the future of our economy

Not all successful careers start with a college degree.

I understand it may seem strange for a community college president to say that a college degree is not necessary to have a career that earns a family-sustaining wage. At HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, this philosophy is reflected through our new purpose statement: Learning for all; learning for life. We need more education, community and government leaders to make it possible for Central Pennsylvania’s citizens to pursue alternate educational pathways before jobs leave our region.

Many Americans can’t afford, and shouldn’t think, that the only path to a successful career is through two- or four-year degrees. In fact, the four-year-college student graduates with an average of $28,650 in debt, up from $17,350 in 2000. This statistic does not include those who accumulate debt and never earn a degree. Nationally, our manufacturers cannot afford to think this way either when they face a projection of 2.4 million unfilled jobs in manufacturing over the next decade.

One way individuals can pursue a successful career without a two- or four-year degree is through apprenticeships, which are an excellent vehicle for transferring the skills of our aging workforce to new employees.

HACC is a post-secondary educational institution that closely examines the job and industry needs of our community and develops educational pathways that meet those needs.

In 2017, HACC’s Industrial Manufacturing Technician (IMT) Apprenticeship Program was developed in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. This 18-month program teaches entry-level individuals how to set up, operate, monitor and control production equipment. Graduates earn a journey worker credential from the United States Department of Labor, and a certified production technician credential from the Manufacturing Skills Standards Council.

In 2018, HACC, in partnership with High Hotels, Ltd., launched the first Hospitality Apprenticeship Program in Pennsylvania to provide low-skilled staff a pathway from entry-level jobs to management.

In 2019, HACC worked with Geisinger Emergency Medical Services to launch this region’s first Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) apprenticeship approved by the Pennsylvania Training and Apprenticeship Council. Upon completion of the EMT apprenticeship program, the employee will have all of the necessary certifications to serve as an EMT throughout the country. Additionally, these certifications provide a pathway toward paramedic certification and articulations to the Health Science Program at HACC.

In these apprenticeship programs, students work and take classes one or two nights a week at HACC. The skills they gain at the worksite, paired with the technical training they receive through HACC, allows them to earn as they learn. This support for our industries reaches beyond the traditional trades.  Many of these apprenticeships not only prepare students for the workforce, but they provide credits that can be applied to other degree programs.

HACC is also partnering with high schools in our region to offer pre-apprenticeships to high school students.

Apprenticeships are not only an investment for our College, but for our business partners, government, community and students. They take time to develop, authorize and implement. HACC knows this time investment is worth it for the future of our workforce and economy. I encourage you to take the time to discover how to pave the way for new educational pathways, like apprenticeships, for our community.

John J. “Ski” Sygielski, Ed.D., is president of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, and can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @HACCSki.

Harrisburg couple donates $1.3M to HACC

HACC received an almost $1.3 million donation from the estate of a Harrisburg couple.
(l-r)HACC President John J. “Ski” Sygielski,, HACC Foundation Executive Director Dr. Linnie Carter, Mark Mateya. (Photo: Submitted)

Harrisburg Area Community College has received the largest donation in its history – a $1.3 million grant that will be used to fund programs in science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

HACC officials first learned of the gift, made to its foundation, last fall.

The donation of approximately $1,295,305.30 will support the college’s STEAM initiatives and will almost cover the $1.5 million goal the community college planned to raise for the program, according to John J. Sygielski, HACC president. STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math.

“It’s really a monumental day for HACC,” he said.

The gift is from Gloria W. Paxton, who died in 2017, and represents 70 percent of the estate belonging to her and her late husband, John E. Paxton. He died in 2007.

The couple, who lived in Harrisburg, were involved in philanthropic activities their entire lives, according to Mark Mateya of the Carlisle-based Mateya Law Firm.

The Paxtons’ estate was handled by the late Harry Bricker, a Harrisburg-based attorney, who died in 2016. Mateya took over the estate and, after Gloria Paxton died, he contacted the college to inform them of her bequest.

The couple had connections to HACC, Mateya said, as John Paxton worked as a surveyor on a few of the campus’s oldest buildings and Gloria Paxton participated in HACC events and activities.

The donation was the first gift the couple made to HACC, according to Dr. Linnie Carter, vice president of college advancement and executive director of the HACC Foundation.

It will be used to establish the John E. and Gloria W. Paxton Fund for Excellence in STEAM, which will support technology and related programs at the school.

The fund won’t be used to support any capital projects, Carter said.

According to HACC’s website, the fund will help pay for projects such as Full STEAM Ahead, a mentoring program for underrepresented or marginalized first-time college students enrolled in STEAM programs; and Achieving the STEAM, a selective cybersecurity program that will help underrepresented students receive access to full scholarships and off-campus housing stipends.

In addition, funding will help provide students free access to STEAM textbooks, as well as allow faculty to design and create degrees for STEAM disciplines.

Finally, the funding will provide more video classrooms that will allow students to virtually attend classes that are not offered at their home campus. Students who would otherwise have to travel to another campus to attend a class required for their majors will be able to remain at their home campuses to “attend” the class, according to the HACC website.

Carter said that while the Paxtons did not have children, their gift will benefit thousands of HACC students now and in the future.

“They now have 18,000 children in our HACC students,” she said.

HACC was established in 1967 and currently offers 100 career and transfer associate degrees, certificates and diplomas. It has campuses in Harrisburg, Gettysburg, Lancaster, Lebanon and York.

The HACC Foundation is a nonprofit organization established in 1985 to raise private and corporate revenues in support of HACC. It provides funding for student scholarships, academic programs, training equipment and modernized facilities.



FREE fun at the Central Penn Parent Family Festival this Saturday, June 10


Central Penn Parent’s 8th annual Harrisburg Family Festival will take place on Saturday, JUNE 10, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the HACC Harrisburg campus!

This FREE event will feature live music and stage performances, a petting zoo and pony rides, Atomic bounce houses, storytime corner, and lots of exhibitors with child-friendly activities.

Children are also invited to dress up and walk in the costume parade or bring their favorite stuffed animal for a check-up.


Bring a picnic lunch or get something from our food court and spend the day enjoying everything this festival has to offer for local families.

As always… we feature free admission, free parking and FREE FAMILY FUN!

Can’t wait to see you there!


HACC 2017-18 budget includes decrease in tuition for in-state credit students

The Board of Trustees of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, adopted a $138-million balanced 2017-18 budget on April 5, 2017.

The budget includes a 1-percent decrease in tuition for in-state credit students and 2-percent salary increases for employees.

“The entire College community is keenly aware of the financial difficulties many of our students experience while attending HACC. To that end, the Board of Trustees took a historic step today and voted to decrease tuition for the 2017-18 academic year. Even though it is a modest reduction, we believe it sends a message that HACC is serious about containing costs and passing those savings on to our students to ease their financial burden,” said HACC President John J. “Ski” Sygielski, Ed.D.

The tuition decrease is effective immediately for in-state students enrolling for the fall term that begins Aug. 28, 2017, at HACC campuses in Gettysburg, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon and York and online classes and programs.