Dr. Harpster announced as interim president of SU
Acting as the new resident director for the men’s dormitory in the Belmar House, the young Juniata College alumnus was set to enter the classroom again to obtain his master’s degree in college student personnel administration/counseling.In his first year on Shippensburg State College’s campus of almost 5,000 students, George Harpster became the vice president of the newly formed Graduate Student Association, and then became the association’s president the following year. Also in his second year, the young resident director moved to Horton Hall where the students were housed in the first and third floors, with the second floor being designated for offices including the Dean of Women.
With the college being split men and women in terms of deans and athletic directors, so was student housing. Harley, Kieffer, McLean, Naugle and McCune Halls were assigned to the female students while the Belmar House, the third and fourth floor of Old Main, Lackhove, Wright, Mowrey, and Horton Halls were assigned to men.
Now almost 40 years later, Shippensburg State College has transitioned into Shippensburg University, and instead of sitting at his desk in the classroom, in student government meetings or in a residents’ hall with his friends, Jody Harpster now sits behind his desk in the office of the Executive Vice President of External Affairs and University Relations, in trustee meetings and in his home with his family. But soon, Harpster’s desk will change locations again, moving just across the hall to the corner office of the president’s suite where he will serve as the interim president of SU.
However, Harpster explained that his beginning may not be all that unfamiliar to current SU students.
“I grew up a lot like most of the people who go to school here,” Harpster said.
Harpster was born in the small mill town of Tyrone, Pa., where he attended Tyrone High School. In high school, he played football and ran track where his team won district gold in the mile relay beating Altoona High School. Harpster also said that he was in school musicals and also sang in the choir.
“It was easy in a small town to get a broad level of experience and I took advantage of that opportunity,” Harpster said.
Harpster explained that with his father being a railroad worker and his mother a stay-at-home mom, his parents always wanted better for their children and would do anything to provide an education. And, with a caring and supportive family, Harpster became a first generation college student attending Juniata College with the goal of becoming a dentist. But, when he decided that biology and chemistry were not for him, he decided upon psychology. While at Juniata, Harpster was involved in music and sports running track and field, was the vice president of the student body his junior and senior year, and was the co-editor of the year book.
After graduating from Juniata College, Harpster immediately came to Shippensburg State College in the summer of 1972 to obtain his master’s degree.
Following his graduation from Shippensburg State College, Harpster landed his first job in Charlotte, N.C., as the resident’s coordinator at a 500-student coed residence hall at the University of North Carolina Charlotte.
“I was there when little UNCC went to the Final 4 [of the NCAA Division I basketball tournament]. It was the most amazing thing,” Harpster said.
Leaning back in his chair, with his arms folded and a smile on his face as he looked off reminiscing, Harpster explained that he was in UNCC for three years. During his second year, the men’s basketball team lost in the finals of the N.I.T. tournament to Kentucky. The following year, UNCC made the Final 4 along with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) and Marquette. Harpster recalled that UNCC was the Cinderella favorite, but Marquette was the other favorite because it was Al McGuire’s last season as the head coach of Marquette. UNCC lost to Marquette in the Final 4 by one point and Marquette went on to win the national championship over UNC.
But following his time at UNCC, Harpster went to Chapel Hill to get his Ph.Dat UNC.
“The only way to advance in student affairs or higher education generally was to have a Ph.D.,” Harpster said.
Along with his course load, Harpster also worked full-time as an area coordinator of 1,100 students in co-ed residence for two years. Then, he earned the position of Associate Director of Housing/Director of Resident’s Life, which he held for the next two years.
“That was a real special learning experience for me. The reason was all of those peers that I worked with for the previous two years, suddenly I became their boss,” said Harpster. “That was a huge learning experience as to how to make that transition.”
Next, Harpster became the interim housing director at UNC, which he did for a year and a half. After obtaining his Ph.D. from UNC, Harpster traveled back to Charlotte to be the assistant vice chancellor of student affairs.
Then in 1995, he returned to Shippensburg to become the Dean of Students and associate vice president of student affairs. Harpster explained that one of his favorite aspects of the job was that one of his direct duties was to advise the student government which he loved.
“I really enjoy working with student government,” Harpster said.
Harpster spent the next 10 years at SU as the vice president of student affairs, but following Tony Ceddia’s announcement that he would retire, Harpster was offered the position of the interim president.
“I was the interim president for two years and it was wonderful,” Harpster said.
Now that Harpster will be heading back to the president’s desk, he explained that he has two goals. The first goal is, “for the students to be successful academically and otherwise,” said Harpster.
“The second is for care and tending of the campus. Being available to people every day,” Harpster said.
Because this is Harpster’s second crack at the presidency, he has the advantage of looking back on his prior experiences.
“The key to success my last time as interim president was that everyone worked together. Every member of the executive management team was in acting or interim positions. So we made a commitment to one another and to the institution that we would not let the momentum that had developed, stop. We would continue to provide outstanding educational opportunities to the students and keep the momentum up at the institution,” Harpster said.
In terms of the length of his presidency, there is no set time frame. According to Harpster, he will continue to live at his home in Shippensburg while renovations are made to the Martin House. Harpster said he lived at home rather than the Martin House the first time he was the interim president because minor renovations were made. However, Harpster said the renovations this time are more significant.
According to Harpster, he enjoys the small-town life of Shippensburg. And, although his perspective may have changed, Harpster is still the man that holds SU near and dear to his heart, and he is one who is familiar with the university.
“I love this place. I feel at home in Shippensburg; in the community and on campus,” said Harpster. “Why wouldn’t anyone want to work here? This is a neat place. It’s an exceptional and outstanding institution with wonderful faculty members and a superb student body.”