More than 40 years ago, graduate student George “Jody” Harpster worked as an intern in President Gilmore Seavers office at Shippensburg University. Little did Harpster know that one day he would take his mentor’s position and become the 16th president of SU.
On Thursday, Jan. 22 the decision was announced at a meeting in Harrisburg.
The search for SU’s president began with a pool of more than 80 candidates from all over the country. Harpster made it to the top three choices along with Kenneth Hawkinson and Carol Bresnahan.
In the years that Harpster spent at SU, he saw three presidents come and go: Seavers, Anthony Ceddia and William Ruud. Harpster served as interim president for the first time from 2005 to 2007 following Ceddia’s retirement. At the time, he was unable to run for university president because of rules set in place by the former state system chancellor. This time around, Harpster was given the opportunity to seek the position he held twice as interim.
“I never saw the interim as an interim job,” Harpster said at the press conference on Thursday. “I didn’t have the chance to be a classic interim president.”
While Harpster served as interim the second time, the university faced some financial challenges.
Every decision a president makes cannot be win-win, Harpster said. Sometimes the president has to make sacrifices in order to help the university as a whole.
“I believe this institution exists for the students,” Harpster said.
In order to interact more with students, Harpster expanded his talks in the residence halls to the dining facilities. At these sessions throughout the semester, students were able to meet Harpster to discuss concerns they might have with SU.
Harpster wants students to get the most out of their college experiences while feeling supported by the university, he said.
As the official president of SU, Harpster’s responsibilities will not differ from those he had as interim. He will fill the role for the next three years. Between the president’s second and third year, an evaluation is conducted to determine whether to add more years to the president’s contract.
While he was interim president, Harpster advocated for new programs at SU. Most recently, he helped start an electrical engineering program.
“It took forward-thinking leadership to develop these programs,” State System Chancellor Frank Brogan said.
Before Harpster started on the road to the presidency, he pursued higher education at Juniata College and SU.
After graduating with his master’s degree from SU in 1974, Harpster went on to receive his doctorate in adult and higher education from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Afterward, Harpster served as the dean of students, director of student life and assistant vice chancellor for student affairs at University of North Carolina, Charlotte.
In addition, Harpster was the executive vice president for external affairs and government relations at SU.
Harpster mentioned during the press conference that he feels a deep connection to SU students because of his upbringing and his time as a student and employee at the university.
From all the positions Harpster held at SU he said one of his favorite jobs is the one that allows him to be a teacher for the students.
“I think the role that I most enjoy is the role of the student advocate,” Harpster said.