Alumni gift ‘manufactures’ updated machining lab
The largest alumni gift in the history of Pennsylvania College of Technology has manufactured a new machining lab that will benefit students for generations.
A $1 million-plus donation from alumnus Larry Ward financed the revamping of the 14,299-square-foot facility, one of the oldest instructional spaces on campus. The lab features fresh lighting, flooring, fixtures and, most importantly, new equipment in the recently christened Larry A. Ward Machining Technologies Center.
“I have done very well, so I want to give it back for the next generation,” said Ward, a 1966 graduate. “A lot of people helped me over the years, and I just feel I’m paying it forward.”
“Mr. Ward with this donation has set up the Penn College machining program for the next 50 years,” said Bradley M. Webb, dean of engineering technologies. “I think Mr. Ward’s donation is critical to our ability to continue to put out skilled machinists for all of society.”
About 90 students from five manufacturing-related programs receive vital hands-on experience in the lab each semester.
“This gift is truly transformational, and that is the very best word I can use to describe it,” said Loni N. Kline, vice president for college relations. “The new lab sets us apart from other programs and is really leading us into the next generation.”
The machining lab is home to about 50 new mills and lathes, as well as cabinets stocked with drill bits, end mills, micrometers, wrenches and other required tools.
“I’m extremely grateful,” said manufacturing engineering technology student Christopher M. Schweikert, of Jamison. “These new machines really make a difference to our program.”
“It looks amazing. It’s better than what I was ready to walk into,” added Dakota C. Harrison, of Lewisberry, also seeking a bachelor’s degree in manufacturing engineering technology. “It’s just completely transformed the entire lab, and we really couldn’t have done it without Mr. Ward.”
The entrepreneur credits Penn College’s predecessor Williamsport Technical Institute for positioning him on a path to bestow such a gift. Ward enrolled at WTI in the mid-1960s to study engineering drafting technology, which required work in the same machine shop transformed by his donation.
“I got a skill I could actually use, and they offered a full-rounded education,” Ward said. “All through my working career, I have thought back when I’m doing something, ‘Oh yeah, I remember covering this at Tech.’ I can still draw on things I learned here, today. I just can’t say enough about the education I got here.”
That education served the Corning, New York, native very well during an eclectic 50-plus-year career. Ward worked as an engineer in various settings, designed two manufacturing plants, sold and serviced packaging machinery and supplies, and founded two companies.
Ward formed his second company — Packaging Progressions Inc. — in 1989 to help market his invention, the Arc-Tronic Hole Perforator. The device uses an electric arc to create clean vent holes in plastic film for all type of packages, including food products.
A few years later, the company began designing and manufacturing high-speed interleaving and stacking machinery for the food packaging industry. Based today in Souderton, it’s the world’s leading manufacturer and supplier of the automated equipment, which accurately inserts thin paper between food items.
Ward sold Packaging Progressions to the Middleby Corp. in 2019, and his son, Drew, assumed leadership of the company.
“When we sat down and thought about this project, the immediate name that came to mind for us that we wanted to display on this building was Larry Ward,” Kline explained. “He’s been supportive of Penn College in many ways over the years, and so what better way to engage someone so wonderful.”
Ward actively recruited Penn College graduates to work at Packaging Progressions. In recent years, he donated materials and equipment for the machining and welding programs and began sponsoring a commencement award for mechatronics students.
“Throughout my career, I’ve always looked for a return on my investment, and when I see these kids here at Penn College, I just feel like I’m getting my money’s worth,” Ward said.
The college sought Ward’s expertise on the makeup of the new lab, which is full of drill presses, surface grinders, CNC lathes and mills, and electrical discharge machines.
“Larry had some great ideas,” Kline said. “His recommendation to us was to get as much automation as possible because that’s where we are in industry.”
That’s why the college purchased more than two dozen dual-purpose computer-numerical-control mills and lathes that facilitate both manual and automated operations.
“While CNC is great, we have a fundamental belief that understanding the manual process makes you a better machinist,” Webb said. “We start students there and move up to the CNC applications. The dual-purpose machines allow our students to get a much broader experience, beginning in their first semester.”
Howard W. Troup, instructor of automated manufacturing and machining, led the lab renovation effort with a team consisting of Ron H. Beck, machine shop toolroom attendant; Bryan C. Schaefer, maintenance mechanic/millwright specialist; Allan M. Meck, electronics service specialist; and automation engineering technology students Brian J. Daniels, of Lake City; Conner J. Nickerson, of Bethlehem; and Levi E. Pomeroy, of Dillsburg.
The crew disconnected and removed about 100 pieces of instructional equipment – for the painting, flooring and LED lighting to be completed – before returning about 40 machines and installing nearly 50 new ones. The college auctioned 44 old machines.
“The students now have access to the new technology on their own machine, learning and operating that machine during their class period,” Webb said. “They also still have access to the manual skills and to faculty who have worked in industry. Our students are ready when they leave here to really hit the ground running.”
Graduates of the manufacturing-related majors at the college enjoy a near 100% placement rate and play a key role in shrinking the skills gap. According to Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, more than half of the projected 4.6 million manufacturing job openings during the next decade won’t be filled due to the dearth of technically skilled workers.
“With manufacturing coming back, Penn College is giving America what we need,” Ward said. “We don’t have enough people with technical skills. Penn College teaches them those skills.”