Cedar Crest College in Allentown has undergone many changes since its founding in 1867.
But the college has remained true to its core values of being a small liberal arts college, a women’s college and a school focused on building the character and leadership of its students.
With the college now celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, Liz Ortiz, assistant professor of communications and Cedar Crest alumna, said students, faculty, alumni and other supporters have a great deal to be proud of.
“To have persisted for 150 years is amazing if you look back at our humble beginnings as a women’s school and staying a small, liberal arts school focusing on education,” she said.
Yes, the 150th celebration is a very big deal at the school, which now has coeducational day and night classes as well as continuing education and master’s degree programs.
The college – fall classes started last week – continues to be a vital part of the higher education scene in the Lehigh Valley and remains popular with students.
Cedar Crest has even seen regular enrollment growth the last six years at a time when other colleges in Pennsylvania struggle to attract a declining number of high school graduates, said Elizabeth Meade, interim president of the college.
“This fall, we welcome our largest freshman class in a decade,” she said.
To celebrate the milestone, the school is hosting a number of events, including the black-tie On the Crest of the Future Gala, which doubles as a fundraiser for the school, which was founded in Allentown by the same local Reformed Church leaders who started Muhlenberg College.
“I don’t remember the last time we had a gala, not in my time,” said Ortiz, a 2001 graduate who has taught at the school for the past 14 years. “The students are really excited to be a part of this milestone.”
In fact, one of the standout elements of the gala is that students will be invited and that alumni and supporters are being asked to buy their tickets.
“A lot of people are opting in to buy student tickets,” Ortiz said. “I think it’s a really nice thing to do.”
One of those sure to be in attendance at the gala is Ginny Mihalik, an academic adviser at Lehigh Carbon Community College and a 1977 Cedar Crest graduate.
Still involved in Cedar Crest affairs, Mihalik said for her the school was a case of love at first sight.
“I stepped on campus and I just knew it. There’s something about it. It’s just so beautiful,” she said.
And while many young women at the time were attracted to Cedar Crest specifically because it was a women’s college, that focus wasn’t really a factor in Mihalik’s decision.
“I liked the interaction it promoted with other colleges like Lehigh and Muhlenberg,” she said.
EMPHASIS ON LEADERSHIP
Attending Cedar Crest allowed Mihalik to take classes on other Lehigh Valley college campuses and interact with a diverse group of students. She noted that even then men were taking classes at Cedar Crest, just not living on campus.
And it didn’t take long for her to spot the opportunities of being at a women’s college.
“It was the leadership opportunities primarily, in a classroom setting and in college activities,” she said.
Mihalik said she’s seen that emphasis in leadership grow even stronger over the years as Cedar Crest prepares its students for real-world leadership opportunities that just weren’t as available for women in the 1970s when she was a student.
“There are more opportunities, bigger opportunities and the expectation that it’s going to happen,” she said.
‘WE CARE ABOUT THE STUDENTS’
Ortiz said she likes to describe the school’s relationship with its undergraduate students as very nurturing.
“We care about the students, especially if you’re 18 and just figuring out how to be a person,” she said. “You get to know them very quickly in a way that bigger schools don’t.”
Cedar Crest specializes in a number of majors, including business, education and nursing, the most popular programs.
It also offers majors in forensic science and criminal justice, the natural and social sciences, nutrition and the health sciences, and the creative arts and humanities.
GRAD PROGRAMS, ADULT LEARNING
But Cedar Crest isn’t just about its undergraduate program.
Meade points to “a wealth of opportunity for nontraditional and graduate students” with the coeducational School of Adult and Graduate Education
She noted that Cedar Crest developed one of the Lehigh Valley’s first programs for adult learners.
The program was conceived to assist women who did not have the chance to go immediately to college after high school – now admits women and men in evening, weekend and online programs.
The college also now has master’s degree programs, including the Master of Business Administration.
“Cedar Crest’s MBA welcomed our first class in 2016,” Meade said. “We offer two concentrations, one in management and one in business analytics.”
While the school continues to cling tightly to its liberal arts roots, Cedar Crest also is very aware of the need to build skills in students that will help them get the jobs they want, now and in the future, Ortiz said.
Ortiz said the school is always asking the question, “What kind of skills are they going to need?”
One of the answers was the creation of the new media program to tie in with its communications programs.
The new media program lets students take classes on subjects ranging from video game development to advertising. The program is deliberately vague to allow for the expansion of offerings as media options evolve.
“We want their skills to apply to the 21st century and beyond that, even,” she said.