For Tina Richardson, chancellor of Penn State Lehigh Valley, business growth is a key focus of her work in higher education.
Though she has been working in education for much of her life, Richardson has helped bring a business mindset to her role as leader of the Upper Saucon Township campus.
Richardson previously served as associate dean of academic affairs at Drexel University’s School of Education. Before that, she spent 20 years at Lehigh University as a professor in the College of Education.
So what drew her to Penn State Lehigh Valley?
“Penn State has a phenomenal reputation and network of active alumni who are very dedicated,” Richardson said. “My introduction to Penn State was grounded in the reality of those things. It has the most significant impact on the commonwealth of Pennsylvania in terms of the number of graduates it produces annually and the impact it has on the Pennsylvania workforce.”
One way Penn State measures that impact is with the LaunchBox program, an initiative at each campus that addresses workforce issues, with 21 programs across the state. The program responds to the regional needs of workers by supporting early-stage startups, offering anyone in the community, not just students, the opportunity to submit a business idea and potentially get funding to make it a reality.
Richardson helps oversee the Lehigh Valley LaunchBox program at her campus and sees the value it provides in fueling the dreams of young entrepreneurs.
LaunchBox Ladies is a program specifically offered for women, bringing opportunities for networking, support and education for women interested in pursuing entrepreneurship.
“More than anything else, it creates an opportunity. It is an opportunity to share the best and most creative voices,” Richardson said.
The idea for LaunchBox Ladies came out of a discussion with students on campus, which led to Richardson convening a small group of employees and community members to brainstorm how to create more opportunities for women.
Richardson said about 650 women are part of the LaunchBox Ladies network and have attended events.
The events have included discussions with women in the arts, a program on how to turn one’s passion and creativity into a business, and a program on trailblazers in the health care field. Upcoming programs include a focus on women athletes and women veterans who are also business owners.
“These are the kinds of discussions we have; everyone can tap into their interest,” Richardson said.
The programs also don’t focus strictly on creating your own business but can also help women shape an entrepreneurial mindset, she added. For those women who are happy in their careers and for those companies who want to retain them, the programs have the potential to help women influence a company’s bottom line.
A resident of Bethlehem Township, Richardson said her children grew up in the Lehigh Valley and both are Penn State University students at the main campus and take classes at the Lehigh Valley campus as well, she said.
With nearly 200 employees at the Lehigh Valley campus, Richardson serves as the CEO, with responsibility for all the units that keep the university going.
Collaboration is key to her leadership style.
“No leader accomplishes everything alone,” Richardson said. “I’m proud of the faculty and staff that we have. I try to identify people who have something they want to give and provide them with outlets to give. I then try to encourage the best productivity possible.”
Richardson said she was socialized at a very young age to believe that education is an important determinant of the opportunities one will have in the future.
As an adult, she said she has found that to be the case. As a result of her own personal experiences, she felt she had something to offer in the classroom as a professor.
What’s driving her to do what she does now in higher education is that she’s able to see the benefits of having both been in the classroom and in administration.
“Being in administration and leading gave me another level of contributions I can make,” Richardson said. “The combination of doing both keeps me motivated.”