HAZLETON, Pa. — Penn State Hazleton Chancellor Gary M. Lawler recently announced his plans to retire on June 30, 2022, after more than 15 years of service to Penn State. He joined Penn State Hazleton as chancellor in July 2007.
“Penn State Hazleton has made great strides under Gary Lawler’s leadership these past 15 years,” said Kelly Austin, interim senior vice president for Commonwealth Campuses and executive chancellor at Penn State. “Dr. Lawler has been an ardent advocate for a robust student experience as evidenced by the expansion of programs, transformational upgrades to facilities, and increased focus on opportunities for students to enrich their education both in and out of the classroom. His impact will be felt for many years to come on the campus, the University, and the local community.”
Lawler has overseen many initiatives as chancellor that have helped to provide an improved student experience focused on individualized attention and mentoring, including a $7.6 million renewal project on the Mary M. and Bertil E. Lofstrom Library, for which a reopening celebration was held Sept. 8. Interior upgrades include significant renovations to offices and common areas, and the addition of six group study rooms, two makerspaces, a one-button studio, a meditation corner, the Math Dimension tutoring center, and Career Closet, which provides professional clothing for students to borrow.
He also led a $15.5 million renovation of the Kostos Building, which implemented cutting-edge technology and state-of-the-art classrooms throughout the building, along with collaborative working spaces/study rooms and new faculty offices. It also included new engineering, physics, chemistry and biology laboratories, and more spaces for conducting research.
Additionally, Lawler is an active participant in the effort to revitalize downtown Hazleton. He partnered with several community organizations to develop the Hazleton LaunchBox, an innovation hub offering entrepreneurship-focused academic programs, business startup training and incubation, and university-community collaborations to facilitate the challenging process of turning research discoveries into valuable products and services. The Hazleton LaunchBox, which opened in Sept. 2019, is part of Invent Penn State, a $30 million commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation, and student success launched by Penn State President Eric J. Barron in 2016. In April 2019, the LaunchBox at Penn State Hazleton was the third innovation hub in the University to be endowed and named for a benefactor after the campus received a gift of $1 million from the estate of longtime supporter and philanthropist Pasco L. Schiavo.
Lawler also oversaw the efforts to revitalize the Slusser/Bayzick Building, which included the creation of the Black Box Theatre, a multifunctional space for performances and learning, and dedicated classrooms and laboratories for students in health care programs offered by the Office of Continuing Education (CE). Additional campus infrastructure and beautification initiatives include the Barbara J. and Ronald L. Balasco Sr. Bella Vista, Dr. Lil Junas Garden, and an extensive roadway project.
In addition to growth and improvements in the physical plant, the number of four-year baccalaureate degrees increased from five to 13, and a wide range of student-centered initiatives related to retention, student success and diversity, equity and inclusion were instituted. He was also involved in articulation agreements with three area community colleges and the Vidyalankar School of Information Technology, Mumbai, India, which allow students to seamlessly transition from their starting institution program into a Penn State baccalaureate degree program at many campuses.
Lawler also helped to establish practical nursing as an anchor program for the campus’ CE office. Since the program launched in 2010, it has graduated more than 225 students and spurred the development of additional health care education programs offered through CE.
During his tenure, support for students through scholarships, awards, program endowments and special funds has doubled, allowing the campus to provide funding to twice as many students seeking to earn a Penn State degree.
He has been an active member of numerous committees since joining Penn State, including Faculty Rights and Responsibilities, Campus Engagement in India, the Commission for Adult Learners, the Prior Learning Assessment Committee, the University-wide Academic Infrastructure and Support working group, and the planning committee for the University’s current fundraising campaign, “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence.”
Lawler has also worked on town and gown relationships in the Hazleton community through his service to the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce, CAN DO economic development organization, Alice C. Wiltsie Performing Arts Center, Hazleton Area Public Library, Downtown Hazleton Alliance for Progress, Partners in Education, and Rotary, just to name a few. In June 2018, he was recognized by the Concerned Parents of Hazleton Area for his guidance, dedication, and advocacy when he received the group’s Humanitarian Award during their 10th anniversary celebration.
Lawler began his academic career teaching mathematics at Adirondack Community College, where he ultimately earned the rank of full professor. His career at Adirondack lasted 23 years until he was named assistant to the vice president of academic affairs. In 2001, he became academic dean at the College of St. Joseph, and in 2004 was named vice president of academic and student affairs.
Lawler earned an associate degree in mathematics/science from Adirondack Community College and a bachelor’s degree with a double major in mathematics and theater from the State University of New York College at Brockport. He also holds a master’s degree in mathematics and doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University at Albany.
According to Lawler, his time at Penn State Hazleton was the best and most fulfilling of his career. He credits the campus community with coming together to build relationships as a key to success.
“We have built relationships amongst ourselves, relationships with those at University Park and other campuses, relationships with our communities, and certainly relationships with our students as we educate, support and cheer them on,” he said. “There has been much to celebrate.”