West Chester University Thrives Among Challenges and Points to a Bright Future

West Chester University President Dr. Christopher Fiorentino
West Chester University President Dr. Christopher Fiorentino speaks to crowd of students, faculty, parents and community leaders gathered on the Quad as the school kicked off its 150th Anniversary celebration Friday afternoon.

West Chester’s 150th-anniversary celebration this weekend recognized its history as it looked toward a bright future for students.

West Chester University Logo

To West Chester University President Dr. Christopher Fiorentino, a gathering Friday was testimony to the university’s resilience in its ability to thrive during a pandemic.

The 150th-anniversary event was attended by several hundred students, faculty, staff, county and township officials, and community members.

“This moment is momentous because of the three extraordinarily challenging semesters that came before it,” he told the crowd.

This past Spring, Dr. Fiorentino recalled walking around a deserted campus that seemed “utterly lifeless.”

“But my sadness at seeing our desolate campus quickly turned to amazement—amazement that our seemingly lifeless University was still so alive, amazement that somewhere out there, teachers were teaching, and students were learning, and classes were discussing, and staff was supporting.

“While our campus seemed utterly motionless, everyone was working together to keep things ‘zooming’ right along.” 

He credited “heroic” faculty with helping students through the lockdowns, like Educational Foundations and Policy Studies Professor Matthew Kruger-Rossm who converted a 352-page course textbook into audio files so students could learn more easily remotely.

Then there was Art Professor Andrew Snyder who found a way to run an online pottery class by building pottery wheels for each individual student to work at home.

Now, Dr. Fiorentino said he is “elated” that life is returning to the campus itself as he pointed out West Chester’s “highly vaccinated campus” and a “high level of masking.”

“It is clear to me that (students) want to and need to be back on a live campus with live classes that bring them face-to-face with our incredible faculty,” he said.

The university has 17,700 students enrolled in 118 undergraduate programs, 91 master’s degree programs and four doctoral programs.

Some history

That’s in sharp contrast to West Chester’s beginnings when all the students could all be housed in one building.

The university was chartered as West Chester Normal School in 1870 and opened classes in September 1871, primarily as a college that taught elementary school teacher candidates. 

Like this recent pandemic, West Chester has faced medical challenges in its early years, including Yellow Fever, Scarlet Fever, Smallpox, Typhoid, and the Spanish Flu Pandemic.

It was challenged by the Great Depression and major wars.

“But, our University found a way through all of those challenges and continued to move forward,” Dr. Fiorentino said.             

In 1927, the school became the West Chester State Teachers College when the state created a four-year teacher education program there.

In 1960, the teachers college underwent a major expansion, offering graduate studies, increasing faculty from 130 to 451.

The 1960s was also a turbulent time, as the college integrated Black students and faculty, becoming a more diverse campus. 

In 1980 it became West Chester University, one of 14 universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.

What’s ahead

Dr. Fiorentino announced Friday the university would be finding ways to help students both afford and obtain a college education.

The university’s 150 Forward Fundraising campaign, with a goal of raising $65 million, won’t go into buildings, but instead will support student scholarships, student research, student travel abroad, and an on-campus food and necessities pantry. 

“Many of our students struggle to cover their ever-growing portion of the check for a college education,” he said.

Dr. Fiorentinoo also highlighted the university’s participation in the national “Moon Shot for Equity” program to give all students the tools they need to go to college and earn a degree.

“We meet today at a momentous moment for our University.  It has taken our University 150 years to arrive at this moment, and this moment marks the start of the next 150 years for our University,” he said.

The anniversary celebration

The 150th celebration Friday included a performance by the Golden Rams Marching Band with the cheerleaders and WCU Dance Team leading cheers.

West Chester Mayor Jordan Norley presented a Proclamation acknowledging the anniversary.

Representatives from State Sens. Carolyn Comitta, Robert Tomlinson, State Reps. Dianne Herrin and Christina Sappey and U.S. Sen.  Bob Toomey presented Resolutions, Proclamations, and Citations in honor of the 150th anniversary.

WCU Mascot Rammy cuts the official Anniversary Cupcake with President Fiorentino.

Also on hand was West Chester Mascot Rammy, who cut the official Anniversary Cupcake with President Fiorentino.

The university officially opened its interactive 150th-anniversary museum at the Francis Harvey Green Library with an afternoon ribbon-cutting while guests placed items in a time capsule. 

The museum exhibits highlight the history and development of the University.

In the evening, Nashville Soul Singer-Songwriter and WCU Alumnus Devon Gilfillian performed a free concert at the Emilie K. Asplundh Concert Hall.

Gilfillian’s Grammy-nominated album Black Hole Rainbow will be included in the interactive exhibit of the 150th Anniversary Museum.

West Chester University was also honored with a special Crown Lights display on the PECO building at 23rd and Market Streets in Philadelphia.

The message, “West Chester University Celebrates 150 Years of Student Success!” was on display on Sept. 17, 18, and 19.

Find out more about West Chester University.


Watch West Chester University President Dr. Christopher Fiorentino’s 150th Anniversary address. (Video begins at 2:57).

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