West Chester University Recognizes Chesco Honorees at Winter Commencement Ceremonies

By
Gary W. Smith
Image via Chester County Economic Development Council.
Gary W. Smith.

There are 1,342 students poised to begin the next chapters of their lives following graduation from West Chester University at five separate winter commencement exercises being held Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 17 and 18. Additionally, three individuals including Gary Smith, CEO of the Chester County Economic Development Council, are to be recognized for their significant impact on WCU students and the university.

Four ceremonies organized by college will accommodate the 1,011 undergraduate students eligible to graduate at the university’s undergraduate commencement ceremonies in Hollinger Fieldhouse on North Campus. The number of graduates includes 23 students who completed their coursework at the Philadelphia campus this summer or this fall.

In addition, 328 graduate-level students from all of the university’s colleges and sites will receive their degrees together at a 9 AM ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 17, in Hollinger. This number includes 3 students who completed their coursework at the Philadelphia campus this summer or this fall. Commencement times are listed at bottom.

Honoree Gary W. Smith M’86, ’74 has been awarded an honorary Doctor of Public Service Degree. He will be at the Graduate School ceremony at 9 AM on Saturday, Dec. 17.

Gary Smith, president and CEO of the Chester County Economic Development Council (CCEDC), is a nationally respected leader and pioneer in the world of economic development. In his 46 years serving both the county and the Commonwealth, Smith has made immeasurable contributions, structuring more than $13 billion in project financing while nurturing thousands of businesses through their growth cycles and shaping countless communities through his passion and advocacy for smart economic growth. He earned both his bachelor of arts and master of science in urban and regional planning from West Chester University.

Instrumental in Chester County’s evolution as an economic powerhouse — while preserving its rich agricultural heritage — Smith pioneered award-winning programs of below market-rate financing, agricultural economic development, brownfields redevelopment, conduit funding for commercial construction, industry partnerships, urban revitalization, and multi-agency collaboration. During his tenure, the Council has created 165,000 new jobs, engaged more than 100,000 individuals in workforce development programs, and helped thousands of businesses establish roots and grow in Chester County. Today, the Council employs 35 economic development professionals.

In addition to his work with the CCEDC, Smith was executive director of the Business and Industry Chamber for Chester County and established the first county-wide Chamber of Commerce for Business and Industry. He also founded and directed the Southeastern Economic Development Company of Pennsylvania, the state’s largest U.S. Small Business Administration Certified Development Company. He has served on numerous local, regional, and national boards, including the Council of Development Financing Agencies, the Pennsylvania Economic Development Association, and the National Council of State Agricultural Finance Programs.

 The Gary W. Smith Entrepreneurial Leadership Endowment has been established to support the operation, mission, and efforts of the Cottrell Entrepreneurship Center in honor of Smith and his past and continued enduring efforts to foster an entrepreneurial spirit in his role as President and CEO of the Chester County Economic Development Council. In addition to operational support, funds are also to be used to award at least one minimum $1,000 scholarship annually to a promising student who exemplifies Smith’s entrepreneurial spirit.

Honorees Richard Merion ’59, M’69 and Jeanette Merion are the President’s Medallion recipients. They will be at the ceremony at 3 PM on Saturday, Dec. 17, for the College of Education and Social Work; College of Arts and Humanities; Wells School of Music.

Richard and Jeanette Merion have deep, abiding connections to West Chester University, and their numerous contributions are indelibly woven into WCU’s foundation. The Merions’ generous support is visible throughout campus, chiefly in the Merion Science Center, which bears their name. The Merions also named “The Bridge,” a collaborative space in the new Sciences and Engineering Center and The Commons. Now named “The Leadership Bridge,” it is named in honor of future leaders in the sciences and engineering and is one of the architectural highlights of the SECC.

The Merions created the Richard and Jeanette Merion Endowed Scholarship, which benefits students majoring in physics, chemistry, biology, and nursing, with preference to those enrolled in WCU’s ROTC program. The scholarship is one of many ways the Merions have generously supported military students at WCU. Richard retired from the U.S. Army as a Brigadier General following 32 years in the active military and reserves. Jeanette is a former U.S. Army Staff Sergeant veteran and is actively engaged with the American Legion. She also volunteers with the West Chester Senior Center and the Chester County Pops Orchestra. Together, they actively engage with the Marine Corps league, local VFWs, American Legions, and community businesses and garner support for our WCU ROTC cadets and student veterans, as well as the USO.

Jeanette and Richard are members of the WCU Carillon Diamond Society, recognizing their more than 25 consecutive years giving, and the WCU Heritage 1871 Society, recognizing their lifetime giving. Jeanette is a former member of the advisory board of WCU’s Visiting Artist Series and, along with Richard, they were WCU Presidents Circle Dinner Award Honorees in 2001. They are also former Presidential Gala committee members.

Richard, who earned his bachelor’s degree in science education from West Chester in 1959, is president emeritus of the WCU Alumni Association (WCUAA) and was recognized with the Distinguished Alumni Award (1995) and the WCUAA Service Award (2015). While in the service, he earned a master’s degree in public health from the University of Michigan and returned to West Chester to complete a master’s degree in biology in 1969. In 2009, West Chester University awarded an honorary Doctor of Public Service to Richard and the status of Honorary Alumna to Jeanette.

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 17

  • 9 AM — Graduate School (all Colleges)
  • 12 PM — College of Health Sciences; University College
  • 3 PM —College of Education and Social Work; College of Arts and Humanities; Wells School of Music

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 18

  • 9 AM — College of Sciences and Mathematics
  • 12 PM — College of Business and Public Management

All ceremonies will be live streamed for those who do not have a ticket or do not feel comfortable attending. Check wcupa.edu/commencement the day of the ceremony for the link. Recordings will be available here.

Learn more about West Chester University.

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