Dr. Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson: An Advocate for Transformation


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Learning theories and models are always evolving, especially with the acceleration of ed tech innovation. But as technology and approaches shift, particularly within higher education, there remains one reliable and fixed element: the student. Sure, the men and women who pursue learning after high school may range in age from 17 to 97, but each person is taking a step onto a path of personal transformation. So, in addition to forward-thinking methods and cutting-edge tools, today’s great education leaders focus on inspiring confidence, awakening potential, and fostering success. And this is the mission of PennWest University’s founding president, Dr. Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson.

Prior to successfully leading the charge to integrate three state universities to become Pennsylvania Western University (PennWest), “Dr. Dale” served as president for each State System school – Clarion University, Edinboro University, and California University of Pennsylvania. She was integral in creating something completely unique but still reflective of the three distinguished legacies that represent more than 480 years of academic excellence and community enrichment. PennWest was established on a foundation of resilience, determination, and courage – characteristics that mark the university’s region and its chief executive.

“When tradition meets trailblazing, you get the advantage of lessons learned and the strength of undaunted ambition.” ~ Dr. Dale-Elizabeth Pehrsson

Something Old, Something New

Although the university is over 14,500 students strong, each campus and classroom (both in-person and online) provide a unique and tailored experience. With suburban style and a location just an hour from Pittsburgh’s thriving culture, PennWest California delivers a traditional university feel, including athletics programs, best-in-class modern housing, and one of the healthiest college lifestyles in the nation. At PennWest Clarion, small class sizes plus supportive faculty and staff create a personalized learning environment ideal for students who want an intimate setting along with an expansive range of academic programs. For those who prefer lakeside living with wide open spaces to spark imagination and creativity, PennWest Edinboro offers award-winning academic programs to cultivate leaders in the arts, technology, aviation, health sciences, and other fields.

Flexible and affordable for access to education anywhere, anytime, PennWest Global Online is designed for those juggling life, work, and family. Dedicated faculty from all three campuses provide rich content and engaging interaction for student success. No matter where students land, a wide breadth of academic programs from digital media and engineering to social

sciences and health sciences allows them to dive deeper into known pursuits and uncover unexpected interests.

Dr. Dale, along with strong leadership from her chancellor, faculty, and staff, has helped PennWest evolve into a nimble, adaptable institution serving this region that offers a personalized education with exceptional returns and immeasurable value that lasts a lifetime.

Grounded, Equipped, Launched

The identity of western PA is complex, with many hardworking, down-to-earth families rooted here for generations. This regional personality beckons not only students born and raised there but also those who recognize its rich benefits. The three campuses of PennWest, reaching from the north to south border of the state, were each originally founded to meet the need for local teachers. Today, PennWest offers more than 100 diverse degree programs, allowing students to pursue an established vision or explore possibilities.

Dr. Dale is passionate about helping her students – who hail from all 50 states and more than 60 nations – become grounded in who they are and confident in their distinctive skills, abilities, and dreams. Then, through the rich learning opportunities and supportive faculty and staff, students can define who they’ll become – whether it’s discovering a career path, pursuing a promotion, or seeking a career pivot. Every department on all three campuses and online is devoted to developing critical-thinking skills and tackling real-world challenges to prepare each student to flourish.

Defining the Future

With a focus that extends beyond academic success to employability, career advancement, and long-term outcomes, PennWest continues to build on its solid foundation, and Dr. Dale’s every decision is guided by student needs. With 35% of first-year enrollment being first-generation college students, PennWest ensures every student is equipped with the tools and assistance to support their success. The university not only invests in the academic, mental, and emotional development of students, but it also demonstrates commitment by offering more than $14 million in first-year merit awards.

With accreditation from more than 50 bodies, significant student success support, consistent top rankings, and a total endowment of $130.5 million, PennWest is poised to steadily grow and expand its reach. The university is also dedicated to serving local communities and helping to sustain the region’s economy, even as the residents and businesses pour into the students’ lives to help them thrive.

Yes, PennWest University offers cutting-edge ed tech, learning methods, and real-life skills to a truly distinctive student body within a rich regional culture. But with Dr. Dale at the helm, the students will always be the driver of every university decision and action. It’s her vision to strengthen her students’ confidence, determination, and courage … and then watch them soar.

Journey to PennWest

Dr. Dale joined Pennsylvania’s State System as Clarion University’s president in 2018. She became interim president of Edinboro University in December 2020 and of California University of Pennsylvania in July 2021. She was the presidential lead for the Western Integration Project, which united those three universities to create PennWest.

Before joining the State System, Dr. Dale was dean of the College of Education and Human Services at Central Michigan University (2012-2018); associate dean of the College of Education (2010-2012) and chair of the Counselor Education Department (2007-2010) at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas; and served on the faculty at Portland State University, Ore. (2000-2007); Oregon State University (1999-2007); Sam Houston University, Texas (1998-1999); and Idaho State University (1991-1998). She worked as a registered nurse, healthcare administrator and professional counselor before beginning her career in higher education.


Also Read: The 10 Futuristic Education Leaders, 2023



The Educational landscape is changing dynamically. The new generation of students thus faces the daunting task to choose an institution that would guide them towards a lucrative career.

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