Mansfield University (MU) has been through many transformations through the years. It was founded as Mansfield Classical Seminary in 1857, became a state normal school in 1862 and then changed to Mansfield State Teachers College in 1927. In 1960 its degree offerings broadened when it became Mansfield State College. Its name changed to its current standing as Mansfield University in 1983.

Located in a beautiful area of northeastern Pennsylvania along scenic Route 6, MU has transformed into a university which still trains some of the most qualified teachers in the area, but has also delved into the need to train and educate for the growing industries in this region.

In 2004, Lindsey Sikorski started working for MU as director of community relations. As a resource to the community, she assisted businesses and industries with their workforce development for their current employees. Working mostly with manufacturing, wood and lumber, and health care industries, she planned camps, conferences, and events on campus to provide companies with a place to conduct their workshops and trainings.

MU is unique because they have the space to accommodate these resources for the community. Since she started the program, approximately 6,000 industries have come through MU. 

In February 2011, Seatrax, a company which provides safety training for Shell, approached Sikorski for a larger classroom. And thus began the growing relationship between MU and the natural gas industry.  Every Thursday MU started hosting Seatrax trainings.

“Every Thursday, when you drive by campus, we have a lot of white trucks in the parking lot,” Sikorski said.

About a year later, MU started looking at putting together “The Marcellus Institute.” It was something that was developing in response to the natural gas industry because it is an area its graduates can be employed in locally and will also allow them to earn family sustainable income.  It gives graduates a choice to stay local or go global with the gas industry.

Penn College in Williamsport had already developed the Marcellus Shale Education and Training Center (MSETC), a collaboration of research between Pennsylvania College of Technology and Penn State Extension to provide a wide variety of resources to the community and the oil-and-gas industry through a report on the workforce. This report included information showing that approximately 5 percent of the occupations in the direct workforce associated with the natural gas industry may require post-secondary education. With this information, Sikorski began the planning stages of “The Marcellus Institute.”

Sikorski, in her position at MU, was the perfect organizer for the new institute. She took every opportunity to learn about the gas industry, participating in ShaleNet conferences and taking advantage of an opportunity to go out on a gas well site with Talisman Energy.

Originally set up as an eight-month grant, through hard work, Sikorski’s program expanded into something permanent that could be offered to the community and industries. Her focus went from a broad industrial service to just the gas industry. She turned the Marcellus Institute into something that offered more classes, camps and other services. It became a campus-wide concept, utilizing any area and resource necessary on campus to accommodate its need.

“We’ve been able to build and build and build our workforce career department,” Sikorski said.

The Marcellus Institute has three missions. The first one, which focuses on the students, is to develop new academic programs on the expanding shale gas industry. The second, focusing on the gas industry, is to create and offer continuing education and certification programs in cooperation with industry partners to assist with the development and maintenance of a well qualified workforce in the area. And their last mission, focusing on the community, is to conduct community education, outreach, and research on topics related to the natural gas industry.

“Our reputation with the natural gas industry is a good one,” Sikorski said. “Our graduates have a reputation of being hard working and have already found successful jobs in the gas industry.”

But the two new academic programs which MU is proposing to offer will increase what is already successful.  The two-year degree in Natural Gas Production and Services within the Geography and Geology department will prepare students for careers such as well site mud logging, pipeline inspections, well pad assessment, GIS applications, safety management, and environmental compliance inspection.

Their proposed four-year degree in Safety Management offered by the Health Sciences department, will integrate the health and human perspectives with the technical and applied sciences appropriate to the safety science discipline, preparing students to become safety managers for the natural gas and energy industries, as well as other industries. It isn’t just for the gas industry; industries such as the Department of Environmental Resources (DEP) and PennDOT would be able to utilize students with these degrees.

Both of these two-year and four-year degrees are currently going through the review process, but are expected to be fully approved in time for the fall 2012 semester.

“Our provost, Dr. Peter Keller, and our interim president, Dr. Allan Golden, have been very supportive of our two new academic programs,” Sikorski said. “I think we were in a good position to create our two new programs given the strength of our academic departments, especially with the gas industry right in our backyard.

“We’re not recreating the wheel. Utilizing what the university already offered with information from Penn College research and the gas industry’s input and guidance, we have created two new degrees. The concept is that simple!”

Sikorski has developed more to the Marcellus Institute than just the two new degrees. Coming up, there will a Marcellus Camp held in July for students in 10th through 12th grades, offering them an opportunity to learn about the development of the shale gas resources in the area, along with the career and educational opportunities available to them. This residential camp at MU will include a field trip to an active well site and to Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Marcellus Shale Education and Training Center and Emergency Response Training Center.

In September, there will be the Marcellus Career Night at MU for 10th through 12th grade students and their parents, explaining the different levels of jobs and careers available, the new areas of academic study available at MU, and advice to help students find the right fit.

What started as a community service was developed by Sikorski into the Marcellus Institute at Mansfield University. Sikorski’s philosophy makes a good point: “Why should a local university who has many local students attending, who is sitting in the middle of a growing industry, not grow with it?”