Creating Opportunities

Jul 21, 2020

As interim provost, Dr. Daniel Engstrom's priority is to provide a rigorous and challenging academic experience.

dan engstrom

“Given the opportunity, people can learn, and when people learn, things change. Their minds are opened, they discover creativity, they are willing to look at things from a different perspective.” 

It’s a guiding statement for Dr. Daniel E. Engstrom, interim provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at California University of Pennsylvania. 

Engstrom succeeds Dr. Bruce Barnhart, who retired July 3, 2020. 

“Cal U,” he said, “has the opportunity to create an opportunity for students who may not have had an opportunity, so they can have an opportunity.” 

Engstrom’s own story illustrates the value of higher education. 

He is a first-generation college graduate from the small town of Youngsville, in northwestern Pennsylvania. He earned his bachelor’s degree in industrial arts/technology education from Millersville University of Pennsylvania in 1991, his master’s degree in education from Bowling Green State University in 1993, and his Doctor of Education from Duquesne University in 2001. 

“I met faculty at Millersville who opened my eyes to other opportunities, and here I am at the provost’s desk 30 years later,” Engstrom said. “One of my mentors suggested I come to Bowling Green to be a graduate assistant, and I said, ‘Great! What’s a graduate assistant?’ 

“He saw something in me and gave me an opportunity. I try to be that kind of people, and our faculty are the same way.” 

Engstrom started work at Cal U in 2001 as an assistant professor in the Department of Applied Engineering and Technology. Here, too, he benefited from mentors. 

“In 2009, the then-dean of the College of Education and Human Services, Geraldine Jones, asked me if I’d be interested in being the director of student teaching. And I said, ‘Absolutely not! Why would I want to do that?’” Engstrom recalls with a smile. 

He took the offer. 

“In 2011, President Jones approached me to ask if I’d like to be the associate dean for Academic Success, and I said, ‘Absolutely not! Why would I want to do that?’”

Another smile. 

Today, the Academic Success Office reflects Engstrom’s commitment to students. It provides resources including a peer mentorship program, scheduling support, a four-year graduation plan, and more. 

“In 2016 Provost Barnhart challenged me to attend Becoming a Provost Academy, a leadership program offered by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities,” Engstrom said. “He challenged me and pushed me and answered my questions and helped to prepare me for where I’m sitting now.” 

Engstrom’s inquisitive mind is evident outside the office, too. He has a renewed interest in wood-turning and a relatively new hobby of beekeeping. He recently was elected to the Belle Vernon Area School District board, and he serves on the board of elders at his church. He even built raised beds for gardening this season. 

“My four kids make fun of me because I’m always trying new things,” he confides. 

Danielle, who will start college in Georgia soon, shares her dad’s wood-turning talent and has turned it into a side business. Isaiah is in optometry school. After an internship, Joel is bound for seminary in North Carolina. And Maya is a senior at Belle Vernon High School. 

It’s a beautiful, exciting whirlwind, with lifelong learning at its center. 

He acknowledges the challenges that Cal U faces — a pandemic, financial pressures, an academic reorganization of colleges and departments, and ongoing plans to redesign Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education to ensure the availability of low-cost, high-quality education. 

“We need to provide an experience for our students that is rigorous and challenging and allows them to grow,” he said. 

“I am sold on the fact that we can change generational direction by giving students the chance to have a high-quality education. I have seen it in my own life.”