Dr. Francis Achampong, chancellor of Penn State Mont Alto

Penn State Mont Alto Chancellor, Dr. Francis Achampong, Announces Retirement

Achampong Reflects on his 22-year Tenure at Penn State

After forty-three years in higher education, twenty-two of which he spent at Penn State University, Dr. Francis Kofi Achampong, chancellor at Penn State Mont Alto, has announced he will retire effective June 28, 2024.

Dr. Achampong, whom everyone calls Dr. A., came to Penn State in 2002 as the director of academic affairs (DAA) at Penn State Mont Alto, a position he held for eight years. Implementing multiple signature initiatives during his tenure as DAA, he launched a mentoring program for tenure-track faculty, seeing every eligible member hired during his time as DAA receive tenure and promotion. This included a group of five international faculty members, which helped to enrich the diversity of the campus. Achampong advocated for the promotion of non-tenure line faculty and increased the number of senior instructors from one to eight at a time when the college was only approving and funding a limited number of non-tenure line promotions. He collaborated with the Mont Alto Faculty Senate to develop guidelines for hiring and reviewing part-time faculty that became a model for the Commonwealth College, the predecessor of the University College. Achampong also created and recruited faculty for the Jumpstart program, an initiative designed to help newly admitted, underprepared students get off to a good start with summer online instruction and year-round academic support and mentoring. With the Chancellor’s support, he created the office of Assistant Director of Academic Affairs (ADAA) and worked with three faculty in that role, one of whom, Mike Doncheski, later became DAA. Additionally, Achampong helped build a sense of community by hosting a monthly “Punch with the DAA” and led the creation of a Student Success Center, which brought academic support, advising, and career services professionals together to serve students. Creating a culture of nominating faculty and staff for college and University awards saw Mont Alto faculty and staff win teaching and research awards, awards for active and collaborative learning, and an Atherton Award. Throughout his tenure as Penn State Mont Alto’s DAA, Achampong led by example by occasionally publishing in refereed journals to inspire tenured faculty to maintain active research agendas.

Jennifer Marchand, Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Studies, elaborated on her time working with Achampong. “I have had the privilege of working at Penn State Mont Alto under the leadership of Dr. Achampong for over two decades, in his position as the Director of Academic Affairs and as the Chancellor. He is someone I deeply admire and respect. He has been an exemplary leader in countless ways, but qualities that I, personally, have valued the most in him have been his ability to easily recognize the strengths and achievements of others, his generous support and encouragement of others to achieve their full potential, and his ability to make tough decisions, always giving painstaking consideration to any decision that would impact the campus community. I was delighted to learn about his plans to retire, as I can’t imagine someone more deserving.”

Mike Doncheski, current Penn State Mont Alto DAA, first working with Dr. Achampong as his ADAA, added, “Dr. Francis Achampong has embodied leadership. Just prior to his arrival, the campus leadership team had been in a state of flux and there was a lack of stability.  From the start, Dr. A brought stability back to the Mont Alto campus with an insightful, intentional leadership style. His advocacy for shared governance reestablished collegial relationships and rebuilt trust between faculty and administration.” Doncheski continued, “He has developed strong relationships with local economic and workforce development groups and has demonstrated that Penn State Mont Alto is both a partner and a resource.” Concluding, Doncheski said “Dr. A has been a wonderful mentor for me. I would not have moved into my current role without his mentorship and encouragement. The breadth and depth of his knowledge of and experience in higher education leadership has always been one of my greatest resources.” 

In 2010, the Vice President for Commonwealth Campuses asked Dr. Achampong to serve as Interim Chancellor at Penn State Fayette, the Eberly Campus, after the death of their chancellor. Working with all campus stakeholders to build a sense of community at a tough time of transition, Achampong hosted “brown bag” lunches and punch socials to build camaraderie by bringing people together and also increased transparency in shared governance by democratizing information sharing. He collaborated with the Director of Campus Development on Penn State Fayette’s $3.5 million For the Future campaign, and when the campaign ended shortly after he left, Penn State Fayette had raised $4.136 million, 118% of the campaign goal. While at Fayette, Dr. Achampong served the community on the Fay-Penn Board, the Fayette Chamber Board, and the Fayette-Westmoreland Workforce Investment Board. “My time at the Fayette campus was a very enjoyable one. The campus was very welcoming. I made lifelong friends there,” Achampong said, fondly remembering his time there.

“I first worked with Francis twenty years ago when I became acting DAA at Fayette,” explained Gib Prettyman, associate professor of English at Penn State Fayette. “When he was appointed acting Chancellor at Fayette, I assured my colleagues that we were getting an unusually capable leader. I always admired his calm demeanor and meticulous attention to detail, especially as his family remained 150 miles away in Mont Alto. Penn State is losing someone with tremendous knowledge about the workings of Penn State’s Commonwealth campuses.” 

In 2013, Dr. Achampong transitioned back to Penn State Mont Alto, where his family had stayed behind, to assume the role of Chancellor.

In the decade that Dr. Achampong has been at Penn State Mont Alto, he has hosted campus gatherings each semester and occasional town halls to keep channels of communication open with faculty and staff and build a sense of community. He worked to get the campus to accept collective responsibility for recruitment and retention of students, hosting an all-campus retreat in 2019 that led to a thoughtful recruitment and retention plan. Unfortunately, the pandemic upended the plan a mere six months after its implementation. Meanwhile, Penn State Mont Alto became the first campus to devote a stand-alone space to student veterans. And, given the role athletics plays in student recruitment and retention, Achampong elevated the director of athletics to the chancellor’s cabinet. Most recently, a strategic enrollment management group he created and charged has completed a marketing, recruitment, and retention plan that is currently under implementation.

Dr. Achampong provided leadership to designate allied health (the health sciences) as Penn State Mont Alto’s niche, with offerings in the two-year Occupational Therapy Assistant and Physical Therapist Assistant programs, the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, as well as plans to add a bachelor’s degree in Biobehavioral Health. A $13 million state-of-the-art Allied Health Building opened in 2022, serving to reinforce the campus’ position as the premier health sciences educational institution in the region. The campus’ healthcare degree portfolio now includes a Bachelor of Science in Health Policy and Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Science. A Master of Science in Occupational Therapy is slated to begin in fall 2026. The Mont Alto campus has also expanded its degree portfolio to include bachelor’s degrees in fields like Supply Chain Management and Psychology.

After repeatedly hearing people in the community describe Penn State Mont Alto as a “hidden gem,” Achampong consulted with the campus community to launch Penn State Mont Alto Today, a campus magazine (now online) that helps tell the Penn State Mont Alto story to a broad external and internal audience.

Dr. Achampong collaborated with Penn State Mont Alto’s Director of Campus Development and a team of volunteers in the phenomenally successful A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence campaign, raising $7.3 million, 142% of its $5.2 million goal. These funds primarily serve to open doors for students who would not otherwise be able to afford a Penn State education and give Mont Alto students transformative experiences that will shape their careers and lives for years to come. The campaign cemented the campus’ relationship with alumni, friends, and donors, including Wellspan Health, a longtime supporter whose gift pledge of slightly over $1 million was solicited by Achampong. The campaign also raised multiple gifts for the Mont Alto LaunchBox, a free-service hub connecting entrepreneurs to support and resources, which Achampong founded and ran for three years before handing over to another director.

Mike Ross, President of Franklin County Area Development Corporation and longtime member of the Penn State Mont Alto Advisory Board and the campus’ strategic planning committee, said, “Having had the opportunity to work with Dr. A. during his entire tenure at Penn State Mont Alto, I can categorically attest to his leadership and remarkable impact on both the campus and surrounding communities. He led efforts ranging from the creation of new course offerings that more effectively align with local workforce development needs-to advancing entrepreneurism via LaunchBox - to construction of the new $13 Million state-of-the-art Allied Health building. Moreover, Mont Alto consistently exceeded its University capital campaign goals. But most importantly, Dr. A. has always been student focused and committed to ensuring that each PSUMA graduate had every opportunity to maximize their individual academic experience. He will be missed.” 

Dr. Achampong sees student success as another area of accomplishment. As a result of consistent, intentional student success efforts in the years leading up to the pandemic, the first-year retention rates of all demographic groups – Asian, African American, Latino/a, White, and International – were above 80%, with Asian and International student retention rates sometimes at 100%. The pandemic negatively impacted these gains, but the campus’ Student Success Committee is working to devise and implement strategies that will help regain momentum post-pandemic. Currently at 75.8%, the first-year retention rate at Mont Alto is the highest among the Commonwealth Campuses. Student athletes have also thrived at Penn State Mont Alto, both academically and athletically. The average GPA for all varsity teams for fall 2023 was 3.14 with 56 out of the 125 student-athletes on the dean’s list. The women’s volleyball team won two back-to-back Penn State University Athletic Conference (PSUAC) and United States Collegiate Athletic Conference (USCAA) championships in 2022 and 2023 and the women’s soccer team won the PSUAC championship in 2021 and 2022.

Acknowledging the growth in student mental health needs nationwide and the role good mental health plays in student success, the Mont Alto campus increased student mental health services capacity over the last decade to meet growing demand and in the fall of 2023 opened the Wellness House to serve students’ overall health needs more effectively. Additionally, Dr. Achampong meets with Student Government Association (SGA) leaders each month to talk about their concerns and ideas.

Enoch Ayanwale, immediate past chair of SGA said, "Dr. A and I met once a month to discuss Student Government developments and the state of the student body as a whole. In our meetings, I could see his genuine care for the student body and dedication to enhancing the campus experience for all students. He was always very committed to addressing student concerns and was extremely open-minded in all our discussions.

And Zach Albright, previous past chair of SGA added, “Dr. Achampong is an incredibly bright leader capable of eloquently commanding any space. Despite his packed schedule, Dr. A went out of his way to make time for students and genuinely addressed our concerns and input. He empowered and emboldened every individual student to lead valuable change on campus and across the Commonwealth while supporting the growth and success of every organization. Our monthly “Q&A with Dr. A” series reaffirms this sentiment and serves as a testimony to his support for all students. Dr. A’s retirement will undoubtedly leave major shoes to be filled by his successor, and I wish him the best in his future endeavors.” 

Regarding enrollments, Achampong is realistic but cautiously optimistic. “As is the case with many other institutions around the country, especially in the northeast and mid-west, the Great Recession, the pandemic, demographic challenges, concerns about affordability, and questions about the value of a college degree, have led to enrollment downturns and budgetary pressures,” said Achampong. “However, I am hopeful that new talent, ideas, and initiatives in enrollment management, as well as sheer persistence in innovatively tackling these challenges with campus redesign efforts, will result in being able to turn things around,” he concluded.

Dr. Achampong has served the University on multiple committees, including the Budget Planning Taskforce, Campus Academic Review Coordinating Committee (CARCC, a subgroup of the Core Council), Middle States Accreditation Committee, Faculty Rights and Responsibilities Committee, Standing Joint Committee on Tenure, University Access Committee, Facilities and Academic Units Naming Committee, the Commission on Adult Learners (CAL), and the Facilities Resources Committee. He has chaired the Academic Leadership Council (ALC), the Council of Commonwealth Chancellors (CCC), and CAL. Additionally, he has served the local community on the Southcentral Workforce Investment Board, Waynesboro Hospital board, the Montessori Academy board, Summit Health’s Finance Committee, and has volunteered as an adult Sunday school teacher in churches in Chambersburg and Waynesboro.

Dr. Stephen Carpenter II, Michael J. and Aimee Rusinko Kakos, Dean of the College of Arts and Architecture, who was ALC chair-elect when Dr. Achampong was chair, said “Penn State has been fortunate to have Francis Achampong among its leadership, and I wish him all the best on his retirement. I have enjoyed working with Francis in recent years through our roles with the Academic Leadership Council. I will cherish what I have learned from Francis about how to be a thoughtful and unselfish administrator, particularly during times of social and institutional change. His dedication to his family and his pride in their success is inspirational.”

Regarding diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, despite growing pushback in political circles, Dr. Achampong said, “We can and must do better in this increasingly complex space, but I am proud to have helped add to the diversity of the campus. I have hired a diverse cabinet with multiple women, an African American, and white males who are also members of the LGBTQ community.” He acknowledges that being a Chancellor at a campus in rural, conservative, southcentral Pennsylvania has had its challenges. However, he is grateful for the support of campus and community allies and University leaders during his tenure.

Margo DelliCarpini, vice president for Commonwealth Campuses and executive chancellor said, “Penn State Mont Alto has seen transformational change under Francis Achampong’s leadership. Francis’ steadfast commitment to improving the student experience, practicing the values of sustainability and engaging in the broader community has served to distinguish the college. He worked diligently to create a vibrant campus community where students can thrive in a caring, inclusive, and discovery-rich learning environment.”

When Achampong looks back on his career, which started as an assistant professor at Howard University, he is gratified by the great experiences he has had – students he has taught who are doing very well in their careers, great colleagues he has had the pleasure to work with, contributions he has made to scholarship in his field, faculty and staff he has hired and mentored as an administrator, and good people who have touched his life in a positive way.

Dr. Achampong is a strong believer in the power of education to improve lives and break down barriers. Having contracted polio at an early age while he was growing up in Ghana, he believes his own life is a testament to the power of education. He received his LL.B. degree with second class (upper division) honors from the University of Ghana (the equivalent of magna cum laude), his LL.M. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of London’s King’s College and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), respectively, and a second LL.M. from Georgetown University Law Center. Achampong received a certificate in Management and Leadership in Education from Harvard Graduate School of Education and is an American Council on Education (ACE) Fellow. He is a member of the New York and Virginia Bars and duly admitted and qualified as an attorney of the Supreme Court of the United States.

“One of my greatest personal points of pride is the fact that my three children, who were all under three years of age when I first arrived, are now Penn State graduates,” said Achampong. “One is in medical school at Georgetown, one is heading to Harvard Law School, and one is working as an architect with an architecture firm in Pittsburgh. I could not be prouder, especially considering the difficulty of balancing raising young children with holding demanding jobs. I am grateful for my family’s unwavering support during my time at Penn State.”

Bob Ziobroswki, longtime county commissioner and ex-officio member of the Penn Stata Mont Alto Advisory Board, shared, “Since Dr. Achampong was appointed Penn State-Mont Alto Chancellor in 2013, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with him as a member of the Mont Alto Campus Advisory Board. I’ve found Dr. Achampong to be visionary with respect to the campus and its future. His leadership in campus advancement, in academic achievement, fund-raising, and cultural diversity has been extraordinary. He has been an ambassador for Mont Alto throughout Franklin County – everyone knows ‘Dr. A.’ He will be missed – on campus – and I hope he will remain a presence in the community.”

Dr. Achampong says he is looking forward to being able to spend time in warmer places, including overseas, traveling, and reconnecting with friends and loved ones. He will not miss having to decide whether to open or close the campus during inclement weather.

His parting words to the Mont Alto campus and the University? “I am grateful and feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to work with so many talented people and to have positively impacted the lives of the students we serve. I wish Penn State Mont Alto and Penn State the absolute best.”