Penn State Scranton Chancellor Marwan Wafa retires after nine years of service

Chancellor wafa poses for a group photo at this year's commencement ceremony

Penn State Scranton Chancellor Marwan Wafa, second from left, poses for a photo at this year's campus commencement with Penn State Board of Trustees Vice Chair David M. Kleppinger, Penn State Scranton Advisory Board Chair Fred Powell, and Lackawanna County Commissioner Matthew McGloin, a Penn State alumnus and former Nittany Lions quarterback.

Credit: Penn State

DUNMORE, Pa. — After nine years of service, Chancellor Marwan Wafa will bid farewell to Penn State Scranton at the end of June.

Wafa, who assumed the role of chancellor in July 2015, leaves behind a campus significantly shaped by his vision and dedication.

“I decided to come to Penn State Scranton because of the people here and the leadership at University Park. I am a people person. I wanted to know the campus community and I wanted them to know me,” Wafa said. “I enjoyed the size of the campus that allowed for one-on-one interactions. I also enjoyed the fact that Penn State is one University and the ease and flexibility students have to enjoy here and throughout the commonwealth is unique.” 

Leadership and growth throughout the campus

During his leadership, Wafa spearheaded a pivotal rebranding effort, changing the campus’ name from Penn State Worthington Scranton to Penn State Scranton. This move not only enhanced the campus’ brand in the local Scranton and northeastern Pennsylvania region, but it also symbolized a new era of growth and identity for the campus.

Wafa also expanded Penn State Scranton’s academic offerings to 14 bachelor's degrees, adding programs in biology, corporate communication, mechanical engineering, and project and supply chain managment. Notably, his oversight led to the acquisition and conversion of the former Grainger industrial supply site into the campus’ new Engineering Building, which houses the engineering program’s labs, faculty offices and classrooms, as well as the Center for Business Development and Community Outreach and Police Services.

There also have been a number of capital improvement projects across campus, including renovations to the Dawson Building that created modern office areas for Admissions, the Bursar, Registrar, Strategic Communications and Business Services on the ground floor; a new IT lab and IT office spaces, art studio, HDFS Suite, and Development Suite on the first floor; and a new music space and academic program spaces for psychology, biology and science classes on the second floor.

The Study Learning Center also underwent major renovations that created a new Student Services and Engagement Suite, an expanded game room for students, an office space for the campus’ Student Government Association (SGA), as well as a complete renovation to the Sherbine Lounge — a popular place for small events and a comfortable place for students to meet and study. He also spearheaded upgrades for the campus’ Athletics Department, including a new floor and improvements for the Multi-Purpose Building (gymnasium) and multi-purpose tennis courts.

Wafa also championed the recently completed multimillion-dollar Library and Nursing Suite renovation, which has expanded nursing labs and facilities, as well as added more modern and collaborative spaces for the Campus Library. He prioritized many campus beautification projects, including a new patio and plantings, a new home for the campus’ Lion Shrine, and displaying student artwork on the walls of several campus buildings. 

In addition to these degree program and capital improvement initiatives, Wafa prioritized the development of the campus' art and music programs, recognizing that creative and artistic offerings have the ability to unite people and enrich the cultural fabric of the community. To that end, he worked with Art Honors Program Coordinator and Lecturer in Art Corianne Thompson to create an Art Studio, complete with display space and a pottery kiln, in the Dawson Building, and an artistic exhibition component was added to the campus’ annual Undergraduate Research Fair and Exhibition to showcase student artwork. He also encouraged Thompson and her students to display their paintings, drawings and sculptures around campus, so the entire campus community could enjoy them. And, each year, he displays student artwork in his office and receiving area as well.

Wafa credits his personal passion for music and love of the arts to his mother, who still enjoys painting today, in her late 80s, and his lifelong admiration for cars — in which he sees and appreciates not only the technical aspects, but also the beauty, of the design of the components. This passion and appreciation is what he said fueled his support for these initiatives that brought together students, staff, faculty, alumni and community members in celebration of the arts over the past several years.

“Personally, I love music. When I attended the first campus concert, I was standing next to a wall because it was so packed, and I watched everyone love the performance,” Wafa recalled. “I admire and appreciate [Associate Teaching Professor of Music] Sharon Toman’s commitment to the music program — from getting students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members involved to organizing annual concerts. It is a wonderful aspect of what Penn State Scranton offers and being able to share those talents with the community.”

Wafa’s welcoming legacy lives on

Out of all the transformations Wafa spearheaded during his tenure, perhaps none have left as lasting an impact as his unwavering commitment to fostering a welcoming and inclusive campus culture, which has left an indelible mark on Penn State Scranton and the local community. He prioritized creating an environment where all members of the campus community felt valued and supported. Through his open-door policy and approachable demeanor, Wafa set the tone for inclusivity and collaboration, ensuring that students, faculty, staff and visitors alike felt welcome.

His wife, Sahar al-Masri, also got involved early in his tenure, working with him to get the campus’ Diversity Circles program up and running, and training faculty and staff to help run the five-week sessions that aim to bring individuals from diverse backgrounds and experiences together to learn from one another and become agents of inclusion and acceptance in their communities.

Reflecting on his time at Penn State Scranton, Wafa said one of the things he is most proud of is his deep dedication to engaging with students on a personal level and his personal commitment to “servant leadership” — a leadership style that prioritizes growth, well-being and empowerment of those you are leading.

“When I was an undergraduate, and even a graduate student, I never knew who the dean, president, or even sometimes, who the department chair was,” Wafa said. “I made it a point when I came to Penn State Scranton for students to be able to connect with me. I wanted to lead by example. Students need a leader to look up to. It’s humbling for me to do what I do because I enjoy watching our campus community grow and succeed.”

Wafa made it his mission to be a visible presence on campus, someone students could look up to and confide in.

This dedication to the concept of servant leadership and one-on-one interaction earned him praise from students like Gavan Quimby, the current president of the campus’ Student Government Association, who noted Wafa's unwavering support for student initiatives.

“During my time with SGA this year, Dr. Wafa was nothing but supportive for everything the association has, and had been, advocating for. The Student Government Association is nothing but grateful for all that Dr. Wafa has provided for the student body, as well as the campus as a whole, for the last nine years,” Quimby said. “I don't see with him retiring that he's going to lose that passion he's had for the commonwealth.”

Alumnus Justin Dorneman, who earned a degree in corporate communication this year, highlighted Wafa's kindness and accessibility, which made student leadership roles more rewarding.

“During my time at Penn State Scranton, I served as a student leader in several campus organizations, including our Student Government Association. Dr. Wafa’s continued kind, caring and welcoming personality made our jobs as student leaders easier and more rewarding,” Dorneman said. “From honor society events to open houses and regular weekly campus events, Dr. Wafa was a regular, welcoming member of any crowd. His legacy as a champion of Penn State Scranton and its students is forever cemented. It was an honor to be able to work alongside Dr. Wafa, and I wish him nothing but the best in the next chapter of his life.”

Dave Lucas, who served as president of the Penn State Scranton Alumni Society for the past four years, and his wife, Michele, also worked closely with Wafa.

“Dr. Wafa truly cares about the students and gets to know them personally. He is more than a chancellor in an administrative role,” Lucas said. “He became a friend while I served as Penn State Scranton Alumni Society president, and I can say wholeheartedly that his presence on campus will be missed. He always strived to make our campus part of the community.”

Fred Powell, chair of the campus' advisory board, also lauded Wafa's leadership and highlighted his open-door policy and commitment to student success.

“Dr. Wafa created an open forum for me and for the board, creating a team that not just goes to meetings, but participates for the betterment of the campus,” Powell said.

Powell further noted Wafa's passion for showcasing student accomplishments and his efforts to strengthen ties between the advisory board and the campus community.

“His focus on diversity, equity and inclusion and, in particular, involving the community at large in the Diversity Circles program, created a stronger connection with Penn State Scranton and the community it serves,” Powell said.

Reflecting on Wafa's departure, Powell expressed gratitude for his dedication and friendship, emphasizing the positive impact Wafa had on the campus and its students.

“Without a doubt, Penn State Scranton will miss Dr. Wafa. He always had the campus’ and students’ best interests in mind and worked diligently to enhance the Penn State experience. He made it a point to know the students and supported the staff and faculty,” Powell said. “He put his heart into the campus and that was evident with every interaction. I will miss working with Marwan and I wish him the very best of luck and thank him for his leadership and friendship.”

Making his mark in the community

Wafa's commitment to community engagement extended beyond the campus borders, as he sought to position Penn State Scranton as a vital partner in the local community. Through strategic collaborations with businesses, organizations and civic leaders, he worked to advance economic development and social progress in the region, embodying the University's role as a land-grant institution.

Wafa made it a priority to engage with local business and community leaders and increase collaborative efforts between these regional organizations and the campus. In addition to serving on local boards, including the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce and Geisinger Community Medical Center, he also has worked to position Penn State Scranton as a leader in community and economic development through collaborations and involvement with Ben Franklin Technology Partners, the NEPA Alliance, Scranton Tomorrow, Lackawanna Pro Bono and others. 

“As a land-grant institution, being an engaged University within the local community is an important aspect of what we have to do,” Wafa said. “My goal was to help faculty bring students to connect with the community they come from and give them real-world opportunities to learn and grow. Applied research is conducive, and it not only benefits our students and communities but also enriches our faculty.”

Looking to the future  

As he embarks on the next chapter of his journey, Wafa remains committed to the region he has called home for nearly a decade. While his retirement marks the end of an era at Penn State Scranton, his legacy of service and dedication will continue to inspire generations of its students and faculty.  

"I love this area and I plan to stay here for a while," Wafa said. "I am grateful for the opportunity to have served as chancellor, and I now look forward to spending more time with my family."