President Obama Asks for Penn State’s Help in “Winning the Future”
He was only on stage Thursday for 22 minutes, but that was plenty of time for Barack Obama to cover all the bases required for a president visiting Penn State.
Joe Paterno reference? Check. “I just met this guy,” Obama said shortly after he took the stage at Rec Hall,” I hadn’t heard of him before, but apparently he coaches your football team…”
Pointing out his own Penn State connection? Check. Obama mentioned Lt. Col. Sam Price ’95, an Air Force officer charged today with “carrying the football,” aka the nuclear launch codes the president keeps near at all times, just in case.
Giving the crowd a reason to cheer? Check. In fairness, Obama didn’t have to try all that hard to get the crowd on his side — based on his reception, the president (check our Facebook page for more photos) is still wildly popular with younger voters, who made up a sizable chunk of the 3,000 audience members in the Rec Hall stands. But the president made sure he connected with Penn Staters of all ages, and with current students in particular, by emphasizing far-reaching — and, in his words, vital — goals in his brief time at University Park.
“The reason I wanted to come here, to Penn State, is to talk about the long term,” Obama said. “The reason I wanted to talk to young people is about the future, and how we’re going to win it.”
That reference to “Winning the Future,” the theme of his State of the Union address, explained why the president came to Happy Valley on this cold but crystal-clear Thursday. With the announcement last fall of $159 million in federal and state grants for the Philadelphia Energy Innovation Hub, in which the University is the lead partner, the Obama administration see places like Penn State as key allies in its push for sustainability that, it says, will create jobs, protect resources, and keep the American economy globally competitive. Thursday’s visit only confirmed that outlook.
The Energy Innovation Hub is one of three such projects nationally receiving federal funding this year, something Obama referenced early on: “At Cal Tech, they’re developing ways to turn sunlight and water into fuel for cars. At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, they’re using super computers to find ways of getting much more power out of nuclear facilities. And right here at Penn State, a university whose motto is ‘Making Life Better,’ you’ve answered the call.”
The president chose Thursday to introduce a “Better Buildings Initiative,” a push which ties in with the Hub’s goal of improving building energy efficiency in the U.S. by 50 to 80 percent. While acknowledging that more energy efficient buildings “may not sound too sexy,” he referenced renovations at just one building — the Empire State Building — that its owners expect to save $4.4 million annually in energy costs. He said projects like the Philly Hub showed the government’s role in such progress is vital in encouraging innovation, curbing pollution, and, of course, spurring a healthy economy and the jobs that come with it.
As mentioned, the speech was quick, following what we’re told was a brief tour of campus engineering labs (we’re hoping to find out which ones, and we’ll let you know when we do) and, according to at least one Twitter feed, a brief spell heading east — i.e. the wrong way — on College Ave. (Presidential motorcades do set their own traffic rules.) All told, the president was only on the ground in State College for about two hours, but his stop was a great chance to show off the University for a national audience. (It was also cool to run into Ben Feller ’92, AP White House reporter, member of the traveling press corps, and subject of our May/June 2009 cover story.) Mostly, it was a nice reminder that, even in our out-of-the-way spot in rural central Pennsylvania, Penn State is still a destination that matters for the most important people on the planet.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
Entry filed under: Campus events, Joe Paterno, Penn State alumni, Penn State in the news, Penn State students, Penn Staters in the news media, Politics, The Penn Stater magazine, University Park campus. Tags: Barack Obama, Ben Feller, Better Building Initiative, Philadelphia Energy Innovation Hub, Rec Hall, Sam Price.