The mission of the O’Pake Institute is to foster and promote ethical leadership and public service, both at Alvernia University and in the broader community. The Institute is envisioned as a catalyst for creating strategic community partnerships, supporting the broader community in developing leadership capacity and promoting dialogue on important civic issues and fostering public engagement. The ambition is that the Institute will establish Alvernia as a leader in community-based learning and research. In addition, the Institute will promote the inclusion of concepts such as leadership, ethics, civic engagement, dialogue, social entrepreneurship and public service into the curriculum and co-curriculum of the university.
The concept of “centers” at Alvernia emerged as a result of campus discussions and meetings with local community leaders during late 2005 and early 2006. In President Flynn’s inaugural address in April 2006, he announced that Alvernia would develop two centers: the Center for Community Engagement and the Center for Ethics and Leadership. In 2007 the Center for Ethics and Leadership was created. During the period from its founding into 2011, the center was headed first by Theology Professor Gerald Vigna and then by Biology Professor Spencer Stober. In late 2010, Alvernia Trustee State Senator Michael O’Pake died leaving a generous bequest to the university. That bequest was endowed to support the center, which was renamed in Senator O’Pake’s honor as the O’Pake Institute for Ethhics, Leadership and Public Service. The scope of the institute was expanded to include a focus on public service and public policy and its orientation was adjusted to include an additional emphasis on the broader community outside of Alvernia. In 2012, R. David Myers was appointed the founding Director of the Institute.
While the institute is still in its nascent stages and is still developing a strategic plan, three areas of interest have emerged. The first is the concept of scholarship in action. Alvernia has long been committed to the idea the purpose of the university is to create “broadly educated, life-long learners; reflective professionals and engaged citizens; and ethical leaders with moral courage.” But it also has expressed its to be engaged with broader community, using its talent and resources to improve the overall health and well-being of the community. The university, its faculty staff and students can learn from the community; and the community can benefit from the involvement of the university.
The second area of interest is promoting public conversation and dialogue. The Institute can be an agent for encouraging discussion about and reflection on issues that are important to the campus and the community. Often these issues are both complex and controversial. Many times they require an understanding of other cultures and the broader context. The institute can use innovative ways to highlight these issues, such as using feature movies to spark discussion about important issues. And the institute can help both the campus and the community develop ways to talk about and resolve these problems.
The third focus of the institute is educational empowerment. Helping to provide leadership training for non-profit leasders. Sponsoring seminars on ethical issues in health care. Creating a leadership academy for high school students. All of these fall within the mission of the institute to help develop moral leaders.