Nicholas Rowland named distinguished professor at Penn State Altoona

Nicholas Rowland and Ron Darbeau

Nicholas Rowland, left, professor of sociology at Penn State Altoona, has been conferred the status of distinguished professor, the highest professorial merit at the University. Rowland was informed of the conferring by Penn State Altoona Chancellor Ron Darbeau.

Credit: Penn State

ALTOONA, Pa. — Nicholas Rowland, professor of sociology at Penn State Altoona, has been conferred the status of distinguished professor, the highest professorial merit at the University.

“Naturally, it is an honor to be named among Penn State’s distinguished professors,” Rowland said. “I feel permanently humbled by the news and am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve our college and the broader University community.”

Rowland earned his undergraduate degree in sociology from St. John’s University in his home state of Minnesota. He obtained his master’s degree and doctorate, both in sociology, at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, before joining the Penn State Altoona faculty in 2007.

Rowland said the accomplishment of which he is most proud is founding the Integrated Social Science Research Lab (ISSRL) at the college. The ISSRL is an undergraduate research lab that gives Penn State Altoona students the opportunity to engage in high-impact practices like designing research, collecting data, writing manuscripts and presenting their work in professional settings. Largely based on his work with lab students, Rowland was awarded Penn State Altoona’s Long Award for Faculty Excellence and the University’s Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching.

“It is the teaching and the mentoring that I love the most,” Rowland reflected. “In my time as a teacher, I can say, without hesitation, that few things that motivate me more than seeing that spark of curiosity in the eye of a first-year student in an introductory course. The only thing that comes close is seeing the culmination of all that curiosity in an advanced student, after years of training, as they confidently present their research posters at our local Penn State research fairs as well as other academic conferences around the state and nation.”

During his 15 years at Penn State Altoona, Rowland has served the institution in several leadership capacities. He was most recently elected to the Penn State Board of Trustees as the University’s “Academic Trustee.” Prior to that, he served as the chair of the University Faculty Senate during the outbreak of COVID-19. He has been the chair of the Advisory Committee to the President and served as co-chair of the Commonwealth Caucus of the University Faculty Senate.

Rowland has co-authored more than 50 manuscripts, mentored more than 100 undergraduate researchers at Penn State Altoona and delivered research presentations in more than a dozen countries. His recent research as a sociologist focuses on the future. He studies the process by which “the future” is created, for example, when organizations engage in strategic planning and must make tough predictions about the future. His research has been published in highly regarded journals such as Long Range Planning and Technological Forecasting and Social Change.

The title of distinguished professor, established by the Office of the President, recognizes the academic contributions of current full-time faculty members who hold the rank of professor. Distinguished professors are acknowledged leaders in their fields of research or creative activity; demonstrate significant leadership in raising the University's standards in teaching, research or creative activity and service; and exhibit excellent teaching skills.

“I couldn’t have done any of this if it were not for my supportive partner, Dr. Marcy Rowland. She’s the first person I told," Rowland said. "The second was my former student who is now my colleague here at Penn State Altoona, Dr. Nathan Kruis. He was once in the ISSRL and now, all these years later, we co-run it. Things like that make Penn State Altoona a really special place to me.”

Rowland is the fifth faculty member at Penn State Altoona to receive this honor. Grant Risha was named distinguished professor in 2023. Rebecca Strzelec was named distinguished professor of visual arts in 2019. Brian Black was named distinguished professor of history and environmental studies in 2017, and Sandra Petrulionis was named distinguished professor of English and American studies in 2014.