Highlights from Penn State's and IEE's beginnings to today

  • Penn State is founded.

    Originally chartered as "The Farmers' High School," Penn State has had an environmental focus from its beginning.

    The land that would eventually become Penn State's University Park campus is shown undeveloped.
  • Penn State is the first U.S. university to award baccalaureate degrees in agriculture.
    The very first graduating class at The Farmer's High School was very small, under the presidency of Evan Pugh. Thirteen graduates were awarded Baccalaureate degrees in Agriculture in 1861. This was a significant mark in academia because it produced the first baccalaureates at an American agriculture institute.
  • Penn State is the first U.S. university to award graduate degrees in agriculture.
  • The Jordan Soil Fertility Plots are the University’s first large-scale undertaking in scientific research to determine long-term effects of fertilizer on soil and crops.
    A man plows a field at the Jordan Soil Fertility Plots in the 1950's.
  • The Ag Experiment Station is established at Penn State following the passage of the Hatch Act, supporting agricultural research in the U.S.
    Agricultural Experiment Station at Penn State
  • The colleges of Engineering and Earth and Mineral Sciences are founded
  • Penn State begins conducting sponsored research to improve the refining process of crude oil.
    The Petroleum Refining Laboratory's barrel-a-day solvent plant, used to develop improved lubricating oils. At the foot of the heavy-water column are Donald Cryder (left), Merrill Fenske (right), and Harold Urey (below).


  • Penn State becomes the first U.S. university licensed to operate a nuclear reactor. The reactor became a training and research tool for peaceful applications of atomic energy.
    Penn State Nuclear Reactor 1955
  • Research on the concept of the Living Filter begins.

    Penn State researchers begin to investigate the land application of wastewater.


  • Institute for Research on Land and Water Resources is established.
  • Penn State begins recycling all of its treated wastewater effluent through a land application treatment system known as the Living Filter.
    Spray fields

    The Living Filter is an active example of the University’s long-standing commitment to sustainability.

  • Institute for Research on Land and Water Resources merges with Center for Air Environment Studies to form the Environmental Resources Research Institute.
  • Pennsylvania Spatial Data Access is created.
    PASDA aerial shot

    PASDA, Pennsylvania's official public access open geospatial data portal, is a cooperative project of the Governor's Office of Administration, Office for Information Technology, and IEE.

  • University Park Continuous Commissioning Program begins.
    old main repairs

    The University Park Continuous Commissioning Program focuses on the re-commissioning, retro-commissioning, and maintenance of campus buildings in order to reduce energy costs and optimize building performance.

  • Penn State Institutes of the Environment is established and begins co-funded faculty program with thirty environmental researchers.
  • Environmental Inquiry minor starts.

    The intercollege minor is designed for students across the disciplines who wish to prepare for addressing environmental issues or problems as professionals or citizens.

  • Colloquium on the Environment is created and begins bringing national environmental leaders to Penn State. The first speaker was Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
    Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
  • Penn State Institutes of the Environment adds energy to their charge and becomes Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment.

    Twenty-four additional cofunded faculty members focused on energy research join the institute.

  • Penn State starts the Green Teams program, groups of faculty, staff, and students who work to make their unit’s operations more sustainable.
  • Penn State launches a new standard for carpet purchasing, installation and removal program that would ensure 100% of Penn State carpet never sees a landfill.
  • Dudeks’ $2.5 Million Gift to benefit IEE, other units
  • Sustainability Institute Established
  • Penn State installs a solar array outside the main Office of Physical Plant facility to provide power to charge its 100% electric vehicles.
    installing opp solar panels
  • Science Communication Training Program is established.
  • Energy Days, a two-day conference focused on creating new partnerships to address key research needs and provide innovative solutions to energy challenges, is created.
    Energy Days crowd
  • Penn State steam plant switches completely from coal to natural gas.


  • Energy and Environmental Sustainability Laboratories are created.


  • Penn State signs an open letter to the international community that affirms the University’s support of the Paris Agreement to address climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale.
    Elms along Pugh walkway
  • Penn State Waste Stream Task Force convened

    The Penn State Waste Stream Task Force is convened and charged with creating responsible goals and principles to guide the University’s procurement, operational, and solid waste management decisions.

  • Penn State partners with United Nations Economic Commission for Europe to create Global Building Network, a project aimed at making buildings more sustainable, more energy-efficient, and healthier for people.
    Barron signing UNECE agreement
  • Penn State begins operation of a 2MW onsite solar array located at the University Park campus and starts a utility-scale solar project that will provide 25% of Penn State’s purchased electricity over the next 25 years.
    solar panel
  • Penn State partners with Project Drawdown to host Research to Action conference, the first international conference on the science of drawdown.
  • Penn State is ranked third in the U.S. and 35th in the world for sustainability in the Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings.


  • del Papas support IEE through estate gift
  • Energy and Environment Lab sculpture installed

    According to Talley Fisher (pictured on right), Senior Research Artist, the Energy and Environment Lab installation represents “the complex research IEE faculty and researchers are performing. Each theme reveals aspects of the research through patterns, materials, and symbology.”

    EEL sculpture artists pose in front of installation