Celebrating 20 Years as Arcadia University

By Caitlin T. Burns | July 16, 2021

“Our resident assistant (RA) told us that we needed to meet in the chat—now room 107 in the Dining Hall—at midnight,” Assistant Dean of Student Success Bre Donnelly ’04 recalls about the night of Nov. 20, 2000. “It had long been rumored that there was going to be a name change. It was a very unique experience, and it was cool to be one of the people who was there and to know what that kind of experience was on both sides of that day.”


Our beloved institution celebrates a 20-year anniversary as Arcadia University on July 16 this year. The name Arcadia was selected to better describe the vibrant and respected institution the campus had grown into, and to represent the distinguished tradition of academic excellence. In total, the institution has had four names in its 168-year history (view video): Beaver Female Seminary, Beaver College and Musical Institute, Beaver College, and Arcadia University.

Arcadia was a picturesque region in ancient Greece, a birthplace of modern thought and learning where philosophers pursued independent thought and inquiry. Dr. Joan Thompson, associate professor of Political Science, submitted Arcadia during the open call for names.

Requirements for the name included that it must: 

  • Embody the emotions and images of the campus community; 
  • Be clear, distinct, unique, and brief; 
  • Not be limited by geographic, religious, or curriculum limitations; and
  • Be a name with easy marketability that was at the beginning of the alphabet.

“They solicited everyone—students, faculty, staff, trustees—to submit their choices for a new name,” said Dr. Chester Mikulski, professor of Chemistry and Physics who joined the faculty in 1976. He remembers sitting with then-President Dr. Bette E. Landman ’04H (now President Emerita) and trustee Dr. Ellington Beavers ’93H on stage during the ceremony. “New millennium, new century, new decade—let’s start with a new name.”

After the Board of Trustees voted in June 2000 to pursue university status, Beaver College was required to submit an extensive report to the State Department of Education, detailing the institution’s academic programs. A state-appointed team of evaluators reviewed the application and visited campus in September 2000 to interview key administrators. The application was then placed in a state bulletin for 30 days so others could have an opportunity to contest the request. At the end of the 30-day period, the Secretary of Education approved Beaver College’s request to rename the institution Arcadia University.

Arcadia University field hockey athletes help first-year students move into the residence halls in 2002.
Arcadia University field hockey athletes help first-year students move into the residence halls in 2002.

“I was one of the University’s first employees,” joked Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Management Collene Pernicello, who joined the Arcadia community on July 16, 2001. Hired as an Enrollment Management Counselor, Pernicello recalls updating the marketing materials for fairs and open houses from Beaver College to Arcadia University.  “I remember being so nervous coming to work that first day, and there was a buzz of excitement on campus because it was name change day.”

The name change was celebrated not only on campus but off, including questions on Jeopardy and in Trivial Pursuit. In Philadelphia, the announcement was featured across the PECO building skylights (time-lapse photo above, by Edward Savaria Jr.).

Staff at the international centers worked diligently to coordinate the name change around the world. Jane Gunn Lewis, now resident director of Australia and New Zealand programs, had just been hired in April 2001; one of her first tasks was to travel around New Zealand and familiarize partner institutions with the name change.

“[We were] on a ‘familiarization trip’ around the three New Zealand universities we were planning to bring students to the following year,” said Gunn Lewis. “Beaver College had a huge reputation in New Zealand institutions for study abroad, and the universities were excited to meet with us. We were told by our colleagues in Glenside to ask about provisions for students with disabilities and to explain the upcoming name change from Beaver to Arcadia.”

In the 20 years since the name change, the University has made tremendous strides in academic, extracurricular, and global programs and initiatives. Arcadia remains among the top regional universities in The Princeton Review and U.S. News and World Report. In addition, U.S. News ranks the University’s study abroad programs fourth in the nation, while the Institute of International Education ranks Arcadia University #1 in the nation for undergraduate student studying abroad participation.

Since 2001, campus expansion has continued, including renovations to Landman Library, the Dining Hall Complex, Boyer Hall, and the University Commons. Arcadia now offers 26 varsity sports with the recent additions of esports, ice hockey (to launch fall 2021), and track and field.

Today, Arcadia University is renowned for academic excellence, social justice, and social impact and innovation around the world. President Ajay Nair, inaugurated as the institution’s 22nd president in 2018, has advanced the University’s efforts with justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion at the core of its mission and vision. As Arcadia looks forward to its next 20 years, the University continues to honor its legacy while advancing boldly toward its future state.

“Today, we continue to dream as big as those who had the vision in the 19th and 20th centuries of the value of education, the importance of our institution, and what it—and we—could be,” said President Nair in his message to the University community. “We must also remember that our actions each day not only contribute to this history, but also shape it.”