From the President's Desk: If They Could See Us Now!

Mar 27, 2018 11:30 AM


April 9 is very special to Frostburg State University. On that day in 1898, the funding for Maryland State Normal School No. 2 was approved. For the 120th anniversary of that landmark date, we have scheduled an event our founders would scarcely have believed. Our alumnus, astronaut Ricky Arnold ’85 will be speaking to FSU education majors and regional middle school students live on this April 9 from the International Space Station. Quite a leap in 120 years!

As we mark our 120th anniversary this spring, I looked back into the history of the school’s origins. Legislation was introduced in January 1898 to create State Normal School No. 2 (the original Normal School is today’s Towson University). Our printed history shows few details about the months of February and March of that year, except that the legislation never received the necessary third reading in the General Assembly.

My curiosity about those “unknown” months of February and March 1898 led me to read the weekly issues of the Frostburg Mining Journal. The four-page weekly came out every Saturday, and every issue mentioned the ongoing struggle for State Normal School No. 2. There were two struggles really. One battle was whether we needed a second normal school. According to some, Baltimore had a normal school, so why build a second one? The second battle was more regional: Where should the school locate in Western Maryland?

The “contest” between Cumberland and Frostburg as to which was the better location became a bit nasty. A focus, at least from the Journal’s reports, was the quality – or lack thereof – of the water in each location and its potential effect on the safety and health of students. Legislation was introduced to put the school in Oakland as well. So, the region was sold on the idea of a normal school in Western Maryland, but not its location! These conflicts probably explain why there was no third reading of the legislation.

But the first week of April 1898 was a busy one. When the state appropriations bill was introduced on April 1, an amendment to fund Normal School No. 2 was added. This resulted in the funding to create State Normal School No. 2 being signed into law on April 9, 1898 by Gov. Lloyd Lowndes, who incidentally was from Cumberland. 

However, the school wasn’t fully funded by the appropriations bill. Citizens in Western Maryland, many of them coal miners, early on contributed financially to make the school a reality. Those contributions kept coming even later, in a variety of ways. For example, the citizens of Brownsville lost their community to campus expansion.

Fast forward to today! Imagine telling a miner from 1898 that in 120 years, one of the Normal School graduates – and a former teacher – would be circling the earth on a space station and would talk with students from space to campus. (I started to use the word “broadcast” but realized that air flight was still a decade away and broadcasting was farther away still!) We will have more than 1,000 middle school students from Allegany and Garrett counties and West Virginia here to hear from our educator astronaut, so the Frostburg-Cumberland-Oakland battle is over, I am proud to say. Frostburg State University is truly a regional public university. We are here to serve the citizens of Maryland, and importantly, the citizens of Western Maryland.

I can’t think of a better 120th birthday party on April 9 than for FSU to hear from one of its alums from space! I suspect this is a first for a university to celebrate a milestone with one of its alums circling the globe. Enjoy the broadcast on Monday, April 9 (view it at, and wear your FSU garb proudly on our birthday! We’ll be serving birthday cake to more than 1,000 sixth- and seventh-graders and getting them ready to be FSU students in a few years!


Ron Nowaczyk, President

Frostburg State University