Beyond the Books

They came from across Pennsylvania and from as far away as Wyoming, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and California to pay tribute to a professor who made a difference in their lives, a man who had gone beyond the books.

Thayla and Edward Coleman

Thayla and Edward Coleman

About sixty people gathered at IUP last summer to honor retired chemistry professor Edward Coleman and his wife, Thalya, who spent fifteen years nurturing two housefuls of IUP students. 

It was Coleman’s vision that students who might normally choose a small Christian college would seek their callings in a variety of professions, some of which required coursework not found at those schools. He felt if he could offer a supportive environment that also encouraged spiritual growth, students would be more comfortable choosing a larger school like IUP with the kind of education they needed to prepare for their professions.

The Colemans provided a house for boys and a house for girls. The girls’ house had a housemother. They rented the bedrooms for the least amount possible, just enough to cover expenses. They did many of the repairs themselves to keep the costs down and did not take any profit while the students lived there.

“It definitely instilled in me how important my father thought education was,” said Amy Coleman ’90, one of the couple’s daughters and a former accounting major. “He wanted people to succeed as much as they could.”

Coleman and his wife made numerous trips to the airport and opened their home to visiting parents. They held picnics, Sunday dinners, tours of the campus, and graduation parties for the students they housed through what they named the Professional Studies Institute. They chauffeured the students to cultural events in Pittsburgh, took them camping, and made a few river rafting trips at Ohiopyle. Edward Coleman started Laurel Highlands River Tours, one of the first rafting companies in that area.

The Colemans also began offering scholarships about ten years ago and have increased the scholarship funds since 1996, when Edward Coleman retired and they stopped housing students. “I had the privilege of touching many lives, indirectly as well as directly,” Edward Coleman said. “When you see the end product, it’s a privilege to be a part of it. The rewards are much greater than the labors.” Thalya Coleman added, “We got more back than we put in, just in the fellowship with the students, sharing their joys, and watching them get their educations.”

One of the students Edward Coleman helped, Kimberly Neuenswander ’95, wanted to do something to express her appreciation and knew Coleman had always wanted to have a reunion.

“I thought it was really important for him to know the impact he’d made on us,” said Neuenswander, who was a child development/family relations major at IUP and went on to earn a master’s degree in counseling. “They are a very, very giving couple. This was basically his dream—to make a difference in the lives of young people.” The program run by the Colemans, which alumni refer to as PSI, was one of the main reasons Neuenswander, who came from outside Pennsylvania, chose IUP.

Mary Moore ’91, assistant director of Alumni Affairs, helped Neuenswander organize the reunion. “One thing that amazed me was that there were so many doctors and professionals in the medical field,” she said. Among the other professions represented at the reunion were counselors, teachers, and a lawyer. Many students had earned graduate degrees. “They all seemed very driven to excel in their careers and make an impact through their professions,” Moore said.

Lance Shuey ’96, a Natural Sciences major in PSI who went on to earn a doctorate in physical therapy, said, “We got a really good education from IUP, and the science department is top notch.” While at IUP, he met his wife, Susanna Cyphers Shuey ’96, who was a biology major also in PSI. The Shueys are one of about eight married couples who met through PSI.

Susanna Shuey, who now has a master’s degree in public health and is taking classes to become a physician assistant, said the Colemans’ institute was one of the main reasons she chose IUP. “They were kind of like our guardian angels,” she said, and her husband added, “They were kind of like parents away from home.”