STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Guion Bluford Jr. gushes when asked about his alma mater, Pennsylvania State University.
“I tell people all the time Penn State has been the launchpad for me,” said “Guy” Bluford, 77, a Philadelphia native.
That means a lot, especially coming from an astronaut.
On Friday, Penn State reciprocated the admiration, naming a university building after Bluford, the first African American to fly in space.
“When you think about people you want your students to meet, your faculty to meet … when you think about Penn State, this is the kind of person you want them to think about," said Justin Schwartz, the university’s dean of engineering.
The building dedication was approved Friday by the university’s board of trustees.
The building to be named for Bluford is one of several in the university’s Innovation Park that currently are known only by the numbers of their street address. Visible at the entrance to the park, it houses the center for innovative material processing, which deals with 3D printing.
University president Eric Barron had been encouraging university leaders to think about using unnamed buildings to represent the diversity of Penn State.
“This building naming is part of Penn State’s continuing efforts to recognize accomplishments of underrepresented people and to be more inclusive,” said spokesperson Lisa Powers. “We are honoring alumni who have had a positive impact at the university and across the nation/world.”
Last May, the school named a building for alumnus Warren Washington, an atmospheric scientist who won the 2009 National Medal of Science and was the second African American nationwide to earn a doctorate in meteorology in 1964.
» READ MORE: Astronaut gives kids a boost
Bluford, a graduate of Overbrook High School in Philadelphia who also has a school named for him, returns to Penn State once a year to speak to students. He also makes sure to take in a football game and a stop at the Creamery.
“A lot of my success is due to the fact I went to Penn State,” Bluford said.
Bluford graduated from Penn State in 1964 with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and then got his master’s and doctorate at the Air Force Institute of Technology, and an MBA from the University of Houston. He flew in 1983 on the first night launch and landing of the space shuttle.
“The view out the window is spectacular,” he said. “You could see the sunrise off the African coast. It was a very comfortable ride.”
He went on to fly three more shuttle missions, spending more than 680 hours in space.
Bluford, now retired and living in Cleveland with his wife, wasn’t at the board meeting, but the university plans to have a ceremony later in the year.
“I’m proud of what they are doing,” Bluford said. “I’m very honored by it.”