Virtual Concert Commemorates Unusual Year

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

virtual concert commemmorates unusual year

Penn State Behrend choir students weren’t able to gather in person at all this academic year, but they were still able to raise their voices to make beautiful music, culminating in  a year-end virtual concert, now on YouTube at  

Dr. Gabrielle Dietrich, director of choral ensembles and associate teaching professor of music, said that about twenty choir students continued singing through the pandemic, which meant learning how to use the online recording platform, Soundtrap, to record their parts.

“We used group Zooms during our normal rehearsal times to learn sections of each piece, then used one-person breakout rooms (we called them ‘recording booths’) to individually record what we’d learned in rehearsal,” Dietrich said. “Then, the next time we met for class, we’d listen to the edited recordings to talk about what went well and what we’d like to improve for next time.”

“It was slow going” she said, “but students reported that they liked getting feedback on their performance and having the recordings to reflect on as they worked to improve.” 

COVID-19 safety precautions made in-person sessions impractical, since everyone would have to have been masked and spaced nine feet apart and in a single line. Additional requirements would have made gathering to sing together nearly impossible, so the choir worked together virtually.

“It was hard not to be together in person, but it was a relief to know we were keeping one another safe and still making music,” Dietrich said.

The virtual concert represents the final project for choir students, just as an in-person concert would in a normal year.

“The nice thing about having it on YouTube is that anyone can watch it from anywhere whenever they have time, so students can ‘invite’ family and friends from around the world,” Dietrich said.

Another benefit? Guest performers.

“We had help from a Behrend Choir alumnus, Taylor May, and two guest performers from my own musical community: flutist Emma Shubin, who teaches music in the Denver area, and guest bass Dr. Edward Cetto, who was my college choir director and musical mentor,” Dietrich said.  

Among the pieces performed is a rendition of the theme song for the 2014 film Selma, recorded by Common and Legend, Make Them Hear You from the musical “Ragtime,” and Halloran/Bolk’s arrangement of Witness.

“This concert has been quite the labor of love, which is reflected in the themes of the pieces in the concert, Dietrich said. “It’s about love between individuals, love for a world that is learning hard truths, love for what we have lost, and love for what we still have and for what is possible in our future.”

Watch the entire concert here



Disc Golf Course Doubled to 18 Holes

By Heather Cass, publications manager, Penn State Behrend

Five years after the college’s first 9-hole disc golf course opened, one thing was certain: It was a popular addition to the Penn State Behrend campus. Rare is the rain-free day when you don’t see players tossing discs toward their targets, medieval looking chain-link baskets on metal poles, that snake through campus.

Now, players will have even more targets to hit as the course was recently expanded to 18 holes. See the new course map here.

Brian Streeter, senior director of athletics, ordered the new targets last fall but they arrived too late to install in 2020, so Athletics staff took the extra time to design the expanded course – reworking some of the original nine holes and creating nine new ones with input from members of the Erie Disc Golf club.


New tees are temporarily marked with flags. Signage will be installed when the course is finalized.

The new holes opened April 1 and expanded play from the west side of Jordan road to the east side of the road. Streeter said the course is a work in progress.

“We’re still tweaking it,” he said. “We discovered some things that weren’t working, like a hole that was too close to Junker Center, which resulted in players trying to throw over the building, and we are listening to feedback from players.”

Additionally, construction now underway on Federal House near Junker Center required some planned holes to be placed in a temporary location.

Once the course is finalized, Streeter said that the plan is  to put up permanent signage, including a full course map and signs at each tee. For now, the new hole tees are marked with orange flags. Maps are available at hole no. 1, near the tennis courts.


Pick up a course map at hole No. 1 in front of the tennis courts.

Student legacy

The original 9-hole course was a student-driven project, initiated by Kyle Stephan ’14, a former SGA president, who got the ball rolling discs flying. Stephan was joined by then students, Trey Neveux, Mark Malecky, Steve Lester, and Tyler Ferraino, now 2016 graduates, who together designed the course, located equipment, and secured funds. Even as they finished the original course, the team hoped it might be expanded one day.

“I’ve talked to all the members on the original board of the club, and we’re all extremely happy the course was expanded to make it a full 18 holes,” said Neveux, who is now a launch engineer at Space X in Los Angeles. “I’m excited that the new course takes players into less explored parts of campus on the east side of Jordan Road. I’m looking forward to playing the expanded course and have already talked to friends and former professors about playing a round next time I’m in Erie.”


Former students Tyler Ferraino and Trey Neveux, both 2016 graduates, are two of several students who developed the original 9-hole disc course. File photo from 2015. 

Disc Golf 101


basic disc golf set contains three discs—a driver, a mid-range disc, and a putter. Just as with golf, the driver is used for long drives from tee, the mid-range disc is used for shorter distances, and the putter is used when a player is close to a target.

Several sets of discs are available for students to borrow for free at the registration desk at Junker Center, or players can pick up sets of their own at most retailers or online for less than $30.

How to play/rules

Standing at the tee, a player throws the driver disc toward the basket. Players — typically in groups of two to four — take turns throwing their discs with the one whose disc lands the farthest from the basket going first (as with golf).

One point (stroke) is counted each time the disc is thrown and when a penalty is incurred. The goal is to play each hole in the fewest strokes possible. A disc that comes to rest in the basket or chains marks successful completion of that hole. The player with the lowest total strokes for the entire course wins.

Most of the holes on Behrend’s course are a par 3, but there are also some par 4 and 5. Map here.

Learn more about how to play disc golf here.

Visitor parking, course notes

  • Visitors may play for free anytime the course is available. Users are encouraged to park in the overflow lot on the south side of Jordan Road on Old Station Road, which is the closest lot to start and finish of the 18-hole course. A visitor parking pass can be obtained from Police Services. In current times, players are asked to wear masks and stay socially distanced from other teams.
  • Note that, at times, some holes may be closed for safety reasons when an athletics event, such as a baseball or softball game, is underway nearby.
  • Penn State students, faculty and staff members may borrow a set of three discs (driver, mid-range, putter) at the Junker Center registration desk with their Penn State ID.

RELATED: Check out this post from the Behrend Blog archives about the original 9-hole disc golf course at Behrend.

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Don’t toss it, pickle it!

LEAFS Club to host Creative Food Preservation workshop with Behrend’s head chef

By Heather Cass, Publications Manger, Penn State Behrend

According to the Food and Drug Administration, 30 to 40 percent of food in the United States is wasted. That figure is particularly hard to swallow given that an estimated 35 million people in our country experience hunger every year.

“This means that the food isn’t being consumed or even turned into compost, but instead ends up in our landfills,” said Pearl Patterson, a senior Psychology major and president of the Leaders in Education and Action in Food Systems (LEAFS) Club. “While much of the change needed to develop sustainable food systems must come at the policy-making and law-making levels, being able to reduce waste in our own homes is absolutely of importance and can make an enormous difference.”

To help area individuals learn how to safely extend the life of their food, the CLUB is hosting a webinar on Creative Food Presentation Wednesday, April 7, at 6:00 p.m. with Penn State Behrend’s Chef Kyle Coverdale.

“Creative food preservation means using techniques that are traditionally used for preserving food, like pickling, while transforming the food into something new,” Patterson said. “For example, Chef Kyle will be demonstrating a very flexible pesto recipe.”

Making pesto is a great way to preserve leafy greens, such as cilantro, kale, or chard, which can spoil quickly in their original form. Once they are made into pesto, however, the greens will last much longer and can even be frozen for later use.

During the session, participants will also learn about different pickling methods and how to make sauerkraut and ricotta. Participants can buy the ingredients and cook right along with Chef Kyle from their own kitchens or watch and try it on their own later.

To register for the event and get a Zoom link and list of ingredients, email Patterson at

Creative Food Preservation (002)

Eight ways to enjoy a spring day at Behrend

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

Spring has finally sprung and it looks like we will be enjoying some warm and sunny weather all week! Here are eight great ways to get outdoors and make the most of a beautiful spring day at Penn State Behrend.

*** Don’t forget to mask up; masks are still required at all times on campus, even outdoors. Photos below were taken prior to January 2020 or were taken with high social distancing measures in place. ***

disc golf

Play a round of disc golf. Penn State Behrend is home to a 9-hole disc golf course that starts in front of the tennis courts. Students, faculty, and staff can borrow discs for free at the Junker Center. Just ask the student worker at either entrance desks. Never played? It’s not hard to learn. For instructions, check out this story or this how-to video.

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Have a picnic. If there is no event going on (and there aren’t many right now), Wilson Picnic Grove, adjacent to the Wilson Lot, is available for use by the Behrend community. It’s open air and big enough to allow for social distancing.


Go to the gorge. Wintergreen Gorge on the edge of campus has winding wooded paths, gorgeous vista views and, if you walk down far enough, a babbling creek to wade in or skip rocks. There’s no better place to enjoy a spring day than in the gorge. Access it from trailheads behind Trippe Hall or in the back corner of the Prischak Lot.

Bayfront Connector Trail (1)_Tagged

Take a walk or run. The paved Bayfront Connector Trail starts at the corner of the Erie Lot and runs all the way to Erie’s bayfront (about 8 miles). The path meanders along the Bayfront Connector through fields, marshy areas, woods, and more. For more details, see this story. Need a 5K route? Check out this story from the archives.

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Play some games. Behrend has outdoor ping-pong tables (in front of Reed, behind Trippe) and a permanent cornhole game (behind Reed) as well as cornhole boards that you can check out and set up anywhere. You can borrow equipment for any of these games at the Reed Union Building desk with a University ID. They also have other lawn games, including giant Jenga and hula hoops, as well as checkers and chess pieces for the tables in front of Reed.

hanging out2

Read/study outside. Big test or paper coming up? Find a spot to work outdoors. There are tables outside most buildings and in the Wilson Picnic Grove, or you can just hang a hammock or spread out a blanket under your favorite tree. Behrend has plenty to choose from.

Erie sign

Hitch a ride to the bayfront. If you have a car, hop on the Bayfront Connector and take a walk along Erie’s bayfront. Park at the Blasco Library or near Dobbin’s Landing and take the bayfront trail along the waterfront. Cross the Bayfront Highway at the light at Liberty Park and take the ramp/walkway to Second Street to walk along the bluffs and take a photo at the new Erie sign. (About a 3-mile/1-hour walk). Just follow the bluffs/trail back down to State Street to return to your car. Don’t forget, you can take a city bus, too. See the RUB Desk for bus schedules.


Watch the sun set from the parking lot. The top of the Burke Parking Deck is the best place on campus to catch a gorgeous Erie sunset (or sunrise, but we know few students are early risers). It offers a wide, birds-eye view of the entire bayfront and, on a clear day, you can even see Presque Isle.

New Group to Support, Engage Black Alumni and Students

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

Tesha Nesbit FA19 Commencement
Tesha Nesbit ’93 speaks at a commencement ceremony at Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend’s Alumni Society recently opened a new chapter in the college’s Black history – an affiliate programming group (APG) known as the Behrend Black Leadership Alumni Coalition (BBLAC).

This summer, when college leadership identified a need to reach out to individual subsets of alumni, one of the first groups they wanted to reach out to was Behrend’s Black alumni, as it’s one of the largest segments of the alumni population.

The initiative began as a conversation among college administration, faculty, staff, and alumni to explore opportunities to celebrate diverse voices and viewpoints.

“Many members of the Behrend team were instrumental in bringing BBLAC to life,” said Kristen Comstock ’06, assistant director of alumni relations. “We recognized Black alumni are an integral part of the Behrend Alumni Society. We sought input from alumni and campus community to enhance our relationships with Black alumni.”

After months of collaboration, BBLAC was chartered to serve as a direct connection for Black alumni to share their unique perspectives and engage with current and potential Black students. Spearheaded by a group of Black Behrend alumni, the group is the first APG the Behrend Alumni Society has had in at least dozen years.

“We believe that establishing a specific APG for Black Behrend alumni members will improve relations with an important Behrend constituency,” said BBLAC president Brandon McGraw, a 2009 Accounting and Finance graduate who is now the senior manager of accounting operations at The Knot Worldwide, Inc. “We further believe this group will help Behrend leadership guard against systematic biases and mitigate the challenges faced by Black Students as they pursue a Penn State degree.”

BBLAC has hit the ground running with a robust membership and a board of directors who have already formed several committees around the areas of campus engagement, professional development, coalition events, collegiate recruitment, fundraising, and more.

A donation from alumna Tesha Nesbit, a 1993 Communications graduate and director of diversity and inclusion for Erie Insurance Group, will help advance BBLAC’s mission (See BBLAC’s mission statement below).

“Penn State pride pervades the association; we have alumni all over the world,” Nesbit said. “I want to do my part to ensure that Black Behrend students have the full scope of support they need to be inspired and successful in the classroom and in our communities. If we can help them preserve this rich legacy of excellence that is a high-quality education, which has not been equally afforded to everyone, then they also become historians and models for generations to come.”

Comstock is excited about working with BBLAC to expand and enhance current Behrend Alumni Society events and initiatives.

“I’m looking forward to working with this wonderful and enthusiastic group of volunteers as we plan meaningful events for our Black alumni,” she said. “BBLAC leaders are engaged and I’m really looking forward to the programs that connect our Black alumni to current and prospective Behrend students of color.“

While the pandemic currently presents  challenges to hosting in-person events, BBLAC is developing virtual events, including a professional development offering for students, and handwriting notes to accepted Black students encouraging them to attend Behrend.

“They’re also planning a Black Alumni Reunion event this fall for Behrend’s Parents, Families, and Alumni Weekend, which I can confidently say we all hope will be an in-person event this year,” Comstock said.


The mission of the Behrend Black Leadership Alumni Coalition (BBLAC) Affiliate Programming Group is to provide a direct connection for the college’s Black alumni to share their unique perspective as alumni. BBLAC is positioned to: engage with current Black students to support educational opportunities; mentor current Black students as they make the transition to higher education; provide a conduit for Black alumni to advise Behrend leadership; assist in recruiting Black students; help develop greater financial support for Black students; facilitate allyship; and help improve the overall educational environment for students of color.”

Leadership/Board of Directors

Executive Board

  • President: Brandon McGraw ’09
  • Vice President: Adell Coleman ’09
  • Treasurer: Jeremy O’Mard ’13
  • Secretary: Angela Coston Jones ’95
  • Emerita: Conchita Dixon ’97

Committee Chairs

  • Conchita Dixon ’97, Fundraising
  • Tesha Nesbit ’93, Professional Development
  • Shelley Askew Floyd ’92, Campus Engagement
  • Jeffrey Grant ’90, Membership
  • Stanley Husband ’90, Collegiate Recruitment
  • Sasha Singh ’09, Coalition Events

To support BBLAC with a donation, visit To join the alumni group, visit  

Put a Little Love in the World

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend


“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Jackie DeShannon’s words ring as true in 2021 as they did in 1965.

With Valentine’s Day coming up, why not put a little love in the world?  Here are some pandemic-friendly Random Acts of Kindness and other good-deed ideas from the Office of Civic and Community Engagement.

Behrend-Specific Acts of Kindness

  • Volunteer to support our students who are in quarantine and isolation (staff and faculty only). Get more info or sign up to help
  • Give money or donate food and/or personal care items for packages that are delivered to students in quarantine and isolation. See the graphic below for a list of items needed and how to donate them.
  • Reach out to an office/department that has been essential in keeping campus open and our students safe and cared for during this time. An acknowledgment is enough but sending a treat would be even sweeter. A few ideas: candy, donuts, flowers, popcorn, or cookies.
  • Message someone you know has been struggling with the circumstances brought about by COVID-19. Some staff and faculty members are working extremely long hours, others have had their hours reduced, some may have lost loved ones during this time, while others may be feeling isolated or overwhelmed.
  • If you are a current student, join a service club at Penn State Behrend, such as the Random Act of Kindness club, Reality Check, Circle K, or Project Paws. You can find a list of service-oriented clubs here.

Fifteen General Random Acts of Kindness

  • Paint small rocks and place them around campus, parks, or other public areas for others to find. Find directions and lots of ideas on
  • Leave a note and water or snacks for delivery drivers.
  • When you’re getting coffee or a snack at a fast-food restaurant, pay for the car behind you.
  • When you get great service, call the number or take the survey printed on your receipt and praise the worker who helped you. Those comments do get back to the workers.
  • Leave positive online reviews for restaurants or businesses you frequent. If you buy items from Etsy, take the time to write a short review; sellers are rewarded with more visibility when they get good reviews.
  • Whenever possible, try to buy local and support small businesses, even if it costs a few dollars more. Those businesses need you now more than ever.
  • Add encouraging messages to a public sidewalk using chalk, or just draw something colorful to share your art with the world.
  • Write a positive message on a sticky note and put it on a bathroom mirror or some other public place.
  • Start a virtual book club. It’s as easy as picking a book and inviting fellow readers to join you in a future Zoom discussion of the book. Many people are longing for connection today and books provide a shared experience and brief escape from reality.
  • Call the older people in your life, whether your parents, grandparents, or friends. It’s likely they are feeling especially isolated and would welcome the opportunity to talk.
  • When you brush snow off your car on a snowy day, do the same with a few other cars around you.
  • Set up a Zoom meeting with young relatives – even kindergarteners can handle a tablet or phone meeting. This past year has been draining for parents of young children. It’s likely they will relish the break while their little ones talk your ear off and show you all their toys.
  • Offer to tutor younger relatives or friends struggling with remote learning. Not only will you help them but explaining concepts can help you better understand them yourself.
  • Check out the wish list for a local animal shelter (most have one online) and see what items you might be able to donate or collect.
  • Be considerate of others – hold the door for someone behind you, return your grocery cart, let some go ahead of you at the grocery store or in traffic, and, of course, wear your mask.

If nothing here speaks to you, Chris Fox, assistant director of Civic Engagement and Smith Chapel, suggests simply focusing on putting yourself in another person’s shoes and go from there.

“Any act that demonstrates empathy will have a positive impact,” Fox said. “Empathy is a great tool for healing and can help us get through difficult times.”

COVID care boxes

Building on her MBA

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend


Bob and Jacqueline Masek DiPlacido ’18 M.B.A.

While a lot of professionals pursue an advanced degree as the next step in their career trajectory, they sometimes spark personal projects as well.

By day, Jacqueline Masek DiPlacido ’18 M.B.A., works at Parker LORD as a program manager/production planner for the company’s aerospace new products team. But, on evenings and weekends, she puts her Penn State Behrend Master of Business Administration degree to work helping to build DA Woodworking, a small business she owns with her husband, Bob.

“The business began with my husband’s love of woodworking,” DiPlacido said. “We started out making small pieces, signs and simple furniture, but it’s now expanded into high-end quality pieces, including custom-made hutches, cabinets and built-ins, china cabinets, fireplaces, dog crates, and even family room sets.”

DiPlacido, who earned a degree in Supply Chain Management at Penn State’s University Park campus, said what started as a hobby for her husband, who works as a mechanical engineer, has grown into a serious business. DA Woodworking currently has pieces on sale at Traditions Unlimited, an Erie home décor store.

DiPlacido helps design the pieces and market the business, something she learned a lot about in her MBA classes.

“We have worked hard to advertise the business without an advertising budget, using social media and leveraging word-of-mouth as we complete pieces for customers in the area,” she said. “We were planning to host a Gallery Night for the Erie arts community in the spring of 2020, but COVID-19 forced that event to be canceled.”

DiPlacido said she and her husband also hit on another winning formula – giveaways, which are even more popular when paired with a charity.

“I am an avid dog lover and volunteer for the Erie Humane Society,” she said. “I knew how many of their fundraisers were canceled last year, and Bob and I wanted to help. So, we combined our love for woodworking with our love for animals and built a custom coffee table that we donated to the humane society to raffle off.”

DiPlacido has plans to help Behrend’s alumni organization as well, once events can be resumed.  “We always enjoy giving back, and every time our pieces are showcased at an event, it gets our name out there.”

The new year brings yet another new challenge for the DiPlacidos. “We are expecting our first baby this year, so we’re in the middle of some great projects around the house!”

Check out DA Woodworking on and on

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Tube Time Well Spent

Faculty and staff recommend television worth watching over winter break


By Heather Cass, publications manager, Penn State Behrend

If you ask Penn State Behrend faculty and staff members what television shows or movies they’d recommend students enjoy over break, they’ll often suggest books instead. (You can take the professor out of the classroom, but…). If you press them, though, they may admit to occasionally indulging in a few flicks or bingeing on a streaming series, whether it’s something with an educational aspect to it or something that’s just plain fun to watch.

Here are the shows/movies that Penn State Behrend faculty and staff members recommend relaxing with over your well-earned holiday break. Please note: These suggestions are for adults; some shows may not be appropriate for younger audiences.  

Dr. Laurie Urraro, assistant teaching professor of Spanish

I recommend students watch the series Cobra Kai, a martial arts comedy-drama on Netflix, because we could all use a little more physical activity and inspiration in our lives right now.

I have to add a prerequisite, though: You must first watch the original Karate Kid movies (I and II)  so you can appreciate the series, which is based on the 1980s-era movies and features the main characters from the films. 

Dr. Robert Speel, associate professor of political science

Here are my recommended shows, all on Netflix, but some may be found elsewhere, too.

Occupied. This is a Norwegian political thriller that involves climate change and Russian subterfuge.

Learn something about European politics from this series, which includes all the elements of any political drama – sex, violence, and assassinations – mixed with efforts to save the environment.

Kim’s Convenience. Laugh while learning how everyone fits into a multicultural city in Canada in this funny sitcom about a Korean-Canadian family who owns a convenience store in Toronto.

Bodyguard. Learn a little bit about British politics and the civil service while trying to solve a mystery in this political thriller centered around the bodyguard of an ambitious government minister.

Evil Genius – This is a true crime documentary about the most famous criminal case to take place in Erie in the last quarter century. It tells the odd tale of a bank robbery heist that ended in the death of a pizza deliveryman who died when a collar bomb exploded around his neck.

Dr. Melanie Hetzel-Riggin, professor of psychology

I’m a big sci-fi fan, so I recommend any of the Star Trek movies or series, as well as Farscape and Babylon 5.

Not only are all of these shows incredibly entertaining, but they also provide us an opportunity to examine the social issues we discuss in psychology, sociology, political science, and anthropology in a way that allows us to escape the constraints of real life.

There are significant ethical dilemmas, interpersonal conflict, issues related to discrimination and oppression, and more. It also allows us to see the strengths and weaknesses of different ways of approaching life and various moral and religious compasses. Also, there are transporters!

Tracy Halmi, associate teaching professor of chemistry

Breaking Bad is an older television series about a chemistry teacher with cancer who resorts to cooking meth to make as much money for his family as he can before he dies. The show features plenty of chemistry and science, but also a lot of drug use, swearing, and violence, so it’s definitely not appropriate for younger audiences!

I’d also suggest HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl, a great docudrama that is available on Amazon Prime.

Two great movies that I’d recommend: Radioactive, a movie on Amazon Prime, is about the famous scientist, Marie Curie, and it delves into her life and the aftermath of her discoveries. Hidden Figures is a 2016 movie about three brilliant  African-American women at NASA who helped put John Glenn on the moon, though their efforts went largely unnoticed, hence the title of the movie.

Angela Davis, reference instructional librarian at Lilley Library

I find nature documentaries soothing, so I’d suggest students watch the Our Planet series. It’s actually on YouTube right now as Netflix allowed it to be placed there so educators could access it for free during the pandemic.

The series focuses on how climate change affects various species in every habitat on Earth. Those who enjoy animals or are interested in climate change and the environment would enjoy the series, which isn’t too science heavy.

Dr. Jay Amicangelo, professor of chemistry

My wife and I have been enjoying a related set of historical fiction series over the last few months. These miniseries, available on a few premium streaming services such as Starz, Hulu, and YouTube, each portray drama related to the monarchy of England during the time period from about the mid-1400s to the early-1500s. 

I’d suggest watching them in the following chronological order:  

  • The White Queen – This series is mainly about Catherine Woodville, who was the wife of Edward IV.
  • The White Princess – This series is centered around Elizabeth of York, who was the wife of Henry VII
  • The Spanish Princess – This series is mainly about Catherine of Aragon, who was the first wife of Henry VIII

Riki Hay, regional global education coordinator, International Student Services

During Behrend’s recent International Education Week programming, we did a “daily digest” which, among many things, included some recommendations from the experts on ways to learn interculturally.

Here are some TED talks they recommended that students may want to check out while they are on break:

You can find a whole collection of  TED talks (and more) on the topic of diversity at



Building stronger student athletes

By Heather Cass, publications manager, Penn State Behrend

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Chris Viscuso, coordinator of strength

Earth, Wind & Fire is just one of the many tools Chris Viscuso, the college’s new coordinator of strength training, uses to motivate his student-athletes.

“I try to make it fun and keep things lively and upbeat,” he said. “I make them listen to my music, which drives them nuts. They tease me about it, and I’ll say, ‘Hey, this group is in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. If you can tell me who it is, you can cut your workout short.’”

Rare is the 20ish-age college student who gets to skip out of strength training early.

Like any good coach or fitness guru, Viscuso takes an approach that mixes pleasure with pain, walking  a line between the two. He looks the part of a bodybuilder—he’s bald, bearded, muscled, and tattooed. He’s often grinning, but with just enough seriousness to convey without words that if you slack off, he’s going to call you on it.

Throughout December, an Elf on the Shelf perched on the bleachers in Erie Hall, where additional fitness equipment is set up for students. Viscuso’s elf didn’t move very much, but every day the holiday mischief-maker posted a new workout.

“Sometimes, he was a kind elf and it would be an easy workout,” Viscuso said. “Other times, he was an angry elf in a bad mood, and he’d make students do 150 body squats, run a half mile, and crank out some push-ups and pull-ups.”

Back to Behrend

Viscuso joined Behrend’s Athletics staff in September of 2020. It was a homecoming for the 1992 History graduate who had played basketball for the Behrend Lions. He has bragging rights as the first player to score a basket in the newly renovated Erie Hall when it reopened in 1992.

Nearly twenty years later, Viscuso is back in Erie Hall, though the building will soon be replaced by a new fitness and recreation center. It’s bittersweet for Viscuso, since he has made a lot of memories in Erie Hall.

He has several more months to imprint that facility on the college’s student-athletes, though, and he’s making the most of it.

“I’m the only ‘coach’ on staff who works with all 300 of our student-athletes,” he said. “And, I get to work with them year-round, not just when they are in season.”

One could argue that good athletes are built in the off-season.

“If you get stronger, you’re going to be a faster runner, a more explosive basketball player, a better soccer player,” he said. “There is not a sport you can play that you can’t play better with a stronger body.”

Hard? Yes. Complicated? No.

Like his musical taste, Viscuso is old-school when it comes to building stronger bodies. He likes the classic moves.

“The biggest mistake people make when it comes to strength training is making it too complicated,” he said. “Fads come and go in fitness, but the basics never really change. I’m going with meat-and-potatoes workouts – lunges, plyometrics, squats, sprints, pushups, etc. We use the weight room, but we also just add weight doing movement-based workouts.”

He likes to work unilaterally. “We do a lot of one-legged squats and one-arm dumbbell exercises, things like that,” Viscuso said.  It’s important for almost all athletes, but especially those who do a lot of pivoting on the playing field, like those in basketball, soccer, and tennis.

He’s also big on flexibility, another thing that benefits every athlete. “If your heels are coming off the ground when we are doing squats, everybody thinks of hips and sometimes it is that, but it can also be tight Achille’s tendons; all of these parts are in play.”

That’s why Fridays are for yoga, but if student-athletes think they are going to find inner peace, Viscuso sets them straight pretty quickly. “It’s actually more stretching and more of workout than they expect,” he said.

You might call Viscuso’s approach intense, and he’s perfectly OK with that. It’s one of his three ingredients to success. “Intensity, effort, and enthusiasm are key,” he said. “It’s hard to stop a determined man or woman.”

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Viscuso Vitals

Before Behrend: Assistant basketball coach at Brescia University in Owensboro, Kentucky, then at Gannon University in Erie for fourteen years. At Gannon, he also served as the director of performance enhancement for the men’s basketball team, too.

On one measure of athletes: “I ask them to do 40 unbroken pushups and 10 pullups on their own; it’s not a huge challenge, but it tells me where they are, physically. Then we have a starting point.”

On pandemic-era training: “With no sports happening right now, it’s been a great time for strength training. Our philosophy has been, let’s just work on getting stronger, then.”

On a long winter break: “I told the student-athletes, ‘I’ve spent months working on you. Don’t you go home and let it all go. Do the workouts I post on Instagram (a private page for student-athletes).’ I’ll know if they didn’t.”

On Behrend student-athletes: “As a whole, our athletes have impressive GPAs, unheard of in sports-scholarship-level schools. Personally, I have found them to be hungry for information; they love feedback. In general, they are just good kids—smart, hardworking, respectful.”

A Winter To-Do List for Career Success

 By Heather Cass, publications manager, Penn State Behrend

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With the Spring 2021 semester starting a week later than normal, Penn State Berend students have the luxury of an extra-long holiday rest.

Just kidding, students. You’ve heard the phrase, “No rest for the weary,” and that definitely applies to college students, particularly, juniors and seniors. You have some recommended winter work to prepare for your future.

None of these “assignments” are difficult or required, or will be graded, but if you complete these tasks suggested by Christina Moreschi, career counselor in Behrend’s Academic and Career Planning Center, you will be setting yourself up for future career success.

Here are suggestions for making the most of your extra time over winter break:

  1. Log into Nittany Lion Careers (NLC), Penn State’s job and internship search platform. Once you log in, take a few minutes to fill in the required information under “My Account,” so you will be ready for Penn State Behrend’s Virtual Spring 2021 Career and Internship Fair, which will take place on the NLC platform Wednesday, February 24.
  2. Create/update your resume. Check out the ACPC’s samples and suggestions for help.
  3. Create/update your LinkedIn profile. Watch LinkedIn Like A Pro to learn how to leverage your profile and make LinkedIn work for you.
  4. Practice interviewing by scheduling a mock interview session with an ACPC career counselor via Zoom. A mock interview is one of the best ways to refine your interviewing skills, and the counselors are available during the extended winter break to help you!
  5. Build/check-in with your network virtually. Consider sending a card or email to reconnect with friends and former colleagues and let them know what you are doing. The main idea is to have an annual check-in with people who might be helpful to you, personally or professionally, in developing your plan for the future.