Switching Course: Remote teaching tools inspire innovation, enhancements to course delivery

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

In large, complex organizations, change can sometimes take a lot of time, planning, paperwork, and meetings. But things could not have moved more quickly than they did the week of March 9 when Penn State made the decision to extend remote teaching and learning through the end of the spring semester to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus on University campuses.

Faculty members had a little more than one week to transition their classes to a fully remote teaching format and get up to speed on the digital tools they and their students would need to meet virtually. It was understandably challenging and stressful. But, for some, being required to learn new ways to teach was eye opening and led to revelations that will enhance course delivery when students return to campus in the future.

Dr. Jay Amicangelo, professor of chemistry, has been teaching in a traditional face-to-face manner since he started at Behrend in 2002 and said he was not fully aware of all the features available in Canvas, the online course management platform utilized by Penn State, until he had to move his classes to a remote teaching format.

“One part that I actually like is the idea of pre-recording my lectures ahead of time and then using class time to go over assigned problems, answer questions, and so forth,” he said.

It’s a new tool he plans to use when he returns to the classroom this fall to teach CHEM450 Physical Chemistry Thermodynamics, an upper-level course.

“In this class, I have always used the chalkboard to present material for the class because it is a highly mathematical class,” Amicangelo said. “I would often feel rushed in a given class to get to a certain point in my lecture notes, but now I’m thinking if I record my lectures over the summer using a camera in one of the classrooms, I can have them watch the lecture in advance, then I can use the face-to-face class session to emphasize important points of the material, go over assigned problems, and field questions.”

Amicangelo said this approach to teaching, called a “flipped” classroom, is a concept he had heard about but had never had the motivation to try himself.

“So, in a weird way, the current crisis opened my eyes to this possibility,” he said. “And, now that I’ve explored it, I like it, and plan to use it in the future,” he said. “I think students will really benefit from the extra opportunity to understand and explore the material in class rather than just listening to me lecture.”

We Challenge You to Share some Snapshots

By Heather Cass,

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

It’s safe to say the last few weeks have been a difficult and challenging time for all of us. But now that we’ve had some time to adjust to studying and working remotely, we are ready to inject a little fun and creativity into your day and the college’s social media pages with a month-long photo challenge.

“It’s one thing to have a memory, which we know can deteriorate over time, but it’s another to document it forever with a photo,” said Rob Frank, owner of R. Frank Media and adjunct lecturer of Photo 100 classes at Behrend.

We asked Frank a few questions to help you up your photo game:

BEHREND BLOG: What would people be surprised to learn about photography?

ROB FRANK: There is a ton of math and science involved in photography, especially understanding light transmittance, and properties of glass/refraction etc.

BB: What is the first step in taking a good photo?

RF: Composition is 95 percent of a great photo. Look at the items in the background and make sure it’s a nice, clutter-free setting. Frame the subject in an interesting or unique way and follow the rule of thirds.

BB: What one thing can everyone do to improve their photos?

RF: Slow down. Everyone is quick to flick open their phone and start snapping. Then they get back to their computer and the image is blurry because they weren’t paying attention or rushed through taking the photo.

So take a break for second. Give yourself a few moments to look up from your computer and capture the world around you. Beautiful, amazing, and incredible things can be found in even the most ordinary and familiar places, if only you look for it.

Find it, photograph it, and share it with us on Facebook (@pennstatebehrend), Instagram (psbehrend), or Twitter (@psbehrend) with the hashtag #behrendathome.

Below is our April photo challenge to you. Feel free to interpret these any way you like. Creativity is, of course, encouraged, but please do be mindful of the audience following the college’s social media pages, which includes children.

April 2: Home office – Show us where you’re working now

April 3: Windows on the world – Show us your favorite view from inside your house

April 4: Blue – Anything Penn State Blue

April 5: Co-workers – Who is now sharing your workspace?

April 6: Nature – Go outside and take a photo of anything that makes you happy

April 7: Home – What is home to you?

April 8:   Lunch – What’s for lunch today?

April 9: We ARE… – Show us how you display your Penn State pride at home

April 10: Shadows/light – Capture an imagine with creative lighting or shadows

April 11: Filter fun – Play with the filters on your phone or camera and post your favorite one

April 12: Easter – Rabbits, eggs, baskets…share an Easter image with us.

April 13: Product you can’t live without – Show us something you cannot imagine living without

April 14: Trees – Show us the tree you love most in your yard or neighborhood

April 15: Sunrise or sunset – Share your best sunrise/sunset photo

April 16: Enjoy the little things – What small or little thing makes you happy

April 17: I’m reading this – What are you reading right now?

April 18: Cozy – What place in your house or yard do you find comfort?

April 19: Self-portrait – Let us see you!

April 20: Spring – Share a sign of spring with us!

April 21: Task you hate – What job or chore do you despise doing?

April 22: Love – Who or what do you love?

April 23: Black & white – Share a photo taken in monochrome

April 24: Exercise – How are you staying fit these days?

April 25: Landscape – A landscape-oriented photo or a photo of actual landscape around you

April 26: What’s on your desk? – Send us a photo of the strangest item on your desk right now

April 27: Pattern – Find a pattern, any pattern and take a cool photo

April 28: Clouds and/or sky – Send us a photo of the world above you

April 29: Blessed – What are you grateful for today?

April 30: Friends – Share a photo of you with your PSB Bestie (or besties) that you are missing.

STEAM ideas to keep kids learning, engaged

By Heather Cass,

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

With schools closed across the country, parents have found themselves suddenly thrust into the role of teacher and activities director. It’s no easy task.

The experts in Penn State Behrend’s Youth Education Outreach (YEO) program are here to help you. They have plenty of experience holding kids’ attention while teaching them about Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM). They have put together a few fun activities/resources that you can use.

Sweet Chemistry Experiment

In light of the number of students now learning remotely, The American Chemical Society has made the American Association of Chemistry Teachers website more available to the public. Tracy Halmi, associate teaching professor of chemistry, said the site offers high-quality information and activities for students of all ages, including elementary students.

Halmi shared one activity that caught her eye as an experiment that kids would find fun: Analyzing root beer floats is suggested for students in grades 1-5, but we’re guessing “kids” of any age would enjoy it.

root beere

You can see a full list of unlocked activities on the website.

Easter/Spring STEAM Fun

Robyn Taylor, K-12 program educator for YEO, said the website littlebinsforlittlehands.com offers several STEAM activities with eggs that are easy and fun to do at home. Here are a few of her favorites:

Easter Egg Catapults. Experiment with motion, design, and basic engineering and physics principals by designing a simple machine to launch plastic eggs into the air.

catapult

Photo credit: Little Bins for Little Hands

Egg Crystals: With just a few simple materials, your young learners will be ready to start growing cool crystals in the shape of eggs in this hands-on chemistry experiment disguised as a fun holiday craft.

egg crystals

Photo credit: Little Bins for Little Hands

Suncatchers: Bring some sun and color into your home by making suncatchers that incorporate a little science into the art, especially if you choose to make the crystal or slime suncatchers.

Crystal-Suncatchers-BABBLE-DABBLE-DO-displayed

Photo credit: Babbledabbledo.com

Lego Maze Challenge. If you have a bin full of building bricks, kids will have a blast making their own Lego mazes while also learning about engineering, design, and physics. There is no limit to how elaborate or creative the mazes can be – students can incorporate buildings and figures into their mazes and then compete with siblings to see who can race the marble through fastest!

marble maze

Photo credit: Mammapappabubba.com

Take a tour!

Send the kids on an adventure from the comfort and safety of your own home. You can tour a whole host of museums and zoos virtually, including the National History Museum in London and the The National Museum of Computing, where you can take a 3-D virtual tour.

computer musuem

Photo credit: The National Museum of Computing

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eye on Medical Careers: Behrend’s Pre-Health Program Seniors Stand Out

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

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Ashley Price

You may have heard that the eyes are the window to your soul, but did you know they also offer a pretty clear view of your overall health?

“The eye is really interesting because it can reveal a lot of health problems,” said Ashley Price, a senior Biology major and Chemistry minor in the Pre-Optometry program at Penn State Behrend. “Many people learn they have diabetes from their eye doctor because the disease affects the small capillaries in the retina.”

Other health issues that can be spotted in the eyes include hypertension, autoimmune disorders, high cholesterol, thyroid disease and even some types of cancer and tumors.

Price had planned to be a family physician but switched to optometry after shadowing an eye doctor in high school. “I just thought it was so cool,” Price said. “You’re always looking at something different. And I like the personal aspect of optometry. You see the same patients year after year and can form relationships with them.”

Like her career choice, Price’s college plan changed course after a first-hand experience.

“I was totally set on going to Pitt, but then a friend talked me into touring Behrend, and as soon as I set foot on campus, it felt like home,” she said.

For the last four years, Behrend has been her home. Price, who will graduate in May, has been a Resident Assistant for three years. She’s currently an R.A. in Ohio Hall, but this fall, she’ll move to another Ohio—Ohio State University—where she will attend optometry school.

She had a lot of options. She applied to and was accepted at six different schools that offered four scholarships, with two at the highest amount the schools offered.

Price is well prepared for the next step in her career, something she credits, in part, to several School of Science faculty members who kept her on the right path and moving forward.

“The professors at Behrend make sure you get to where you want to go,” she said. “They are always behind you and, at the same time, offering to show you the way.”

Price had one recognized adviser, Dr. Beth Potter, associate professor of microbiology. But, she also gathered several more unofficial advisers related to her course of study—Dr. Todd Cook, assistant professor of biology and chair of Pre-Health Programs, and Dr. Jason Bennett, associate professor of chemistry. “I could, and did, go to any of them with any questions I had or if I just wanted advice.”  

Behrend’s Pre-Health Professions Programs in dentistry, medicine, optometry, pharmacy, physician assistant, physical or occupational therapy, and veterinary medicine, require more precise planning than most other majors.  

 “In my first year at Behrend, I went to a pre-health program in which Dr. Mike Campbell (distinguished professor of biology) talked about how to put together the ‘perfect package’ for medical school, and basically gave us a list of things we could do and accomplish during our undergraduate years that would make us attractive to medical schools later.”

Price, who is also a Scheyer Honors College scholar, took Campbell’s suggestions as a to-do list, assuming leadership opportunities, gaining experience in her field through internships and job shadowing, and working on research projects with her professors.

It’s turned out to be a formula for success, not only for Price, but for several pre-health program participants who will be graduating in May and starting the next chapter in their careers, including: Jessie Kibbe and Taylor Hibbard, who have been accepted into physician assistant programs; Dillon Patel, who was offered admission to four dentistry schools; Aldyn Poston, who will attend optometry school, and Zainab Kareen, who was accepted to osteopathic medical school but has decided to attend graduate studies at Penn State College of Medicine.”

Price, who is also the vice president of the college’s Scrubs Club and a Lion Ambassador, said she will miss Behrend, but she’s looking forward to taking the next step toward her career goal.

“Optometrists are literally improving people’s outlooks,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to do that for patients.”  

About Behrend’s Pre-Health Programs

As they navigate the application process for admission into health professional schools, students enrolled in Behrend’s Pre-Health Programs are guided by the Pre-Health Advisory Committee, comprising of faculty members from the School of Science and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, This includes continuous advising and the composition of a committee letter that highlights the student’s academic and extracurricular accomplishments and readiness for the rigors of health professional school. Over the last three application cycles, more than forty Penn State Behrend students have successfully been to various health professional schools and medical-related graduate programs.

To learn more about Behrend’s pre-health programs, visit behrend.psu.edu/prehealth.  

Crossing Disciplines Pays Off

First-year business student and senior engineering major win short story contest

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By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

Look, $100 is $100, OK? So when Senior Mechanical Engineering student Sam Cabot saw the opportunity to earn some cold hard cash (er, Visa card) by whipping up a little story about brunch for Penn State’s University Libraries Short Edition short story dispensers, he was on it like, well, syrup on French toast, if we’re going to stick with the brunch theme here.

It was that delicious hybrid morning meal that students, faculty, and staff were invited to write about for a chance to win money, bragging rights, and a spot in the Libraries’ short story dispensers. There are ten of them spread out among seven University locations, including Behrend’s Lilley Library. With the press of a button, the dispenser prints out a short story that users can take with them to enjoy when they have one to five minutes to spare.

Four “Brunchin’ Around” contest winners were chosen recently by the Short Stories all-student editorial team and two of the authors—Cabot and Isaac Barringer—are Penn State Behrend students.

Barringer, a first-year Finance and Accounting dual major, wrote “The Daffodil House,” about a couple found in their yellow house covered in flies and bellied up to what turned out to be their last meal—brunch, of course, “for the Connors were of a practical stock and believed that breakfast was more efficient if it included lunch as well.”

Cabot, who writes under the pen name Johann Lecker for no particular reason other than the fact that he likes the name (“Lecker” means delicious in German), wrote “To Brunch?” in which the main character finds himself on a mountain in Brasher State Forest in upstate New York trying to make it to Sunday brunch at his grandmother’s house.

“Basically, it’s about someone who tries to remedy an uncomfortable situation, then abandons it altogether, for better or worse,” Cabot said.

sam cabot

Sam Cabot

Cabot said he entered the contest not only for the potential prize money but for fun and the chance to challenge himself.

“From what I have noticed, engineering students enjoy creative activities as much as any other students, but internships and course load limit the amount of time they can devote to other things,” Cabot said. “Most of the writing that engineers must make time to do is formal and impersonal, so that may be why there’s a stereotype that they are not creative writers.”

Like most authors, Cabot didn’t have a story outlined in his head. Rather, he had a few ideas to start with and the story emerged from there. It’s purely fictional. Cabot has never been anywhere near Brasher State Park, and his grandma didn’t host monthly family brunches.

Asked if it’s unusual that a business major and an engineering major would win a writing contest, Cabot cites the value and of cross-disciplinary learning, which can be beneficial to students in any major.

“It’s easy to grow absorbed in disciplines, like engineering, that are extremely career-focused and require huge amounts of time spent on very specific tasks,” he said. “Adding courses in history or psychology or any of the humanities can provide a healthy balance. The knowledge gained from an occasional hour spent studying the humanities can be as relevant in the real world as the knowledge gained during any of the last eight or ten hours spent sizing a planetary gear train or debugging a C++ program. They both have value.”

But, Cabot said, the ultimate reward for him in exploring the humanities is finding something new and interesting to scratch his creative itch and expand his skills beyond the lab.

You can find links to Cabot and Barringer’s stories as well as the other winners and honorable mention entries here.

Darwin, Sharks, and Cake (Oh, my!)

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February 12 event at Penn State Behrend celebrates Darwin and his Theory of Evolution

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

One of nature’s greatest success stories is one of its most fearsome creatures. Look no further than the top of the oceanic food chain– sharks—for the ultimate lesson in evolutionary survival.

“Sharks have a fossil record that extends back more than 420 million years,” said Dr. Todd Cook, assistant professor of biology at Penn State Behrend, who has done extensive research work on sharks and rays from the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras. “As a group, they have been able to survive several mass extinctions and events that have wiped out countless terrestrial and marine species.”

Learn how these predators have adapted and evolved on Wed., Feb. 12 when Penn State Behrend’s School of Science hosts Darwin Day, an international celebration of the life and work of Charles Darwin.

“Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by means of natural selection is the central tenet that unites all areas of biology,” Cook said. “This day recognizes his immeasurable contribution to science, but especially to the natural sciences.”

Don’t be fooled by the word “theory,” Cook cautions.

“Common everyday use of the word ‘theory’ would imply that it’s simply an idea or a guess,” Cook said. “But Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is a well-substantiated explanation for natural phenomena that is supported by vast amounts of evidence. It has been, and continues to be, extensively scrutinized, and it holds up as a solid scientific theory.” 

The public is invited to celebrate Darwin at Behrend from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., beginning with “Life: A Cosmic Story” at 6:00 p.m. in Yahn Planetarium, followed by a presentation “The Evolutionary History of Sharks” by Cook in Room 101 of Otto Behrend Science Building.

The event is free, open to the public, and geared toward those of all ages. After Cook’s lecture, attendees are invited to stay for a celebratory piece of cake.

Alumna honored for professional achievements

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager at Penn State Behrend

PSB-Ainsle_006

Ainslie Brosig, a 2001 Communication graduate, was recently chosen to receive the Behrend Commission for Women’s 2019 Woman of Impact Award.  The award honors women who are significantly involved with Penn State Behrend and have served as a positive force in their community.

As Brosig, executive director of the ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum, accepted the award at a luncheon at Behrend on Wednesday, the first thing she did was share the spotlight.

“I feel like I get all the credit, but it’s because of all the awesome work that they do,” she said, gesturing to members of her museum team seated at a nearby table. “They make me look good.”

Also in attendance at the luncheon were several of her former professors including Dr. Rod Troester, Dr. Miriam McMullen-Pastrick, Dr. Colleen Kelley, and Cathy Mester, who Brosig remembered had given her a “B” in her class.

“I’d like a retest,” Brosig joked.

She would surely get an “A” today. Brosig is credited with breathing new life into the children’s museum, which was struggling to stay open when she took the helm five years ago.  Brosig and her staff made slow and steady improvements as well as developing corporate and community partnerships that ultimately helped the museum double attendance and triple memberships.  The increased activity has led to even bigger things: Brosig just announced plans for a $15.1 million expansion and renovation of the children’s museum.

A mother of three, Brosig said the most rewarding part of her job is providing opportunities for families to have fun together.

“Children remember their mom going down the slide or their dad helping them build a dam in the water table,” she said. “Those types of interactions are precious and few for many families today.”

This year, Brosig worked with Melanie Ford, director of the college’s Youth Education Outreach program, on a partnership that allowed Behrend’s College for Kids program to offer week-long STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) camps for youngsters at the ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum.

“Up until this summer, College for Kids had not been able to offer a lot of programming for very young kids,” Brosig said. “Of course, that’s what we specialize in, so we were happy to fill that need.”

Ford spoke highly of Brosig’s leadership skills at the luncheon: “You’ve heard the adage that it takes a village to raise a child,” Ford said. “Ainslie is making a huge impact on the children in our village through her work at the museum.”

Commission for women 2019 - ainslie brosig and comm professors

Communication alumna Ainslie Brosig ’01, executive director of the ExpERIEnce Children’s Museum, center, was awarded the Behrend Commission for Women’s 2019 Woman of Impact Award at a luncheon in November. Brosig, center, was joined by some of her former professors, from left, Cathy Mester, Dr. Rod Troester, Dr. Miriam McMullen-Pastrick, and Dr. Colleen Kelley.