Plastics Engineering Technology Students Off to Germany


Guest Post by Ian Duchene and Eric Santini, Plastics Engineering Technology majors

No matter how vivid the photos or descriptive the lecture, there’s nothing quite like seeing and experiencing another country in person. And, in today’s increasingly global business climate, it’s vital that students be versed in the culture and business practices of international partners. There is much to be learned from seeing how others do it. That’s why, every year, students in the Plastics Engineering Technology program have the opportunity to travel overseas to visit plastics companies and universities and attend a plastics trade show, too.

On Thursday, Oct. 20th, thirty-three PLET majors will begin a 10-day trip to Germany. We asked them to send us some photos and tell us about their journey. In this blog post, students Ian  Duchene and Eric Santini give us a preview of what the group will be seeing while overseas.

For the past eight weeks, we students have been meeting in and out of class preparing for the adventure that we will be embarking on.

Upon arrival in Frankfurt, Germany, at 6:00 a.m. on Friday, October 21, we will be gathering ourselves for a tiresome first couple days of fighting off jet lag. The day will begin by boarding a train to travel to Cologne or Köln. The students have been given both Friday and Saturday as Cultural Tour days where they have the flexibility to go to specific museums or local attractions of their choice.

Sunday, October 23 and Monday, October 24 will be spent entirely at the K Show. For those who are unfamiliar with the K Show, it is the world’s largest plastics conference that only takes place once every four years…Yes, it is the Olympics of Plastics Engineering. This conference covers more than 170,000 square meters of floor space with companies presenting new technologies and systems that you should expect to see released the next four years in the industry. This is a great opportunity for all of the seniors attending the trip to network on a global level and potentially line up interviews for full time jobs upon graduation in December or May.

After our time at the K Show comes to a close, we will be traveling to Stüttgart, Germany on Tuesday, October 25 to visit both the Mercedes Benz Museum and the Porsche Museum. The following day will be spent touring Arburg, an injection molding machine manufacturer, a company that has two machines in our lab here on campus. Following the tour, we will then be travelling to Munich or “München” for the final three days of our trip.

On Thursday, October 27, we will have another cultural day to explore the city. Many students are planning to go to Dachau, a nearby Nazi Concentration Camp while others are planning on travelling to Neuschwanstein Castle.

On Friday, October 28, we will tour the University of Applied Sciences Rosenheim. The final day of the trip, October 29, will be another cultural day for students to visit any remaining attractions they may have wanted to see, and to prepare for the trip home the next day.

Check this blog in the next 10 days and follow us on our journey!

Noce to be honored by Boys and Girls Club of Erie

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Dr. Kathleen Noce, senior lecturer in Management Information Systems, grew up in a warm, loving home that was a haven for neighbors and friends in need.

“My mother was that woman in the neighborhood who all the kids knew they could go to for a meal, a hug, a few dollars, even a couch, if they needed a place to stay for a night or two,” Noce said.

Noce said her parents noticed early on that she, too, was a nurturer.

“They saw that I enjoyed helping others and they really encouraged me to do it,” she said.

It makes sense, then, that Noce would end up in a helping profession, educating college students in the finer points of MIS and business.


But her service to others extends beyond the classroom and into the community, where she serves on several boards and volunteers for a variety of nonprofit organizations, including Boys and Girls Club of Erie which plans to honor Noce on Oct. 19 with the Woman and Youth Award, the highest honor the organization bestows on volunteers.

Noce has been a board member and volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club of Erie for more than twenty years. In addition, she has helped the club with many of its technology needs through Partnership Erie, a nonprofit outreach center of the Black School of Business that provides web design, web marketing, and content management services for free.

The majority of the work is done by students in MIS387 Website Design and Administration who are learning to design and manage websites. It’s a win-win: nonprofits benefit from the tech help and students get hands-on experience working with real clients.

Since Noce established Partnership Erie at Behrend in 2001, students have built more than 125 websites for a variety of nonprofit organizations.

“I realized I could incorporate an element of community service into my coursework, while also giving students the benefit of real-world work experience.”

Noce concedes she had an ulterior motive in forming Partnership Erie.

“I wanted students to learn about the enormous challenges that some people face,” Noce said, “and I wanted them to become good citizens who give back.”

It worked, even inspiring some students to take on personal volunteer projects for their clients outside of the classroom. She regularly hears from alumni who thank her for introducing them to the personal satisfaction to be found in helping others.

In addition to Boys and Girls Club of Erie, Noce volunteers at the Quality of Life Learning Center, the Islamic Center, Butterflies for Kids, Erie Youth Leadership Institute, and the Italian-American Women’s Association, in addition to other organizations.

In twenty years working with the Boys and Girls Club of Erie, Noce said she has witnessed firsthand the powerful impact of community service.

“Sometimes, you’ll see these kids come in and the deck is stacked against them,” she said. “They have parents who are largely absent or have substance abuse problems. They are living in poverty. They’re hungry. And you think, ‘This kid doesn’t have a future.’ But he starts coming to the club and there are people there who care about him and help him and watch out for him and he comes out a different person.”

“I’ve worked with kids at the club who I thought had a bleak future who have become doctors, teachers, and lawyers,” she said. “because somebody cared and provide a safe place for them to grow and learn.”

Noce is grateful for the opportunity to serve.

“I’ve led a blessed life,” she said, “so If I can help someone in need, my life is richer and I feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose for being here.

Alumnus Named Top Innovator by MIT Technology Review

Humans have forty-three muscles in their face that can be combined to create 10,000 unique expressions. Imagine programming a computer to interpret all of them. And, when you’re done with that, add in the other factors that effect social interaction – body language, culture, gender, and more.


That’s a word that doesn’t compute for Dr. Ehsan Hoque ’04, a Penn State Behrend Computer Engineering graduate who was recently featured in MIT Technology Review as one of the top 35 innovators under the age of 35. He was recognized for developing two computer technologies— MACH (My Automated Conversation coach) and ROCspeak—that train people to excel in social settings.


Dr. Ehsan Hoque ’04, a Penn State Behrend Computer Engineering graduate, innovator and assistant professor of computer science at the University of Rochester. Photo credit: Adam Fenster

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Hoque has been turning “impossible” situations into opportunities since his undergraduate days at Behrend.

“A scheduling mix-up required me to take some courses out of order and without having had the recommended prerequisites,” he said. “I really struggled, but it was a good thing because it made me resilient.”

His resiliency was put to the test in his final year at Behrend when his team took on a senior design project that they weren’t sure could be done. Not only did the team complete the project—a robot that could see, hear, and recognize people—but they also won the “Best Design” award.

So when Hoque was a doctoral student at MIT presenting his work on a computer program capable of gauging a user’s mood, and was challenged to expand it, he didn’t balk.

Challenge accepted

“After demonstrating my research at a workshop, a gentleman approached me and said he was very awkward in social situations and wondered if my technology could be used to create some sort of automated program that he could use at home to practice making eye contact and improve his social skills,” Hoque recalled.

As the primary caretaker of his brother who has Down Syndrome, Hoque had witnessed first-hand how difficult social interactions can be for some people. He also suspected that social stigma and shame kept many from seeking help.

“A computer, however, is completely objective, standardized, and non-judgmental,” he said. “It’s a safe place for people with social anxiety or awkwardness to practice and learn.”

Hoque, now an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Rochester, started working on MACH, a system for people to practice social interactions in face-to-face scenarios with a 3D character that can see, hear, and make its own decisions in real time.

Conversations with computers

In MACH, a virtual businesswoman has been programed to recognize the user’s expressions and statements. She can also nod, smile, and even ask questions. At the end of the conversation, the businesswoman gives users feedback about their interpersonal performance, including body language, intonation, and eye contact.

The program went live in 2015 and, to date, more than 20,000 people have used it to improve their social skills. Users can choose to share their results for research purposes and more than half have done so. Hoque uses the data to further improve the program.

“Building the original platform was easy, but then you have to add in all the insights,” he said. “That never really ends. It is an ongoing, evolving process.”

Hoque also designed a pared-down mobile version, Rocspeak, free for anyone with Internet access to use. There’s no animated character; instead, it records video and sends you a report on various aspects of your performance, such as speed of speech, pitch, intensity of smiles, and how often you repeat wrds.

Applied science

Applications for MACH and Rocspeak have gone far beyond the original intended audience. Hoque said his tool has been used by all kinds of people, including customer service representatives, nervous students with looming classroom presentations, and individuals simply preparing for a big date or a job interview. It can also help those who have social anxiety or challenges, such as those with Asperger’s.

Hoque, who earned a master’s degree from the University of Memphis and a Ph.D. from MIT, said he enjoys being able to use his skills to make a real-world impact.

“I have these advanced degrees and technical skills and, if I can use those to solve problems for people, then it is knowledge and time well spent,” he said.

Blast from the past

Check out Hoque’s Penn State Behrend senior project presentation: VisionPSU, a human interactive robot (below).


Also, peruse these vintage photos, where you may recognize some School of Engineering faculty members, including Dr. Ralph Ford, now Penn State Behrend’s chancellor.

‘I feel so much more comfortable now.’ — Summer Bridge program prepares incoming students

Summer Bridge (Brent Sutula, Sujata Chhetri, Joseph Lombardi, Sydnie Moore) cropped

Brent Sutula, Sujata Chhetri, Joseph Lombardi, and Sydnie Moore, pictured left to right, were four of the participants in the Summer Bridge Program at Penn State Behrend. The six-week program is designed for students who want to sharpen their study, note taking, critical reading and time management skills, among others.

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend welcomed 1,280 new first-year students to campus last week.

For 28 of them, the setting felt more than a little familiar, since they had only recently completed a Summer Bridge Program to ease the transition to college.

The six-week program is designed for students who want to sharpen their study, notetaking, critical reading and time management skills, among others.

“I feel so much more comfortable now. This has just been great to meet new people and learn how to get around campus,” said Joseph Lombardo, a first-year History major from Erie.

The program even included a scavenger hunt in which students learned how to navigate campus by finding places and objects. They also spent time learning about the college’s numerous resources such as the Academic and Career Planning Center and Lilley Library.

“Transition is key. There is such a disconnect from what students did in high school to what they will do here,” said Mary Connerty, a lecturer in English who taught the program.

The program was sponsored by the college’s Office of Student Success and Retention. Half of the program’s attendees were immigrants or refugees.

“We’re obligated to help prepare these students who may need the extra help to succeed,” Connerty said.

To get students accustomed to a college workload, participants in the program received weekly homework assignments, including regular critical readings and a requirement to write multiple-page papers. Connerty estimates that each week’s assignments took students a minimum of three to four hours to complete.

That type of workload can be daunting for any first-year student, but it was also helpful for these students to become aware of college expectations.

Sujata Chhetri, a first-year International Business major, estimated that on a scale of 1-10, her nervousness about college was a 9. She says that after completing the Summer Bridge Program, that number was down to a manageable 5.

“It was a great program,” said Chhetri, a Nepal native who immigrated to Erie. “It really taught me about the workload I’ll be getting. It was somewhat overwhelming, but it also taught me about all of the resources I have that I didn’t know that I have. I don’t feel lost anymore.”

If she or any of the other attendees do happen to feel lost, the good news is that they now know where to go.

“There’s always someone you can go to talk to,” Chhetri said. “I’ve already found so many people who are going to help me with my math.”

Twenty-four hours. Three cities. One community.

Arthur 1

Editor’s Note: The following is a first-person account from Arthur Wang, a senior English major from Kunming, China, pictured in the center of the image above. International travel rarely goes as planned, and Arthur and several other international students learned that firsthand just two weeks ago. This was many of the students’ first time in the United States, and concern started to settle in as to whether they would make it to Erie. However, they banded together and found a way. Arthur shares their story below.

By Arthur Wang
Senior English Major, Penn State Behrend

My heart began to sink when I received an email from the airline company announcing that my flight from Chicago to Erie had been canceled due to mysterious “air traffic control conditions.” After a 14-hour international flight, I was hoping to spend the very last teaspoon of my energy on another two-hour domestic flight back to Erie, with my sophomore Italian friend Wen, move into my reserved hotel room, enjoy a hot bath, and go to sleep. Of course, things that involve international-domestic flights never go easy.

Wen had been at O’Hare International Airport waiting for my arrival; she met Lang (Mike) Mai, Runzhong (Terk) Tan, and Suiya Zhou, three freshman Chinese fellows whose flight to Erie was also canceled. A natural-born leader with phenomenal problem-solving skills and a generous heart for helping others in need, Wen already explored all possible solutions, sought assistance from the airport staff, and messaged me with some new “workable” ideas. When I landed in Chicago with Kerun (Elodie) Chen, another Chinese girl who had suffered the same flight cancelation, I was thrilled to discover that Wen had prepared two plans.

Plan 1: Cancel our flight and request a reasonable refund; take an overnight, 9-hour train to Erie.

Plan 2: Stay in Chicago for one night; rebook the flight to Cleveland for the next day; take a bus, a train, an Uber, or whatever transportation was most convenient to help us return to Erie.

As Wen and I were deciding that the second plan might be a better option because one night on the train would be “too much” for all of us, I sensed immense frustration among the four new students. I then realized that this was perhaps their first time traveling abroad on their own, experiencing a horrible flight cancelation in a foreign country, and having to initiate a handful of communication not conducted in their native language, without any family or friends there to support them. Becoming aware of their panic, I assured them that all of us would cooperate as a team, and that no one would be left behind. A natural sense of unity began to manifest itself, with everyone knowing their duties: when I was holding everybody’s passport and waiting for rescheduling our flight, Mike and Terk took turns to accompany my side, ensuring that I stayed energized. Wen, Elodie, and Suiya came back with bottled water and snacks after we sent them to eat dinner. While I negotiated with the shuttle driver over the phone, the rest of the peers started to move the fourteen suitcases to the pick-up lot. Yes, the six of us had fourteen pieces of gigantic luggage. Then, when we were “squeezed” into one taxi vehicle with all luggage, I observed that everyone, the four new fellows in particular, was laughing and joking around, creating a warm and relaxing atmosphere. I knew that we were all exhausted, but none of us revealed it. We remained sanguine.

The sense of unity continued to grow and expand the next day. Prepared, all of us went down to the hotel’s lounge at 3:30 a.m. and waited for the shuttle to take us to the airport. No one complained about getting up so early or not having enough rest. After we passed the security check at 4:45 a.m., Elodie, Terk, and I volunteered to buy breakfast while Mike, Suiya, and Wen went to find seat. Wen even acted so quickly by booking us six greyhound bus tickets right before we boarded our flight to Cleveland. Upon arriving in Cleveland, I had consulted a friend and had found an authentic Chinese restaurant to invigorate us all – what could be more soothing than a wild food hoopla after an endless travel? And, in large, what could be more effective than sharing a meal together in terms of enhancing our friendship?

The meal was beyond gorgeous, though we did stun the restaurant’s waitress when we showed up with our fourteen suitcases. Then, as planned, we took two Uber vehicles to the bus station, arrived there on time, and managed to leave Cleveland promptly at 1:30 p.m. Wen and I also negotiated with our hotels to request extra beds in our rooms, so that the four freshman fellows, whose hotel reservations had been canceled because of all the travel changes, were able to stay with us for the night. While on the bus, Terk asked how I would react if I were in their shoes, being the first time in a foreign country and having zero experience handling situations like this. I jokingly teased him that I would probably cry a river at the airport. Laughing at my goofy response, Terk and Elodie genuinely expressed that they appreciated everything Wen and I had done for them, that they could only imagine what would have happened if they had not met us, and that they already felt a community being formed among us.

The word “community” inspired me. Though it has accompanied me throughout my journey at Behrend, I haven’t had a chance to let it marinate in my mind: I heard this word the first day I came here. I heard it in all kinds of student meetings and celebrations. It also appeared repeatedly in many GenEd and major classes I had taken. Surely, the word “community” includes various meanings, or more precisely, layers of meaning depending on the context. However, one insight I could draw from this particular experience is that behind the word “community” is a powerful bond, one that is not necessarily determined by the similarities we have, like our Chinese background, but by the collectivity we share, such as the Behrend identity that glues us together. This is how the six of us traveled between three cities within twenty-four hours, carried fourteen suitcases, and eventually formed a Behrend team long before we actually arrived at Behrend. And what a team, one that is truly a community.

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Secret Lives of Staff: Dave Lesher—Beekeeper (and much more)

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

There’s much more to Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members than what you see on campus. In this occasional series, we’ll take a look at some of the interesting, unconventional, and inspiring things that members of our Behrend community do in their free time.


Give me a half hour with anyone and I’ll come away with a story. Every person has one. Some have more than a few. Take Dave Lesher, for example.

This piece was supposed to be about Lesher’s beekeeping hobby, but his activities, interests and talents—his “secret lives”—are many.

In addition to being a police services officer at Penn State Behrend and a beekeeper, Lesher is also a professional photographer, distance trail runner, cyclist, gardener, home brewer, clean-eater, and a website programmer/designer. Oh, and he’s also a veteran, husband, and father.

Clearly, when Lesher is interested in something, he goes all in. But serendipity plays a role in most of his ventures, too.

Twenty-five years ago, when he was working at a grocery store after having completed basic training in the U.S. Army Reserves, a coworker mentioned she was attending a municipal police training academy. Lesher enrolled a week later.

After graduation, he was hired at Behrend. It’s a job he said he has enjoyed since day one.

“I really like the people here,” he said. “In my role, I come in contact with a wide variety of people and I enjoy interacting with everyone from the janitorial staff to the Chancellor.”

He even likes educating students who have gotten themselves into a bit of trouble.

“Often, the student has just been misguided or made a mistake and the incident can be turned into a learning experience,” he said. “I’d say we can do that 95 percent of the time.”


Honey habit leads to hobby

A serious health scare a decade ago inspired Lesher to begin exercising and taking a closer look at the foods he was putting into his body. He eats clean now, avoiding processed foods, meat, caffeine, artificial dyes and additives, and most forms of sugar, with one sweet and all-natural exception—honey.

“It’s expensive, though, and I was eating a lot of it,” he said. “So I started doing some research on beekeeping and got some bee boxes.”

He found his first set of bees on Craigslist.

“This guy was tearing a house down and found the walls were full of honey-bees, so he offered them up to anyone who would come take them,” Lesher said.

“Cut-outs,” as such bee acquisitions are called, are tougher than simply scooping up a homeless swarm and encouraging them into a new home.

“With a cut-out, you’re invading their territory and they will defend it,” Lesher said. “Swarming bees are actually safer to collect. They swarm when they are looking for a new home, so they have nothing to protect and are usually happy to climb right into a bee box.”

Lesher is pleased to offer them a home, and the college’s maintenance and operations staff are just as thrilled to have someone nearby to call when swarms are found on campus.

Except for the occasional replacement queen, Lesher doesn’t buy bees. He prefers to collect native bees since they are used to Erie’s climate.

Lesher has a beekeeper’s hat, but doesn’t wear a full suit because honey-bees are rarely aggressive. He’s been stung only twice.

The average hive makes sixty to eighty pounds of honey a year, which is harvested in the fall. Only a portion of the honey is taken, however, as the bees have to have food for the winter.

“My hives are new this year, so I won’t take any honey,” he said. “I want to keep them happy so they’ll stay and produce more next year and then I can take some.”

From programming to photography to political science 101

A different kind of buzz—talk about the then-new World Wide Web—caught Lesher’s attention twenty-plus years ago. He began reading about, then dabbling in, website programming and design. He soon had paying clients (he still has some today) and a concern about finding adequate photography for their sites.

So he began reading about photography. You see where this is going, right? Today Lesher also works as a professional photographer. He shoots family portraits, senior pictures, and weddings.

Another hat he wears? College student. This fall he’ll complete his degree in General Arts and Sciences with an emphasis in Political Science.

Man in motion

You may wonder where Lesher gets the stamina to keep up all of his hobbies, jobs, and activities. It’s a strength that is, no doubt, hard earned on the trails and roads around Penn State Behrend where he’s logged thousands of miles.

Last summer, he did his first ultra run, the Megatransect, a formidable thirty-mile race up, on, and around Bald Eagle Mountain, just south of Lock Haven—with former Behrend engineering professor and trail-runner Dr. Chris Colston.

“The funny thing is that when I was in the Army, I hated running,” he said. “I never thought I’d start doing it competitively. But then I got interested in it and ended up buying the gear and doing some races and… you know, how it goes.”

Yes, with Lesher, we do know how it goes now—all the way.


8 fun honey-bee facts

  1. Honey-bees are not native to the United States. They were imported by European settlers.
  2. Honey-bees, while instinctual, aren’t very smart. “I have to have different landing strips on my hives or the bees will go in the wrong hive and be killed as invaders,” Lesher said.
  3. Honey-bees use dances to communicate. For example, when honey-bees find food, they do a choreographed “waggle” dance that instructs the rest of the hive where to find a food source.
  4. Honey-bees keep each other warm and fed over winter. Honey-bees keep the hive at about 92 degrees in winter, feasting on the honey they have collected all summer.
  5. Honey is harvested in the fall. Hives typically contain about sixty to eighty pounds of honey; some must be left for the bees to eat.
  6. Unhappy honey-bees will leave. If conditions in the hive are not suitable, the queen will call for a swarm and they’ll swarm and depart.
  7. The honey-bee queen is the sole reproductive female in the colony. She lays 1,000-to-3,000 eggs per day. Female worker bees perform all other colony duties. Male drones exist only to mate with a virgin queen.
  8. Drones are dead before winter. Drones are a liability to the wintering hive and are not allowed in after fall, so they die outside.


Collecting a swarm

Lesher provided this video of a swarm he collected:


Artistic barrels allow Behrend to save for a non-rainy day

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend


Penn State Behrend is known for its park-like campus with lush lawns, natural wooded areas, raingardens, landscaped pathways, and colorful flowerbeds.

While Mother Nature does a pretty good job of watering at Behrend, there are times the college’s groundskeeping crew has to step in and give parched plants a drink.

But just as a mother’s milk is best for babies, Mother Nature’s “milk” is best for plants. They thrive on natural rain water, which contains no chlorine, ammonia, fluoride, or other chemicals found in municipal water systems.

Now, thanks to a public art project—Don’t Give Up the Drip—conceived and orchestrated by Erie-area environmental agencies, Behrend is able to collect and save rain water for plants in three new fifty-five gallon rain barrels on campus—one at the Health and Wellness building, one at Turnbull Hall, and one at Erie Hall.

These aren’t just plain plastic rain barrels though; they are works of art.

“Our goal was to showcase our local art talent while educating the community about the benefits of harvesting rainwater and water conservation and health,” said Kristen Currier, environmental educator at the Erie County Conservation District, one of the organizations behind the art project.

A total of fifty-two plastic barrels were transformed by forty-six different artists. The barrels then were placed in publically accessible locations throughout the Erie area, including three at Penn State Behrend.

The rainwater will be used to quench the thirst of Behrend’s vast flora.

“Erie receives above average rainfall annually. Still, throughout the summer we experience shortages and the rain barrels are extremely useful then,” said Ann Quinn, director of Greener Behrend, an environmental service club on campus. “The water stored will be used to water nearby plants on our campus in a sustainable, simple way.”

Resulting, of course, in a greener Behrend.

4 reasons to collect rainwater:

  • It is better for your plants — it’s fluoride and chlorine free.
  • It will lower your water usage (and water bills).
  • It cuts down on flooding and erosion of the land around buildings.
  • It reduces runoff — the water that washes pollutants into our streams and lakes during rainstorms.

Behrend’s Barrels

Health & Wellness

“The Green Man” by artist Luke Gehring

Location: Health and Wellness Center



“Save our water” by artist Lewis Prest

Location: Turnbull Hall


Erie Hall

“The Life Cycle of the Monarch Butterfly” by artist Downia Glass

Location: Erie Hall

Want to see all the barrels?

For a map to the location of all the rain barrels in the Erie area, click here.