Erie Free Taxes Counts on Behrend Student Volunteers

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications,  
Penn State Behrend

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When Anna Reed, a senior majoring in accounting and management information systems, goes to a job or internship interview, potential employers always ask her about one item on her resume—her experience as a volunteer tax preparer with Erie Free Taxes, a United Way of Erie County program.

The federal tax code is about four million words, so it’s little wonder that most people need help filing their income taxes.

For the last twenty-plus years, low-income tax filers in the Erie area have been able to get help for free from Penn State Behrend students enrolled in ACCTG 411: Accounting practicum VITA.

VITA, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, is an IRS-sponsored program to help those with disabilities and those who earn less than $55,000 a year with their taxes.

Reed volunteered for the program last year and found it so rewarding that she plans to do it again this year.

VITA volunteers are required to work four hours a week at a United Way tax prep location from February to April, helping those in need of services.

“There are so many residents who cannot afford to have their taxes filed professionally,” Reed said. “It was rewarding to use my knowledge and skills to help others. I really enjoyed the experience.”

It was also a valuable learning experience and resume builder.

“Working one-on-one with clients really helped me to enhance my communication skills,” Reed said. “And doing the returns helped reinforce what I had learned in my tax class.”

Student volunteers are trained on an IRS software and must pass an IRS exam to be certified to prepare taxes.

If you’re a Behrend business student interested in volunteering with Erie Free Taxes, contact Bob Patterson, lecturer in management, at x7171 or rdp4@psu.edu.

 

Secret Lives of Faculty – Elizabeth Fogle, Roller Derby athlete

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

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications,  
Penn State Behrend

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Elizabeth Fogle, center. Photo credit: Raymond F. Durkin, http://www.DurmaxPhoto.com

PowerTower. Meanhatten. Big Red. Stitches. Miss United Skates. Lord of the Rink. Lady Liberty. Rusty Razor Blades. Jammin’ & Rammin’. Blockingjay.

Skater nicknames, which are typically creative puns that many skaters see as an opportunity to adopt an on-track persona, are only half the fun in the sport of roller derby. The names are what initially hooked Elizabeth Fogle, associate teaching professor of English, on the sport.

“I saw the movie Whip It in 2010 and became obsessed with coming up with derby names for fun,” Fogle said.

Of course, the English professor in Fogle would enjoy the wordplay, but she went all in on roller derby after learning there was a team in Erie.

“When a friend and I found out about Eerie Roller Girls, we went and observed a few practices and the rest is history,” Fogle said.

Though she had not been on roller skates since middle school, Fogle dug up some wheels, laced up and joined the team. She has been skating with the Eerie Roller Girls, part of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA), for seven years now.

We caught up with Fogle to find out more about roller derby, what she loves about the sport, and the story behind her skater name.

What is roller derby?

It’s sort of a mash up of a bunch of sports—hockey, rugby, NASCAR, and demolition derby—only there are no cars, balls, or pucks and it’s all executed on roller skates. Roller derby is all about helping our jammer (usually our fastest skaters) do laps and keeping the other team’s jammer from getting through. There are three positions on the team—pivot, blocker, and jammer. You can learn more about the rules and technique behind the sport at the WFTDA’s web page.

What’s the goal? How do you win?

From the WFTDA website: “The skaters wearing a helmet cover with a star on it are the jammers. After making it through the pack of blockers once, the jammer begins scoring points for each opposing blocker she passes legally and in bounds. She can also score points on opponents who are in the penalty box and can get a fifth point if she laps the opposing jammer. Blockers are trying to stop the opposing team’s jammer while helping their own jammer get through.”

What is your position on the team?

I mostly block. I’ve been jamming a little more this season and I enjoy it, but I’m really more at home blocking and keeping everyone together. I like blocking. It’s not just about big hits, but also about empowering your teammates and communicating strategy in real time. We play defense and offense simultaneously.

What’s your nickname?

I go by “Strong Female Protagonist.” It makes people laugh because it’s both specific and generic. My teammates call me Fogle or “Tag” for short.

What do you enjoy about the sport?

I love how demanding it is. It’s also scary and I try to do something every day that scares me a little bit. I’m not an adrenaline junkie, but I really like to challenge myself, physically, mentally, and creatively. Roller derby gives me that. Also, there’s always something new to learn—footwork, strategy, etc.

What does it give you?

It gives me an outlet where I can just be a person moving through space with a goal. So often women are discouraged from contact sports or using their bodies in physical, athletic ways. Roller derby provides a safe place for women to be tough and brutal, as well as confident and unapologetic. It’s also a community. My teammates are my friends.

Is it only women?

On our team, yes. Men play roller derby, too, but it definitely attracts more female players. We have some male referees and coaches, though.

Why do you think it appeals to women?

It’s a place where things like size and age don’t matter very much. At 5 foot 3 inches and 44 years old, I can be just as effective as someone who is 6 foot tall and half my age. I just have to figure out the best way to use my particular body and skill set to achieve a goal—be that a block, a brace, a screen, or even points.

What is the roller derby season and where do you skate?

Our season runs from late spring to early fall, but we practice nine months out of the year at Presque Isle Skating and Event Center in Erie. Our home games, or bouts, are at the Bayfront Convention Center. We’re just wrapping up this year’s season, but you can like/follow Eerie Roller Girls on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to keep up with the team.

What do people say when you tell them this is your hobby?

The usually ask if it’s like the old roller derby that used to be on television. I clarify that we are not scripted, there are established rules, we play on a flat track (not a banked), and throwing elbows is not legal.

Do you have any other hobbies?

I lift weights and do cross-fit training, which I enjoy almost as much as roller derby. I also like to knit and read when I have the time.

What do you enjoy about teaching English at Behrend?

I love winning over science majors and teaching them how to express themselves thoughtfully and purposely. For many of them, writing is a challenge. I really enjoy demystifying it for them and empowering them to be better, more rounded scientists. I also enjoy teaching graphic novels. I love hybrid forms that engage readers in new and interesting ways. All human beings are storytellers, so I think it’s important to study the variety of ways we tell stories.

Ready for some fun? What would your roller derby name be? Try this online roller derby name generator from Buzzfeed.

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When You Give an Engineer a Problem….

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications,  Penn State Behrend

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Valerie Zivkovich and Olivia Dubin, seniors majoring in Plastics Engineering Technology.

Engineers are problem solvers by nature. So it should come as no surprise that when faced with a recycling conundrum, students in Penn State Behrend’s School of Engineering saw an opportunity.

The quandary

China, which is the largest consumer of recycled material from the United States, has significantly reduced the amount and types of material it will accept and introduced strong restrictions on contamination, i.e. trash mixed in with recyclables.

This has forced a wave of changes in the U.S. recycling industry.

“Waste Management has had to adjust the way it recycles materials to ensure those materials pass through numerous quality checks and has also found it necessary to pass on increased costs to customers, including Behrend,” said Randall Geering, senior director of business and operations. “The impact of these changes is being felt everywhere, not just on our campus.”

The bottom line: Recycling is becoming harder and more expensive for consumers and businesses to do and unprofitable for material recovery facilities.

It is not hard to see how this could lead to complete breakdown in the recycling system.

Seeds of change

Recycling and the waste generated by landscaping containers is what led Valerie Zivkovich, a senior from Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, to the Plastics Engineering Technology (PLET) program at Penn State Behrend.

“I worked at a vegetable farm in high school, and we were constantly throwing out plastic containers that the plants were in,” Zivkovich said. “We couldn’t reuse them because of potential contaminants in the soil, and I understood that, but I thought there had to be a better way. I wanted to develop a better plastic for agricultural use.”

Zivkovich and her capstone project partner, fellow PLET senior Olivia Dubin, had heard the uproar from the Penn State Behrend community about the prospect of no longer recycling and realized the campus could recycle its own plastic bottles.

At a campus-wide meeting with Waste Management officials, Zivkovich and Dubin presented a proposal to collect, clean, and pelletize bottles into raw material that could then be used to create new products.

“Basically, we’ll collect plastic bottles—primarily PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and PP (polypropylene) such as pop bottles, Starbucks cups, etc.—then grind them up into tiny pellets and use or resell them to a vendor,” Zivkovich said.

They worked on their initial plan with Jason Williams, assistant teaching professor of engineering.

“I think this could work because we already have most of the equipment and skills in our plastics department,” Williams said. “We are unique in that we have both a plastics factory and a research facility. This combination of resources makes Behrend a great place to test something like this.”

Waste Management agreed and awarded the students a $3,000 Think Green grant to help get the program going.

“The recycling industry is changing, and it’s going to take projects like this one to help identify different markets for material,” said Erika Deyarmin-Young, public affairs coordinator at Waste Management.

Williams is excited about the possibilities.

“I think this initiative is a valuable teaching tool and a demonstration of how engineers can make things better,” he said. “It will also give us tools we can use to study ways to handle post-consumer waste. I think there is a lot of research opportunity in developing automatic sorting technology and material handling of plastics.”

“As PLET majors, we learn about the impact and importance of recycling,” Dubin said. “We are excited to have come up with a solution that our whole campus could be involved in.”

It takes a village

The first step, Zivkovich said, is spreading the word about what can and can’t be recycled and the importance of rinsing containers before tossing them into the recycling bin.

“There definitely needs to be a campus-wide education campaign,” she said. “We need to teach others how to recycle properly with information sessions, posters, and clear signage on the collection containers.”

“We want students to get involved with every aspect of the recycling process,” Dubin said.

Other priorities include finding more funding and securing workspace. “We need a new grinder and that’s $45,000,” Zivkovich said. “We’re applying for grants to find that funding. As for lab space, we think the Merwin building in Knowledge Park would be ideal.”

Another important part of the equation: volunteers from all four schools.

“We don’t want this to be a project only for PLET or engineering students,” Williams said. “This is an opportunity for students across the college to get involved with these recycling efforts.”

Zivkovich plans to reach out to the college’s sustainability program and Greener Behrend club for help securing volunteers to sort and collect plastics.

“Whatever major you are in, you’ll deal with recycling somewhere—at home, at work, in your community,” Zivkovich said. “This effects all of us whether you work in the industry or not.”

Students learn about the business of fun

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications,  Penn State Behrend

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On Friday, September 21, fourteen students from MGT471W Strategic Planning and Business Policy traveled to “the roller coaster capital of the world”— Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio. However, they were not there just to buckle themselves into the park’s seventeen roller coasters. This trip was all (er, mostly) business.

Amusement parks aren’t simply fun and games; they are for-profit businesses. This is something that Chris Harben, assistant teaching professor of management, is quite familiar with because he works as an emergency medical technician at Cedar Point each summer.

Harben arranged the trip so students could get a close-up look at how the business of fun is done.

Students were welcomed to the park by Missy Smith, director of finance for Cedar Point, and then experienced four hours of presentations, tours, and conversations with Cedar Point management, including Smith, Joanne Mueller, the vice president of human resources, Karen Michelson, vice president marketing, and Jason McClure, general manager, who spent the entire afternoon with the group.

“Students were surprised at the extent of the information the leadership team members shared with them,” Harben said. “Topics included staffing challenges for the park, their international hiring program, marketing strategies, financial forecasting and budgeting, park competitive positioning and strategy, growth plans, and much more.”

Students received a behind-the-scenes tour of the park, which included the corporate headquarters of Cedar Fair, the parent company of Cedar Point, and even saw “Screamsters” getting their make-up and costumes on in preparation for Cedar Point’s “Haunt at Halloweekends” event taking place that evening. They also enjoyed a meal at one of the park’s newest restaurant offerings, Melt.

After all the lessons were done, students were able to cut loose and enjoy the park for a few hours.

The students who attended were: Grace Baumiller, Kylie Cosgrove, Emily Demmick, Michael Funera, Rayna Hollarn, Kyler Luchkiw, Margo Mccullough, Chi Hou Ng, Jeffrey Smith, Madison Start, Nathan Steis, Ryan Terrabasso, and Sean Wither.

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United Way Internship Offers Communication Major Experience, Career Confidence

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications,  Penn State Behrend

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Carlie Bright, far right, a senior communication major, did a summer internship at United Way of Erie County.  Also in the photo are, from left, Jana Ranus of Wegmans, Donald Snyder of Curtze Food Service, and Lisa Fischer, United Way campaign accounts manager. The three women were awarding Synder, a United Way donor, with a “prize surprise” Wegmans shopping spree.

Carlie Bright, who was born and raised in Erie, thought she knew her hometown. Then she did a summer internship at United Way of Erie County.

“I developed a whole new understanding for the community I grew up in,” Bright said. “It was very eye-opening for me. There are a lot more people struggling than I ever knew.”

Bright, a senior communication major at Penn State Behrend, worked as a marketing and communications intern for the nonprofit agency, which serves as a coalition of charitable organizations. Bright won a stipend from Behrend’s Academic and Career Planning Center, which made the three-credit experience free for her.

“Unpaid internships, like the one that I did at United Way, can be difficult for students to manage, so the stipend really helped,” she said.

Bright worked three days a week from May to August and said every day was different.

“There was no typical day because nonprofit communications departments are usually run by a few people who are faced with a wide variety and number of tasks,” she said. “But no matter what I had on my plate on a given day, I was almost always involved with website updates, scheduling social media posts, and clipping or collecting any media mentions United Way had received.”

She got to try her hand at designing flyers and creating content for electronic newsletters. She also assisted in the planning and preparation of many community events, including National Night Out, an anti-violence community initiative that took place in twenty locations on one night.

“Many of the events and activities that I was involved with were moving and inspiring,” Bright said.

The experience was also enlightening.

“Overall, the internship tied in very well with my career goals and objectives, as well as with my degree and coursework,” Bright said. “I was able to see firsthand how communications and marketing tie into every department in any business or organization. I also learned that communications professionals wear a lot of hats. Personally, I loved constantly having so many things to do.”

Silver Celebrated: Professor honored for decades of work on journal Freshwater Science

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications,  Penn State Behrend

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Dr. Pam Silver, interim associate dean for academic affairs and distinguished professor of biology, was in graduate school when she submitted her first paper to what was then the journal of the North American Benthological Society (now the journal Freshwater Science).

“It came back covered in red ink,” Silver said. “The founding editor of the journal, Rosemary Mackay, worked with me and taught me how to write.”

It’s a favor that Silver went on to pay forward for twenty-one years, serving in various roles at the journal, including editor-in-chief for the last thirteen years, until her retirement from the journal this spring.

“Pam worked tirelessly to improve and grow the journal while unselfishly working in the trenches with authors to improve their manuscripts,” said Jack Feminella, professor and associate dean of academic affairs at Auburn University, and Charles Hawkins, professor in the department of Watershed Sciences at Utah State University, in their nomination of Silver for the Society for Freshwater Science’s Distinguished Service Award. “Over her tenure as editor-in-chief, Pam has been a role model and mentor to many young authors and new appointees to the Editorial Board. Aside from her incredible work ethic, Pam’s ability to work effectively with all kinds of personalities is perhaps her greatest strength.”

These attributes did not go unnoticed at Penn State Behrend, where last year Silver was tapped to serve as interim associate dean for academic affairs. It was a promotion that ultimately led her to give up her work at the journal.

“My head needs to be here at Penn State Behrend,” Silver said.

Before she left the journal, however, they honored her with a Distinguished Service Award at the group’s fall conference in Detroit.

Though Silver prefers to avoid the spotlight, we did get her to sit down for a Q&A about the award, her years at the journal, and why the sleep deprivation was all worth it.

Why are scientific journals important?

It’s a way to disseminate information in a way that ensures its validity. Is the work scientifically valid? Can the findings be trusted? If it is in Freshwater Science, it’s been peer-reviewed. Now, what you can know depends on the tools and techniques that are currently available. And, so, in that way, journals can be historically valuable, too. They contain the history of how that knowledge evolved over time. It’s also a way of creating a network of people, a community, that share information. Sharing that information can inspire more curiosity, which leads to more science. It’s like scaffolding. Scientists just keep building on top of earlier work. Every paper published is resting on a pyramid of other papers.

Tell us about the journal for Freshwater Science. Who reads it? How is it distributed? Who submits articles?

It’s a professional journal for ecologists, biologists, and environmental scientists who both read it and submit to it. The Society for Freshwater Science co-publishes the journal with the University of Chicago Press quarterly. To my knowledge, it’s the only major scientific journal in the field of freshwater science that is still society-published. Most other journals have been sold to commercial publishers. There is both a print and an online version that is available to SFS’s 1,500 members.

Are all submitted papers published?

Definitely not. Articles are fully peer-reviewed. The editorial board rejects about 60 to 65 percent of submissions.

How did you get involved with the journal?

The journal was founded when I was in graduate school and I submitted a paper. The editor bled red ink all over it, but she taught me how to make it better. I actually thought, ‘I want her job.’ I applied to be a member of the editorial board (they review the science in the papers) and was accepted in 1997. In 2002, they asked me to be a co-editor. When Dave Rosenberg, the journal’s second editor-in-chief retired in 2005, they asked me to take the job.

This was in addition to your full-time job as a biology professor at Behrend?

Yes. It was like having another full-time job. I probably worked an additional forty hours a week editing articles and working with the writers.

What would people be surprised to know about editing a scientific journal?

The amount of work that it requires. Each article involved about twenty hours of time, and we published about 100 articles a year, so that’s about 2,000 hours annually. By the time an issue published, I will have read and edited every page at least four times.

Were you responsible for reviewing the science, too?

No. The editorial board did all the science. I did the wordsmithing and double-checked the science.

The people who nominated you for the award said you did that very well.

Yes, I know that the journal got a reputation as a place to teach students how to write and edit. When I announced I was retiring, I heard from dozens of contributors who said, ‘How can you retire? We need you!’ I think I was a good editor. I was honest, but made every effort to be kind and I tried hard to keep our interactions informal. The authors may not have liked all the changes I made to their paper, but they usually agreed that I made it better.

What is the most frequent problem you encountered when editing?

Organization. If a paper was hard to understand, it was usually because of paragraph, sentence, or word order and inconsistency in how the authors were referring to things.

What are three things scientists (or anyone) could do to improve their writing?

  1. Use precise and concise language.
  2. Use the active voice.
  3. Use forward moving sentences.
  4. Think of the audience. If you can’t explain it to a non-scientist, you need to work on your communication skills.

One of the things you’re credited with is diversifying the organization as well as the membership.

I made a real effort to increase international diversity and bring more women onto the editorial board. I also tried to include more young scientists. Everyone has something to bring to the table and the publication benefited from having a variety of perspectives.

Why was it important to include young scientists?

For the same reason that I love to teach first-year students. They’re young and excited and full of energy and they still want to save the world. You can help mentor them to direct that energy to things that are important.

Did you enjoy editing?

I did. The biggest benefit of editing the journal was learning about so many different and interesting things in freshwater science. In any issue, I might be editing an article about the sex life of a water bug and another about microplastics in the Chicago River and another about molecular biology. Every paper was an intellectual challenge for me, and it made all the work and sleep deprivation worth it.

What’s next for you?

Well, I have plenty of work to do as the interim associate dean for academic affairs, and I’m hoping to find time to write about my own road salt research work. I’m still teaching a little, too. I have an Urban Ecology class in the spring semester that I’m very excited about. It’s going to be a fun challenge.

Harambee Dinner Brings Campus Community Together

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications,  Penn State Behrend

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Flavors, customs, and tastes may differ from country to country, but food is a universal language of human beings. Sharing a meal, whether an elaborate holiday feast or a simple dinner, can unite and create community among people.

For thirty-two years, Penn State Behrend’s Multi-Cultural Council, a student club comprising of cultural student organizations, sets the table for connection among the campus community at the club’s annual Harambee dinner.

This year’s dinner is scheduled for October 4 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in McGarvey Commons.

“Harambee is a word in Swahili that means ‘Let’s pull together’ and originated in the country of Kenya as a slogan for national unity,” said Andy Herrera, Director of Educational Equity and Diversity Programs and adviser for MCC. “We use this event as a way of uniting our campus community and celebrating the diversity of cultures here at Behrend.”

The annual event offers students, faculty and staff members a chance to get to know one another while enjoying an international buffet dinner and an evening of entertainment. This year’s guest speaker is Shinjini Das, a young entrepreneur, industrial engineer, global millennial influencer, and media personality. She is the founder and CEO of The Das Media Group, a boutique digital strategy consulting firm, and has been recognized for her global efforts to empower women.

The event will also feature a cultural performance with a professional touring group performing Afro-Brazilian music and the Brazilian dance art of capoeira.

“It’s really nice to see the diversity of students and community members who attend the event every year,” Herrera said. “Some students from MCC wear traditional dress from their various cultures, and group members emcee the event and speak about the importance and meaning of Harambee.”

The timing of the event is deliberate, Herrera said.

“Harambee is held in early fall every year to set a tone of cultural awareness and appreciation for the year. Like the name of the dinner suggests, it’s meant to pull us all together.”

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If you wish to attend Harmabee, RSVP at the Multi-Cultural Council’s Behrendsync page. (NOTE: If link is not live, it will be soon!)