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.
NAME: Dr. Pam Silver
DAY JOB: Distinguished professor of biology, Penn State Behrend
SIDE GIG: Pipe Major, 96th Highlanders Pipes & Drums Corp
If Dr. Pam Silver’s childhood had a soundtrack, it would be the humming drone and romantic skirl of the bagpipes.
“My earliest memories are of following my mother around the yard as she walked back and forth playing bagpipes,” she said.
It wasn’t long before Silver was squeezing her own set of pipes under her tiny arm.
“I started taking lessons when I was 7 and got my first pipes when I was 9,” Silver said. “I’ve been playing ever since.”
Today, she is the Pipe Major of the 96th Highlanders Pipes & Drums, a pipe and drum corps that represents Jamestown and Chautauqua County, New York, at parades, festivals, and special events throughout the year.
Silver said her favorite music to play on the pipes is a trio of songs: Mrs. Joy Cairns, Rebecca’s Air, and Shoshanna’s Lullaby. Each of the songs is a tribute to women—wives, mothers, daughters.
“To me, that set is just one giant love song,” she said.
Speaking of love songs, Silver’s husband, Doug Clark, shares her passion for music. He is the drum sergeant in the 96th Highlanders (that’s how they met). He runs a large Celtic festival every August in Mayville, New York. To coin a trite, but wholly appropriate phrase, they make beautiful music together.
In addition to her performances and practices with the 96th Highlanders, Silver offers bagpipe lessons and takes on the occasional private gig, playing at weddings, parties, funerals, and, once, a bat mitzvah.
She’s also been known to liven things up in the School of Science with impromptu performances.
“When it’s been a long week, or when the students have been working really hard, I like to bring in my pipes and play a little,” she said. “It lifts spirits and makes a lot of noise.”
ON THE CREATIVITY OF SCIENTISTS:
“People sometimes think science is about memorizing facts, but it’s really about discovering facts and wringing answers out of nature,” she said. “When you have a scientific question, it takes a lot of creativity to find the answer to it.”
FROM BLOOD TO BIO:
“I worked as a medical technologist at a blood bank in Florida for ten years while I raised my sons. When they got older, I decided to go back to grad school to be an ecologist, but I never could learn to like the Florida heat. I grew up in rural New Jersey, so I was happy to move back to the Northeast to work at Penn State Behrend.”
“If we want to save the world, or at least slow the destruction of our ecosystem, we have to communicate effectively with non-scientists. Scientists tend to be introspective and many of them struggle to explain things to those outside their field. I’m really good at explaining things, so the most useful place for me to be to help fix our ecosystem is in the classroom. By teaching students to respect and appreciate our natural resources and insisting they take action to preserve it, I can have a much larger impact than I could if I worked only in the lab or in the field.”
ON ECOLOGY (AND HER SPECIALTY – AQUATIC ECOLOGY):
“I love ecology because it pulls everything together. I get to talk about all kinds of subjects from history to politics to engineering because it all influences our ecosystem. Also, I really love to play in the water.”
WHAT SHE WANTS THE WORLD TO KNOW:
“Water is our most precious natural resource, and it should never be wasted or deliberately contaminated. Drinkable water is not abundant and is, in fact, one of our most scarce natural resources. People don’t realize that yet, but they will. And it will happen in our lifetime. Every living thing needs clean water. We can’t survive without it.”
ON EDITING FRESHWATER SCIENCE:
Silver is Editor-in-Chief of Freshwater Science, a highly-rated international scientific journal that has doubled in size and tripled in submissions since Silver took over in 2005.
“It’s a ton of work,” she said. “I spend probably sixteen hours on every paper in that journal. But, it’s really satisfying work. I like making sure the science is well-written and understandable. And I’ve amassed a huge network of scientific colleagues from across the world. I have learned something from each of them.”
A DISTINGUISHING HONOR:
Silver was recently named a University distinguished professor, an honor bestowed on fewer than 120 faculty members University-wide. She was nominated by Dr. Martin Kociolek, director of the School of Science.
“I’m still not sure if I’m worthy of the title, but there are people who I have tremendous respect for who think that I am, so I guess I can trust their opinion,” she said with a laugh.
Time at Behrend: 22 years
Favorite aquatic insect: Midges. “They are very interesting and ecologically important to the health of a lake.”
Hobby No. 2: Making small, decorative quilts. “I created one as a memorial to a famous aquatic ecologist and donated to the Society of Freshwater Science for their annual auction to benefit graduate students and it fetched a donation of $2,600!”
Hobby No. 3: Gardening. “It’s therapeutic to have your hands in the soil.”
Favorite TV show: Madam Secretary.
Favorite sweet treat: Coffee-flavored ice cream.
Dream vacation: Hiking in the Swiss Alps. “I’ve done it before, but I’d like to go back.”
Book she’d recommend everyone read: Lord of the Rings. “I inherited the book from my grandfather and didn’t think I’d like it, but I reread it every year.”
Person she admires most: Her mother. “We drive to New Jersey once a month to visit her. She is 85 and still plays the bagpipes. We play together every chance we get.”
Dr. Silver, right, and her mother, Edith