Ho, ho, holiday reading suggestions


By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Season’s greetings, everyone!

’tis the season to kick back under the glow of holiday lights and indulge in a little pleasure reading (You know, instead of all the under-pressure reading you do for your classes!).

Traveling for the holidays? No problem…download an audio book to your Smartphone or mobile device.

Ah…but what to read/listen to? We went straight to some of the biggest book lovers on campus — Lilley library staff members and Creative Writing faculty members.  Here are the tomes they suggested:

“I just finished reading, Flash, The Homeless Donkey Who Taught Me about Life, Faith, and Second Chances by Rachel Anne Ridge. It contains awesome messages that would benefit all who read it.” — Patti Mrozowski, information resources and services support specialist

“I’ve been listening to Olive Kitteridge in the car and it is remarkably good. I had watched the miniseries but, of course, the book is always better because the author can explain what she is feeling and thinking, and the reasons she acts the way that she does.”   — Jane Ingold, associate librarian

“I just finished Me Before You by JoJo Moyes and loved it! I enjoy books and movies about love, and I especially like ones that make me cry. So, when I saw a review on the back cover that said, “to be devoured like candy, between tears,” I knew I wanted to read it. Essentially, it’s about a woman who is hired to spend time with a depressed, quadriplegic man. The story makes you consider two sides of a very controversial topic that I won’t mention for risk of spoiling the book. I saw recently that it will be made into a movie starring Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) and Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games). I just started the sequel, After You.” — Stephanie Diaz, reference and instruction librarian

“This book isn’t brand new, but Col. Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth is excellent. It contains lots of interesting, but understandable science and advice on how to turn use those lessons here on Earth.” —Russ Hall, associate librarian

“I really loved Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by  Mindy Kaling. It’s a very funny memoir in which she writes about her time writing and acting for The Office (a show I loved), romance, Hollywood, friendship, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck. She is very relatable, and she made me laugh out loud!” — Stephanie Diaz, reference and instruction librarian

“Two of our creative writing alumni have amazing new books out. Both Corey Zeller’s You and Other Pieces (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2015) and Heather Slomski’s The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons (Iowa UP, 2015) are formally innovative—both writers experiment a bit in terms of how stories get told—but these books also do what readers have always wanted books to do. They expose and celebrate the mysteries of love and loss, pain and renewal.” — Dr. Tom Noyes, associate professor of English and Creative Writing

“I love anything by Philippa Gregory, an English historical novelist. This time of year, though, I like to read Christmas books. Last year I read a fun, off-the-wall book — Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop by Otto Penzler.  Richard Paul Evans, author of The Christmas Box, has written a few other  Christmas-themed books, too.” — Lisa Moyer, information resources and service supervisor – manager

Tips for Book Lovers

If, like me, you always forget which books friends have recommended, try one of these strategies:

1. Make a list on your Smartphone using a “note” application and you’ll always have your list with you when you’re browsing at the Lilley Library or out shopping.


2. Create a wish list at an online bookseller (I use Amazon) and add titles to your “to read” list when friends recommend them. It’s a convenient and easily-accessible way to keep track of books you want to read. (Tip: See if you can borrow the book through the Lilley Library before you purchase. I’m linking the books below to Amazon just so you can see the



Recommended gift ideas from faculty and staff members

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Still got some holiday shopping left to do? Don’t worry, Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members have you covered. Here are some of their top suggestions for gifts that are both fun and educational.


Ideas provided by Tracy Halmi, senior lecturer in chemistry

  • Weather station. Any future meteorologists on your gift list? This is perfect as it accurately measures the temperature, humidity, and wind speed. $100.
  • Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. This book offers never-before-seen photographic representations of the 118 elements in the periodic table. We’re all familiar with aluminum and copper, but what exactly does Copernicium look like? This book will show you. $15.
  • ThinkGeek products. Whether it’s Marvel, Minecraft or the Millennium Falcon, everyone knows geek is the new cool. This website offers items that will surely satisfy any “geek” on your gift list. Various prices.


Ideas provided by Dr. Richard Zhao, lecturer in computer science and software engineering

  • Custom photo jigsaw puzzle. It never hurts to give a gift with a personal touch, and jigsaw puzzles can be a fun, challenging task. $14.
  • LEGO Star Wars. The new movie is right around the corner, so anything Star Wars is guaranteed to be a hot item this holiday season. However, why not inspire a little creativity with a LEGO Star Wars set? There’s one available in every price range. Various prices.
  • Make-Your-Own Robots. Thanks to Makershed.com, you can choose from a number of options and create your own small robot from scratch. $20-$500.


Ideas provided by Melanie Ford, director of Youth Education Outreach

  • Blink Blink DIY kits. These kits are perfect for girls interested in any of the STEAM fields as they integrate art, fashion, simple circuits, and e-textiles into the hands-on building process. Kids can create a number of fun items, including cards, paper lamps, origami, scarves, and light-up leggings. $39-$89.
  • Makey Makey. Dubbed the “Invention Kit for Everyone,” Makey Makey makes it possible to connect a computer to almost any object. It could be a banana, an ice cube or a living person, but basically any material that can conduct at least a tiny bit of electricity can be used. $50.
  • K’Nex. These are similar to LEGOs but a bit more advanced. K’Nex really emphasize engineering and physics principles, allowing the builder to create some pretty awesome things like roller coasters and Ferris wheels. Various prices.


Idea provided by Dr. Mary Ellen Madigan, director of enrollment management

  • Adult Coloring Books. Have someone on your gift list who is always stressed-out? Adult Coloring Books  are an Amazon No. 1 National Bestseller, and provide hours and hours of stress relief, mindful calm, and fun, creative expression. $9.

Makers Engineer Ornaments, Fun


By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

The upcoming holiday season offers the perfect distraction for stressed-out students. In this last week of classes, we found plenty of holiday cramming going on with every area from Housing and Food Services to Student Activities to the School of Engineering fitting in some festive merrymaking before things get serious with Finals Week next week.

Wednesday evening, a dozen students gathered in an electrical lab in Burke 145 to munch holiday treats and craft acrylic LED ornaments with Dr. Chris Coulston, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Students first drew snowflakes on computers using CorelDraw and added any text they wanted before sending their creations to the laser printer to be cut out of acrylic. Then, they used soldering irons, wire, LED lights, and batteries to make their snowflakes glow.

Though the Makers group meets fairly regularly, Coulston refrains from calling it a club.

“It’s more like a gathering of like-minded makers,” he says. “I just invite students to show up and make something. It gives them an opportunity to try some of the tools we have, like the laser cutter and soldering equipment.”

Ultimately, though, it’s about encouraging critical thinking and creativity, which are key concepts for engineering students to grasp.

“We try to come up with things that challenge them or make them look at things in a slightly different way,” Coulston said. “For instance, before Thanksgiving, we made LED hot dogs. Who’d have thought you could light up a hot dog?”


While there may be no practical application for glowing frankfurters, there is certainly a demand for people with the creativity, technological skills, and theoretical knowledge to use ordinary objects in a truly unique way.

While the majority of those who attend Coulston’s Maker gatherings are engineering students, he welcomes all students and faculty members.

“I’d love to have some artists and scientists join us, too,” he said. “The more, the merrier. They’d probably have some really cool ideas.”

Coulston brought a special guest to Wednesday’s gathering, his pug, Shiloh, dressed in her holiday best.

“Anyone can get a picture with Santa, but where else can you get a photo with Santa Pug?” he says with a smile.

Just like an engineer, always looking to improve the original product.

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