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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