The Show Must Go On(line)

By Heather Cass,

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

There are few things that singers look forward to more than a chance to get on stage and share their talent with an audience. When the COVID-19 crisis put an end to in-person gathering and, in turn, the culminating event for Behrend choral students this spring, Dr. Gabrielle Dietrich, director of Choral Ensembles and associate teaching professor of music, decided the show much go on. She came up with a plan to allow each student to step in the spotlight – a virtual cabaret performance.

We talked with Dietrich to learn more and get links to some of the students’ performances:

Behrend Blog: What were students tasked with doing?

Gabrielle Dietrich: In a typical semester, the big project we work towards in Music 103 Concert Choir) and 104 Chamber Singers is a full-length concert. We were busily working toward that goal right up to spring break. When it was announced that we would be learning remotely for the rest of the semester, I knew we needed a new project. I knew the students enjoyed a variety of musical styles and might like the chance to work on individual vocal development and a piece of music that spoke to them personally. So, we decided to do a video cabaret, featuring music, song, dance, or drama. Each student chose their own song, which I then purchased for them to use, and they had several individual coaching sessions with me to prepare for the performance.

You discovered early on that live performances on Zoom would not work well, so you asked students to record their performances?

Yes, any music-making on Zoom is impacted both by delay, which is impossible to compensate for in real time (Try singing “Happy Birthday” to someone with a group of friends on Zoom and quickly see what I mean), and sound quality because you’re dealing with both Zoom’s noise filter, which can be turned off on computers, but not on tablets or phones, and also the noise filter of the devices themselves, plus wide variations in equipment quality and sensitivity, not to mention connection speed. Making videos gave students more control over the quality of their performance and the ability to do multiple takes, experiment with microphone placement, the volume of the recorded accompaniment, etc. Once they were happy with their work, they uploaded a video to YouTube and sent me an unlisted link.

Then you gathered at a certain time to watch all the performances at once?

Yes. We kept the date and time of the original ceremony and gave friends and family members the chance to attend virtually, too, as many of them would’ve come to a typical concert. We used a different video sharing system called watch2gether. It turned out to not be ideal, but it was a learning experience. If I were to do it over, I would have requested the videos be done sooner so that I could have had time to assemble a slick playlist in YouTube or even a single video in iMovie.

How many attended/participated the cabaret? 

There were twenty performers, and probably fifty or more audience members in attendance, though that number may be higher as there were likely multiple viewers at some screens.

What was your overall impression of the event?

I was very impressed with the creativity, and I think the students had a lot of fun hearing one other. One of the things I love about Behrend choristers is how quick they are to appreciate and cheer each other on. Singers can be a competitive bunch, but our students are very supportive of one another, and I am really proud of that.

How was the transition to remote learning challenged you?

The hardest thing for all of us seems to be the visceral absence of singing together. If you haven’t had that experience, it’s hard to describe. The full-brain, full-body experience of singing in a choir pulls you out of yourself and connects you with others in an immediate and strangely intimate way, and there’s just no substitute for it. I know we are all incredibly eager for the days when we can get together and sing again.

Have there been any silver linings? Any techniques you plan to keep when you return to in-person classes? 

I like that my students had the challenging experience of being confronted by the honesty of a recording. When we’re in rehearsal, they rely on me for feedback. I work hard to focus on the positives and play to our strengths. Recording devices have no tact. I know that has been really hard for some of them. Hearing a recording of one’s own voice is challenging for most human beings. A big part of my job in the last few weeks has been to help students hear the good rather than focusing on what could have been better. I think I might do more videotaping in the future, simply because it’s a valuable check on our perceptions.

I truly enjoyed the light-heartedness some of my students brought to the table in their interpretations and their staging, and also the deep feeling and musical sensitivity and instinct they demonstrated.

Here are links to some of the students’ cabaret performances. Turn up your speakers and enjoy!

Stephen Humphries – Everything by Michael Bublé

Maribeth Miller – I’ve Got Somebody Waiting by Cole Porter

Jack Golec – Be Prepared (from The Lion King) by Alan Menken

Claire Nicholson – Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me by Irving Berlin

Victoria Ma – In my Own Little Corner (from Cinderella) by Rodgers & Hammerstein

Emily Green – With Every Breath I Take by Cy Coleman

 

Microbiology professor watches alumni, students with pride, concern

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

Dr. Beth Potter, an associate professor of biology at Penn State Behrend, considers it her job to push students just slightly out of their comfort zones.

“I think our role as college professors is to give them the confidence to excel,” Potter said. “Complacency equates to a plateau in learning/motivation. If we keep urging them off that plateau, there’s a shift that occurs. Suddenly, a student realizes they have what it takes to figure out a solution or handle the problem, and then they start pushing themselves.”

It’s valuable training for upper-level Behrend students and graduates who are now on the front lines in the fight against the COVID-19 virus. From emergency medical technicians to lab technicians to nurses, Behrend-trained science professionals are far beyond any comfort zones, working to care for patients and help contain the pandemic.

We’ll be sharing some of their stories in the coming weeks, but we also wondered what it was like for Potter, who just a semester or a few years ago, had some of these health care heroes in her classroom and laboratory.

Did you ever imagine your students or graduates would be dealing with a pandemic?

I definitely did not imagine this happening, though it was always a possibility, and some would say an inevitable occurrence, given the global nature and ease of international travel today.

You were promoting 20-second handwashing long before 2020. In 2016, you led students in your microbiology class in a service-learning project on campus that highlighted the value of handwashing.

Yes, we did. As a microbiologist, I think a passion for good hygiene naturally develops and I wanted to try and pass it on to my students through a service-learning project. Most of my students want to do something in the health profession, and if you want to be in that profession, one of the easiest and most inexpensive things you can do to promote good health is to stress good handwashing. The average person does it for just six seconds, but we should really be doing it for at least 20. Students set up handwashing stations outside Bruno’s and Burke Center. As part of the demonstration, students washed their hands for both six and 20 seconds in the presence of Glo Germ, each time placing them under a black light. They could then visualize the significant difference that comes from washing longer.

Many remain untouched, but inconvenienced by the COVID-19 virus and, lately, there has been a negative reaction to the extended social distancing. You have the biological understanding to truly appreciate this virus, what would you say to them?

For the past several years, I have begun my first microbiology lecture with a quote from one of the fathers of microbiology, Louis Pasteur: “The influence of the very small is very great indeed.” We have all been given a very important microbiology lesson by a virus. Bacteria and viruses are not going anywhere; they were here long before us and have a significant advantage. Even with the greatest scientific minds working to address them, their ability to evolve can’t be predicted. Behind the scenes are lots of hard-working scientists pushing themselves to figure this virus out. Unfortunately, that can’t happen instantaneously. One experiment may lead to new and different questions. While we might be inconvenienced, we need those scientists to find answers that they are confident about so that the best plan can be put into action. We need to respect their work and know that our communities and our economy will be stronger because we did.

As a faculty member at a close-knit campus like Behrend, students must sometimes feel like your own. Do professors worry about their former students?

Absolutely! From a young age, my own kids started referring to my college students as my big kids. Our students grow up so much in four years and, for me, it is the silver lining to the job. It makes the hours of creating exams, grading, and developing new course material and lab experiments worth it. I learn so much from each class, hopefully making me a better “parent” for the next class. I can’t turn off that parent switch when they leave with their diplomas. I love hearing stories about graduates who have found their path and are happy. I really hope our students know that we will always care about them, even after they leave us, and will be here to support them. I wish more of them would call or write “home” more often.

 

Take Notes: History is Happening

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

When Penn State Behrend faculty members were asked to record video messages that could be shared with students and the wider Behrend community on social media, Dr. Joe Beilein, associate professor of history, took the opportunity to remind us that the COVID-19 crisis will be a monumental moment in world history.

“We are living through a significant time in history right now,” Beilein said. “These days and months will be written about, taught, and reflected on decades from now.”

It’s a valuable reminder that someday the fear, inconvenience, aggravation, and disruption that we are living with will be history and that you may want to take some time during this pandemic to document what’s happening.

“Documenting what you’re thinking, doing, and feeling would be a treasure trove for future historians, as well as social scientists, especially psychologists and sociologists,” said Dr. Amy Carney, associate professor of history.

Penn State Behrend’s history professors strongly encourage others to take the time to record these monumental moments as they happen. Here are a few ways to do that.

  • Handwritten journaling is one of the most basic and accessible forms of recording history.
  • Start a blog. You can start an online blog in minutes on WordPress.com. You can share it with others or make it private and keep it for yourself.
  • Start a vlog. A vlog is a video blog (hence vlog). You can record an entry regularly and upload to YouTube. Again, you can make these private or share them.
  • Record snippets. If you don’t have a lot of time or inclination to write, download the 1 Second Video application for your smartphone and record a one-second video or photo memory every day. When you’re done, you can “mash” your seconds into a video that is just a few minutes long.
  • Download a smartphone diary app. There are several smartphone apps to aid you in daily journal keeping. Explore them to find one that works best for you.
  • Record an oral history. Record your own thoughts using the voice recorder on your phone. You might also consider including family members, too. By the way, this might be a great time to do a phone interview and oral history with elderly relatives who may be eager for interaction.

What should you record? Just document your daily experiences living in this era. Even the most mundane details about how you are living through this time will be interesting to look back on some day.

“Historians are able to find value in just about every piece of documentation or evidence we come across,” Carney said.

“It’s the absence of records that drives us nuts much more so than the quality of what the record describes,” Beilein added. “Who knows what will be important to human beings in fifty years anyway? So, the best way to get a picture of what is going on in a collective sense is through the honest observation and recording of whatever it is that a person thinks is significant.”

Need help getting started? Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, offers great writing prompts that will inspire you to record your thoughts and experiences before this pandemic becomes a distant memory.

Submit your memories

The Penn State University Libraries’ University Archives is documenting this significant and unique period for preservation and future research use. Its official curatorial program, the Penn State COVID-19 Experience Project, invites Penn State students, staff, faculty and alumni to document and share their personal experiences for submission toward a new special collection for the University Archives. Participants are encouraged to submit written journals or diaries, photo essays, video or audio recordings, zines or any other creative means of documentation. Learn more about the project and how you can contribute here.

 

Distinguished Professor’s Secret to Success Career: Adaptability

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

As a professor of biology and director of the Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center (LERGREC), Dr. Michael Campbell already has a few impressive titles, but Penn State recently added another highly significant word to his academic title–distinguished.

The designation of distinguished professor recognizes outstanding academic contributions to the University and service to students. Campbell joins two other Behrend faculty members in holding the title: Dr. John Gamble, distinguished professor of political science and international law, and George Looney, distinguished professor of English and creative writing. The title serves as the sign of an educator, like Campbell, who has spent decades going above and beyond.

We recently talked with Campbell, who started at Behrend in 1994, to learn more about his career, what makes a great professor, and how he balances his research work, teaching, and running LERGREC.

Though he doesn’t point it out, it’s clear that the secret to Campbell’s success is his ability to adapt to changing conditions, much like his favored research subjects, plants, are known to grow toward the light or send down deeper roots to find the nutrients they need to keep growing.

Have you always wanted to be a professor?

Actually, no. I thought I would work in the plant science industry, but my intention when I finished graduate school was to work for a company or develop my own industry.

What did you do before Behrend?

I worked for the U.S. Forest Service as a geneticist, then for the United States Department of Agriculture as a physiologist.

What do you enjoy about teaching?

That has changed a bit over the years. At first, it was great just to see students learn and discover new material and ideas in the classroom. But, over the years, my outlook on it has become more holistic; it’s not only about teaching specific subjects but helping students develop a career path as well.

What is the most important quality for a professor to possess?

The desire to work and to help others. It is critical for a professor to enjoy the subject matter they are a specialist in, but to be a teacher at a place like Behrend, you need to also find joy in helping students find their way; it’s a big part of what we do here.

What have you had to learn the hard way?

Teaching is a moving target. Each class has a group personality and there is no one-size-fits-all to presenting the material. Each semester is a bit different.

How do you balance research, teaching, and running the grape-station research lab?

At times, I feel like a short order cook; trying to make the entrée finish at the same time as the side dish. It has been a challenge to find the time to work on projects and to dedicate time to students working on their own projects. That said, the balance is about what I expected, and I think being active in research helps me as a teacher, particularly with upper-division class material.

This semester, you had to quickly transition your classes to remote learning. How did that go?

It was definitely a challenge, especially because we had to adapt so quickly. Ultimately, though, I think this experience has been beneficial. It has given me some new approaches to teaching that I probably would not have pursued.

What research project at LERGREC are you excited about right now?

My research work involves regulating sprouting in potatoes and I’m still working on that, but I can see an overlap with connecting that work to controlling growth in grapes. It is a bit high risk, but, hey, why not? As the climate becomes more erratic, grape growers may benefit from preventing premature growth during warm winter weather. Connecting what we have learned about regulating growth in stored potatoes to controlling grape growth in the vineyard is a new and exciting avenue for research.

What’s the most important thing a professor can do for a student?

Be a good mentor. A professor’s role is to guide a student and show them the way. Success is up to the student.

What advice do you have for professors in the first years of their career?

Enjoy what you do. Keep chugging away. True success is an accumulation of small accomplishments built over time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alumni Society Board Members Enjoy Giving Back to Behrend

By Heather Cass,

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

Glenn Brooks ’86 is the first to admit he wasn’t exactly a standout scholar during his years as a Management major at Penn State Behrend. “To be honest, I wasn’t an exemplary student at Behrend, in or outside of the classroom,” he said. “However, my Behrend experiences truly refined my character and taught me to work hard, to never give up, and to persevere.”

These lessons have served Brooks well, helping him build a successful life and career. In recognition and gratitude, he felt the need to give back by joining the Penn State Behrend Alumni Society board of directors.

“I really wanted to serve in a capacity that I would have never dreamed of doing back when I graduated in the 1980s,” he said.

The Behrend alumni board has fifteen members who serve three-year terms, helping to engage Behrend’s alumni ranks of 37,000-plus, a number that grows every year as more graduates are welcomed into the alumni family.

Board member Haley Sharp  is a relatively recent graduate, having obtained her degree in Mechanical Engineering in December of 2013. Sharp, who currently works as a thermal engineer at Naval Nuclear Laboratory, in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, said she joined the board to “give back to a place that gave her so much as a student and a person.”

“It’s very rewarding for me to turn around and give that experience and passion for Behrend back to the current and new students,” Sharp said. “I enjoy interacting with each and every student  I get to meet, and it’s fun to talk about our experiences, whether they are similar or different.”

Brooks agreed that serving on the board is a labor of love.

“I truly enjoy working with so many alumni from different years and different majors to help today’s student with the challenges they may face and to encourage them to get involved with the alumni board after they graduate,” Brooks said.

Behrend Blog talked with Kristen Comstock ’06, assistant director of alumni relations, to learn more about the board, the commitment required of its members, and why the board’s role in alumni relations.

What is the Behrend Alumni Society Board of Directors? What is its role?

The main goal of the board is to engage Behrend alumni via events, communications, volunteer involvement, campus interaction, and more. The Society also created an endowed scholarship fund, which we raise money for each year, primarily through our annual Creamery Ice Cream sale. The scholarship now has more than $150,000 in its endowment that benefits Penn State Behrend students!

How does the Behrend alumni board fit into the larger Penn State picture?

The Behrend Alumni Society is a branch of the Penn State Alumni Association and receives an annual allocation from the Alumni Association to offer a variety of activities. Since its organization in 1987, the society has developed a variety of programs and activities for alumni to continue their relationship with the college.

What is the term?

Appointment to the board is for a term of three years. Board members must also be members of the Penn State Alumni Association, either paid yearly or lifetime members.

What is the commitment for board members? What are they asked to do?

We meet four to six times a year, both in-person and online via video/phone conference). All board members focus on two support areas: outreach and campus involvement.

Outreach involves social and professional networking opportunities, maintaining communication with alumni, generating ideas for the annual alumni reunion, and helping coordinate events.

Campus involvement includes helping provide opportunities for students and faculty and staff members to develop a closer affiliation with the society by co-sponsoring campus activities, creating mentor programs, interacting with student organizations, and recognizing students with awards and scholarships.

Why is an alumni board important?

The members serve as an advisory committee and driving force behind many of our alumni engagement opportunities, such as our Parents, Families and Alumni Weekend events as well as the annual Alumni Wine Tour and Pittsburgh Pirates game outing. They support fundraising for the endowed alumni scholarship to provide Behrend students with financial support. Additionally, board members serve as a resource for faculty members (as guest speakers, for example) and admissions (helping to host send-off picnics and writing welcome notes to accepted students).

Who are the current board members?

An updated list of board members is available at behrend.psu.edu/alumni.

On a fun note, we hear there’s a baby boom on the current board.

Yes! Several board members have just had babies: Ashley Brightwell ’13; Sarah (Magrini) Giambanco ’12, ’15; and Brian Wilking ’15, ’17. Board member Kyle Cyphert ’15 and his wife are expecting in June.

How can alumni join the board?

Alumni who are interested in serving on the board should send a resume or CV to Kristen Comstock at kcc146@psu.edu for the board’s review. After a resume has been reviewed, current board members vote on accepting the candidate. An offer letter is then sent, with a Penn State Alumni Association membership card/brochure, if that alumna or alumnus is not already a member.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Switching Course: Remote teaching tools inspire innovation, enhancements to course delivery

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

In large, complex organizations, change can sometimes take a lot of time, planning, paperwork, and meetings. But things could not have moved more quickly than they did the week of March 9 when Penn State made the decision to extend remote teaching and learning through the end of the spring semester to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus on University campuses.

Faculty members had a little more than one week to transition their classes to a fully remote teaching format and get up to speed on the digital tools they and their students would need to meet virtually. It was understandably challenging and stressful. But, for some, being required to learn new ways to teach was eye opening and led to revelations that will enhance course delivery when students return to campus in the future.

Dr. Jay Amicangelo, professor of chemistry, has been teaching in a traditional face-to-face manner since he started at Behrend in 2002 and said he was not fully aware of all the features available in Canvas, the online course management platform utilized by Penn State, until he had to move his classes to a remote teaching format.

“One part that I actually like is the idea of pre-recording my lectures ahead of time and then using class time to go over assigned problems, answer questions, and so forth,” he said.

It’s a new tool he plans to use when he returns to the classroom this fall to teach CHEM450 Physical Chemistry Thermodynamics, an upper-level course.

“In this class, I have always used the chalkboard to present material for the class because it is a highly mathematical class,” Amicangelo said. “I would often feel rushed in a given class to get to a certain point in my lecture notes, but now I’m thinking if I record my lectures over the summer using a camera in one of the classrooms, I can have them watch the lecture in advance, then I can use the face-to-face class session to emphasize important points of the material, go over assigned problems, and field questions.”

Amicangelo said this approach to teaching, called a “flipped” classroom, is a concept he had heard about but had never had the motivation to try himself.

“So, in a weird way, the current crisis opened my eyes to this possibility,” he said. “And, now that I’ve explored it, I like it, and plan to use it in the future,” he said. “I think students will really benefit from the extra opportunity to understand and explore the material in class rather than just listening to me lecture.”

We Challenge You to Share some Snapshots

By Heather Cass,

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

It’s safe to say the last few weeks have been a difficult and challenging time for all of us. But now that we’ve had some time to adjust to studying and working remotely, we are ready to inject a little fun and creativity into your day and the college’s social media pages with a month-long photo challenge.

“It’s one thing to have a memory, which we know can deteriorate over time, but it’s another to document it forever with a photo,” said Rob Frank, owner of R. Frank Media and adjunct lecturer of Photo 100 classes at Behrend.

We asked Frank a few questions to help you up your photo game:

BEHREND BLOG: What would people be surprised to learn about photography?

ROB FRANK: There is a ton of math and science involved in photography, especially understanding light transmittance, and properties of glass/refraction etc.

BB: What is the first step in taking a good photo?

RF: Composition is 95 percent of a great photo. Look at the items in the background and make sure it’s a nice, clutter-free setting. Frame the subject in an interesting or unique way and follow the rule of thirds.

BB: What one thing can everyone do to improve their photos?

RF: Slow down. Everyone is quick to flick open their phone and start snapping. Then they get back to their computer and the image is blurry because they weren’t paying attention or rushed through taking the photo.

So take a break for second. Give yourself a few moments to look up from your computer and capture the world around you. Beautiful, amazing, and incredible things can be found in even the most ordinary and familiar places, if only you look for it.

Find it, photograph it, and share it with us on Facebook (@pennstatebehrend), Instagram (psbehrend), or Twitter (@psbehrend) with the hashtag #behrendathome.

Below is our April photo challenge to you. Feel free to interpret these any way you like. Creativity is, of course, encouraged, but please do be mindful of the audience following the college’s social media pages, which includes children.

April 2: Home office – Show us where you’re working now

April 3: Windows on the world – Show us your favorite view from inside your house

April 4: Blue – Anything Penn State Blue

April 5: Co-workers – Who is now sharing your workspace?

April 6: Nature – Go outside and take a photo of anything that makes you happy

April 7: Home – What is home to you?

April 8:   Lunch – What’s for lunch today?

April 9: We ARE… – Show us how you display your Penn State pride at home

April 10: Shadows/light – Capture an imagine with creative lighting or shadows

April 11: Filter fun – Play with the filters on your phone or camera and post your favorite one

April 12: Easter – Rabbits, eggs, baskets…share an Easter image with us.

April 13: Product you can’t live without – Show us something you cannot imagine living without

April 14: Trees – Show us the tree you love most in your yard or neighborhood

April 15: Sunrise or sunset – Share your best sunrise/sunset photo

April 16: Enjoy the little things – What small or little thing makes you happy

April 17: I’m reading this – What are you reading right now?

April 18: Cozy – What place in your house or yard do you find comfort?

April 19: Self-portrait – Let us see you!

April 20: Spring – Share a sign of spring with us!

April 21: Task you hate – What job or chore do you despise doing?

April 22: Love – Who or what do you love?

April 23: Black & white – Share a photo taken in monochrome

April 24: Exercise – How are you staying fit these days?

April 25: Landscape – A landscape-oriented photo or a photo of actual landscape around you

April 26: What’s on your desk? – Send us a photo of the strangest item on your desk right now

April 27: Pattern – Find a pattern, any pattern and take a cool photo

April 28: Clouds and/or sky – Send us a photo of the world above you

April 29: Blessed – What are you grateful for today?

April 30: Friends – Share a photo of you with your PSB Bestie (or besties) that you are missing.