Answers for “Mom, I’m bored!”

Penn State Behrend’s Youth Education Outreach offers ideas to educate and entertain kids over winter

By Heather Cass, publications manager, Penn State Behrend

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In a normal year, most of us would have a December calendar bulging with holiday events, activities, and to-dos. But, this year, of course, the majority of community events have been canceled, big holiday parties prohibited, and travel anywhere discouraged.

Add to this the fact that most schools are extending holiday break or going remote to control the spread of COVID and parents are working from home or working reduced hours.

All of this means that many of us will have a lot of family time on our hands in the next several weeks. As any parent will tell you, that is both wonderful and terrifying.

But Penn State Behrend’s Youth Education Outreach (YEO) program, the folks who work to engage thousands of kids on campus for weeks every summer in College for Kids, aren’t scared. They know a thing or two about educating young people with activities that are so much fun they don’t even realize they are learning important concepts in STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math.

We asked the members of the YEO team to put together a little holiday/winter toolkit for parents, and they came through with lots of websites where you can find activities to while away many a winter day.

Sites to explore

We have provided a link to a specific activity or list of ideas, but each of these sites offers a wide variety of experiments, crafts, and fun. Just click around.

Build some (hot cocoa) bombs

Baking is food science. Learn how to whip up the hottest new holiday treats – hot chocolate bombs – here.  Not into hot cocoa? Here are more ways to teach science through baking.

Crafting with STEAM concepts

Go on a wild GooseChase

Join Behrend’s Winter Wonderland GooseChase game, which runs through March. GooseChase is a free application for your smartphone. Create an account, join the game (code is JW1DB1), and start checking off the “missions” posted. Tasks include building a Nittany Lion snowman, er…snowlion;  constructing a LEGO winter scene; making an ice lantern, and much more. As your family completes the missions, post a photo or video and then check that mission off as completed. More missions will be added throughout the duration of the game. You can find step-by-step instruction for joining and playing GooseChase here.

 

Broaden your holiday tune horizons

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

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In this tumultuous year when nothing is normal, we can take comfort in one thing that hasn’t changed: Christmas carols. Everyone has their favorites and most of us have more than a few.

We asked the music experts on campus to share with us their favorite holiday tunes and also to suggest some new songs/artists or albums to expand our holiday music playlist.

Here’s what they had to say:

Emily Cassano, assistant teaching professor of theatre, music, and arts

My all-time favorite Christmas tune is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” because I love the musical Meet Me in St. Louis. I don’t necessarily have a favorite version; there are a lot of great renditions.

For more modern music, I typically turn on any of the Pentatonix Christmas Albums, and their song “White Winter Hymnal” is a favorite of mine.

In November, the three Fates from Hadestown (last year’s Tony Award Winner for Best Musical) released a Christmas album called If the Fates Allow.  It’s really great, and very non-traditional, like Hadestown itself.  One of the three Fates is played by an Erie native and Penn State alumnus Mike Karns’ wife, Kay Trinidad.

Gabrielle Dietrich, director of choral ensembles and associate teaching professor of music

I have to admit my holiday music tastes are eclectic, and also more modern in their conception.

I really enjoy Dar Williams’ “The Christians and the Pagans,” the Goo Dolls’ “Better Days,” and Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles’ “Winter Song.”

As for classics, I have a real soft spot for “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” because what says “Happy Holidays” better than some good old-fashioned insult comedy!

Gary Viebranz, teaching professor of music

The first classic that comes to my mind is an oldie, but a goodie: “Mary’s Boy Child” by Harry Belafonte. In a most traditional sense, I love “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” especially the rendition by the King’s Singers.

For some nostalgia, I grew up with the Harry Simeone Chorale recording “Sing We Now of Christmas” and still listen to it. My silly side likes “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” by Spike Jones and his City Slickers, and I appreciate “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” from the original soundtrack of the animation, which is sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, the voice of Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger. Heeeeee’s Grrrrreat!

If you want to expand your horizons, I’d encourage you try some instrumental collections. My favorites include “A Canadian Brass Christmas” and the Philadelphia Orchestra’s “A Christmas Festival,” which is an amazing album recorded in 1964.

Retiring Physics Professor Reveals Meaning of Life (Kinda)

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

Jonathan Hall (5)
Jonathan Hall, associate teaching professor of physics at Penn State Behrend

Jonathan Hall, associate teaching professor of physics, began his career in a remote area of Borneo where the only “technology” he had access to was in the form of painted plywood chalk boards and a hand-cranked, mimeograph-like machine. He taught in a language he had learned just three months earlier.

This month, he will finish his career in education from home, where he has been teaching dozens of Penn State Behrend students remotely using online videoconferencing software and a host of other high-tech tools that would’ve been inconceivable at the start of his career three decades ago.

Yet, Hall, who has been teaching at Behrend for thirty-two years, says not much has changed.

“Though the technology available today for education is very different, the key ingredient for student success has not changed; the desire to learn is the most important part,” Hall said.

Sometimes that desire can be stamped out quickly in physics class, a subject many students find intimidating. Hall learned to build students’ confidence first.

“In my general education physics course, I found that if I started with a topic, such as color and light, that students enjoyed, their confidence in their ability to learn physics enabled them to achieve greater success in the course,” he said. “We still did the more challenging topics, but students did better when I would ease them into it later in the course.”

Over the course of his teaching career, Hall said he has learned as much as he has taught, and we couldn’t let him retire without collecting some of his wisdom on topics big and small.

What brought you to Behrend?  

A 1988 Mazda hatchback. And a job teaching at a college!

What types of classes have you taught over the years?  

Physics, Astronomy, Civic and Community Engagement.

Which classes have been your favorites and why?

Of course, I enjoyed teaching physics, but the advantage of teaching astronomy is that it’s not called what it actually is, which is “the physics of the universe.” Because it doesn’t include the word “physics,” students relax, and enjoy learning… physics!

What I enjoyed about Civic and Community Engagement is that it was team-taught with faculty from other disciplines, including communication, psychology, and sustainability. It was truly inter-disciplinary, which was great, and I learned a lot from my colleagues. With the service projects, students were able to put into practice what they learned in their majors.

What do you remember most about your first year of teaching?

I had been a high school teacher for five years before coming to Behrend. I enjoyed getting to know students in my classes from teaching them 180 school days, but when I started teaching college, I didn’t miss at all the “supervisory” duties of a high school teacher such as monitoring homerooms, study halls, etc. At the college level, I could focus on teaching students, not monitoring them. Also, though I wasn’t any smarter or more qualified than I had been before, the respect people (especially the parents of students) give college faculty compared to high school faculty was eye-opening.

What have you learned the hard way?

I started my career as a Peace Corps volunteer, and it truly was the toughest job I’ve ever loved. I had twenty-five class preps every week in a language that I had only started learning three months before. Speaking a foreign language is not one of my strengths. During the first three months, I wondered if I had made a mistake; about a third of the volunteers in my training group quit during this time. But I toughed it out. Things got better, and I enjoyed my second year so much that I extended my assignment and served three years. In order to survive those early months, one thing I learned to do was to listen intently; to pay attention to and catch both the verbal and non-verbal cues; to listen to everything the person was saying, not just the words.  That skill has carried over to make me a better teacher and I hope more understanding of others. 

What would people be surprised to know about you?

How our children go out of their way to keep my wife, Katherine, and me informed of world and national events. Our daughter, Maria, was a Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar when a coup overthrew the democratically elected government there. At the same time, our daughter, Liz, who is a Marine, was in Iraq.  Liz has also been deployed to Afghanistan (twice), South Korea, Chad, Australia, and Germany, and is presently at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Our son, David, lives in Portland and kept us up to date on the fires and protests in Oregon. Someday, we hope to be less well-informed.

What have you enjoyed most in your career?

I have always enjoyed teaching young people and helping them to achieve their potential, and that has not changed during my career.

Do you have a different perspective on the profession now?

When people ask me what I teach, I tell them I teach young people, not a subject.  As teachers, we have the task of preparing our students for the future; content knowledge is often a  means by which we teach more important lessons about life.

What will you miss the most?

I have been fortunate in my life and career to work for organizations with a noble purpose, whether the Peace Corps, or Penn State University, whose mission as a land grant institution is teaching, research, and service. Working with everyone at Behrend who share in striving for the common good is what I will miss the most.

What’s the secret of life?

Since, in Malaysia, I was a “guru,” I’ll recommend as a starting point in your quest — the “Galaxy Song” from Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life.”  (Please note that I didn’t say I was a good guru…)

Any other parting wisdom for us?

In Asian culture, keeping harmonious relationships within the community is often the top priority.  In America, we emphasize individualism.  I think that in a healthy community, there is a balance of both; freedom of individual expression, along with concern for others.

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Recreating history: One tiny soldier at a time

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

Today, when most of us in the United States are focused on the pandemic and political warfare, Jerry App, a junior History major, need only walk down his basement stairs to escape current affairs and lose himself in the drama of 1500s Italy.

Jerry App
Jerry App, junior History major at Penn State Behrend

App is a kriegsmodelle enthusiast. He paints tiny figures and scenery and then stages elaborate and historically accurate battle scenes in miniature. Lately, he’s been working on the Italian Wars, depicting battles between the Holy Roman Empire and France for control of Italy.

He has plenty to work with. Between 1494 to 1559, the Italian peninsula became the main battleground for European supremacy. Everybody wanted a piece of Italy’s “boot,” which was economically advanced but politically divided among several states, making it an attractive target.

“I’ve had to do a lot of research before I could actually begin building and painting the models, but it’s worth the effort,” App said.

Delving deep into history is a labor of love for App who can trace his fascination with the past to a classic fantasy game he played as a child.

“My dad taught me to play Dungeons and Dragons when I turned 10,” he said. “I got really interested in the medieval ages, specifically the realistic and historical sides to fantasy tropes. We bought some old pewter Grenadier models and painted them together. Later, I discovered a game called Warhammer Fantasy, and that is what really kicked off my interest in miniature painting and wargaming.”

It’s a pastime that he and his father still share today, and one that is particularly suited for a pandemic.

It’s been a great hobby to have during the lockdown,” App said. “Earlier this year, I was home from college and my parents were off work for a while, too, which gave us a lot of time to catch up on painting and playing. A typical wargame takes an hour or two to play out, so we had plenty of time to play. You could start a wargame on Sunday and play it all week.”

We caught up with App to learn more about his hobby, his personal history, and how both influenced his academic and career choices.

Your dad introduced you to both fantasy gaming (Dungeons and Dragons) and modeling?  

Yes. He started modeling when he was a kid, putting together World War II kits. He actually still has some of those kits, and he’s assembled a few WWII models recently. He was inspired by our recent visit to Gettysburg, and he recently bought some Civil War models. So, we’ve been working on those, too.

What do you enjoy about Kriegsmodelle?

I enjoy being able to take gray, flat plastic sprues (generic figures) and turn them into fully built and painted pieces. It’s very calming and helps me relieve stress after a long day. When I build and paint models, my mind is completely focused on what I am doing at that moment. It’s almost like meditation.

Metal unpainted 1
Unpainted sprues.

Where do you buy the figures?

It depends on the genre. Historical models can be difficult to find, depending on the period. For example, you can easily find Napoleonic or Late Imperial Romans, but you’ll really have to scrounge for Wars of Lombardy or Russian Civil War. I’d recommend Perry Miniatures or Warlord Games. Science fiction and fantasy models are easier to find, and you can find them on Ebay or Amazon for a decent price. Local stores or hobby shops that carry models are especially nice to work with, if you have one nearby.

The figures arrive in need of a paint job?

Yes, that’s the best part! I try to sit down for an hour or two every day to work on a squad of models. It can take a while to paint them up (a few hours per model), but I paint them in groups which speeds up the process a lot; this is referred to as “batch painting.”

How many models have you done?

I have around 2,250 models, but only about 1,000 of them are painted with 100 still needing assembly. My dad has a comparable amount. We work on the models in our basement, which is affectionately named the “Nerd Bunker” by friends and family. I’ve been painting for ten years this month.

What are you working on now?

The Italian Wars, as well as some medieval levies (militia units raised by conscription), a couple of Warhammer 40,000 armies and the Civil War models my dad picked up.  It’s a lot of different projects, but I’m never without something new to paint.

You also study German?

Yes, I’m working toward a certificate in German. My grandmother, Omi, is from southern Prussia, and she inspired me to take up German. I’m hoping I will become proficient enough to be able to speak with her in Deutsche.

What are your career goals?

Originally, I wanted to become a civil servant and work for a government agency. However, I’ve also looked into museum work and law school. Right now, I’m considering using my degree as a launch pad into Naval Officer Candidate School. I’m not committed to one plan yet, but I’m starting to narrow it down.

What advice do you have for those who might want to try modeling?  

I’m the Vice President for the Behrend Game Club, and I’m also the club’s strategy committee head. If any students are interested in pursuing the kriegsmodelle hobby, join the club on Behrend Sync and get involved. I’m happy to answer any questions and share resources to help another start their own collection.

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Cook with Chef Kyle at Virtual Cooking Party

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

chef kyle coverdale

Penn State Behrend Managing Chef Kyle Coverdale

Ever wish you could have a professional chef next to you, walking you through a new recipe? Thursday night, you can. Penn State Behrend’s culinary king, a.k.a. Managing Chef Kyle Coverdale will be offering a virtual cooking tutorial via Zoom.

The event, cohosted by two student clubs, Leaders in Education and Action in Food Systems (LEAFS) and Greener Behrend, is not a watch-and-learn, but an interactive cook-along. Sign up and you’ll get a list of ingredients along with your Zoom meeting link. Then, get your shopping done, do the recipe prep work and log on Thursday, November 19, at 6:30 p.m. from your kitchen to cook with Kyle and dozens of other members of the Penn State community.

“As periods of isolation and quarantine continue, we wanted to create a sense of community by coming together, virtually, to learn, cook, and share a meal and conversation,” said Pearl Patterson, a senior Psychology major and co-president of the LEAFS club.

Coverdale said the Food Services staff, including Behrend’s five chefs, have been looking for ways to bring students and the college community together and, traditionally, those events on campus revolve around food.

“Last week, we did a cooking class with students in-person at Bruno’s (with all COVID safety measures and distancing in place) and we made and enjoyed classic Ukrainian dishes,” Coverdale said. “Doing it virtually allows us to include a lot more people because we’re all in our own kitchens.”

We caught up with Chef Kyle to find out what attendees will be making and what he loves about cooking for Penn State Behrend students, faculty, staff, and guests.

What’s on the menu for the Fall Cooking Party?  We’ll be making a Roasted Butternut Squash with Quinoa, Kale, Dried Cranberries and Feta bowl, and Beet Carpaccio with Roasted Carrots and Goat Cheese Mousse.

How long have you been a chef?  I have been cooking for more than fifteen years. I attended culinary school at Mercyhurst University.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef? Being able to bring people together with my work. When I travel and get to cook with other chefs from all over the world, it is amazing how we can “talk” through food. Also, it is an ever-changing artform. There is always something new to learn.

What do you enjoy about cooking at Penn State Behrend? We have so many great events and a diverse population. It gives me a lot of opportunities to cook different things, learn new dishes, and get ideas from our students.

What is the most popular meal/food you make at Behrend?  This is a hard one. From a catering perspective, I have a surf-and-turf meal that is quite popular. It includes a fillet and crab cake over garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus topped with bearnaise sauce. In the dining hall, we just offered a Katsu sandwich, which is an amazing Japanese street food sandwich, that was very popular.

What makes or breaks a recipe? Bad ingredients. If you start with low-quality ingredients, the outcome of the dish will likely be subpar.

What would you say to people who say they hate to cook?  Anyone can cook and if you don’t believe me, watch the Disney movie Ratatouille. Cooking doesn’t need to be hard, and it’s okay to use items that are already prepped to help make the task less daunting. If you do eat out, please do support local restaurants.

Join us!

Want to cook with Chef Kyle? Email pbp5102@psu.edu to receive a list of ingredients and a link to attend the Zoom event!

Home Work – Virtual lab leads to hands-on experience for DIGIT students

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

Digital media, arts, and technology students Kurt Brautigam, left, and Zak Teyssier

A quick switch to remote learning this spring forced many of us to rethink the ways that we meet, collaborate, and maintain a community when we have to be physically distant. Tommy Hartung, assistant professor of digital media, arts, and technology (DIGIT), started a virtual DIGIT Lab and invited students to get together with him once a week.

“It was completely voluntary,” Hartung said. “We met up once a week to talk about ideas, and I’d demonstrate some techniques,” Hartung said. “It was a casual way to keep students thinking positively about the future. I viewed it as more of a research group than a class.”

It went so well that Hartung continued the lab over the summer, which is where DIGIT majors Zak Teyssier and Kurt Brautigam learned about an opportunity to get hands-on experience creating a video for UPMC Hamot Hospital in Erie.

“UPMC Hamot reached out to Behrend, looking for help making recruiting videos,” Hartung said.  

Brautigam, who wants to work in video production and editing one day, was happy to jump on board. He and Teyssier worked with Annmarie Kutz, Otolaryngology residency program manager and medical student coordinator at UPMC Hamot, to put together a video for the hospital’s otolaryngology head and neck surgery residency.

Brautigam said it was valuable experience working for a real client.

“Annmarie provided us with the assets we needed to use (since we couldn’t do the filming ourselves due to COVID restrictions) as well as guidelines on logos, fonts, and color schemes to be used,” he said. “I learned how important it is that brands be consistent in their messaging and visuals.”

Brautigam spent most of his time working on the basic structure of the video and color correcting photo and video assets, while Teyssier worked on the audio, including the background music.

“UPMC Hamot standards required us to replace the music Zak had composed with music that was already owned by the company,” Brautigam said. “That was one thing we learned the hard way.”  

After some back-and-forth between the students and their client to smooth transitions and audio, the video was posted to UPMC Hamot’s website where it will used to answer questions and provide information for doctors interested in the otolaryngology residency program.

Kutz told the students that when UPMC marketing professionals in Pittsburgh signed off on the video, they said, “It was very nicely put together and has lots of great content.”

The students hope it might lead to more projects with the hospital.

“We gained valuable experience working with UPMC Hamot on this particular project,” Teyssier said. “We hope to create more multimedia content for them in the near future.”

“We are currently talking about ways we might be able to assist them in creating content for their social media pages,” Brautigam added.

Secret Lives of Staff: Meet Teri DeAngelo, grape farmer

There’s so much more to Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members than what you see them doing 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

Most Penn Staters say they bleed blue-and-white. In the case of Teri DeAngelo, records specialist in the Registrar’s office, the colors might be just a shade off.

Grapes are in DeAngelo’s blood, and come September every year, the fourth-generation farmer bleeds purple and white as she helps her husband, Paul, harvest more than 150 acres of Concord and Niagara grapes from their vineyards.

A year’s worth of work comes down to this: six weeks of harvest, typically beginning in late September when the grapes have reached a certain ripeness and have the minimum sugar content required by the processor. The DeAngelos sell most of their crops to Welch Foods in North East, which presses them into juice, jelly, and more.

There is science (sugar testing) involved in determining the right time to harvest, but anyone with any sense of smell who drives through eastern Erie County along Lake Erie this time of year can tell you that it’s picking time. The aroma of ripening grapes hangs in the air along the 60-mile Concord grape belt that stretches from Erie County in Pennsylvania to Chautauqua County in New York.

A Family Affair

The DeAngelo’s farm, which sits on 99 acres in Harborcreek with an additional 82 leased acres, has been in Teri DeAngelo’s family for more than 100 years.

“My great-grandparents purchased the farm in 1911 and it’s been passed down through the family since then. We bought it from my parents in 2005.”

By day, Teri works in the Registrar’s office at Behrend, supporting all of the work involved in scheduling classes, rooms, and final exams and assisting students with schedule changes. At home, she pitches in on the farm wherever she is needed.

Teri and Paul’s teenage children—Paul III, 18, and Molly, 15—help too.

“Paul III helps with some tractor work and sugar testing during harvest, and both kids help with baling hay,” she said. “My role on the farm is managing the bookkeeping/tax records. I tie grapes, drive a tractor, and sugar test. And, of course, I help with the baling in the summer. Everybody bales hay.”

baling hay

The hay is for the beef cows, which the DeAngelos raise for themselves and their families.

We caught up with Teri to learn more about her life off campus:

What do you like about grape farming? I enjoy the history, the heritage, and the traditions. I enjoy having roots. I love that we have acres of land with creeks and woods for the kids to roam.

What’s the hardest thing about farming? Being dependent on the weather.

What’s a hidden benefit of farming? Being close to God and nature. Your work is right outside your door.

How many people work on the farm? Our employees are seasonal, but we have between 12-15 people each year.

What is your biggest worry about the farm? Spring frosts and invasive pests. We’re especially worried about the spotted lantern fly. It’s making its way to our area and it could, potentially, wipe out acres of grapes at a time. PSA: If you spot one (this is what they look like), please report it right away.

How large is your harvest? Last year, we picked more than 1,200 tons of Concord grapes and more than 120 tons of Niagara grapes.

What would people be surprised to know about farming? It is not easy. My father always said, “if farming were easy, everyone would do it.” My husband has such vast knowledge on everything from weather patterns to chemicals to machinery – it’s a higher education earned through experience!

What is your favorite way to eat grapes? Do you make wine or jelly? My family likes them right off the vine. Sadly, we have failed miserably at making wine in the past, and I leave the processing to Welch’s—their jelly, jam, juice, and fruit snacks are the best!

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Penn State announces Peace Corps Prep certificate program

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

Did you know that the Peace Corps, the international volunteer service organization, would not have come into being without college students?

“During the 1960 presidential election, John F. Kennedy made a late-night stop at the campus of the University of Michigan,” said Jonathan Hall, associate teaching professor of physics at Penn State Behrend. “He made an off-hand remark inquiring whether the college students there would be willing to serve in a developing country. It would have been a forgotten campaign speech, except that the students organized and sent a petition with hundreds of signatures asking for the opportunity to serve others and their country.”

Hall served after his undergraduate years, and his time in the corps remains a transformative life experience, so much so that forty years later, he regularly encourages Behrend students to consider joining, helps raise awareness of the organization on campus, and staffs a recruiting table at Behrend’s twice-yearly Career and Internship Fair.

“The Peace Corps is a great opportunity to learn about another culture, to develop one’s talents, and to be of service to people in a developing nation,” Hall said. “An example of the impact possible is Alejando Toledo, the former President of Peru, who said ‘I am one of sixteen brothers and sisters. Born in extreme, extreme poverty… I’m the first president of indigenous descent who had been democratically elected in 500 years in South America. To a large extent thanks to the Peace Corps.’”

“While none of my former students in Malaysia became a president,” Hall said, “I did help the children of subsistence farmers and fishermen become teachers and nurses who in turn contributed to education and health care in places where it was scarce.”

Hall is proof that the Peace Corps stays with you. A few years ago, he even returned to Borneo to catch up with some of his former students.

That’s why he’s excited about a new partnership between the Peace Corp and Penn State to offer a preparatory program for students interested in volunteering.

Peace Corps Prep is a certificate program for undergraduate students of any major. Students who participate in the program gain skills and experiences that make them attractive candidates for the corps or any form of international or service work. The inaugural cohort will begin this fall semester.

Accepted students will build their coursework around one of six strategic competencies that the Peace Corps seeks in its volunteers. The program requires students to complete a set number of field hours in their chosen competency area, take globally minded classes, show language competency, and engage in career-related activities.

Interested students are required to complete an online interest form by October 16, 2020 to be considered for the inaugural cohort. Program requirements, application information, and more can be found at https://studentsaffairs.psu.edu/career/peace-corps-prep.

While the certificate program does not guarantee acceptance in the Peace Corps, it will help to provide participants with a competitive advantage.

ABOUT THE PEACE CORPS

Peace Corps mission: to promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals:

  • To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  • To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  • To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Volunteers serve for twenty-seven months in areas such as health, education, environment, agriculture, community economic development, and youth in development.

Jonathan Hall and Wan Musa
Jonathan Hall, associate teaching professor of physics at Penn State Behrend, and a former colleague, Wan Musa, who taught with Hall in North Borneo forty years ago. Wan Musa

Secret Lives of Staff: Meet Steven Miller, history buff

There’s so much more to Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members than what you see them doing 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

Some people make it a goal to visit every state or capitol, but Steven Miller ’06, associate director of Housing and Food Services at Penn State Behrend, is a World War II reenactor and Penn State Behrend history alumnus who is working on a more unique challenge: He has a goal of visiting the private residences of every U.S. president. He’s already been to twenty.

“Visiting presidential homes offers an insight into the private life of individuals who had a profound impact on the formation and development of our country,” Miller said. “The homes and grounds themselves show a progression of architecture and lifestyle through history, from the vast agricultural farmlands of the Founding Fathers to the urban presidents of today.”

It all started with a trip to President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s home in Gettysburg, a stop on Miller’s itinerary while visiting Gettysburg National Military Park.

“It evolved into an annual summer trip with my brother, a challenge to visit the private residences of past presidents, with the goal of visiting all forty-five of them,” Miller said.

We chatted with Miller to learn more about his adventures and the homes he’s been most impressed with.

Are presidents’ residences public?

Yes, most presidential private residences belong to the National Park Service and are open to the public for tours. Information on their locations and visiting information can be found on the National Park website at nps.gov/findapark.

Do you plan vacations around visiting presidential homes?

I typically plan our itinerary around visiting both presidential sites and museums. Some of the most extensive collections of historical military artifacts are in museums located at the service academies, such as West Point or the United States Naval Academy, and often I will add these into our itineraries. Thirteen presidents have homes in New York, Ohio or Virginia, so from here where we live, creating a travel itinerary that takes you by a president’s home is fairly easy. One of the things we enjoy on these visits is eating at local establishments as much as possible; we try to avoid chain restaurants.

Who is your favorite (or most admired) president and why?

My favorite modern president was Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). He was elected at the height of the Great Depression, and through various public programs, he got the country back on its feet. He then led the nation through four years of World War II and was the only president elected to four terms in office. He also founded the March of Dimes with the goal of finding a vaccine for polio.

What are some of the more famous homes you’ve seen so far?

Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home; Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home; Montpelier, James Monroe’s home; and Springwood, FDR’s home.

Have any the homes surprised you in any way?

It is impressive to see how some of these homes are incredibly preserved with original furnishings and furniture.

What does history mean to you? Why is it important to study and learn about history?

I am always searching for a connection to the past, and visiting historical sites, whether presidential homes or museums, let us see the tangible items that create those links. Visiting these homes is like stepping into the past. It’s amazing to think about walking in the footsteps of some of the most influential people in our country’s history.

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Get Lost in Space with Yahn Planetarium

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager at Penn State Behrend

In an uncertain world, it helps to keep your chin up. Way up. Tipped to the sky, in fact. There’s nothing like the vastness of the heavens above to inspire awe and put one’s existence on planet Earth in perspective: Just one tiny human on one small planet contemplating millions of planets and solar systems spinning tens of thousands of lightyears away.

When you really delve into it, space science is mind-blowing and, frankly, who among us couldn’t use a distraction these days? Yahn Planetarium at Penn State Behrend has just what you need, and you can find it online, for free.

“It’s been difficult for the planetarium during this time as we normally thrive on school groups and the public coming in to experience the immersive planetarium,” said Jim Gavio, planetarium director. “But, like many educational facilities, we have adapted to remotely teaching astronomy and space science.”

Gavio has been recording presentations and posting them online at behrend.psu.edu/yahnplanetarium. He is also doing monthly star talks, in which he guides viewers in looking at the current night sky in the Erie area, as well as occasional special presentations, such as one on SpaceX’s recent Demo-2 launch and one on the basics of using a telescope.

The planetarium is also offering virtual field trips, interactive group presentations led by offered by Gavio via Zoom.

“During the bulk of the group programming, I try to simulate what they would see in the planetarium,” he said. “I use an astronomy program that simulates the night sky here in Erie so that I can point out specific constellations and stars and planets that they would see in the sky that night.”

His largest virtual group so far was 130 middle school students this spring.

“The teacher sent me questions from the students in advance, which made for a smooth presentation, in which I could focus on some things they were learning at that time. The teacher told me that she, the parents, and the kids were thrilled to have the experience as it gave them a break from schoolwork and an event to look forward to.”

Speaking of looking forward, Gavio has been using the downtime at the planetarium to develop new programming and to do minor maintenance work on the facility.

“The planetarium has been going nonstop for six years, and we’ve had more than 46,000 visitors in that time, so the space is showing some wear,” Gavio said. “While we’d much rather have Yahn Planetarium open, closing it to visitors has given us time to do some repairs and improvements.”

If you need a good reason to get lost in the stars, Gavio has one for you: NASA will be launching another rover to Mars sometime during the launch window of July 20 to August 11.

“The rover will be looking for signs of microbial life on Mars,” he said. “Another really exciting aspect of the rover will be the small helicopter drone that it carries that will fly around on Mars. This is a first and will be very exciting to watch.”

Not into rovers? How about comets?

“During July and August, we also have Comet NEOWISE which looks like it will be pretty visible to people if they choose to look for it,” Gavio said.

He warns, though, that comets can be tricky.

“Sometimes we think they may be easy to see, then they fizzle out,” he said. “Comet NEOWISE won’t be as noticeable as Comet Hale-Bop was back in the late 1990s, but you should be able to see it with the naked-eye or better yet, with a simple pair of binoculars. In mid- to late-July, it can be seen low in the northwest after sunset. As we head into August, it will climb higher and further from sunset so that it will be in a darker sky. If you’ve never seen a comet, this is one of the best chances we’ve had in long time.”

So, get that chin waaaay up because there’s always something exciting going on in the skies above you. Get lost in space for a little while with Yahn Planetarium.

See Yahn Planetarium at Penn State Behrend videos and schedule a virtual tour at behrend.psu.edu/yahnplanetarium. For more information, contact Jim Gavio, planetarium director, at 814-898-7268 or jvg10@psu.edu.