The Art of Science: Student/faculty artwork enhances science building

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager at Penn State Behrend

Science and the arts might seem to be very different disciplines, but the scientific method and the creative process are quite similar; inquiry is at the heart of each.

“People sometimes think science is about memorizing facts, but it’s really about making discoveries and wringing answers out of nature,” said Dr. Pam Silver, associate dean for academic affairs and distinguished professor of biology. “When you have a scientific question, it takes a lot of creativity to find the answer to it.”

Scientists are, by nature, creative individuals and the School of Science has recently added two works of art that visibly illustrate that.

Ties that bind

A colorful quilt, titled “A Way of Knowing,” was created by Silver and hangs in Hammermill Hall. Each color in the quilt represents a scientific discipline taught at Behrend—biology, chemistry, environmental science, nursing, physics, and mathematics and mathematics education. A spiral in the quilt represents the net movement of scientific discovery from observation to hypothesis to testing to understanding.

Furthermore, the underlying geometric design “symbolizes that the building blocks of science are not individual disciplines, but rather the discoveries to be made by merging diverse ideas, points of view, and approaches to form a strong and unified way of knowing with the goals of wisdom and the power to enact that wisdom,” Silver said.

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“A Way of Knowing,” by Dr. Pam Silver, associate dean for academic affairs and distinguished professor of biology, hangs near the stairwell in Hammermill Hall. 

Math in flight

High overhead at the entrance of Roche Hall, is another work of art—a stage-5 Sierpinski tetrahedron that models a fractal with infinite triangles—created by the School of Science Math Club under the direction of club president Thomas Galvin  and Dr. Joe Previte, associate professor of mathematics.

“A fractal is a self-similar structure with recurring patterns at progressively smaller scales,” Previte said. “Fractals are useful in modeling natural structures such as plants, coastlines, or snowflakes.”

Some natural objects appear to be completely random in shape, but there is an underlying pattern that determines how these shapes are formed and what they will look like, according to Previte. Mathematics can help us to better understand the shapes of natural objects, which has applications in medicine, biology, geology, and meteorology.

Students built the fractal using Zometool construction parts. It consists of 2,050 white balls and 6,144 red and blue struts. Learn more about fractals at www.mathigon.org/world/Fractals

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A stage-5 Sierpinski tetrahedron created by the School of Science Math Club hangs above the entrance to Roche Hall. 

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Student garden interns spend summer sowing seeds of sustainability

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager at Penn State Behrend

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Cuddling chickens is not an activity you would expect at Erie’s Blues & Jazz Festival, an annual weekend-long summer music concert in Frontier Park. But two Penn State Behrend students, Jessie Johnson and Pearl Patterson, knew that a handful of hens at this popular event would be a great way to draw attention to their efforts to overturn a law against keeping chickens in the City of Erie.

Johnson and Patterson are spearheading the operation through Chicks4Erie, an online community they formed through Instagram and Facebook to spread the word about urban poultry-keeping.

“Allowing Erie residents to legally keep chickens will bring numerous positive benefits, including improving the environment through the reduction of pests like ticks and providing organic soil amendments for gardeners,” according to the Chicks4Erie mission statement written by Johnson and Patterson, both Student Garden interns at Behrend. “It will also increase self-sufficiency and food security through the production of eggs and contribute to the city’s encouraging overall trend toward urban agriculture.”

The Chicks4Erie initiative is just one of several projects that three Behrend students—Johnson, Patterson and Aydin Mitchell— have been hard at work on this summer as interns for the University’s Sustainable Food Systems Program.

The program, which launched at University Park three years ago, was expanded to Penn State Behrend in 2018 because of food systems already in place on campus. Among these is the student garden, started by the Greener Behrend student organization in 2016. Greener Behrend president, Celeste Makay, a senior Environmental Science major, has continued to help with the garden for the last two years.

Student Garden interns are responsible for the gardens on Behrend’s campus, but their work reaches far beyond weeding and watering.

“They run the campus CSA (community supported agriculture) program that we started, including generating a newsletter and recipes for members, supporting the Erie schools by serving as coordinators of the Jefferson Elementary School garden, and doing outreach programs throughout the district,” said Katie Chriest, sustainable food systems program coordinator for Commonwealth campuses.  “They also are active members of Erie’s Food Policy Advisory Council, and they are finetuning plans for a new campus club that will debut this fall,”

But, that’s not all. The student interns also host educational activities at Behrend for students from Bethesda Trinity Center and the Neighborhood Art House, staff an informational table at the Little Italy Farmers’ Market in Erie, and research expansion efforts for campus garden space and other sustainable food systems initiatives.

Mitchell, a senior Environmental Science major, didn’t have much gardening experience before this summer, but said he has learned a lot along the way. Not all of it is rooted in the ground, but in other vital connections.

“I thought I’d just be taking care of the gardens, but it turned out to be so much more than that,” said Mitchell, who oversees the Jefferson gardens and serves as the manager of education and outreach for the Student Garden intern program. “It’s really about making connections with people in the community and helping them see how vital sustainable food systems are and how and why they should care.”

Which brings us back to the Erie Blues & Jazz Festival’s Sustainability Village where Patterson and Johnson were so successful at making a case for raising poultry in the city that they quickly ran of petition pages to sign.

“At one point, I asked Jessie, who is just going into her sophomore year, what it feels like to be gaining so much support and enthusiasm for their initiative from residents and community leaders,” Chriest said. “She said she was just amazed that, at such a young age, she could have such an impact on the community around her. I’m not sure there’s a more powerful message we could hope to send to our students than that their work matters and that they can make the world a better, and more sustainable, place.”

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Behrend’s Story in 70 Pieces

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

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What do a dog’s gravestone, a jar of grapes, and golf tees have to do with Penn State Behrend? Find out in the Lilley Library where you can see a new exhibit, History in 70 Pieces, honoring Behrend’s 70th birthday.

Curated by the Jane Ingold, reference and instructional librarian and archivist, the exhibit explores highlights of the past seven decades in the college’s history through a collection of objects, photos, and memorabilia. There are things you might expect to see, such as a student handbook circa 1950, a freshman “dink” (beanie hat worn by first-year students in the late 1940s), and Behrend’s first yearbook, The Cub.

There are surprising items in the display as well, including never-before-seen archival items and objects that are representative of significant moments in the college’s history.

A Starbucks coffee cup may seem an odd thing to find on display, but it represents a social movement sparked by the death of first-year student Alyssa Josephine O’Neil who, before dying unexpectedly from an epileptic seizure, told her mom she wanted to get a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks. After her funeral, her parents unwittingly started a national pay-it-forward campaign by purchasing forty of the drinks and asking the barista to mark the cups with #AJO and give them to the next people who ordered them. Soon, people across the country were buying free lattes for strangers in honor of Alyssa.

“I really wanted to include some newer items, like the #AJO cup, because history is happening every day,” Ingold said. “I also tried to represent as many communities at Behrend as I possibly could, including our international student population, staff members, and other sometimes overlooked groups.”

The exhibit has sparked interest from library visitors, most of whom take time to peer through the glass and absorb a little history.

The item that generates the most attention?

“Definitely Bruno’s headstone,” Ingold said, gesturing to the slab of concrete marked with the birth and death dates of Harriet Behrend’s beloved German shepherd, which is believed to be buried near Wilson Picnic Grove on campus. Harriet is the daughter of Mary Behrend, who donated her family’s Glenhill Farm estate to Penn State in 1948 to establish what became known as Behrend Center. “Everybody loves Bruno,” she said.

The exhibit has inspired some visitors to learn more.

“I’ve had a couple of students ask to borrow Ben Lane’s Book, Behrend Remembered, after seeing a copy of it in the exhibit,” Ingold said. “Many have commented on the exhibit or asked questions.”

If you still have questions, maybe about those golf tees and the bottled grapes, stop by the library to find out how these items are intertwined with Behrend’s history. Handouts explaining each of the seventy pieces in the exhibit are available to take with you and a binder on the table dives deeper into some of the items.

History in 70 Pieces can be found across from the checkout desk in Lilley Library and will be on display through June.

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Networking 101: 12 Tips for Good Connections

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

Student enrolled in the Black School of Business’ new C3W Leadership Program, recently spent an evening learning about networking, then practicing it with some of the Erie area’s most prominent female business and government leaders, including Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper.

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The C3W Leadership Program is a co-curricular certificate that female students can complete over one to two years to prepare for leadership in academic, business, and social situations. Students focus on developing these skills through three pillars (the 3Cs): capability, confidence, and connections.

The program is spearheaded by Ann Scott ’82, ’99 M.B.A., community outreach manager at Erie Insurance and one of the Black school’s Executives in Residence, who worked with faculty members Dr. Diane Parente, Breene professor of management, and Dr. Mary Beth Pinto, professor of marketing, to plan the event and give students a great opportunity to make important connections.

Before they began rubbing elbows, Pinto gave the students some tips for successful networking. Here are a dozen of her most helpful hints that would be useful for any young professional:

  1. Make eye contact, but not too much.
  2. Have a firm handshake, but not a death grip.
  3. Authenticity is everything. Be professional, but be you.
  4. Deal with the person in front of you, not the title. Don’t be intimidated by a contact who is high on the corporate ladder, just think of them as another person to connect with.
  5. If you’re wearing a nametag, put it on your right side so that when you shake hands, the person your shaking hands with can easily read your name.
  6. Be aware of your nonverbal communication and the messages your body stance and facial expressions are sending.
  7. Listen! Don’t just talk or think about what to say next, but truly listen to the person your speaking with. Allow them to do more of the talking.
  8. When you leave the conversation, find a way to show that you were listening. Something like, “It was nice to meet you and I’ll be sure to check out some of those concerts on the Bayfront.”
  9. Have a positive attitude. When you meet people, they hear your words, but they pay attention to your attitude. Never talk badly about anyone or anything and refrain from complaining.
  10. Work the room. Don’t just stand in one area or talk to one person all night. Force yourself out of your comfort zone and have conversations with as many people as you can.
  11. Send a thank you note. A personalized email is generally accepted today, but a handwritten note really stands out.
  12. Mind your manners. Hold the door for people, show gratitude for servers, smile at everyone from the coat check clerk to the CEO. Manners matter and they are noticed.

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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.”

Silver Celebrated: Professor honored for decades of work on journal Freshwater Science

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

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Dr. Pam Silver, interim associate dean for academic affairs and distinguished professor of biology, was in graduate school when she submitted her first paper to what was then the journal of the North American Benthological Society (now the journal Freshwater Science).

“It came back covered in red ink,” Silver said. “The founding editor of the journal, Rosemary Mackay, worked with me and taught me how to write.”

It’s a favor that Silver went on to pay forward for twenty-one years, serving in various roles at the journal, including editor-in-chief for the last thirteen years, until her retirement from the journal this spring.

“Pam worked tirelessly to improve and grow the journal while unselfishly working in the trenches with authors to improve their manuscripts,” said Jack Feminella, professor and associate dean of academic affairs at Auburn University, and Charles Hawkins, professor in the department of Watershed Sciences at Utah State University, in their nomination of Silver for the Society for Freshwater Science’s Distinguished Service Award. “Over her tenure as editor-in-chief, Pam has been a role model and mentor to many young authors and new appointees to the Editorial Board. Aside from her incredible work ethic, Pam’s ability to work effectively with all kinds of personalities is perhaps her greatest strength.”

These attributes did not go unnoticed at Penn State Behrend, where last year Silver was tapped to serve as interim associate dean for academic affairs. It was a promotion that ultimately led her to give up her work at the journal.

“My head needs to be here at Penn State Behrend,” Silver said.

Before she left the journal, however, they honored her with a Distinguished Service Award at the group’s fall conference in Detroit.

Though Silver prefers to avoid the spotlight, we did get her to sit down for a Q&A about the award, her years at the journal, and why the sleep deprivation was all worth it.

Why are scientific journals important?

It’s a way to disseminate information in a way that ensures its validity. Is the work scientifically valid? Can the findings be trusted? If it is in Freshwater Science, it’s been peer-reviewed. Now, what you can know depends on the tools and techniques that are currently available. And, so, in that way, journals can be historically valuable, too. They contain the history of how that knowledge evolved over time. It’s also a way of creating a network of people, a community, that share information. Sharing that information can inspire more curiosity, which leads to more science. It’s like scaffolding. Scientists just keep building on top of earlier work. Every paper published is resting on a pyramid of other papers.

Tell us about the journal for Freshwater Science. Who reads it? How is it distributed? Who submits articles?

It’s a professional journal for ecologists, biologists, and environmental scientists who both read it and submit to it. The Society for Freshwater Science co-publishes the journal with the University of Chicago Press quarterly. To my knowledge, it’s the only major scientific journal in the field of freshwater science that is still society-published. Most other journals have been sold to commercial publishers. There is both a print and an online version that is available to SFS’s 1,500 members.

Are all submitted papers published?

Definitely not. Articles are fully peer-reviewed. The editorial board rejects about 60 to 65 percent of submissions.

How did you get involved with the journal?

The journal was founded when I was in graduate school and I submitted a paper. The editor bled red ink all over it, but she taught me how to make it better. I actually thought, ‘I want her job.’ I applied to be a member of the editorial board (they review the science in the papers) and was accepted in 1997. In 2002, they asked me to be a co-editor. When Dave Rosenberg, the journal’s second editor-in-chief retired in 2005, they asked me to take the job.

This was in addition to your full-time job as a biology professor at Behrend?

Yes. It was like having another full-time job. I probably worked an additional forty hours a week editing articles and working with the writers.

What would people be surprised to know about editing a scientific journal?

The amount of work that it requires. Each article involved about twenty hours of time, and we published about 100 articles a year, so that’s about 2,000 hours annually. By the time an issue published, I will have read and edited every page at least four times.

Were you responsible for reviewing the science, too?

No. The editorial board did all the science. I did the wordsmithing and double-checked the science.

The people who nominated you for the award said you did that very well.

Yes, I know that the journal got a reputation as a place to teach students how to write and edit. When I announced I was retiring, I heard from dozens of contributors who said, ‘How can you retire? We need you!’ I think I was a good editor. I was honest, but made every effort to be kind and I tried hard to keep our interactions informal. The authors may not have liked all the changes I made to their paper, but they usually agreed that I made it better.

What is the most frequent problem you encountered when editing?

Organization. If a paper was hard to understand, it was usually because of paragraph, sentence, or word order and inconsistency in how the authors were referring to things.

What are three things scientists (or anyone) could do to improve their writing?

  1. Use precise and concise language.
  2. Use the active voice.
  3. Use forward moving sentences.
  4. Think of the audience. If you can’t explain it to a non-scientist, you need to work on your communication skills.

One of the things you’re credited with is diversifying the organization as well as the membership.

I made a real effort to increase international diversity and bring more women onto the editorial board. I also tried to include more young scientists. Everyone has something to bring to the table and the publication benefited from having a variety of perspectives.

Why was it important to include young scientists?

For the same reason that I love to teach first-year students. They’re young and excited and full of energy and they still want to save the world. You can help mentor them to direct that energy to things that are important.

Did you enjoy editing?

I did. The biggest benefit of editing the journal was learning about so many different and interesting things in freshwater science. In any issue, I might be editing an article about the sex life of a water bug and another about microplastics in the Chicago River and another about molecular biology. Every paper was an intellectual challenge for me, and it made all the work and sleep deprivation worth it.

What’s next for you?

Well, I have plenty of work to do as the interim associate dean for academic affairs, and I’m hoping to find time to write about my own road salt research work. I’m still teaching a little, too. I have an Urban Ecology class in the spring semester that I’m very excited about. It’s going to be a fun challenge.

Harambee Dinner Brings Campus Community Together

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

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Flavors, customs, and tastes may differ from country to country, but food is a universal language of human beings. Sharing a meal, whether an elaborate holiday feast or a simple dinner, can unite and create community among people.

For thirty-two years, Penn State Behrend’s Multi-Cultural Council, a student club comprising of cultural student organizations, sets the table for connection among the campus community at the club’s annual Harambee dinner.

This year’s dinner is scheduled for October 4 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in McGarvey Commons.

“Harambee is a word in Swahili that means ‘Let’s pull together’ and originated in the country of Kenya as a slogan for national unity,” said Andy Herrera, Director of Educational Equity and Diversity Programs and adviser for MCC. “We use this event as a way of uniting our campus community and celebrating the diversity of cultures here at Behrend.”

The annual event offers students, faculty and staff members a chance to get to know one another while enjoying an international buffet dinner and an evening of entertainment. This year’s guest speaker is Shinjini Das, a young entrepreneur, industrial engineer, global millennial influencer, and media personality. She is the founder and CEO of The Das Media Group, a boutique digital strategy consulting firm, and has been recognized for her global efforts to empower women.

The event will also feature a cultural performance with a professional touring group performing Afro-Brazilian music and the Brazilian dance art of capoeira.

“It’s really nice to see the diversity of students and community members who attend the event every year,” Herrera said. “Some students from MCC wear traditional dress from their various cultures, and group members emcee the event and speak about the importance and meaning of Harambee.”

The timing of the event is deliberate, Herrera said.

“Harambee is held in early fall every year to set a tone of cultural awareness and appreciation for the year. Like the name of the dinner suggests, it’s meant to pull us all together.”

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If you wish to attend Harmabee, RSVP at the Multi-Cultural Council’s Behrendsync page. (NOTE: If link is not live, it will be soon!)