Raise a Toast to Lake Erie: Faculty members partner with brewery and PA Sea Grant to raise awareness of aquatic invasive species

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

On a sunny August Saturday, a half dozen fans are lined up in front of the Mysterysnail Speedway, a four-foot plastic box with plexiglass dividers creating race lanes for a field of ten large snails. They place their “bets” and cheer for their chosen snail, each marked with a race number on its shell.

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As the oversized gastropod invaders make their way to the finish line, Dr. Lynne Beaty, assistant professor of biology at Penn State Behrend, explains why we don’t want them in our waterways.

“Mysterysnails are so named because females produce young, fully developed snails that ’mysteriously‘ appear. They’re a group of invasive species that originate in Asia but have found their way to Lake Erie,” Beaty said. “They compete with native species, alter nutrient ratios, and transmit parasites to wildlife.”

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Aquatic invasive species (AIS) are non-native plants, animals, or pathogens that harm the environment, the economy, and human and animal health. They are one of the greatest threats to biodiversity and native communities of other species, and they can spread easily through unwitting human assistance and connected waterways.

Beaty and two other Biology faculty members, Dr. Adam Simpson and Dr. Sam Nutile, have been working with Kristen McAuley, lecturer in marketing, and Sara Stahlman, extension leader for Pennsylvania Sea Grant, to raise awareness about invasive snails (and other species) in the waters around the Erie region. Last summer, the team came up with a novel idea to reach adults: craft beer.

“Good beer needs high-quality, clean water and invasive species threaten our freshwater supply,” Beaty said. “So we thought a collaboration with Erie Brewing Company in Behrend’s Knowledge Park was a great way to promote AIS awareness because controlling invasive species can help improve water quality. We were thinking too that this might be an excellent way to reach adult audiences who are more likely to accidentally transfer AIS when they move boats to different water bodies.”

The group met with Erie Brewing’s brewmaster, Tate Warren, who was on board with creating a ‘draft series’ of special AIS-themed brews for invasive species awareness.

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The first, Mysterysnail Ale, “an amber ale loaded with flavors of bread, biscuit, and caramel malt,” debuted at a launch party, complete with the aforementioned mysterysnail racing, at Erie Brewing. Visitors had the opportunity to try a new brew and also learn about many AIS at tables manned by Behrend School of Science faculty members and staff members from Sea Grant, a research, education, and outreach program administered by Behrend.

The event was well-attended, and the Mysterysnail Ale was well-received. It currently has a 3.6-star review (out of five) on Untapped.com, a website where beer lovers rate and review brews.

Three more brews are planned in the AIS series: a Round Goby Rye, a Zebra Mussel Malt, and a Hazy Hydrilla. Each beer will launch with an event to raise awareness of the AIS the brew is meant to thwart.

In addition, for each of the beers, a promotional poster will be developed that will highlight the beer, the flavor, and the facts about the highlighted species. QR codes on the posters, which will be displayed at Erie Brewing  and other locations on the Lake Erie Ale Trail, will lead users to even more information about the featured AIS.

Mysterysnail Ale is currently on tap at Erie Brewing and other participating Ale Trail breweries, including Lavery Brewing, Arundel Cellars and Brewing, Twisted Elk Brewing, Brewerie at Union Station, Nostrovia, and Erie Ale Works. For more information about aquatic invasive species, visit seagrant.psu.edu.

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Wilson Picnic Grove: Tribute to Love and Kindness

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

Before Penn State Behrend became a college, it was a country estate owned by Hammermill Paper Company founder, Ernst Behrend, and his wife, Mary (pictured above). The two built Glenhill farmhouse—and many of the outbuildings that remain today—as  a fresh-air reprieve from life on the East Lake Road mill property, which could be, well, odiferous. (In those days, factory owners often lived on the plant property or next door.)

At the “farm,” the Behrends and their children, Warren and Harriet, kept goats and chickens, raised German shepherds (including the renowned Bruno, for whom the café in Reed Building is named), rode horses along the bridle path into Wintergreen Gorge, and picnicked in a wooded spot near Trout Run.

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Years after Mary Behrend donated her property to Penn State to establish Penn State Behrend, a longtime Hammermill employee, Norman W. Wilson, who recalled fondly many picnics with Ernst and Mary, donated the funds to build – you guessed it –Wilson Picnic Grove, a rustic shelter with a wood-burning fireplace tucked in the shade of tall trees and overlooking a tributary of Fourmile Creek.

Wilson donated the shelter in memory of his wife, Flora Nick Wilson, who had died two years earlier in 1969. Like many couples, they met at work. Flora was a private secretary for Ernst Behrend, and Norman was a young man Ernst had taken under his wing.

Norman had started his career at Hammermill as a millhand and office mailboy at the age of sixteen after having attended just a year of high school at East High in Erie. By twenty-nine, he was vice president of the company, a feat that a September 1970 Erie Times-News article called “a Horatio Alger-type story seldom equaled in Erie history.”

Wilson News story

In that 1970 article, Wilson was quoted as saying, “I’ll never forget the kind reception I got from Ernst R. Behrend the day I went to see him about a job. I had a letter of introduction from a minister, but remember that I was just a young boy, not even through high school. Yet he treated me as a man and put me to work.”

Wilson spent his entire career working for Hammermill, and after Mary donated Glenhill Farm to Penn State, he became involved in the college, as well, serving on the Behrend Campus Advisory Board.

Members of the board conceived of the idea of a picnic shelter, wanting to encourage use of one of the most beautiful spots on campus. But recognizing the greater need for athletic and academic facilities at the growing college, they felt they couldn’t ask the University for funds to take on a recreational project.

That’s when Wilson stepped up and asked to build the pavilion as a memorial to his late wife who had loved the outdoors.

The Flora Nick Wilson Grove and Pavilion was dedicated on November 9, 1971, to the “enjoyment of the students, faculty, and friends of the Behrend Campus.” Photos from the dedication show snow covering the ground around the shelter, which was filled with wooden folding chairs and guests, including Norman Wilson who spoke warmly about his former boss, his wife, and his hopes for the future.

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“I could not feel comfortable about participating in this ceremony without expressing my respect and affection for Mr. Ernst R. Behrend, after whom this campus is named,” Wilson said  at the dedication. “It was he who gave me my first job at Hammermill. It was he who introduced me to his lovely private secretary, who was destined to become my Guiding Star, for always.”

“Mrs. Wilson loved the outdoors. She contrived impromptu picnics on the shortest conceivable notice. She rarely missed the early morning breakfast rides, or late moonlight supper rides on the Arizona ranch we liked best. She loved to motor, and to take her turn at the wheel. In her youth, she played basketball, fenced, golfed, and skated. She ran a tight house (and that included me!) She shopped, was a marvelous cook, and gave a great party. She liked people and they liked her.”

“Now, may I record my pride in everything about the Behrend Campus, including the students, the faculty, the advisory board, the director and the tremendous progress that has been made already. It is my fervent hope that the students, faculty, and friends will indeed find enjoyment in the frequent use of this memorial, and that the fellowship and goodwill for which this campus has become noted, will be enhanced thereby.”

Norman W. Wilson died July 5, 1979 at 94, but his generosity and spirit lives on at Behrend in the quaint shelter along Trout Run. He’d love it if you’d picnic there soon. It’s beautiful in any season.

Wilson Picnic Grove in 2021

Special thanks to Jane Ingold, instructional librarian and archivist at Penn State Behrend, who provided the background photos and articles for this story. Ingold has spent many years documenting the college’s history, assembling a treasure trove of memorabilia and recollections in Lilley Library.

Virtual Concert Commemorates Unusual Year

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

virtual concert commemmorates unusual year

Penn State Behrend choir students weren’t able to gather in person at all this academic year, but they were still able to raise their voices to make beautiful music, culminating in  a year-end virtual concert, now on YouTube at https://bit.ly/3xP0UEG.  

Dr. Gabrielle Dietrich, director of choral ensembles and associate teaching professor of music, said that about twenty choir students continued singing through the pandemic, which meant learning how to use the online recording platform, Soundtrap, to record their parts.

“We used group Zooms during our normal rehearsal times to learn sections of each piece, then used one-person breakout rooms (we called them ‘recording booths’) to individually record what we’d learned in rehearsal,” Dietrich said. “Then, the next time we met for class, we’d listen to the edited recordings to talk about what went well and what we’d like to improve for next time.”

“It was slow going” she said, “but students reported that they liked getting feedback on their performance and having the recordings to reflect on as they worked to improve.” 

COVID-19 safety precautions made in-person sessions impractical, since everyone would have to have been masked and spaced nine feet apart and in a single line. Additional requirements would have made gathering to sing together nearly impossible, so the choir worked together virtually.

“It was hard not to be together in person, but it was a relief to know we were keeping one another safe and still making music,” Dietrich said.

The virtual concert represents the final project for choir students, just as an in-person concert would in a normal year.

“The nice thing about having it on YouTube is that anyone can watch it from anywhere whenever they have time, so students can ‘invite’ family and friends from around the world,” Dietrich said.

Another benefit? Guest performers.

“We had help from a Behrend Choir alumnus, Taylor May, and two guest performers from my own musical community: flutist Emma Shubin, who teaches music in the Denver area, and guest bass Dr. Edward Cetto, who was my college choir director and musical mentor,” Dietrich said.  

Among the pieces performed is a rendition of the theme song for the 2014 film Selma, recorded by Common and Legend, Make Them Hear You from the musical “Ragtime,” and Halloran/Bolk’s arrangement of Witness.

“This concert has been quite the labor of love, which is reflected in the themes of the pieces in the concert, Dietrich said. “It’s about love between individuals, love for a world that is learning hard truths, love for what we have lost, and love for what we still have and for what is possible in our future.”

Watch the entire concert here

 

 

Disc Golf Course Doubled to 18 Holes

By Heather Cass, publications manager, Penn State Behrend

Five years after the college’s first 9-hole disc golf course opened, one thing was certain: It was a popular addition to the Penn State Behrend campus. Rare is the rain-free day when you don’t see players tossing discs toward their targets, medieval looking chain-link baskets on metal poles, that snake through campus.

Now, players will have even more targets to hit as the course was recently expanded to 18 holes. See the new course map here.

Brian Streeter, senior director of athletics, ordered the new targets last fall but they arrived too late to install in 2020, so Athletics staff took the extra time to design the expanded course – reworking some of the original nine holes and creating nine new ones with input from members of the Erie Disc Golf club.

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New tees are temporarily marked with flags. Signage will be installed when the course is finalized.

The new holes opened April 1 and expanded play from the west side of Jordan road to the east side of the road. Streeter said the course is a work in progress.

“We’re still tweaking it,” he said. “We discovered some things that weren’t working, like a hole that was too close to Junker Center, which resulted in players trying to throw over the building, and we are listening to feedback from players.”

Additionally, construction now underway on Federal House near Junker Center required some planned holes to be placed in a temporary location.

Once the course is finalized, Streeter said that the plan is  to put up permanent signage, including a full course map and signs at each tee. For now, the new hole tees are marked with orange flags. Maps are available at hole no. 1, near the tennis courts.

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Pick up a course map at hole No. 1 in front of the tennis courts.

Student legacy

The original 9-hole course was a student-driven project, initiated by Kyle Stephan ’14, a former SGA president, who got the ball rolling discs flying. Stephan was joined by then students, Trey Neveux, Mark Malecky, Steve Lester, and Tyler Ferraino, now 2016 graduates, who together designed the course, located equipment, and secured funds. Even as they finished the original course, the team hoped it might be expanded one day.

“I’ve talked to all the members on the original board of the club, and we’re all extremely happy the course was expanded to make it a full 18 holes,” said Neveux, who is now a launch engineer at Space X in Los Angeles. “I’m excited that the new course takes players into less explored parts of campus on the east side of Jordan Road. I’m looking forward to playing the expanded course and have already talked to friends and former professors about playing a round next time I’m in Erie.”

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Former students Tyler Ferraino and Trey Neveux, both 2016 graduates, are two of several students who developed the original 9-hole disc course. File photo from 2015. 

Disc Golf 101

Equipment

basic disc golf set contains three discs—a driver, a mid-range disc, and a putter. Just as with golf, the driver is used for long drives from tee, the mid-range disc is used for shorter distances, and the putter is used when a player is close to a target.

Several sets of discs are available for students to borrow for free at the registration desk at Junker Center, or players can pick up sets of their own at most retailers or online for less than $30.

How to play/rules

Standing at the tee, a player throws the driver disc toward the basket. Players — typically in groups of two to four — take turns throwing their discs with the one whose disc lands the farthest from the basket going first (as with golf).

One point (stroke) is counted each time the disc is thrown and when a penalty is incurred. The goal is to play each hole in the fewest strokes possible. A disc that comes to rest in the basket or chains marks successful completion of that hole. The player with the lowest total strokes for the entire course wins.

Most of the holes on Behrend’s course are a par 3, but there are also some par 4 and 5. Map here.

Learn more about how to play disc golf here.

Visitor parking, course notes

  • Visitors may play for free anytime the course is available. Users are encouraged to park in the overflow lot on the south side of Jordan Road on Old Station Road, which is the closest lot to start and finish of the 18-hole course. A visitor parking pass can be obtained from Police Services. In current times, players are asked to wear masks and stay socially distanced from other teams.
  • Note that, at times, some holes may be closed for safety reasons when an athletics event, such as a baseball or softball game, is underway nearby.
  • Penn State students, faculty and staff members may borrow a set of three discs (driver, mid-range, putter) at the Junker Center registration desk with their Penn State ID.

RELATED: Check out this post from the Behrend Blog archives about the original 9-hole disc golf course at Behrend.

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Don’t toss it, pickle it!

LEAFS Club to host Creative Food Preservation workshop with Behrend’s head chef

By Heather Cass, Publications Manger, Penn State Behrend

According to the Food and Drug Administration, 30 to 40 percent of food in the United States is wasted. That figure is particularly hard to swallow given that an estimated 35 million people in our country experience hunger every year.

“This means that the food isn’t being consumed or even turned into compost, but instead ends up in our landfills,” said Pearl Patterson, a senior Psychology major and president of the Leaders in Education and Action in Food Systems (LEAFS) Club. “While much of the change needed to develop sustainable food systems must come at the policy-making and law-making levels, being able to reduce waste in our own homes is absolutely of importance and can make an enormous difference.”

To help area individuals learn how to safely extend the life of their food, the CLUB is hosting a webinar on Creative Food Presentation Wednesday, April 7, at 6:00 p.m. with Penn State Behrend’s Chef Kyle Coverdale.

“Creative food preservation means using techniques that are traditionally used for preserving food, like pickling, while transforming the food into something new,” Patterson said. “For example, Chef Kyle will be demonstrating a very flexible pesto recipe.”

Making pesto is a great way to preserve leafy greens, such as cilantro, kale, or chard, which can spoil quickly in their original form. Once they are made into pesto, however, the greens will last much longer and can even be frozen for later use.

During the session, participants will also learn about different pickling methods and how to make sauerkraut and ricotta. Participants can buy the ingredients and cook right along with Chef Kyle from their own kitchens or watch and try it on their own later.

To register for the event and get a Zoom link and list of ingredients, email Patterson at pbp5102@psu.edu.

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Eight ways to enjoy a spring day at Behrend

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

Spring has finally sprung and it looks like we will be enjoying some warm and sunny weather all week! Here are eight great ways to get outdoors and make the most of a beautiful spring day at Penn State Behrend.

*** Don’t forget to mask up; masks are still required at all times on campus, even outdoors. Photos below were taken prior to January 2020 or were taken with high social distancing measures in place. ***

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Play a round of disc golf. Penn State Behrend is home to a 9-hole disc golf course that starts in front of the tennis courts. Students, faculty, and staff can borrow discs for free at the Junker Center. Just ask the student worker at either entrance desks. Never played? It’s not hard to learn. For instructions, check out this story or this how-to video.

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Have a picnic. If there is no event going on (and there aren’t many right now), Wilson Picnic Grove, adjacent to the Wilson Lot, is available for use by the Behrend community. It’s open air and big enough to allow for social distancing.

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Go to the gorge. Wintergreen Gorge on the edge of campus has winding wooded paths, gorgeous vista views and, if you walk down far enough, a babbling creek to wade in or skip rocks. There’s no better place to enjoy a spring day than in the gorge. Access it from trailheads behind Trippe Hall or in the back corner of the Prischak Lot.

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Take a walk or run. The paved Bayfront Connector Trail starts at the corner of the Erie Lot and runs all the way to Erie’s bayfront (about 8 miles). The path meanders along the Bayfront Connector through fields, marshy areas, woods, and more. For more details, see this story. Need a 5K route? Check out this story from the archives.

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Play some games. Behrend has outdoor ping-pong tables (in front of Reed, behind Trippe) and a permanent cornhole game (behind Reed) as well as cornhole boards that you can check out and set up anywhere. You can borrow equipment for any of these games at the Reed Union Building desk with a University ID. They also have other lawn games, including giant Jenga and hula hoops, as well as checkers and chess pieces for the tables in front of Reed.

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Read/study outside. Big test or paper coming up? Find a spot to work outdoors. There are tables outside most buildings and in the Wilson Picnic Grove, or you can just hang a hammock or spread out a blanket under your favorite tree. Behrend has plenty to choose from.

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Hitch a ride to the bayfront. If you have a car, hop on the Bayfront Connector and take a walk along Erie’s bayfront. Park at the Blasco Library or near Dobbin’s Landing and take the bayfront trail along the waterfront. Cross the Bayfront Highway at the light at Liberty Park and take the ramp/walkway to Second Street to walk along the bluffs and take a photo at the new Erie sign. (About a 3-mile/1-hour walk). Just follow the bluffs/trail back down to State Street to return to your car. Don’t forget, you can take a city bus, too. See the RUB Desk for bus schedules.

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Watch the sun set from the parking lot. The top of the Burke Parking Deck is the best place on campus to catch a gorgeous Erie sunset (or sunrise, but we know few students are early risers). It offers a wide, birds-eye view of the entire bayfront and, on a clear day, you can even see Presque Isle.

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.

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.

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