Still have some holiday shopping to do? Behrend faculty and staff members have you covered

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

The mad dash is almost here. It’s time to get those final holiday gifts before it’s too late.

Still scrambling for ideas? Don’t worry, Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members have you covered. Here are some of their top suggestions for gifts that are both fun and educational.


Ideas provided by Melanie Ford, director of Youth Education Outreach

Jewelbots. Look pretty while you learn about programming? That’s exactly what girls can accomplish with Jewelbots, the friendship bracelet that teaches kids to code. $69

Robot Turtles. Designed for children ages four and up, this interactive board game helps teach young people how to program. $15

Pokemon. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Pokemon are once again hotter than ever.  Whether it’s the cards or the video games, there are plenty of ways to “catch ‘em all” this holiday season. Prices vary

Ideas provided by Tracy Halmi, senior lecturer in chemistry

Molecules: The Elements and the Architecture of Everything. Quite literally, molecules make up everything. How exactly does one visualize that, though? Theodore Gray does that for you in this book, which features stunning photography of the chemical structures that make up every material in the world. $20

Instant Snow. Even as one of America’s snowiest cities, the white stuff has been mostly absent from the region so far. We cannot make snow fall from the sky, but this gift allows a person to actually make snow (and learn about chemistry while he or she is at it.) $18

Minecraft Cookie Cutters. Every child seems to love Minecraft. Every child definitely loves cookies. This is a no-brainer. $10

Ideas provided by Dr. Richard Zhao, assistant professor of computer science and software engineering

Merge VR Goggles. 2016 is the year that virtual reality headsets hit the mainstream. The Merge VR Googles turn a person’s smartphone into a virtual reality headset. You’re then able to enjoy fully-immersive virtual environments and games right from the comfort of your living room. $60

Google Cardboard. While Google Cardboard might not look as cool as the Merge Goggles, it offers a similar experience and at a great price. $15

Idea provided by Tom Noyes, professor of English and creative writing

“Best American” book series. For bibliophiles on your list, you might check out the annual “Best American” series. Each year, 2016 included, editors compile the best examples of writing from magazines around the country. The three standards, “Best American Short Stories,” “Best American Poetry,” and “Best American Essays” are great, as are some of the other volumes, including “Best American Mystery Stories,” “Best American Sports Writing,” “Best American Science and Nature Writing,” and “Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy.” $10-$15

Idea provided by Mary-Ellen Madigan, director of enrollment management

Tile Mate. Is there someone on your list who is notorious for losing his or her keys? They won’t be anymore. This Bluetooth tracking device is small, durable and water resistant, and it can easily be attached to keys, luggage, backpacks, or anything else you carry. $25

Ho, ho, holiday reading suggestions


By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Season’s greetings, everyone!

’tis the season to kick back under the glow of holiday lights and indulge in a little pleasure reading (You know, instead of all the under-pressure reading you do for your classes!).

Traveling for the holidays? No problem…download an audio book to your Smartphone or mobile device.

Ah…but what to read/listen to? We went straight to some of the biggest book lovers on campus — Lilley library staff members and Creative Writing faculty members.  Here are the tomes they suggested:

“I just finished reading, Flash, The Homeless Donkey Who Taught Me about Life, Faith, and Second Chances by Rachel Anne Ridge. It contains awesome messages that would benefit all who read it.” — Patti Mrozowski, information resources and services support specialist

“I’ve been listening to Olive Kitteridge in the car and it is remarkably good. I had watched the miniseries but, of course, the book is always better because the author can explain what she is feeling and thinking, and the reasons she acts the way that she does.”   — Jane Ingold, associate librarian

“I just finished Me Before You by JoJo Moyes and loved it! I enjoy books and movies about love, and I especially like ones that make me cry. So, when I saw a review on the back cover that said, “to be devoured like candy, between tears,” I knew I wanted to read it. Essentially, it’s about a woman who is hired to spend time with a depressed, quadriplegic man. The story makes you consider two sides of a very controversial topic that I won’t mention for risk of spoiling the book. I saw recently that it will be made into a movie starring Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) and Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games). I just started the sequel, After You.” — Stephanie Diaz, reference and instruction librarian

“This book isn’t brand new, but Col. Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth is excellent. It contains lots of interesting, but understandable science and advice on how to turn use those lessons here on Earth.” —Russ Hall, associate librarian

“I really loved Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by  Mindy Kaling. It’s a very funny memoir in which she writes about her time writing and acting for The Office (a show I loved), romance, Hollywood, friendship, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck. She is very relatable, and she made me laugh out loud!” — Stephanie Diaz, reference and instruction librarian

“Two of our creative writing alumni have amazing new books out. Both Corey Zeller’s You and Other Pieces (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2015) and Heather Slomski’s The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons (Iowa UP, 2015) are formally innovative—both writers experiment a bit in terms of how stories get told—but these books also do what readers have always wanted books to do. They expose and celebrate the mysteries of love and loss, pain and renewal.” — Dr. Tom Noyes, associate professor of English and Creative Writing

“I love anything by Philippa Gregory, an English historical novelist. This time of year, though, I like to read Christmas books. Last year I read a fun, off-the-wall book — Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop by Otto Penzler.  Richard Paul Evans, author of The Christmas Box, has written a few other  Christmas-themed books, too.” — Lisa Moyer, information resources and service supervisor – manager

Tips for Book Lovers

If, like me, you always forget which books friends have recommended, try one of these strategies:

1. Make a list on your Smartphone using a “note” application and you’ll always have your list with you when you’re browsing at the Lilley Library or out shopping.


2. Create a wish list at an online bookseller (I use Amazon) and add titles to your “to read” list when friends recommend them. It’s a convenient and easily-accessible way to keep track of books you want to read. (Tip: See if you can borrow the book through the Lilley Library before you purchase. I’m linking the books below to Amazon just so you can see the



Recommended gift ideas from faculty and staff members

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Still got some holiday shopping left to do? Don’t worry, Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members have you covered. Here are some of their top suggestions for gifts that are both fun and educational.


Ideas provided by Tracy Halmi, senior lecturer in chemistry

  • Weather station. Any future meteorologists on your gift list? This is perfect as it accurately measures the temperature, humidity, and wind speed. $100.
  • Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. This book offers never-before-seen photographic representations of the 118 elements in the periodic table. We’re all familiar with aluminum and copper, but what exactly does Copernicium look like? This book will show you. $15.
  • ThinkGeek products. Whether it’s Marvel, Minecraft or the Millennium Falcon, everyone knows geek is the new cool. This website offers items that will surely satisfy any “geek” on your gift list. Various prices.


Ideas provided by Dr. Richard Zhao, lecturer in computer science and software engineering

  • Custom photo jigsaw puzzle. It never hurts to give a gift with a personal touch, and jigsaw puzzles can be a fun, challenging task. $14.
  • LEGO Star Wars. The new movie is right around the corner, so anything Star Wars is guaranteed to be a hot item this holiday season. However, why not inspire a little creativity with a LEGO Star Wars set? There’s one available in every price range. Various prices.
  • Make-Your-Own Robots. Thanks to, you can choose from a number of options and create your own small robot from scratch. $20-$500.


Ideas provided by Melanie Ford, director of Youth Education Outreach

  • Blink Blink DIY kits. These kits are perfect for girls interested in any of the STEAM fields as they integrate art, fashion, simple circuits, and e-textiles into the hands-on building process. Kids can create a number of fun items, including cards, paper lamps, origami, scarves, and light-up leggings. $39-$89.
  • Makey Makey. Dubbed the “Invention Kit for Everyone,” Makey Makey makes it possible to connect a computer to almost any object. It could be a banana, an ice cube or a living person, but basically any material that can conduct at least a tiny bit of electricity can be used. $50.
  • K’Nex. These are similar to LEGOs but a bit more advanced. K’Nex really emphasize engineering and physics principles, allowing the builder to create some pretty awesome things like roller coasters and Ferris wheels. Various prices.


Idea provided by Dr. Mary Ellen Madigan, director of enrollment management

  • Adult Coloring Books. Have someone on your gift list who is always stressed-out? Adult Coloring Books  are an Amazon No. 1 National Bestseller, and provide hours and hours of stress relief, mindful calm, and fun, creative expression. $9.

Makers Engineer Ornaments, Fun


By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

The upcoming holiday season offers the perfect distraction for stressed-out students. In this last week of classes, we found plenty of holiday cramming going on with every area from Housing and Food Services to Student Activities to the School of Engineering fitting in some festive merrymaking before things get serious with Finals Week next week.

Wednesday evening, a dozen students gathered in an electrical lab in Burke 145 to munch holiday treats and craft acrylic LED ornaments with Dr. Chris Coulston, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Students first drew snowflakes on computers using CorelDraw and added any text they wanted before sending their creations to the laser printer to be cut out of acrylic. Then, they used soldering irons, wire, LED lights, and batteries to make their snowflakes glow.

Though the Makers group meets fairly regularly, Coulston refrains from calling it a club.

“It’s more like a gathering of like-minded makers,” he says. “I just invite students to show up and make something. It gives them an opportunity to try some of the tools we have, like the laser cutter and soldering equipment.”

Ultimately, though, it’s about encouraging critical thinking and creativity, which are key concepts for engineering students to grasp.

“We try to come up with things that challenge them or make them look at things in a slightly different way,” Coulston said. “For instance, before Thanksgiving, we made LED hot dogs. Who’d have thought you could light up a hot dog?”


While there may be no practical application for glowing frankfurters, there is certainly a demand for people with the creativity, technological skills, and theoretical knowledge to use ordinary objects in a truly unique way.

While the majority of those who attend Coulston’s Maker gatherings are engineering students, he welcomes all students and faculty members.

“I’d love to have some artists and scientists join us, too,” he said. “The more, the merrier. They’d probably have some really cool ideas.”

Coulston brought a special guest to Wednesday’s gathering, his pug, Shiloh, dressed in her holiday best.

“Anyone can get a picture with Santa, but where else can you get a photo with Santa Pug?” he says with a smile.

Just like an engineer, always looking to improve the original product.

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Recommended gift ideas from faculty members

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

In need of some last-minute holiday gift ideas for the young ones in your life? How about something that’s fun and educational at the same time?

We asked Penn State Behrend faculty members to give us a few suggestions.


School of Science

Ideas provided by Tracy Halmi, senior lecturer in chemistry

  • Science of the Month Club. Inspire the next generation of scientists by having hands-on science delivered to your door each month! For just $24.99 a month, you get everything you need to conduct exciting experiments.
  • Sunlight, Skyscrapers, and Soda Pop: The Wherever-You-Look Science Book. This fun book helps children learn the science behind simple, everyday activities. $9.95
  • Yahn Planetarium Gift Certificates. Have you heard? Penn State Behrend now has its very own planetarium. Help someone see worlds beyond their reach by purchasing a gift certificate, available in any denomination. For more information, contact planetarium director Jim Gavio ( or 814-898-7268).
  • Star Wars Lightsaber Thumb Wrestling. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that a new Star Wars film is hitting theaters next year. Celebrate by picking up this fun game. May the thumb be with you… $12.99


School of Business

Ideas provided by Eric Robbins, lecturer in finance

  • Board games. Life and Monopoly are two timeless classics. The fast-paced, rummy-like game Five Crowns is another great option. $9.99 to $24.99
  • Go Venture. This is a series of business simulation and financial literacy computer games that are good for kids of all ages. $495
  • Kano. This is the perfect gift for those with really innovative minds. Kano provides a kit kids can use to build their own computers, in a form similar to LEGOs, then play games on what they just built. $149.99


School of Humanities and Social Science

Ideas provided by Dr. Tom Noyes, associate professor of English and creative writing

  • Books! Some gift ideas never get old, and that’s the case here. In particular, Tom suggests using NPR’s Book Concierge app to find the perfect book for those on your shopping list.
  • Art supply sets. Participation in the visual arts helps children develop an imagination and sharpen their eye for detail. $13.99 and up


School of Engineering

Ideas provided by Dr. Matthew White, assistant professor of game development

  • Amiibos. Action figures + video games = tons of fun. $12.99
  • Pokémon. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Pokémon video games have been one of the hottest-selling video games for years, and that’s true in 2014 as well. Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire qualify as two of the most popular games this season. $39.99
  • Xbox One. It’s one of the top game systems in the world, and for a limited time, it can be had at a lower price ($349) than normal.

Recommended gift ideas from faculty and staff members

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Forget Furby and Tickle-Me Elmo. Those “hot” holiday toys rarely stand the test of time. For most kids, interest in these trendy, flashy toys fizzles before the garbage truck carries off the boxes.

We asked a few Penn State Behrend faculty and staff members who oversee outreach programs for younger students to tell us what they wish parents/caregivers would give to the kids on their list.

Here are their top choices:


School of Science 

Ideas provided by Tracy Halmi, senior lecturer in chemistry

  • Legos.  Check out where you’ll find lots of great information and shop by grade level.
  • Books that encourage experimenting. Three good titles: Apples, Bubbles and Crystals: Your Science ABCs, Best of Wonder Science, ChemClub Cookbook. You can find many more chemistry books here.
  • Snap Circuits. These make a great gift and they are available in a variety of sets so you can find one that will fit your budget.
  • Science kits. There are no shortage of fun science kits available for kids today (spa science, sci-fi slime, crystal-growing kit, butterfly kit). Look for them in craft and book stores.
  • Classic toys:  You can never go wrong with toys that have spanned decades, such as silly putty, Slinkies, and Spirograph.


School of Business

Ideas provided by Erica Jackson, Director of the Center for Financial and Consumer Outreach

  • Games that allow kids to play as grownups.  Teach kids how to budget their money by giving games like The Game of Life and Monopoly. These games teach children how to live within their means, receive a paycheck, work investment deals, and pay their bills.
  • Toy ATM. Toy ATMs, like the one manufactured by The Hammacher Schlemmer Institute $40, accepts real coins and bills and displays accurate, up-to-date account information on the screen. Kids even get their own ATM card and PIN number.
  • Piggy bank or a safe. If the child on your list has outgrown cutesy banks, look for a mini safe or vault that opens only by secret code or your child’s voice, which makes saving money more fun and easier to do around little siblings looking to share the wealth.



School of Engineering

Ideas provided by Melanie Ford, lecturer in computer science and software engineering

  • K’nex.  One step up from Legos, K’nex are slightly more sophisticated building toys. The roller coaster and simple machines kits teach students basic engineering and physics principles.
  • Origami kits/books. Origami, the art of Japanese paper folding, teaches students spatial skills.
  • Logic puzzles/games. These types of games and puzzles teach problem solving skills — a key concept for all engineers! The Perplexes Maze Games are a favorite among kids. has many more great ideas.
  • GoldieBlox. Part construction set, part story book, the creator of GoldieBlox (a young female engineer herself) aims to tap into girls’ strong verbal skills, while giving young inventors the tools they need to build and create amazing things.
  • Lego Mindstorms. Classic building bricks + robotics = one cool egineering lesson (but don’t tell the kids they are learning, they just think it’s cool.)

art kit

School of Humanities and Social Sciences

Ideas provided by Dr. Thomas Noyes, associate professor of English and creative writing; Kim Todd, assistant professor of English and creative writing

  • Art supply sets. Participation in the visual arts helps children develop an imagination and sharpen their eye for detail.
  • Award-winning books. Any book is a great gift, but quality children’s fiction books, such as Newbery Award Winners, are an especially good choice.
  • Nature journalThe Nature Connection, An Outdoor Workbook for Kids and Families (by Claire Walker Leslie) is a nature journal full of activities and prompts for each month. Parents can guide younger kids through it on a walk or a hike; older kids can just put it in their backpacks and do the activities themselves when they feel like it.