Crossing Disciplines Pays Off

First-year business student and senior engineering major win short story contest

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By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

Look, $100 is $100, OK? So when Senior Mechanical Engineering student Sam Cabot saw the opportunity to earn some cold hard cash (er, Visa card) by whipping up a little story about brunch for Penn State’s University Libraries Short Edition short story dispensers, he was on it like, well, syrup on French toast, if we’re going to stick with the brunch theme here.

It was that delicious hybrid morning meal that students, faculty, and staff were invited to write about for a chance to win money, bragging rights, and a spot in the Libraries’ short story dispensers. There are ten of them spread out among seven University locations, including Behrend’s Lilley Library. With the press of a button, the dispenser prints out a short story that users can take with them to enjoy when they have one to five minutes to spare.

Four “Brunchin’ Around” contest winners were chosen recently by the Short Stories all-student editorial team and two of the authors—Cabot and Isaac Barringer—are Penn State Behrend students.

Barringer, a first-year Finance and Accounting dual major, wrote “The Daffodil House,” about a couple found in their yellow house covered in flies and bellied up to what turned out to be their last meal—brunch, of course, “for the Connors were of a practical stock and believed that breakfast was more efficient if it included lunch as well.”

Cabot, who writes under the pen name Johann Lecker for no particular reason other than the fact that he likes the name (“Lecker” means delicious in German), wrote “To Brunch?” in which the main character finds himself on a mountain in Brasher State Forest in upstate New York trying to make it to Sunday brunch at his grandmother’s house.

“Basically, it’s about someone who tries to remedy an uncomfortable situation, then abandons it altogether, for better or worse,” Cabot said.

sam cabot

Sam Cabot

Cabot said he entered the contest not only for the potential prize money but for fun and the chance to challenge himself.

“From what I have noticed, engineering students enjoy creative activities as much as any other students, but internships and course load limit the amount of time they can devote to other things,” Cabot said. “Most of the writing that engineers must make time to do is formal and impersonal, so that may be why there’s a stereotype that they are not creative writers.”

Like most authors, Cabot didn’t have a story outlined in his head. Rather, he had a few ideas to start with and the story emerged from there. It’s purely fictional. Cabot has never been anywhere near Brasher State Park, and his grandma didn’t host monthly family brunches.

Asked if it’s unusual that a business major and an engineering major would win a writing contest, Cabot cites the value and of cross-disciplinary learning, which can be beneficial to students in any major.

“It’s easy to grow absorbed in disciplines, like engineering, that are extremely career-focused and require huge amounts of time spent on very specific tasks,” he said. “Adding courses in history or psychology or any of the humanities can provide a healthy balance. The knowledge gained from an occasional hour spent studying the humanities can be as relevant in the real world as the knowledge gained during any of the last eight or ten hours spent sizing a planetary gear train or debugging a C++ program. They both have value.”

But, Cabot said, the ultimate reward for him in exploring the humanities is finding something new and interesting to scratch his creative itch and expand his skills beyond the lab.

You can find links to Cabot and Barringer’s stories as well as the other winners and honorable mention entries here.

‘I feel so much more comfortable now.’ — Summer Bridge program prepares incoming students

Summer Bridge (Brent Sutula, Sujata Chhetri, Joseph Lombardi, Sydnie Moore) cropped

Brent Sutula, Sujata Chhetri, Joseph Lombardi, and Sydnie Moore, pictured left to right, were four of the participants in the Summer Bridge Program at Penn State Behrend. The six-week program is designed for students who want to sharpen their study, note taking, critical reading and time management skills, among others.

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend welcomed 1,280 new first-year students to campus last week.

For 28 of them, the setting felt more than a little familiar, since they had only recently completed a Summer Bridge Program to ease the transition to college.

The six-week program is designed for students who want to sharpen their study, notetaking, critical reading and time management skills, among others.

“I feel so much more comfortable now. This has just been great to meet new people and learn how to get around campus,” said Joseph Lombardo, a first-year History major from Erie.

The program even included a scavenger hunt in which students learned how to navigate campus by finding places and objects. They also spent time learning about the college’s numerous resources such as the Academic and Career Planning Center and Lilley Library.

“Transition is key. There is such a disconnect from what students did in high school to what they will do here,” said Mary Connerty, a lecturer in English who taught the program.

The program was sponsored by the college’s Office of Student Success and Retention. Half of the program’s attendees were immigrants or refugees.

“We’re obligated to help prepare these students who may need the extra help to succeed,” Connerty said.

To get students accustomed to a college workload, participants in the program received weekly homework assignments, including regular critical readings and a requirement to write multiple-page papers. Connerty estimates that each week’s assignments took students a minimum of three to four hours to complete.

That type of workload can be daunting for any first-year student, but it was also helpful for these students to become aware of college expectations.

Sujata Chhetri, a first-year International Business major, estimated that on a scale of 1-10, her nervousness about college was a 9. She says that after completing the Summer Bridge Program, that number was down to a manageable 5.

“It was a great program,” said Chhetri, a Nepal native who immigrated to Erie. “It really taught me about the workload I’ll be getting. It was somewhat overwhelming, but it also taught me about all of the resources I have that I didn’t know that I have. I don’t feel lost anymore.”

If she or any of the other attendees do happen to feel lost, the good news is that they now know where to go.

“There’s always someone you can go to talk to,” Chhetri said. “I’ve already found so many people who are going to help me with my math.”