Erie Free Taxes Counts on Behrend Student Volunteers

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

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When Anna Reed, a senior majoring in accounting and management information systems, goes to a job or internship interview, potential employers always ask her about one item on her resume—her experience as a volunteer tax preparer with Erie Free Taxes, a United Way of Erie County program.

The federal tax code is about four million words, so it’s little wonder that most people need help filing their income taxes.

For the last twenty-plus years, low-income tax filers in the Erie area have been able to get help for free from Penn State Behrend students enrolled in ACCTG 411: Accounting practicum VITA.

VITA, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, is an IRS-sponsored program to help those with disabilities and those who earn less than $55,000 a year with their taxes.

Reed volunteered for the program last year and found it so rewarding that she plans to do it again this year.

VITA volunteers are required to work four hours a week at a United Way tax prep location from February to April, helping those in need of services.

“There are so many residents who cannot afford to have their taxes filed professionally,” Reed said. “It was rewarding to use my knowledge and skills to help others. I really enjoyed the experience.”

It was also a valuable learning experience and resume builder.

“Working one-on-one with clients really helped me to enhance my communication skills,” Reed said. “And doing the returns helped reinforce what I had learned in my tax class.”

Student volunteers are trained on an IRS software and must pass an IRS exam to be certified to prepare taxes.

If you’re a Behrend business student interested in volunteering with Erie Free Taxes, contact Bob Patterson, lecturer in management, at x7171 or rdp4@psu.edu.

 

Students Will Spend Spring Break Aiding in Hurricane Cleanup

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By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

When Hurricane Harvey blew into Houston, Texas, in August of 2017, it altered everything in its path, causing at least $125 billion in damages and claiming 108 lives.

More than 1,350 miles away, Harvey continued to effect change, motivating those planning Penn State Behrend’s Alternative Spring Break service trip to veer off course.

“We had spent all summer looking for a trip that would focus on homelessness, but once Harvey happened, we felt that the need for volunteers would be more prevalent in the south,” said Elizabeth Mamros, a senior Mechanical Engineering major and president of Reality Check, the service club that orchestrates Alternative Spring Break each year.

“We got in touch with Community Collaborations International, a company that coordinates experiential education projects, and they already had people there assessing the volunteer situation and potential projects for spring break,” Mamros said.

Twenty-four students and four advisers will be leaving Behrend early Saturday morning to spend a week working in Beaumont, Texas.

“I think students are going to be surprised at the disarray that still exists six months after the hurricane. Most people have forgotten about it or assume it’s all cleaned up by now,” said Chis Fox, assistant director of civic engagement and the Smith Chapel. “But there’s still plenty of work to be done, especially in less populated and less affluent areas.

The Behrend group will be joined by students and advisers from other Penn State campuses, including Greater Allegheny, Harrisburg, Scranton, University Park, and York. In total, 100 Penn Staters are expected to be in Beaumont next week, helping residents recover from the catastrophic flooding that occurred as a result of Hurricane Harvey.

Teams of students will be dispatched to various sites around Beaumont to work on projects ranging from mucking out and gutting flooded homes to cleaning and reconstruction.

Groups will stay in the Community Collaborations International Volunteer Facility, and sleep in a gym or classrooms with men and women in separate quarters. Volunteers will work, rain or shine, and time will be spent each evening reflecting on the work of the day.

Penn State Behrend students attending are: Emily Archer, Hannah Carlino, Seth Cowen, Safinaz Elhadary, Joshua Hecht, Janelle Housler, Ashley Jankowski, Ashlyn Kelly, Kris Knorr, Nicole Kuhn, Kaitlyn Lacey, Max Magera, Celeste Makay, Liz Mamros, Kelly Miller, Angelica Miller, Katie Murphy, Priya Patel, Pearl Patterson, Brianna Riley, Gretchen Shaffer, Alex Sienerth, Lidong (Thomas) Wang, and Danielle Wieczorek.

The four staff members who volunteered to accompany the students are: me — Heather Cass, publications manager in the Office of Strategic Communication; Chis Fox, assistant director of civic engagement and the Smith Chapel; Chris Harben, assistant teaching professor of management; and Will Taylor, an Americorps VISTA intern at Penn State Behrend.

Behrend’s ASB group have been preparing for the trip by discussing the disaster in Texas and relief efforts, participating in safety and basic maintenance workshops, and watching Trouble the Water, a documentary about the devastating flooding that occurred in New Orleans’ 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina. They have also been taking part in ice breakers and other activities to get to know one other better.

Check back here….or follow this blog (click on the “follow” button in the lower right hand side of your screen)…to see updates from Texas all next week.

Note: If you wish to support the students efforts in Texas with a donation to the Alternative Spring Break Program, contact Kathryn Buesink, assistant director of development, at klb44@psu.edu.

Circle K Club Members Carve Out Time for Community Service

By Heather Cass

Publications manager, Office of Strategic Communications, Penn State Behrend

Rare is the college student with spare time on their hands. After attending classes, studying, completing assignments, and working at a job or internship, students have precious few hours and little energy left.

Yet some Penn State Behrend students still make helping others a priority. They say service work is not draining, but inspiring and rejuvenating.

“I always tell people that they don’t know what an amazing feeling community service is until they try it,” said Nicole Overby, president of Circle K, a service club at the college affiliated with Kiwanis International. “The drive home after a volunteer event is the best feeling in the world. Knowing that you helped someone and did something to better the world around you gives you a feeling that cannot be explained, only felt.”

There are at nearly a dozen service-focused clubs at Behrend, and many more student groups and organizations that include service projects as part of their regular activities.

Overby first became involved with Kiwanis in high school.

“I was in Key Club, which is the high school branch of the Kiwanis Club,” Overby said. “Circle K is the name given to clubs at the college level.”

Behrend’s Circle K club includes twenty members from a variety of backgrounds.

“It brings together students from all majors, races, and genders,” Overby said. “It is such a diverse group, which is awesome because it means that we come up with lots of different volunteer ideas and activities.”

Among the group’s endeavors this academic year: cleaning wheelchairs and gurneys at Saint Vincent Hospital; participating in Relay for Life; helping at the Kiwanis’ antique show and bowling night; volunteering at Holy Trinity soup kitchen; taking the Special Olympics’ Polar Plunge; raising funds through the college’s Cardboard City event; cleaning up several local highways; and assisting at Meals on Wheels.

“I think the soup kitchen was one of my favorite events,” Overby said. “Besides prepping the meals, we were also able to distribute them and sit and interact with the clients. It is important to open our eyes and have compassion for the hardships others face. It also makes me much more grateful for my own life and the opportunities that I’ve had.”

Most recently, Behrend’s club hosted the Circle K Club’s spring officer training, drawing newly elected club officers from several colleges in the area including Mercyhurst and Edinboro Universities and the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.

There was, of course, a service project embedded in the day’s activities. Attendees assembled and prepared coloring books to give to Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Erie.

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Overby, who is majoring in Accounting will be doing an internship at Bank of America in New York City this summer. She expects to graduate in December and sit for the CPA exam before returning to Behrend to earn her M.B.A.

While Overby is still pondering the area of accounting she wants to focus on, she’s sure of one thing: She will continue her service work in the future.

“I will definitely seek out the local Kiwanis Club in whatever city I end up working,” she said. “I love interacting with different people and having volunteer events to look forward to. I feel like community service helps me as much as it helps others.”

If nothing else, Overby’s service work has taught her to find the good in others. When asked who inspires her, she said: “Every person. Every day.”

She further explained: “I have met coworkers who have three jobs to provide for their families. I have met peers in my classes who are taking crazy amounts of classes so they can graduate early and save money. I have met faculty members who go out of their way to help students because they truly care about them. These people inspire me every single day. I hope that I can inspire others someday.”

Did she inspire you?

Circle K meets bi-weekly on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. in Burke 105. To get involved, come to the next meeting on February 28 or email Overby at nmo5050@psu.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Noce to be honored by Boys and Girls Club of Erie

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Dr. Kathleen Noce, senior lecturer in Management Information Systems, grew up in a warm, loving home that was a haven for neighbors and friends in need.

“My mother was that woman in the neighborhood who all the kids knew they could go to for a meal, a hug, a few dollars, even a couch, if they needed a place to stay for a night or two,” Noce said.

Noce said her parents noticed early on that she, too, was a nurturer.

“They saw that I enjoyed helping others and they really encouraged me to do it,” she said.

It makes sense, then, that Noce would end up in a helping profession, educating college students in the finer points of MIS and business.

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But her service to others extends beyond the classroom and into the community, where she serves on several boards and volunteers for a variety of nonprofit organizations, including Boys and Girls Club of Erie which plans to honor Noce on Oct. 19 with the Woman and Youth Award, the highest honor the organization bestows on volunteers.

Noce has been a board member and volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club of Erie for more than twenty years. In addition, she has helped the club with many of its technology needs through Partnership Erie, a nonprofit outreach center of the Black School of Business that provides web design, web marketing, and content management services for free.

The majority of the work is done by students in MIS387 Website Design and Administration who are learning to design and manage websites. It’s a win-win: nonprofits benefit from the tech help and students get hands-on experience working with real clients.

Since Noce established Partnership Erie at Behrend in 2001, students have built more than 125 websites for a variety of nonprofit organizations.

“I realized I could incorporate an element of community service into my coursework, while also giving students the benefit of real-world work experience.”

Noce concedes she had an ulterior motive in forming Partnership Erie.

“I wanted students to learn about the enormous challenges that some people face,” Noce said, “and I wanted them to become good citizens who give back.”

It worked, even inspiring some students to take on personal volunteer projects for their clients outside of the classroom. She regularly hears from alumni who thank her for introducing them to the personal satisfaction to be found in helping others.

In addition to Boys and Girls Club of Erie, Noce volunteers at the Quality of Life Learning Center, the Islamic Center, Butterflies for Kids, Erie Youth Leadership Institute, and the Italian-American Women’s Association, in addition to other organizations.

In twenty years working with the Boys and Girls Club of Erie, Noce said she has witnessed firsthand the powerful impact of community service.

“Sometimes, you’ll see these kids come in and the deck is stacked against them,” she said. “They have parents who are largely absent or have substance abuse problems. They are living in poverty. They’re hungry. And you think, ‘This kid doesn’t have a future.’ But he starts coming to the club and there are people there who care about him and help him and watch out for him and he comes out a different person.”

“I’ve worked with kids at the club who I thought had a bleak future who have become doctors, teachers, and lawyers,” she said. “because somebody cared and provide a safe place for them to grow and learn.”

Noce is grateful for the opportunity to serve.

“I’ve led a blessed life,” she said, “so If I can help someone in need, my life is richer and I feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose for being here.

Students create blankets for NICU babies

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By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

When Ashley Sullivan, assistant professor of early childhood education at Penn State Behrend, suggested that students in two of her spring 2016 classes plan a community service project, one idea was top of mind for Karlie Aschenbrenner.

Aschenbrenner, a sophomore Elementary and Early Childhood Education major from Pittsburgh, thought of the concept behind Brady’s Blankets, a program of the Fairfield, CT, children’s non-profit Brady’s Smile, which provides homemade fleece blankets to babies and children in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

“This was the one idea that really made so much sense,” Aschenbrenner said. “If we all donated $5, we would be able to purchase fabric to make tie blankets. We could then donate the blankets to babies in the NICU.”

The students voted on the service project ideas, and Aschenbrenner’s suggestion was the clear winner.

Every student in both Sullivan’s Instruction in Early Childhood Education Derived from Development Theories and Competing Rights: Issues in American Education courses donated $5 each to participate in the project. They spent their last day of class cutting and tying to create 75 blankets, which were donated to Brady’s Smile and then sent to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Aschenbrenner was not the only student with whom the cause resonated.

“The children that we’re donating these blankets to could eventually become the kids that we’re going to teach, so just giving them a better chance to thrive and survive can mean a lot,” said Madison McFeely, a first-year Elementary and Early Childhood Education major from North East.

In addition to creating the blankets, Sullivan’s students volunteered at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania where they packed more than 200 food boxes to distribute to local seniors.

“As future teachers, I think all of us really appreciate these causes,” said Gionna Fonseca, a sophomore Elementary and Early Childhood Education major from Pittsburgh. “It was really nice to see that big pile of blankets sitting there.”

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Summer in Sri Lanka: Psychology student serves as medical volunteer

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Margaret Dunlap, a sophomore Psychology major, had a remarkable and enlightening summer experience as a medical volunteer at a Sri Lankan hospital.

We talked with her to find out more about what it’s like to live and work in a Third World country and what she learned during her time there.

What was your internship position (title)?

Medical volunteer

What were your responsibilities?

I had a mix of observation and helping. My duties included taking blood sugars, blood pressure, pulse, changing dressings, assisting in surgery, and doing physical exams.

How did you obtain this position?

It really just required filling out the application for Projects Abroad. Anyone can do the internship, but skill level and enthusiasm determines how much you are actually doing and you’re doing patient care or just watching.

How long was the internship?

6 weeks

Was it a paid position?

No. It was a volunteer position with Projects Abroad.

What made you look to Sri Lanka? Have you been there before?

I originally planned to be in India, but problems with the visa office resulted in my advisers rerouting me to Sri Lanka, a tropical island off the coast of India. I knew I wanted to be in an underprivileged area with a vastly different culture, preferably in Asia. I had not been to any part of Asia before, so culture-wise, it was a huge shock.

Why do you think they chose you? Why did you stand out?

One reason I stood out was my enthusiasm to learn. I came in as one of the youngest students and I openly admitted to having little real medical training. The doctors and advisors appreciated my humble attitude and willingness to do whatever needed to be done so I could learn.

As a college sophomore, you were doing an internship in a foreign country. Were you ever surprised to find yourself there?

I definitely was in awe that I was able to have an experience like that. If it wasn’t for my parents, I never would have been able to go. There also were several times when I remember thinking “I’m just a kid, what am I doing practicing medicine in a foreign country? When did I become responsible enough or mature enough to do this?”

How do these types of experiences enhance (or bring to life) the lessons you’re learning at Behrend?

At Behrend,  I learned how to be comfortable around people much different from myself. My freshman year, I lived in Perry Hall, which, at the time, housed primarily international students. I grew up in a small town with very little cultural diversity, and I had never lived in close proximity to people with such vastly different backgrounds. I became close friends with many international students, though it did take me some time to get used to being surrounded by different cultures. This experience certainly prepared me for living in Sri Lanka, where everyone’s culture was different from my own. Even the other students staying with the same host family had different backgrounds. I not only got a taste of Sri Lanka but also Japan, Ireland, England, Canada, Germany, and Australia.

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Margaret Dunlop, left, and a friend ride an Asian elephant while in Sri Lanka this summer

What was it like in Sri Lanka? Did you enjoy living there?

Sri Lanka is a Third World country in Asia. I lived in Colombo, the capital city, which is on the west coast. It was insanely hot, humid, dirty, smelly, and full of insects. But, it was also wonderfully exciting and exotic. All of the things that could have been taken as negatives were actually positives if you looked at them properly. There was no air conditioning, no hot water for bathing, no silverware (you ate your rice with your hands), and no toilet paper. The only Caucasians for miles were the other eleven students living in my house, and only seven of them spoke English as their first language. Living in Sri Lanka certainly was an adjustment. Literally everything is different there, but the differences are also what made the trip so fun!

What’s the most valuable lesson you learned during your experience this summer?

The most valuable lesson I learned is that I am stronger than I think. There were times when I was so scared or miserable that I just wanted to buy a plane ticket home, but I didn’t. I persevered and enjoyed the experience. In the end, I am a better person for it.

Did you learn anything that you’ll apply this semester to your classes/projects here at Behrend?

One of the biggest things I learned is to not second-guess myself. There were times where I was in surgery and panicking that I would make a mistake or I would be doing an initial examination on a patient with other medical students and second-guess myself. Sometimes I would hesitate if a doctor asked me a question just because I didn’t want to say the wrong thing and look stupid. Eventually I realized that I know more than I think and I should learn to be confident in that. And even if I don’t know the answer or I do have a stupid question, who cares? That’s why it’s called learning.

What are you career plans? What do you want to do?

I plan to go to medical school after college to become an orthopedic surgeon with a focus in sports medicine.

Behrend students, faculty to lead fight against invasive species in Wintergreen Gorge

With funding from the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Pennsylvania Sea Grant and Behrend are working to develop a weed  management plan that brings students and community members together to remove invasive species.

By Anna McCartney

Communications and Education Specialist at  Pennsylvania Sea Grant, an outreach program of Penn State Behrend  

Wintergreen Gorge along Fourmile Creek is a popular destination for hikers, birders, fossil-hunters and others who simply use the stream to cool off on a hot day.

Because it’s also a favorite of Penn State Behrend students, they are involved in creating a weed management and implementation plan to develop best management practices that protect the Gorge from invasive species.

With funding from the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC), and help from Pennsylvania Sea Grant (PASG) and Behrend faculty, they are working to develop a Weed Warrior program that brings students and community members together to remove invasive species that are found there.

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Students will also help develop a Best Practices Guide that can be used by other universities and communities to control invasive species on their campus or other natural areas.  

In May and June, students will learn to identify target invasive plant populations and use GPS equipment to inventory and track them on a baseline work map so they can prioritize future removal efforts. The data they collect will be added to existing information provided by the WPC about rare, threatened or endangered plant species so the plan will protect these assets while eliminating the harmful plants.

The management plan will require students to conduct research and determine immediate priorities and the best course of action to combat invasive species within the identified areas. Based upon the site conditions, students will also need to consider how to reintroduce native species once the invasives are removed.

Marti Martz, PASG senior outreach and project facilitator, anticipates that engaging Penn State students and community members in this effort will provide several benefits. “There will be more ‘boots on the ground’ to help with removal and more opportunities to discuss impacts of invasives on native plants and the insects and animals that rely on these natives. Once people understand how invasive species degrade a habitat, they will be more vigilant about what they bring into their own yards,” she said.

Sea Grant will also work with Ann Quinn, director of Greener Behrend, and the students to develop a Best Practices Guide that can be used by other universities or communities that want to control invasive species on their campus or other natural areas.

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Tom Cermak, Pennsylvania Sea Grant coastal outreach specialist, helps Behrend students remove invasive bush honeysuckle from Wintergreen Gorge.

“This project not only provides valuable, hands on experiences for students, but it also protects and enhances the ecological integrity of a wonderful community asset,” said Tom Cermak, PASG coastal outreach specialist who is working with students to identify, track and remove invasives.

“We at Behrend are very excited to work with Sea Grant to eliminate invasive plant populations throughout Wintergreen Gorge. As these aggressive species are removed, they will be replaced with native plant communities, which will increase biodiversity and help keep the Wintergreen Gorge Ecosystem in balance, ” said Quinn.

You can help maintain the beauty of this popular hiking and biking trail by volunteering to remove plants at planned workdays this summer. Contact Ann Quinn at 898-6993 or abq1@psu.edu.

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Bush honeysuckle is a deciduous shrub that can grow up to 15 feet. This aggressive invader displaces many native plants, including wildflowers and dogwoods.

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Multiflora rose (above) steals space, nutrients, water, and sunlight from native plants and trees.