Building the STEM Workforce of the Future

By Heather Cass

Publications manager, Office of Strategic Communications, Penn State Behrend

As the number of jobs in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields continues to grow, industry leaders and educators are recognizing the need to start “recruiting” early. Very early, as in, elementary-school early.

In the early years, however, “recruiting” looks nothing like people in ties and suits sitting at desks. It looks more like an engineer in a sweatshirt and jeans overseeing a noisy and boisterous game of life-size Jenga, or a high-school robotics team member encouraging kids to pilot a LEGO robot through a maze, or a chemistry major helping kids concoct a bubble they can hold in their hands.

“It starts with getting young children interested in and excited about STEM concepts,” said Melanie Ford, director of Penn State Behrend’s Youth Education Outreach efforts and a lecturer in computer science and software engineering.

That’s why, for the last three years, GE Transportation and Penn State Behrend have teamed up to host a STEM Fair that is open to the public and geared toward students of all ages. This year’s fair is Monday, February 20, from 6:00-8:00 p.m. at Junker Center.

In addition to at least a half dozen GE divisions and nearly twenty Penn State Behrend clubs and organizations, a variety of other Erie STEM companies and organizations, including Erie Insurance, the Erie Maritime Museum, Acutec, and Cummins, will also join in the fun.

“Every table will have some sort of hands-on component or activity,” Ford said. “The funny thing is when younger kids are doing these activities, they don’t even realize that they are experimenting and exploring in chemistry, physics, math, and engineering. They’re just learning that STEM can be fun and challenging.”

They are not the only ones having fun. The business and industry professionals, faculty members, and Behrend students who volunteer at the event are having a blast, too.

“Our students really step-up for our outreach events, and they clearly enjoy sharing their knowledge with the younger generation,” Ford said. “They think what they do is cool and they pass that passion on. The added bonus is the college students end up with a better understanding of these concepts as well.”

Join in the STEM fun – Monday, February 20, 6:00-8:00 p.m. at Junker Center

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Marketing students to explore buyer behavior for Sprint

By Heather Cass
Publications and Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

This semester, students in Dr. Mary Beth Pinto’s MKTG 344 Buyer Behavior class will have a unique opportunity to work on a collaborative research project with a leading wireless telecommunications company, and it is all thanks to one of the first classes that Pinto ever taught three decades ago at the University of Maine.

Pinto made a strong impression on student Mark Nachman who recalls that Pinto was a “highly engaged” professor who kept her classes fun and relevant. “The things she taught were applicable, not just theory,” he said.

So when Nachman, who is now a regional president for Sprint, covering Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, was looking for a new regional marketing director, he thought of Pinto, professor of marketing, and connected with her on LinkedIn.

“I was looking for a young person with fresh perspectives and cutting-edge ideas who would not be afraid to take risks,” he said. “I thought: ‘What better way to get an inside track on recent marketing graduates than to reach out to a few professors?’”

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Mark Nachman, regional president for Sprint

Pinto happily supplied Nachman with several leads, and then opened the door on other ways Sprint could get involved at Behrend, including offering internships, participating in a “Corporate Day” at the Black School of Business (where representatives can meet directly with students about internship and career opportunities), and engaging students in doing research work for the company.

“I suggested he think about any ways he could put upper-level marketing students to work doing a hands-on project for Sprint,” she said.

Nachman didn’t have to think about it for long. He knew that, despite substantial investment in technology and cell towers in the Erie region, Sprint had been struggling to gain market share in the area among its key demographic (18 to 25 year olds), but he didn’t know why.

This spring, he’ll have forty-plus MKTG 344 Buyer Behavior students on the case.

Students will work in small teams using a variety of marketing strategies, including market analysis, focus groups, personal interviews, and more, to learn more about the perceptions, attitudes, and cell-phone provider preferences among Sprint’s target demographic in the Erie area.

“This is real market research for an actual client,” Pinto said. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity for these students to get hands-on experience and put some of the things they’ve been learning into practice.”

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Dr. Mary Beth Pinto, professor of marketing

Students will also assess current Sprint promotions in the Erie area and, based on the team’s research findings, offer recommendations and develop “guerrilla” marketing plans that can be used to boost Sprint’s profile and users in the region.

Guerrilla marketing is an advertising strategy that focuses on low-cost unconventional marketing tactics that yield maximum results. The original term was coined by Jay Conrad Levinson in his 1984 book Guerrilla Advertising.

The top six teams will present their work to a team of executives from Sprint in April.

Nachman can’t wait to learn what they discover.

“I’m super fired up about this collaboration,” he said. “I love the whole concept and the grass-roots initiative of this project. I anticipate the students will come up with ideas that could be implemented nationwide at Sprint.”

Nachman has invested both time and money in the project. He and other Sprint executives will be on campus for the kickoff and final presentations and Sprint will be providing each student with Sprint T-shirts and demo phones so that they can be familiar with the company’s products and services.

“When I was a college student, I remember sometimes feeling disappointed and empty as I jumped through hoops and did research that was all theory,” he said. “This exercise will be entirely tangible and executable. If I were still a student, I’d find that inspiring and motivating.”

It bears noting that the college-age researchers are themselves in Sprint’s target demographic. Who better to find out what 18-24 year olds think about a company and product than their own friends and peers?

“Young adults are influencers, especially when it comes to technology decisions,” Nachman said. “They are intentionally and unintentionally steering their parents and friends on products and services daily.”

The same could be said for Pinto, whose influence on Nachman thirty years ago has clearly led to opportunities for Penn State Behrend students today.

MEET WITH SPRINT

Sprint executives will be on campus on January 12 for the class project kickoff and will participate in a “Corporate Day” at the Black School of Business. Sprint representatives will be in the Clark Café to talk with students about internship and job opportunities and, at 4:00 p.m., Nachman will be giving a talk about “Warrior Leadership” in the Black Conference Room at Burke Center. Nachman’s presentation is free and open to all.

 

 

Students preparing to study in “Land of the Rising Sun”

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

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Dr. Vicki Kazmerski, associate professor of psychology, goes over Japan travel information with students enrolled in the study-tour.

“You need to work on being quiet and small,” said Dr. Dawn Blasko, associate professor of psychology. “Americans are known to be big, loud, and rowdy. We spread out and take up a lot of space, and that’s not going to go over well in Japan.”

Sometimes expanding your horizons requires downsizing your personality, particularly when traveling abroad. It’s an important cultural lesson that fifteen Penn State Behrend students are learning to embrace before they embark on a twenty-day study tour in Japan.

“The overall atmosphere in Japan is quiet and calm, which is much different from my usual pace of life,” said Grace Waldfogle, a junior Psychology major. “I am outgoing and will need to remember to be more reserved there. It will be an interesting experiment, I’m sure.”

While in Japan, the students, enrolled in either PSYCH 232 Cross-Cultural Psychology or PSYCH 499 Foreign Studies in Psychology, will travel to Yokohama to attend the International Congress of Psychology. At the Congress, students will interact with researchers from across the world and attend sessions highlighting current research from a global perspective.

Some, like Waldfogle, will even present their own research work.

As an undergraduate research assistant, she has been working with Blasko, and Dr. Heather Lum, assistant professor of psychology, on a study that looks at navigation in a foreign environment, and will present her poster, “A Birds Eye View of a Foreign World: Individual Differences in Spatial Cognition,” at the Congress.

Before and after the conference, Waldfogle and other students will explore cities and historical sites in and around Tokyo, including an overnight trip to visit the shrines and temples in the Kyoto area.

“I’m excited about visiting Kamakura, which is the home of the ‘Big Buddha,’ and participating in Zen meditation,” Waldfogle said.

The study tour is designed to allow students to see firsthand how culture shapes the way people view the world and develop an awareness of ethnocentric bias and ways to identify and avoid it. Students in the higher level course will learn about global psychology and how Eastern and Western culture have developed different but complementary perspectives of mind, body, and healthy living. Not all of the students attending are psychology majors, however.

Stephen Dartnell, a sophomore Business major, sees the study tour as an opportunity to enhance his professional portfolio and international business acumen.

“I’m really interested in learning more about psychology as well as Japan’s cultural and business customs,” Darnell said. “Also, having worked at Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market, I’m especially interested in learning more about Japan’s prominent seafood industry, as there were many Japanese influences at Pike Place.”

The students, who leave on July 21, have work to do before they go.

“There are required reading and assignments that have to be done before the trip,” said Blasko, who is team-teaching the courses along with Lum, and Dr. Vicki Kazmerski, associate professor of psychology.

The instructors recruited a Penn State Behrend MBA student, Yuki Takahashi, a native of Japan, to give the students a few informal advance lessons before the spring semester ended.

“Yuki covered topics such as the alphabet(s), currency, common words and phrases, regions, traditions, and customs,” Dartnell said.

Although none of the students are expected to be fluent in Japanese, Takahashi told them that giving it a shot counts.

“It’s vital that we make an effort to speak their language,” Waldfogle said. “It shows that we respect their culture and want to try and understand things from their perspective.”

Basic psychology, of course.

Makers Engineer Ornaments, Fun

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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?”

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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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Pre-Health students sew first stitches in medical career

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

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Suturing—sewing together incisions or torn flesh—is a basic technique every doctor must master. It is, however, a skill that few undergraduate students have the opportunity to practice before entering medical school. But, thanks to the U.S. Army and Penn State Behrend’s Pre-Health Professions program, nearly thirty undergraduate students from four area universities were able to try their hand at three types of basic stitches at a suturing seminar earlier this month.

The class, offered by the Army Health Care Recruiting office in Pittsburgh and held at Penn State Behrend, was taught by Dr. Regan Shabloski, assistant dean for clinical education at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, and a member of the Army National Guard’s Medical Corps.

For two hours, students from Penn State Behrend, Allegheny College, Gannon University, and Mercyhurst University worked on severed pigs’ feet, practicing simple interrupted, running, and mattress stitches, using suturing kits provided by the Army.

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Shabloski taught students how to hold the tools, how to start and finish stitching, how to know which stitches to use, how to choose the proper sutures, and the importance of symmetrical sewing.

Straight, evenly spaced stitches are paramount for patients.

“Neatness counts,” Shabloski said as he moved around the room, peering over shoulders at the students’ work. “Suture scars are one of the most visible reminders of your work. Patients care deeply what their scars look like, even if they are in a place where nobody will ever see them.”

Staff Sgt. Benjamin Earle and Staff Sgt. Ricardo Grey, both Army medics, were on hand to assist Shabloski with training.

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The event was sponsored by the Army to bring attention to its Health Professions Scholarship Program, which provides tuition for up to four years of medical school to students pursuing an education at any accredited medical, dental, optometry, clinical or counseling psychology, or veterinary school, in exchange for a four-year commitment to working on an Army base after graduation.

“Students have to apply for this program before they enter medical school, and we were finding that many didn’t know about it until it was too late, so we’ve been making an effort to reach students at the undergraduate level and make them aware of the opportunities available to them through the Army,” Earle said.

Earle is quick to point out that being a doctor in the military does not necessarily mean working in a combat zone.

“We have Army bases all over the world, and on those bases, we have a tremendous need for all kinds of doctors for our soldiers and their families,” Earle said. “We need all the same doctors and specialists that are found in civilian life — OB/GYNs, pediatricians, general practitioners, dentists, and even veterinarians.”

Christina Hilaire, a junior Biology major who wants to be a doctor, participated in the suturing class and said the scholarship program is worth exploring.

“My mother was in the military, so I’ve thought about it,” Hilaire said.

“It is a pretty sweet deal for students inclined to spend a few years working at a military base,” said Dr. Michael Justik, associate professor of chemistry and chair for the Pre-Health Professions programs. Justik helped bring the suturing class to Behrend.

Among the perks? Full tuition paid directly to the medical school, a $20,000 signing bonus, a $2,000+ monthly living stipend, and health insurance, in addition to coverage of school-related expenses, including books, fees, and medical supplies.

It’s a deal that, according to Earle, only gets sweeter after graduation when the newly-minted doctors are admitted to the Army at the level of an officer.

“They are able to practice medicine at Army bases throughout the world without concerns about billing, overhead expenses, or malpractice premiums,” he said. “Many enjoy the lifestyle and stay in the service past their required commitment,” Earle said. “But, even if they don’t and they only put in their four years, we feel that’s a fair deal.”

The military recruits medical professionals in northwestern Pennsylvania because it’s rich in universities and medical facilities.

“Erie is a wonderful place to prepare for a medical career,” Justik said. “We have three hospitals in the area as well as LECOM, a top osteopathic medical school, all of which provide various learning opportunities for pre-health students.”

Here is what some of the students had to say about the suturing experience at Behrend:

  • “It was a fantastic event that helped solidify my career choice. I want to be a surgeon and the suturing class made me realize that it really is what I want to do for a living.” — Stephen Wells, a Penn State Behrend senior Biology major.
  • “It was really helpful to have Dr. Shabloski and the Army medics right there helping us and giving us tips. I took a similar suturing class in high school, but I learned some new and different techniques in this class.” —Thalia Soto, a Penn State Behrend sophomore majoring in Chemistry. Soto wants to be a pediatric surgeon.
  • “I really enjoyed it because it was an opportunity to do some hands-on learning, which is not often a part of the pre-med curriculum.” —Margaret Dunlop, a Penn State Behrend sophomore majoring in Psychology. Dunlop wants to be an orthopedic surgeon.
  • “The suturing class was a great learning experience in a fun, low-pressure setting. It was an excellent opportunity to do one of the many tasks that doctors and health professionals perform almost daily.” — Bethany Kelley, a Mercyhurst University sophomore Pre-Medical major. Kelley wants to be a physician assistant.

Click here for more information about Penn State Behrend’s Pre-Health Professions programs.

Click here or email Benjamin.d.earle2.mil@mail.mil for more information about the Army’s Health Professions Scholarship Program.

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