Penn State announces Peace Corps Prep certificate program

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

Did you know that the Peace Corps, the international volunteer service organization, would not have come into being without college students?

“During the 1960 presidential election, John F. Kennedy made a late-night stop at the campus of the University of Michigan,” said Jonathan Hall, associate teaching professor of physics at Penn State Behrend. “He made an off-hand remark inquiring whether the college students there would be willing to serve in a developing country. It would have been a forgotten campaign speech, except that the students organized and sent a petition with hundreds of signatures asking for the opportunity to serve others and their country.”

Hall served after his undergraduate years, and his time in the corps remains a transformative life experience, so much so that forty years later, he regularly encourages Behrend students to consider joining, helps raise awareness of the organization on campus, and staffs a recruiting table at Behrend’s twice-yearly Career and Internship Fair.

“The Peace Corps is a great opportunity to learn about another culture, to develop one’s talents, and to be of service to people in a developing nation,” Hall said. “An example of the impact possible is Alejando Toledo, the former President of Peru, who said ‘I am one of sixteen brothers and sisters. Born in extreme, extreme poverty… I’m the first president of indigenous descent who had been democratically elected in 500 years in South America. To a large extent thanks to the Peace Corps.’”

“While none of my former students in Malaysia became a president,” Hall said, “I did help the children of subsistence farmers and fishermen become teachers and nurses who in turn contributed to education and health care in places where it was scarce.”

Hall is proof that the Peace Corps stays with you. A few years ago, he even returned to Borneo to catch up with some of his former students.

That’s why he’s excited about a new partnership between the Peace Corp and Penn State to offer a preparatory program for students interested in volunteering.

Peace Corps Prep is a certificate program for undergraduate students of any major. Students who participate in the program gain skills and experiences that make them attractive candidates for the corps or any form of international or service work. The inaugural cohort will begin this fall semester.

Accepted students will build their coursework around one of six strategic competencies that the Peace Corps seeks in its volunteers. The program requires students to complete a set number of field hours in their chosen competency area, take globally minded classes, show language competency, and engage in career-related activities.

Interested students are required to complete an online interest form by October 16, 2020 to be considered for the inaugural cohort. Program requirements, application information, and more can be found at https://studentsaffairs.psu.edu/career/peace-corps-prep.

While the certificate program does not guarantee acceptance in the Peace Corps, it will help to provide participants with a competitive advantage.

ABOUT THE PEACE CORPS

Peace Corps mission: to promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals:

  • To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  • To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  • To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Volunteers serve for twenty-seven months in areas such as health, education, environment, agriculture, community economic development, and youth in development.

Jonathan Hall and Wan Masa
Jonathan Hall, associate teaching professor of physics at Penn State Behrend, and a former colleague, Wan Masa, who taught with Hall in North Borneo forty years ago.

Student’s discovery is measure of success

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

ethan fontana

Some of the world’s greatest scientific discoveries have been happy accidents. An experiment goes not quite as expected, and the scientist says something like, “Huh, that’s weird.”

For many, that moment comes after years, even a full lifetime, of work. For some, like Mechanical Engineering senior Ethan Fontana it came in the first year of college in a class outside of his major. (Huh, that’s weird.)

Fontana, a native of Lower Burrell, Pennsylvania, had passed college-level physics in high school thanks to a dual-enrollment AP course, but he needed a lab credit for the course to be accepted as a replacement for PHYS 211: Mechanics at Penn State.

He talked to Dr. Chuck Yeung, professor of physics, who helped Fontana craft an individual study course that would meet the college’s requirements. While working in the lab independently on an assignment involving a ticker tape timer, an apparatus used in introductory physics courses, Fontana noticed something odd.

“I was obtaining inaccurate and inconsistent values of gravity,” he said. “I approached Dr. Yeung about it. He was unable to find anything about the issue online, so he suggested we do a research study on it.”

“After rigorous hours in the lab, performing trial after trial, we finally concluded that an external friction force was present in the apparatus,” Fontana said. “Better yet, we were even able to calculate it with minimal uncertainty.”

Conclusion reached, Fontana worked with Yeung to produce a poster for the Sigma Xi Undergraduate Research Conference where they tied for first place in the Physics/Chemistry division.

“We were both sort of amazed because I was only a first-year student at that time,” Fontana said.

Jonathan Hall, associate teaching professor of physics, said the ticker tape timer has been used in introductory physics classes in high schools and college for decades.

“It is a useful pedagogical tool to introduce important concepts of motion, such as velocity and acceleration, to students,” he said. “I was astounded to find no articles in physics education journals about the results to expect or suggested best practices when using a ticker tape timer to measure motion.”

 

 

 

 

 

So the three collaborated on a paper, with Fontana as the lead author. It was published in the May issue of The Physics Teacher.

 

“I think the paper fills a gap in physics education literature, and will be a helpful resource, especially to new physics teachers,” Hall said. “Ethan is a remarkable student. It’s quite unusual for a student to take their first college physics lab and end up as the lead author of a peer-reviewed scientific paper.”

 

Fontana is looking forward to getting his Professional Engineering license and a job as a mechanical engineer in the Pittsburgh area after his graduation in May of 2021.

 

 

 

What’s it Like to Work in Health Care During a Pandemic? Bio Majors Share

Biology alumni, students share their experiences on the frontlines

By Heather Cass,

Publications Manger, Penn State Behrend

For several Penn State Behrend biology students and recent graduates, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a baptism by fire—calling on them to put their new skills to use helping to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and caring for those who have it.

We talked with some of those students and graduates to find out what it’s like working in health care during the pandemic.

Rachel Adams ’19 is a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT) at Dobler Hose in Girard, Pa.

Jessie Kibbe ’20 is a new graduate. She earned a degree in Biology in May and works as a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) at an Erie senior living facility.

Emily Jaskiewiecz1

Ellen Jaskiewicz ’19

Ellen Jaskiewicz ’19 is an EMT at EmergyCare and also a volunteer EMT for Brookside Fire Company in Harborcreek, Pa.

Rachel Sinnott ’19 is a patient care technician at UPMC Hamot Hospital in Erie and a volunteer EMT with the Brookside Fire Company in Harborcreek.

zillman2

James Zillman, junior Biology major

James Zillman is a junior majoring in Biology in the Pre-Health option. He is an emergency room technician at UPMC Hamot and a COVID-19 specimen collector at the UPMC collection center in Erie.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected how you do your work?

Jaskiewicz: The worst part now is having to wear a surgical mask all the time. It’s very difficult for our patients, who are often elderly, to hear us and nearly impossible to get a full assessment done enroute to the hospital. We all take precautions with every patient, of course, but EmergyCare now has designated COVID crews who are trained to transport patients who are positive for the virus.

Zillman: When I first started at the emergency room, it was fast-paced every single day with a lot of patients, and although there are still individuals in cardiac arrest or suffering traumas coming in, the ER has actually slowed down a lot. We are, however, ready to assist and we all have proper PPE (personal protective equipment) and follow the proper guidelines for limiting exposure.

Sinnott: I’ve always been very conscientious about wearing appropriate PPE for the situation I’m in, but I think more carefully about what I bring in and out of work. I no longer bring my purse or a reusable water bottle, and I’m more aware of things I touch regularly like my cell phone, door handles, elevator buttons, and such.

Many remain untouched by this virus. It is certainly a different experience for you. What’s it like being on the front lines?

Jaskiewicz: Our call volume is significantly lower than normal, which is good because it means that people are understanding the importance of staying home. I worry, though, that some people may be too afraid to go to the hospital for treatment now (for fear of the virus), but they should know that health care facilities are following all protocols to keep them safe, and that includes in ambulances.

Kibbe: Before the pandemic hit, it was already a bad year for influenza and pneumonia, which we have to be very careful about in senior facilities. The care center I work in was already taking significant measures to guard against spread of the flu, so the quarantine orders were something we were used to. One of the hardest things has actually been the constantly changing policies and protocols since the pandemic. Some of this is inevitable, as it’s based on new information about the virus and PPE supply availability. Despite the changes for us, we try hard to maintain a normal and optimistic atmosphere to avoid worrying our residents.

Zillman: I truly enjoy my job and helping others, but I do worry about my three-year-old brother who has respiratory issues. I try to limit my exposure to him, and I make sure to wear protective gear around every patient I encounter, whether they are suspected of having COVID-19 or not.

Sinnott: I find myself spending a lot more of my workday trying to keep patients company since they are no longer allowed to have visitors. I try to spend a little extra time talking to them, asking what they are watching on TV or looking at pictures of their family so that they feel more comfortable and have someone to talk to.

What drove home the seriousness of the situation for you?

Adams: In mid-March, I was on wheelchair transport and encountered my first severely at-risk patient. He was a recent organ transplant on immunosuppressants. As I helped transport him home, he told me how frightened he was about contracting COVID-19 because he did not think he would survive it. I cried all the way back to my post. I think about him a lot. I hope he is doing well.

Jaskiewicz: I transported an older gentleman who had spent 90 days in a hospital and then a rehab and was going to a nursing home where visitors are now restricted. He told me he had to say goodbye to his wife for a full two weeks, and they had spent every night together for the past forty years. It was beyond heartbreaking.

Kibbe: When some of the nursing staff gathered early on to discuss the ‘what ifs’ and make plans in case the virus hit our facility, it was sobering and forced me to confront and accept uncertainty.

Zillman: I was at the COVID-19 collection center, swabbing a patient who told me that we were all heroes and that he appreciated us. I understand that there is always risk when you’re on the front lines, but for some reason, his calling us heroes made me realize how serious the pandemic is.

Sinnott: The first week we restricted visitors was really tough. I had a young patient who had a major setback and another who refused surgery because she did not want to go through it alone. Later that week, I had a patient who was receiving end-of-life care and could not have his family there to be with him. It’s scary enough to be sick and in the hospital, but it’s even more frightening for patients when they are not able to have their families with them.

The pandemic is a scary situation to be thrown into as a young professional. How have you dealt with it?

Kibbe: I have not felt frightened. Concerned, sure, but not scared because I have faith in modern medicine and I know that we will find a way to combat the virus. I’ve worked as a CNA for three years, and though the uncertainty of this virus is disconcerting, I’m confident in my training and skills. When someone needs help, your training kicks in and you just do your job.

What’s giving you hope right now?

Kibbe: The people I work alongside. There’s no way for me to fully describe the measure of their compassion and dedication they give to our residents. In my three years here, I’ve seen firsthand the selflessness, sacrifice, and sense of responsibility they have, and that has only been amplified by the pandemic.

Jaskiewicz: Honestly, the free food. It’s nice to be appreciated as a health care employee.

Zillman: First, the people I work with; everyone has such a positive attitude. Also, how the public has responded to health care workers, cheering them on and thanking them. It’s gratifying and motivating.

Sinnott: My coworkers inspire me every day. They’re continuing to risk their own health to help others and they go above and beyond to put patients at ease.

Has this experience confirmed or helped focus your career choice?

Kibbe: I’m planning to attend physician assistant school and this pandemic has without question confirmed my choice to advance in my medical career.

Zillman: I’m planning to apply to medical school in June, and I could not be more motivated to become an ER doctor. I’ve spent more than 100 hours shadowing physicians in the ER before I began working there, and it has confirmed that I’m on the right path.

Sinnott: It has absolutely confirmed my career choice. While this is a challenging time to work in health care, it is also incredibly rewarding.

Parting words for those not on the front lines?

Jaskiewicz: Please do what is asked of you. Wear a mask, stay at home, limit contact with others. I realize it’s an inconvenience and may be financially detrimental to some, but your actions can and will affect others. You don’t see the look on the family’s faces when we transport their mother who is in cardiac arrest and they cannot follow us to be with her at the hospital. You don’t see the patients dying alone, unable to have the comfort of a loved one during their last moments. Honestly, I’d rather wear a mask for the rest of my life than let one patient suffer alone.

 

Marketing students prepare plans for Hagen History Center

In January 2019, Dr. Mary Beth Pinto, professor of marketing at Penn State Behrend, tasked forty-four students in Marketing 444 Buyer Behavior and Applied Research with writing a marketing plan for the Erie County Historical Society (ECHS) to help the museum attract visitors under the age of 30. This is a demographic the museum staff knows it is not reaching.

The students worked in small groups through the semester and generated detailed marketing plans for ECHS. One of the recommendations was to use the name Hagen History Center for all marketing efforts. (Thomas B. Hagen ’55 is the chairman of the board of ERIE Insurance and a benefactor of the ECHS). Another recommendation was to use the slogan Make History With Us. Both were adopted by the ECHS staff in 2019.

Other recommendations included enhancements to the society’s website, increased utilization of social media, and the creation of events aimed at audiences under age 30. Many of these recommendations were implemented and continue to be expanded upon.

In 2020, the Black School of Business asked ECHS’s advancement director, Geri Cicchetti, to serve as adjunct professor for the Marketing 444 classes. With an MBA and a concentration in Marketing, Cicchetti has more than twenty years of experience teaching in an adjunct capacity at the college level.

This year’s Marketing 444 students, forty-three juniors and seniors, were hard at work on their marketing plans for ECHS when they left for spring break in March. But that’s where the lesson diverged for this semester’s students because the COVID-19 crisis forced Penn State to implement remote learning for the remainder of the term.

“For students working together in teams, it is difficult not to be able to meet physically,” Cicchetti said. “In addition, once they returned home, many students were living in different time zones. Some were international students; one was from California, and many others were also out-of-state. Some students lived in rural areas and needed to drive to other locations to get Wi-Fi. And these were just some of the challenges that students faced.”

They needed to be especially creative in completing this project, and Cicchetti said they rose to the occasion.

“They met via Zoom,” she said. “They worked independently and then shared their work with their teammates via email or Google Docs. Because of their perseverance and diligence, The Hagen History Center will again benefit from ten creative, insightful and detailed marketing plans.”

With the changes recommended and implemented from the 2019 class, what additional recommendations would the 2020 class have?

“As the museum has no marketing director, the 2019 class started from scratch and they had many opportunities to recommend basic marketing enhancements,” Cicchetti said. “But, with several of these recommendations implemented from the 2019 marketing plans, the 2020 class had a different starting point. They needed to bring the museum’s marketing to the next level.”

Cicchetti is confident they will do so and said she looks forward to sharing their plans in May with the board and staff of the Hagen History Center.

 

 

New Tech Tools Add Up for Future Math Teachers

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

The COVID-19 crisis this spring gave students in MTHED 427 Teaching Mathematics in Technology Intensive Environments an unexpectedly immersive educational experience. They, like every other math teacher in the tri-state area, were suddenly thrust into teaching (and learning how to teach) math remotely using a variety of technological tools.

To help with that transition, teacher organization and educational resource websites have been offering new professional development opportunities.

Recently, the students in MTHED 427, who are just a year or two away from being high school math teachers, were invited to participated in a virtual “unconference” centered around tools for teaching mathematics in an online environment. “21st Century Math: Engaging Online Students in Multi-Sensory Learning” was an all-day event offering various sessions that current and soon-to-be math teachers could attend virtually.

“As the title suggests, the ‘unconference’ is all about leveraging technology to teach mathematics in meaningful and engaging ways,” said Dr. Courtney Nagle, associate professor of math education. “It was an exciting opportunity for our students to be invited to attend.”

The students found it to be a valuable experience, not just because of the content covered, but also because they had the chance to interact with and learn from veteran mathematics teachers.

“There were a couple of hundred teachers in each of the sessions that I attended, and we got to interact at various points,” said Angela Dale, a junior dual majoring in Mathematics and Secondary Education in Mathematics. “In some sessions, we were sent to breakout rooms and given the chance to try different activities with the other teachers in that session. The interesting thing about that was that we were able to help one other with the software and explore a bit like students would do.”

Dale said one session piqued her interest in a new teaching tool.

“One of the sessions explored the role of music in the learning process,” Dale said. “I left the session wanting to know more about how they set up their platform and the topics the video covered. I definitely plan to look further into that concept.”

Taylor Montagna, a junior Secondary Education in Mathematics major, also attended the “unconference,” and learned a lot about the parental role in education.

“One of the most interesting sessions I attended was about parental un-involvement and how that can be addressed,” Montagna said. “I learned about ways I could handle that when I have my own classroom and students.”

Both Montagna and Dale think some of the online learning tools pressed into use during the COVID-19 crisis will remain a tool in the belts of high school math teachers.

“The activities we saw at the conference were very focused on promoting collaborative effort among students and making learning accessible for all students,” Dale said. “Some programs were games students could play at home to improve their math fluency, while others will help them continue to work with their peers to get a deeper understanding of the material that is being taught in class. I think teachers, and students, will continue to utilize these resources in the future.”

“I do believe this experience will help ‘normalize’ a level of online learning,” Montagna said. “I think teachers will likely incorporate more technology into their classrooms, not just in case of a future pandemic, but because some of these technological tools are a nice addition to traditional methods of teaching.”

STEAM ideas to keep kids learning, engaged

By Heather Cass,

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

With schools closed across the country, parents have found themselves suddenly thrust into the role of teacher and activities director. It’s no easy task.

The experts in Penn State Behrend’s Youth Education Outreach (YEO) program are here to help you. They have plenty of experience holding kids’ attention while teaching them about Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM). They have put together a few fun activities/resources that you can use.

Sweet Chemistry Experiment

In light of the number of students now learning remotely, The American Chemical Society has made the American Association of Chemistry Teachers website more available to the public. Tracy Halmi, associate teaching professor of chemistry, said the site offers high-quality information and activities for students of all ages, including elementary students.

Halmi shared one activity that caught her eye as an experiment that kids would find fun: Analyzing root beer floats is suggested for students in grades 1-5, but we’re guessing “kids” of any age would enjoy it.

root beere

You can see a full list of unlocked activities on the website.

Easter/Spring STEAM Fun

Robyn Taylor, K-12 program educator for YEO, said the website littlebinsforlittlehands.com offers several STEAM activities with eggs that are easy and fun to do at home. Here are a few of her favorites:

Easter Egg Catapults. Experiment with motion, design, and basic engineering and physics principals by designing a simple machine to launch plastic eggs into the air.

catapult

Photo credit: Little Bins for Little Hands

Egg Crystals: With just a few simple materials, your young learners will be ready to start growing cool crystals in the shape of eggs in this hands-on chemistry experiment disguised as a fun holiday craft.

egg crystals

Photo credit: Little Bins for Little Hands

Suncatchers: Bring some sun and color into your home by making suncatchers that incorporate a little science into the art, especially if you choose to make the crystal or slime suncatchers.

Crystal-Suncatchers-BABBLE-DABBLE-DO-displayed

Photo credit: Babbledabbledo.com

Lego Maze Challenge. If you have a bin full of building bricks, kids will have a blast making their own Lego mazes while also learning about engineering, design, and physics. There is no limit to how elaborate or creative the mazes can be – students can incorporate buildings and figures into their mazes and then compete with siblings to see who can race the marble through fastest!

marble maze

Photo credit: Mammapappabubba.com

Take a tour!

Send the kids on an adventure from the comfort and safety of your own home. You can tour a whole host of museums and zoos virtually, including the National History Museum in London and the The National Museum of Computing, where you can take a 3-D virtual tour.

computer musuem

Photo credit: The National Museum of Computing

 

 

 

 

 

 

PLET student travel to Germany — final report

Guest Post by Lauren Hampton, Plastics Engineering Technology major

No matter how vivid the photos or descriptive the lecture, there’s nothing quite like seeing and experiencing another country in person. And, in today’s increasingly global business climate, it’s vital that students be versed in the culture and business practices of international partners. There is much to be learned from seeing how others do it. That’s why, every year, students in the Plastics Engineering Technology (PLET) program have the opportunity to travel overseas to visit plastics companies and universities and attend a plastics trade show, too.

On Thursday, Oct. 17th, a group of PLET majors embarked on an 11-day trip to Germany. We asked student Lauren Hampton to keep a travel log and tell us about the trip. Here is her final report on the experience: 

Day 9 — Friday

Today, we visited Rosenheim University of Applied Sciences. They have a plastics engineering program similar to the one we have at Penn State. Additionally, students from both Penn State Plastics Engineering Technology and Rosenheim Plastics Engineering can participate in a semester study abroad program at the respective school. During our visit, we had a wonderful tour of their labs and got lots of information about the different research projects they are currently working on.

After our tour at Rosenheim, students had a free afternoon in Munich. Some toured the Allianz Arena where FC Bayern Munich plays. Others explored the city.

Group Photo at RosenheimStudents at Allianz ArenaStudents at Allianz Arena

Day 10 — Saturday

Today, we had a free day in Munich and it was our last (non-travel) day of the trip. Students did a variety of activities during the day. A couple of students visited Eagle’s Nest. Others went to some museums and went shopping in Marienplatz. In the evening, we had a group dinner at Schneider Bräuhaus.

Students at Eagle’s Nest

Students at Eagle’s Nest.

Glockenspiel at Marienplatz

Glockenspiel at Marienplatz.

Parting thoughts

I would like to give a special thanks to all of the faculty members—Jon Meckley, Dr. Gary F. Smith, Lucy Lenhardt, and Dr. Israd Jaafar—who took us on this once-in-a-lifetime trip. I can say on behalf of all of the students, we had a wonderful time and this is an experience that we will remember and cherish for many years to come.

Auf Wiedersehen, Deutschland!

 

Students witness history in the making in Europe

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

The United States is not the only nation going through a politically tumultuous time. Great Britain’s vote to leave the European Union (Brexit) has implications politically and globally.

On the other hand, Brexit has not diminished the EU’s attractiveness and importance for other countries that want membership or a closer relationship with the organization. Among these countries are Ukraine, which has been adopting constitutional changes, reforming trade, energy, and fiscal policy; and obtaining visa-free travel rights to Europe at large.

It is an interesting juxtaposition that eleven Penn State Behrend students enrolled in PLSC 499 Foreign Study Government are experiencing firsthand on a fifteen-day study abroad experience in London and in Kyiv, Ukraine. The students, led by Dr. Chris Harben, assistant teaching professor of management, and Dr. Lena Surzhko-Harned, assistant teaching professor of political science, left for London on May 12 and will travel until May 27.

While there, the group will have the opportunity to meet with representatives of transnational companies, lawmakers, members of the press, and more.

Students will meet with three members of Parliament: Lord David Hunt of the House of Lords, and the Honorable Luke Graham and Honorable Nick Boles who are both members of the House of Commons.

“Boles will be very interesting to meet with because he’s been outspoken on the matter of Brexit and, in fact, recently resigned from the Conservative Party,” Harben said. “He is a widely recognizable personality in Parliament and will provide unique insight to our students.”

Harben said that it is a particularly opportune time to visit London.

“On Thursday, May 16, students will attend the Debates in the House of Commons,” he said. “The timing is wonderful as Brexit is likely to be a topic of debate on that day given the elections for the European Parliament coming up less than two weeks later.”

Surzhko-Harned, a Ukraine native, described the course as an incredible chance for students to understand the interworking of the EU and the trading block’s economic and political power in Europe and globally.

“They will be witnessing history in the making and hearing about it directly from politicians and other leaders in Great Britain and Ukraine,” she said. “They will also be able to experience the atmosphere and culture in which these events are taking place. That’s not something they could gain by observing events from across the pond.”

For updates on the trip, you can follow Harben’s YouTube channel or follow Suzhko-Harned on Instagram or Twitter.

London and Ukraine trip.

Students met with Lord David Hunt, center, of the House of Lords on Monday, May 13. Dr. Chris Harben, far right, said the meeting far exceeded their expectations. “Lord Hunt met with us for a private question-and-answer session in the robing room at Westminster Place where the Queen will prepare when she opens the session of the House of Lords,” Harben reported. “Hunt then invited us to watch the House of Lords in action as they discussed regulations regarding agriculture in anticipation of Brexit, and then gave us access to watch the House of Commons from a special viewing area that is not open to the public.”

 

Guest Post: Alternative Spring Break in Puerto Rico

pix 5

Last week, two dozen students and four advisers from Penn State Behrend participated in an Alternative Spring Break service trip to Puerto Rico. The group helped residents recover from the catastrophic flooding that occurred as a result of Hurricane Maria, a category 5 hurricane which devastated the area in 2017, causing billions of dollars in damages and claiming nearly 3,000 lives in Puerto Rico. Here is a reflection on the week’s activities from one of the participants.

By Alex Siernerth

Junior Marketing major, ASB board member and ASB trip participant

On our first day in Puerto Rico, we stopped at a local BBQ for lunch and had our first taste of Puerto Rican cuisine, which was wonderful! We stopped at a local Walmart for some supplies, then headed to the camp to get settled. We stayed at Campamento Yuquibo which was in the El Yunque National Forest.

On the second day of the trip, we began our service. We headed to a part of the El Yunque where Hurricane Maria had stripped the natural canopy from parts of the forest. Strong grasses and vines took over the hiking trails. We worked to remove the excess brush to expand the trails.

On the third day, we split into teams to paint houses that had suffered external damage from the hurricane. One team rolled a fresh coat of orange onto a home, while another worked to paint a new house, which was built after the hurricane destroyed the original home.

The fourth day was spent finishing up the painting of the orange house and cleaning up. Another team painted the kitchen of a nearby home where the walls had been re-plastered due to water damage. The final group spent the day working on landscaping.

Our last day of service was spent at the Natural Reserve Cabezas de San Juan. We learned lot about the post-hurricane reforestation efforts that are being undertaken to revitalize the plant and wildlife in the area. We helped to tag young trees and tend to the newly planted ones by spreading mulch and watering them.

On our cultural day, we were able to explore coral reefs and learn about the ecosystem that they exist in. Snorkeling in the beautiful Puerto Rican waters allowed us to get an up-close-and-personal feel for the sea creatures and other wildlife. A friendly dolphin even paid us a visit.

We had a few hours before leaving for the airport, so we explored Old San Juan.

It was such an amazing experience being able to meet and interact with the kind, resilient people of Puerto Rico. The Behrend students took every opportunity with smiles on their faces and love in their hearts.

We are grateful to all the donors and others who made this service trip possible.

 

Student puts marketing claims to the test

Are “eco-friendly” ice-melting products really better for the environment?

megan solan1

Dr. Sam Nutile, assistant professor of biology, left, and Megan Solan, a senior Biology major.

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

Most consumers want to do the right thing. Marketers know this, which is why they use words like “eco-friendly,” “organic,” and “all-natural” on packaging and in advertisements for the products they are selling. But, unless there are government standards attached to those labels—and, in many cases, there are not—these claims can be misleading at best, flagrantly false at worst.

Case in point: Megan Solan, a senior Biology major, recently completed a study of the effects of road salt products on aquatic insects. Solan compared the toxicity of traditional road salt to three other products that are marketed as being more “eco-friendly.” Her research produced some surprising results.

“We conducted a series of ten-day tests with midges, an invertebrate that spends its larval stages in freshwater ecosystems,” Solan said. “Midges are commonly used when testing chemicals that have the potential to contaminate freshwater habitats because they are generally pollution-tolerant. So, if something affects midges, it will likely affect all of the more sensitive species as well.”

Solan worked on the project under the guidance of Dr. Sam Nutile, assistant professor of biology.

“Interestingly, Megan found that the eco-friendly formulations as harmful or worse for the aquatic insects than traditional salt were,” Nutile said. “Megan’s research is interesting because it represents a disconnect between scientific study and application of the results in society, demonstrating the need for scientists to learn how to bridge this gap.”

Solan recently presented her work at the 39th Annual National Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Conference. She along with Nutile, and Dr. Adam Simpson, assistant professor of biology, and two other students attended the gathering in Sacramento, California, where Solan’s poster presentation won first place in the undergraduate division.

Not only did Solan return to Behrend with the top poster award for her work, but she also made several new professional contacts in her field.

“I met many wonderful scientists and spoke with some of them about the graduate programs at their schools,” she said.

Solan plans to pursue a Ph. D. in environmental toxicology, which represents a slight curve from her original career plan.

“I initially chose biology because I was going to go to medical school, but after getting involved in this project, I realized that I am passionate about researching environmental issues.”

megan solan3

Dr. Sam Nutile, assistant professor of biology, left, and Megan Solan, a senior Biology major.