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.

 

When You Give an Engineer a Problem….

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

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Valerie Zivkovich and Olivia Dubin, seniors majoring in Plastics Engineering Technology.

Engineers are problem solvers by nature. So it should come as no surprise that when faced with a recycling conundrum, students in Penn State Behrend’s School of Engineering saw an opportunity.

The quandary

China, which is the largest consumer of recycled material from the United States, has significantly reduced the amount and types of material it will accept and introduced strong restrictions on contamination, i.e. trash mixed in with recyclables.

This has forced a wave of changes in the U.S. recycling industry.

“Waste Management has had to adjust the way it recycles materials to ensure those materials pass through numerous quality checks and has also found it necessary to pass on increased costs to customers, including Behrend,” said Randall Geering, senior director of business and operations. “The impact of these changes is being felt everywhere, not just on our campus.”

The bottom line: Recycling is becoming harder and more expensive for consumers and businesses to do and unprofitable for material recovery facilities.

It is not hard to see how this could lead to complete breakdown in the recycling system.

Seeds of change

Recycling and the waste generated by landscaping containers is what led Valerie Zivkovich, a senior from Gibsonia, Pennsylvania, to the Plastics Engineering Technology (PLET) program at Penn State Behrend.

“I worked at a vegetable farm in high school, and we were constantly throwing out plastic containers that the plants were in,” Zivkovich said. “We couldn’t reuse them because of potential contaminants in the soil, and I understood that, but I thought there had to be a better way. I wanted to develop a better plastic for agricultural use.”

Zivkovich and her capstone project partner, fellow PLET senior Olivia Dubin, had heard the uproar from the Penn State Behrend community about the prospect of no longer recycling and realized the campus could recycle its own plastic bottles.

At a campus-wide meeting with Waste Management officials, Zivkovich and Dubin presented a proposal to collect, clean, and pelletize bottles into raw material that could then be used to create new products.

“Basically, we’ll collect plastic bottles—primarily PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and PP (polypropylene) such as pop bottles, Starbucks cups, etc.—then grind them up into tiny pellets and use or resell them to a vendor,” Zivkovich said.

They worked on their initial plan with Jason Williams, assistant teaching professor of engineering.

“I think this could work because we already have most of the equipment and skills in our plastics department,” Williams said. “We are unique in that we have both a plastics factory and a research facility. This combination of resources makes Behrend a great place to test something like this.”

Waste Management agreed and awarded the students a $3,000 Think Green grant to help get the program going.

“The recycling industry is changing, and it’s going to take projects like this one to help identify different markets for material,” said Erika Deyarmin-Young, public affairs coordinator at Waste Management.

Williams is excited about the possibilities.

“I think this initiative is a valuable teaching tool and a demonstration of how engineers can make things better,” he said. “It will also give us tools we can use to study ways to handle post-consumer waste. I think there is a lot of research opportunity in developing automatic sorting technology and material handling of plastics.”

“As PLET majors, we learn about the impact and importance of recycling,” Dubin said. “We are excited to have come up with a solution that our whole campus could be involved in.”

It takes a village

The first step, Zivkovich said, is spreading the word about what can and can’t be recycled and the importance of rinsing containers before tossing them into the recycling bin.

“There definitely needs to be a campus-wide education campaign,” she said. “We need to teach others how to recycle properly with information sessions, posters, and clear signage on the collection containers.”

“We want students to get involved with every aspect of the recycling process,” Dubin said.

Other priorities include finding more funding and securing workspace. “We need a new grinder and that’s $45,000,” Zivkovich said. “We’re applying for grants to find that funding. As for lab space, we think the Merwin building in Knowledge Park would be ideal.”

Another important part of the equation: volunteers from all four schools.

“We don’t want this to be a project only for PLET or engineering students,” Williams said. “This is an opportunity for students across the college to get involved with these recycling efforts.”

Zivkovich plans to reach out to the college’s sustainability program and Greener Behrend club for help securing volunteers to sort and collect plastics.

“Whatever major you are in, you’ll deal with recycling somewhere—at home, at work, in your community,” Zivkovich said. “This effects all of us whether you work in the industry or not.”

Students learn about the business of fun

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

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On Friday, September 21, fourteen students from MGT471W Strategic Planning and Business Policy traveled to “the roller coaster capital of the world”— Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio. However, they were not there just to buckle themselves into the park’s seventeen roller coasters. This trip was all (er, mostly) business.

Amusement parks aren’t simply fun and games; they are for-profit businesses. This is something that Chris Harben, assistant teaching professor of management, is quite familiar with because he works as an emergency medical technician at Cedar Point each summer.

Harben arranged the trip so students could get a close-up look at how the business of fun is done.

Students were welcomed to the park by Missy Smith, director of finance for Cedar Point, and then experienced four hours of presentations, tours, and conversations with Cedar Point management, including Smith, Joanne Mueller, the vice president of human resources, Karen Michelson, vice president marketing, and Jason McClure, general manager, who spent the entire afternoon with the group.

“Students were surprised at the extent of the information the leadership team members shared with them,” Harben said. “Topics included staffing challenges for the park, their international hiring program, marketing strategies, financial forecasting and budgeting, park competitive positioning and strategy, growth plans, and much more.”

Students received a behind-the-scenes tour of the park, which included the corporate headquarters of Cedar Fair, the parent company of Cedar Point, and even saw “Screamsters” getting their make-up and costumes on in preparation for Cedar Point’s “Haunt at Halloweekends” event taking place that evening. They also enjoyed a meal at one of the park’s newest restaurant offerings, Melt.

After all the lessons were done, students were able to cut loose and enjoy the park for a few hours.

The students who attended were: Grace Baumiller, Kylie Cosgrove, Emily Demmick, Michael Funera, Rayna Hollarn, Kyler Luchkiw, Margo Mccullough, Chi Hou Ng, Jeffrey Smith, Madison Start, Nathan Steis, Ryan Terrabasso, and Sean Wither.

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United Way Internship Offers Communication Major Experience, Career Confidence

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

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Carlie Bright, far right, a senior communication major, did a summer internship at United Way of Erie County.  Also in the photo are, from left, Jana Ranus of Wegmans, Donald Snyder of Curtze Food Service, and Lisa Fischer, United Way campaign accounts manager. The three women were awarding Synder, a United Way donor, with a “prize surprise” Wegmans shopping spree.

Carlie Bright, who was born and raised in Erie, thought she knew her hometown. Then she did a summer internship at United Way of Erie County.

“I developed a whole new understanding for the community I grew up in,” Bright said. “It was very eye-opening for me. There are a lot more people struggling than I ever knew.”

Bright, a senior communication major at Penn State Behrend, worked as a marketing and communications intern for the nonprofit agency, which serves as a coalition of charitable organizations. Bright won a stipend from Behrend’s Academic and Career Planning Center, which made the three-credit experience free for her.

“Unpaid internships, like the one that I did at United Way, can be difficult for students to manage, so the stipend really helped,” she said.

Bright worked three days a week from May to August and said every day was different.

“There was no typical day because nonprofit communications departments are usually run by a few people who are faced with a wide variety and number of tasks,” she said. “But no matter what I had on my plate on a given day, I was almost always involved with website updates, scheduling social media posts, and clipping or collecting any media mentions United Way had received.”

She got to try her hand at designing flyers and creating content for electronic newsletters. She also assisted in the planning and preparation of many community events, including National Night Out, an anti-violence community initiative that took place in twenty locations on one night.

“Many of the events and activities that I was involved with were moving and inspiring,” Bright said.

The experience was also enlightening.

“Overall, the internship tied in very well with my career goals and objectives, as well as with my degree and coursework,” Bright said. “I was able to see firsthand how communications and marketing tie into every department in any business or organization. I also learned that communications professionals wear a lot of hats. Personally, I loved constantly having so many things to do.”

Students Save a Seat for Women in History

Lilley Library art exhibit invites remarkable women to the table

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

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“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.”

This quote by author Virginia Woolf sums up the invisibility of women in the collective history of the world. Overshadowed by the accomplishments of men, few females have made it into the history books. And, yet, women have made their presence known in every aspect of human existence from art to banking to the military to the board room and beyond.

In 1979, feminist artist Judy Chicago gave thirty-nine women a seat at the table in her masterwork “The Dinner Party,” a giant sculpture that imagines famous women from myth and history engaged in conversation.

The installation art, which took more than five years to produce, is composed of thirty-nine ornate place settings on a triangular table with thirteen plates on each side. An additional 999 women’s names are written in gold on the floor. The piece toured the world, gaining an audience of millions; it is now on permanent display at the Brooklyn Museum.

Closer to home, you’ll find another dinner party happening in the John M. Lilley Library.

Students in last spring’s WMNST 106 Representations of Women in Literature, Art, and Culture taught by Dr. Sarah Whitney, assistant teaching professor of English and women’s studies, painted plates to honor a women from a wide variety of backgrounds. The students’ work is on display in the gallery space near the entrance to the library.

“For this project, students researched a woman of their choice who made significant contributions,” Whitney said. “They designed and painted on china as Judy Chicago did, using color and shape creatively to demonstrate the chosen figure’s importance. Students also wrote a reflection paper exploring their figure’s historical, and personal, impact on the artist.”

Some of the plates honor women you might expect, such as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, author Maya Angelou, and women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony.

Others are more surprising.

Molly Boniger, a junior English major, chose to honor Soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko.

“The purpose of ‘The Dinner Party’ was to recognize women who history had forgotten and I wanted someone who was unconventional, even by today’s standards,” Boniger said. “Pavlichenko has an incredible story. She is a young woman from a Ukrainian village who became the Soviet Union’s greatest sniper during World War II. She showed that woman can be hard and strong, and they don’t have to be the delicate, soft things that society would prefer we be.”

Boniger is an aspiring screenwriter who took WMNST 106 to learn what she suspected she was missing.

“The class was amazing,” Boniger said. “I could not believe the amount of exposure I received and just how much women’s contributions to art and culture have been excluded from the narrative we’ve all been taught.”

Whitney was pleased with the range of women and topics that students picked.

“The plates reflect a diversity of choices, which is wonderful,” Whitney said. “I especially enjoyed learning about new women from our international students whose choices spanned the globe. Furthermore, some students chose mythical or fictional figures, such as Shakti, which were also quite enlightening.”

Among the women represented are: Coco Chanel, Cleopatra, Julie Andrews, Lynsey Addario, Ellen DeGeneres, Chihiro Ogino, Miley Cyrus, Emma Watson, Pasang Lhamu, Athena, Amy Winehouse, Billie Jean King, Marilyn Monroe, Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, and Janis Joplin.

Not all of the plates honor people.

Junior biology major Caitlin Kent, chose to celebrate the essence of womanhood and give a nod to her future career as an obstetrician/gynecologist.

“I painted a uterus as the center of the universe to represent a feminine divine force or a female creator,” Kent said. “All life stems from women. On my plate, one ovary is painted as the sun and one as the Earth to center the uterus as the birthplace of the universe.”

The plates are simple porcelain and students used a china paint, just like Judy Chicago, to adorn them.

“Using hands-on materials to make historical events come alive is a key part of my teaching practice in general,” Whitney said. “I think using manipulatives is particularly important in studying ‘Dinner Party’ both because it is a visceral, intense piece, and because Chicago was intentional about using traditional women’s art practices, like china painting and embroidery, to honor forgotten female artists. By doing it, you sort of experience Chicago’s process.”

Kent and Boniger gave the project, and the entire course, high marks.

“I think WMNST 106 is a class that all people can benefit from,” Boniger said. “These women’s histories are all of our histories. The class covers such a range of subjects, I can guarantee that any student taking it will learn something new, and enjoy doing so. It’s about time we start bringing women into the conversation and including them in the history they have helped create.”

“My Dinner Party” will be on exhibit in the Lilley Library until October 26. Whitney would like to acknowledge the help of the Lilley librarians, and Scott Rispin, assistant teaching professor of art, who helped to assemble the display.

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Game on: Students Make Connections at Conference

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

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For the past five years, students enrolled in GAME 495: Senior Internship have had the opportunity to attend the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco. Eight Penn State Behrend students and two faculty members recently returned from this year’s conference which was held in late March.

GDC is the world’s largest professional game industry event. There, students join game designers, programmers, artists, producers, and business professionals for five days of education, inspiration, and networking in the global game development community.

“Students are exposed to the game industry from the inside, get a chance to talk to professionals, and make connections that are invaluable as they set course for their own career in the game industry,” said Dr. Heather Lum, assistant professor of psychology.

Students who attended the GDC were not only from the School of Engineering, but also Psychology majors from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences who are in the human factors track, which focuses on user interface and user experience.

Lum was a GDC trip leader along with Dr. Richard Zhao, assistant professor of computer science and software engineering.

“The students who went to the GDC are enrolled in the interdisciplinary minor in Game Development,” Zhao said. “While we can teach students the technical and artistic skills needed to design and develop games in other classes, GAME 495 provides students the opportunity to showcase their product and interact with the world in a way that a traditional classroom is never able to.”

One good example: face-to-face networking with industry insiders at the GDC.

“I met a user experience analyst, which is my chosen field, from my favorite gaming company, Blizzard,” said Tiffany Eichler, a senior Psychology major. “We have been e-mailing since the conference and it has been so enlightening. I have learned a lot about the industry and why psychology has a place in it. He shared with me the best time to apply for an internship with Blizzard, so I am biding my time until I can get my name in there.”

“Students who have attended GDC in previous years have gotten internships and job offers from companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and others,” Lum said.

Prior to the trip, students in GAME 495 write and practice their elevator pitches, create resumes and business cards, and learn how to get noticed and have a meaningful conversation with professional contacts, including alumni.

“We had a chance to meet up with some Penn State Behrend graduates who are now working on the west coast,” Lum said.

Students who attended the GDC trip included, Computer Science majors: Cole Trexler, Matt Benkart, Jordon Torunian, and Morgan Farabaugh; Software Engineering majors, Frank Corso, Joe Craig, and Richard Shultz; and Psychology majors, Tiffany Eichler and Donald Fromknecht.

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ASB 2018 – Texas – Day 7 (final day)

Last week, twenty-four students and four advisers from Penn State Behrend participated in an Alternative Spring Break service trip to Beaumont, Texas. The group helped residents recover from the catastrophic flooding that occurred as a result of Hurricane Harvey, which hit the greater Houston area in August of 2017, causing at least $125 billion in damages and claiming 108 lives. Behrend’s ASB group was joined by five other Penn State campuses, including Greater Allegheny, Harrisburg, Scranton, University Park, and York.

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communication, and 2018 ASB participant

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On the evening of Thursday, March 8, we were finally able to have an All Penn State gathering, bringing together all of the Penn State students from all six campuses who were at the church working on homes in Texas.

It’s no easy feat to corral more than 100 students, but Kelli Dowd, program coordinator, service and leadership, from University Park, is no stranger to working with hundreds of students.

She started with a WE ARE…chant, then she and an adviser from each of the other campuses tossed Penn State ASB T-shirts to everyone. After the t-shirts were distributed, we all participated in an hour or so of icebreaker activities and group games.

Following the all Penn State meeting, the Penn State Behrend group held their final Reflections meeting and gave strict instructions for all students to be in the meeting room at 6:45 a.m. with luggage in hand, for an 11 a.m. flight.

The drive to Houston is about 90 minutes from Beaumont, though we neglected to figure in much cushion time for traffic. That nearly did us in, but the roads cleared just in time for all of us to make it to the gate with about 5 minutes to spare.

I asked some of the Penn State Behrend students on the trip to share their top takeaway from this year’s ASB experience. Here’s what they had to say:

“Everyone needs realize that everything is not fine in Houston and that even eight months after the hurricane, there are still houses that have not even been touched since the hurricane hit. I learned that even the smallest things we do for these people can still make a huge difference. Putting a smile on these homeowners’ faces is the greatest feeling you can imagine.” — Priya Patel, Nursing major

“My biggest take away from ASB is that there is no act too small when it comes to helping someone. Whether you’re ripping out a sink, taking down some drywall, or just simply taking the time to talk to someone, you are making a difference in their life. And as much as we give to the people we help, we truly get so much more from them.” — Kelly Miller, Mechanical Engineering major

“My biggest takeaway from this trip is how a group of people from various backgrounds came together to accomplish one thing—to serve others. We came together as strangers, and we are now leaving as friends by having this common goal.” — Ashlyn Kelly, Chemistry major

“The homeowners in southeastern Texas still have a long road a head of them and they know that, but it’s just remarkable how thankful they were for the help. I wouldn’t trade these lifelong memories and lessons from this trip for anything.” — Brianna Riley, Accounting and Management Information Systems major

“Alternative Spring Break is the kind of trip that you know will change your life, but you can’t even begin to understand how you will be impacted until you’re experiencing it. It’s the kind of trip that allows us to learn so much about others, but teaches us about ourselves at the same time. In summary, ASB 2018 was a trip of passion, kindness, growth, and success.” — Emily Archer, Elementary and Early Childhood Education major

“The biggest thing I learned this ASB Trip was that no matter how seemingly small a task, if it is done to support another, it will have meaning to somebody.  Also, you don’t need to be a part of a church or volunteer group to volunteer.  You just need a little heart.” — Angelica “Squeaks” Miller, Mechanical Engineering major