Secret Lives of Faculty — Dr. Chris Harben, musical/stage star

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

There’s much more to Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members than what you see on campus. In this occasional series, we’ll take a look at some of the interesting, unconventional, and inspiring things that members of our Behrend community do in their free time.

Image result for erie playhouse annie

Photo courtesy of Erie Playhouse (Credit: Julie Lokahi/ DV8 Photography)

Lecturing can be viewed as form of performance art. Faculty members take center stage, staring in their own daily productions to keep students engaged in the subject matter.

“Performing is what I do in front of the classroom all the time,” said Dr. Chris Harben, assistant teaching professor of management.

It’s also what he does in his free time.

Shortly after accepting a teaching position at Behrend this summer, Harben landed a lead role in the Erie Playhouse’s production of Annie: Harben plays Daddy Warbucks, orphan Annie’s wealthy savior, in the show which is onstage at the playhouse this month.

Harben as Daddy Warbucks

Photo courtesy of Erie Playhouse (Credit: Julie Lokahi/ DV8 Photography)

“During the interview process at Behrend, I learned that Dr. Greg Filbeck (director of the Black School of Business) was a board member at the Erie Playhouse,” Harben said. “I looked at the playhouse’s website and saw they were going to be doing Annie. This was around June when I was currently in rehearsals as Daddy Warbucks at a theater in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, so I thought it was fortuitous!”

Harben, who was a faculty member at Bowling Green State University, nailed both of his “auditions,” and was offered a position at the Black School of Business and a starring role at the Erie Playhouse.

We caught up with Harben to learn more about his love of musicals, his role as Daddy Warbucks, his unusual part-time job, and why he’s been making it a priority to start hitting the gym again.

Why did you choose Behrend?

It was really because it had a small school feel with all the benefits of a big state school, such as research opportunities.

How long have you been acting or singing on stage?

I was in a couple of shows in high school, but then didn’t do any stage work until I completed my doctorate a few years ago. I met an actor who had played Valjean from Les Misérables on Broadway and was inspired to get back into it. My first show as an adult was three years ago.

Do you prefer musicals?

Yes. I don’t consider myself a great actor, so I prefer to audition for roles that require a lot of singing.

What has your experience been like so far at the Erie Playhouse?

The playhouse is an incredible Erie asset. I have never performed any place like it. It is closer to professional theater than it is to a community theater. The experience of rehearsing and getting ready has been fairly typical with ups and downs—especially “tech week,” which is always the hardest week as all the technical aspects and bugs are worked out. But, to work on such a great stage with wonderful sets, a full experienced crew, a full-time professional costumer (who is also in the show, starring as Rooster), a director as professional as Kate Neubert-Lechner, and an incredibly talented orchestra, is an amazing thing that makes me smile every time I walk into the theatre.

There are a couple of Penn State Behrend students in Annie, too?

Yes. Anthony Ventura, a senior Political Science major, has multiple roles but I interact with him the most in his role as “Drake” my butler. Jacqueline Dumont, a junior Communication major, is also in the cast and plays several roles as part of the ensemble.

What do you enjoy most about musicals/stage performance?

I love being able to transform into someone else. Many of my roles have been similar in terms of their character, though, so I’d like to try something different soon, perhaps a comedic role. But the very best part of participating in stage shows are the relationships I’ve been able to build with other cast members. I can honestly say that I keep in touch with people from every show I’ve ever been in. Theater really is a small world.

What’s the most challenging aspect of theatre?

Well, there is drama in drama. Also, things happen that force actors out of our comfort zones. For Annie, we didn’t have the rehearsal time we might have liked because the playhouse’s stage was undergoing renovations, which threw the schedule off a bit. But you just have to roll with it. It is part of being in theater. Stuff happens. Sometimes it happens live on stage.

There are real dogs in Annie?

Yes. Two shelters dogs. One is a sweet, docile pitbull from the Northwestern PA Humane Society and the other, Romeo, is a younger mixed breed dog from the A.N.N.A. Shelter. Romeo is a little hyper, but that’s probably to be expected with all the commotion, lights, audience, and cast members on stage.

What’s your favorite musical?

The Phantom of the Opera! It was the first musical I learned to sing. I’d love to play the Phantom some day.

What has been your favorite show/role, so far?

Daddy Warbucks has been my favorite role and Annie my favorite show, but playing Javert in Les Misérables is a very close second.

What’s your dream role?

I already mentioned the Phantom, but on a more realistic note, I’d love to play Dr. Jekyll in Jekyll and Hyde. I have sung “The Confrontation” from that show at a cabaret in Ohio. It is an incredible song in which both Jekyll and Hyde are singing, and it’s the same actor!

What’s next for you on stage?

I’ll be playing King Triton in The LIttle Mermaid at the Academy Theatre in Meadville. We start rehearsing in February and open in April. The director asked me how comfortable I was going shirtless for that role. So, suffice to say, I’m working on getting in shape for that role now.

Switching topics, let’s talk about your work as an Emergency Medical Technician?

Yes. I’ve been an EMT for five years now. I was a volunteer EMT in Ohio while I was working on my doctorate. I’m still trying to get my certification in Pennsylvania, but I hope to do some volunteer work here, too.

Being an EMT is quite a change from the corporate world. What appeals to you about it?

I became an EMT for a couple of reasons. First, my family is full of medical professionals. My dad was an EMT when I was very young. My mom is a nurse. My sister is a cardiovascular perfusionist, and my brother is a physical therapy assistant/athletic trainer. So I grew up around the language and culture of medicine. But, for me, becoming an EMT was more about giving back. I tried joining service clubs like Optimist and the Rotary Club, but I never felt the impact I feel when I show up at someone’s house who really needs help.

It’s also a summer job for you, right?

It is. For the past few years, I’ve been working as an EMT at Cedar Point, which is a large amusement park in Sandusky, Ohio. One of the benefits of that job is that I’ve developed a great relationship with the leadership team there. I actually just had the park’s vice president and general manager come to Behrend to speak to one of my classes. I do hope to work there this summer, too. It’s only a couple of hours away from Erie.

Any other hidden talents?

I can play the drums, trumpet, and French horn. I also love photography and owned a photography business for several years. All the art in my office in Burke are photos that I’ve taken.

What words do you live by?

When I was finishing my doctorate, I had the Chinese symbol for perseverance tattooed on my arm. That is a word that I live by.

Annie is on stage at the Erie Playhouse, 13 W. 10th St., through December 31, 2017. Visit erieplayhouse.org for show dates and ticket information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Class of 2017: Meet Taryn Testa (Project and Supply Chain Management)

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

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2017 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend. Over the next couple months, we’ll be introducing you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Taryn Testa:

Taryn Testa

Major: Project and Supply Chain Management

Minor: Management Information Systems

Hometown: Cranberry Township, Pa.

On choosing to major in Project and Supply Chain Management: I knew I wanted to major in business, but wasn’t quite sure what area to focus on. During my first-year seminar, Dr. Michael Brown, professor of management, talked to our group about the PSCM major and it sparked my interest. I enjoy the new and different challenges that a company’s supply chain faces every day.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: Becoming a Schreyer Honors College scholar and the various internship and hands-on experiences I’ve had with GE Transportation, Covestro, and PSNergy.

Campus involvement: I’m a member of Lambda Sigma and Beta Gamma Sigma. I’m the president of the Project and Supply Chain Club and newsletter coordinator for the PSCM program.

Strong work ethic, courtesy of parents: My family owns a small business in Millvale, Pa., and my parents always instilled in me the value and importance of hard work and doing whatever it takes to deliver results. My father taught me that you can’t hand a problem off to someone else, but work on it until you find a solution.

Advice for first-year students: One of my all-time favorite quotes is by Randy Pausch who said: “Are you spending your time on the right things? Because time is all that you have.” Enjoy your time at Behrend; you are only here for a short four years. It goes fast! Have fun and don’t sweat the small stuff. Meet with your professors and get involved in campus clubs and activities.

Following her graduation in May, Taryn will be working as a supply chain associate on the Corporate Supply Chain Excellence Team at PPG Industries in Pittsburgh.

Class of 2017: Meet Nursazlin “Lin” Sidek (IB & PSCM)

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

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2017 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend. Over the next couple months, we’ll be introducing you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Nursazlin “Lin” Sidek:

lin sidek

Majors: International Business and Project and Supply Chain Management

Home country: Malaysia

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: I am proud of the work that I’ve done with the Muslim Student Association in working to promote diversity and cultural awareness on campus.

Campus involvement: I was a member of the International Student Organization, president of the Muslim Student Association, and historian for the Multi-Cultural Council.

What you’d be surprised to know about her: People are often surprised to find that I’m not from the Middle East, but from Malaysia, which is in Asia.

Post-graduation priorities: I will be returning home where I hope to find a reliable job so I can take care of my parents and live my life as a truly good Muslim, helping people to understand what Islam is.

Who inspires her: I’m inspired by little things. For example, one time a stranger walking past me on campus suddenly smiled at me for no reason. It felt so good that it inspired me to start doing the same as I passed other students. I wanted them to feel the happiness that I did when someone smiled at me.

Advice for current students: Explore all the clubs that exist on campus and don’t be afraid to join a diverse group or attend a variety of cultural events. Don’t restrain yourself to only the people and things you are familiar with. Go outside your comfort zone and learn about others.

On being a Muslim: My religion is Islam, and it is a religion of peace. People associate Islam and Muslims with terrorism, but that is one small group of people and they are not representative of all Muslims.

After her graduation in May, Lin plans to return to Malaysia and find a job in business management.

Class of 2017: Meet Patrick Kress (Finance)

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

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2017 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend. Over the next couple months, we’ll be introducing you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Patrick Kress:

Patrick Kress - first choice

Major: Finance

Certificate: Financial Planning

Hometown: Waterford, Pa.

On choosing to major in Finance: I really like helping people and I’ve always been good with numbers, so being a financial planner gives me the ability to combine the two and make a living while helping people reach their retirement and finance goals.

Spring break spent in service: I went on the Alternative Spring Break trip to San Francisco with Reality Check this year, and it was one of the greatest weeks of my life. I loved giving back and I highly recommend current students try an ASB trip.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: My junior year, I was given the Kenneth L. Spencer Award, which recognizes outstanding achievement by a student majoring in Finance or Accounting. It was an honor on its own, but the most humbling part was seeing the other students I was honored with at the different awards ceremonies. They were peers who I looked up to throughout my time at Behrend, and I was proud to be in their company.

Campus involvement: I have been involved in many organizations in my time at Behrend, but two that really stand out are my time as the treasurer and then vice president of the Student Government Association and my role as secretary of the Lion Ambassadors. I’m also the president of the Financial Planning Association. My very best memories at college all stem from student organizations. I can’t tell you how much I will miss them and the people involved when I graduate.

On managing real money for the School of Business: I’m currently the lead analyst of the industrials sector for the Intrieri Family Student-Managed Fund. I’m proud to say we’ve done pretty well with it. Working on the fund has been a really valuable hands-on learning experience, especially in light of the fact that the stakes are high because we’re managing real money.

What you’d be surprised to know about him: I was born with an extra lower vertebra; most people have 33, but I have 34. It is my go-to ‘tell us something interesting about you’ at icebreakers.

Advice for current students: Professors are not here to make your life harder. They have a passion for what they do and chose a career where they can help students learn and become the best version of themselves possible. Once I understood that, I stopped viewing faculty members as people who gave me too much homework and began seeing them as resources and role models. Every faculty member at Behrend wants you to be successful and they will help you in any way they can, so don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn from their wealth of knowledge and experience.

After his graduation in May, Patrick plans to work as an advisor-in-training at his family’s business—Kress Financial Services, a retirement planning and investments firm.

Class of 2017: Meet Connor Combs (Project and Supply Chain Management)

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

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2017 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend. Over the next couple months, we’ll be introducing you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Connor Combs:

Connor Combs - 2nd choice

Major: Project and Supply Chain Management

Minor: Management Information Systems

Hometown: Corry, Pa.

On choosing Behrend: I liked the smaller class sizes and there were lots of opportunities to earn minors and certificates in the School of Business.

On choosing to major in Project and Supply Chain Management: I want to work in executive management and I felt like PSCM would give me a great foundation of knowledge that could be applied to any industry.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: Staying on the Dean’s List while also working and being involved in various club and activities on campus.

Campus involvement: I’m president of Delta Sigma Pi, a professional business fraternity. I work at the Academic and Career Planning Center as a student ambassador, and I have participated in many intramural sports, including basketball, Frisbee, soccer, and flag football.

He stands out: I’m 6’ 4” tall, so that makes me stand out, physically. I’m also a hard worker, highly goal-oriented, driven to succeed, and a proven leader, which I hope will make me stand out in the business world.

Advice for current students: Go to events on campus. There are tons of guest speakers and company representatives who come to Behrend to share their knowledge, and they can help you advance professionally and personally. Also, use the services available at the Academic and Career Planning Center. They want to help you find and get the job or internship experiences you are after.

After his graduation in May, Connor plans to find a job in operations. At press time, he was entertaining a few offers.

Class of 2017: Ariana Gloeckner (International Business and Accounting)

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

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2017 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend. Over the next couple months, we’ll be introducing you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Ariana Gloeckner:

Ariana Gloecker - first choice

Majors: Accounting and International Business

Minor: Spanish

Hometown: Cranberry Township, Pa.

On choosing her major: I have always loved working with numbers, so becoming an accountant just made sense. I double majored in International Business so that if I am given the opportunity, I can work abroad.

Campus involvement: I’ve been involved with the Accounting Club, served as president of the International Business Club, and was the student leadership chair of the business clubs. I was also a member of Beta Gamma Sigma and Alpha Sigma Pi honor societies, a peer mentor, and a student adviser on the International Business Advisory Board, and I’m currently the lead accountant on the CFA Investment Research Challenge Team.

What you’d be surprised to know about her: I’ve been married for almost four years. My husband is a full-time student at Behrend, too. He is an Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology junior with plans to pursue a Master’s in Manufacturing Management.

Why they chose Behrend: One of the reasons my husband and I chose Behrend was because it had such strong business and engineering programs. We’re both very active in our respective schools. I have been employed in the School of Business office as an assistant and the business newsletter coordinator for two years. My husband is in charge of the unmanned aerial vehicle drone research at Behrend and is a prototype product developer at Innovation Commons, the college’s high-tech maker space in Burke Center.

Postgraduate education: I will be returning to Behrend in the fall to work on my Master’s in Professional Accounting degree. My goal is to obtain my CPA license by the time I graduate from the master’s program.

Leading the line: I am honored to have been chosen as the student marshal for spring commencement. I will carry the School of Business banner and lead the school’s graduates into the ceremony.

Hidden talents: In my spare time, I love to paint. My specialty is painting realistic photos of landscapes or pets. My newest hobby is crocheting.

Scholarships: I received the Erie Insurance Group Leadership Scholarship and the Prischak Family Trustee Scholarship.

Advice for current students: Get involved. I’m very shy and planned to just quietly earn my degree at Behrend until one of my accounting professors reached out to me and recommended me for a position as the newsletter coordinator for the Black School of Business. Before I knew it, I was getting involved in everything and making many contacts. It was the best thing that happened to me. I’ve had so many opportunities because I put myself out there.

After her graduation in May, Ariana will be returning to Behrend to obtain her Master of Professional Accounting degree. After that, she’d like to find work as a controller or an internal auditor. She dreams of opening a business with her husband someday.

 

Class of 2017: Meet Josh Sitter (Marketing and PSCM)

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

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2017 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend. Over the next couple months, we’ll be introducing you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Josh Sitter:

josh sitter - first choice

Josh Sitter

Majors: Marketing and Project and Supply Chain Management

Hometown: Erie

On choosing Behrend: When I was in high school, I took dual enrollment classes at Behrend and fell in love with the campus. Also, the faculty and staff members I came in contact with were always very kind and helpful.

Campus involvement: I’ve been involved with multiple organizations, including the Student Government Association, Lion Ambassadors, the National Society of Leadership and Success, Commuter Council, Beta Gamma Sigma, and Phi Alpha Theta.

Scholarships/support: When I was a sophomore, I received the Erie Insurance Group Leadership Scholarship and a the Kurt and Janet Cavano Award. This year, I received a Council of Fellows Leadership Scholarship. I never realized that donors saw my campus involvement as having a positive impact on others; I was just doing things I enjoyed. Their support, however, inspired me to get even more involved and try things I otherwise might not have.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: Being involved in the creation of the SGA Leadership Scholarship. In the SGA, I worked with a great group of students, many of whom had received scholarship funds, and we realized that we had an opportunity to give back to others through the SGA. It’s nice to be able to leave a legacy like that.

Advice for current students: Don’t be afraid to fail. The things I learned most from during my time at Behrend were things that I failed at. Go out and do the things that are new to you or hard for you. Challenge yourself. Go outside your comfort zone and meet new people, and you’ll get a lot more out of your college experience.

Josh has accepted a position as an associate I.T. analyst at Erie Insurance following his graduation in May.