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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Secret Lives of Faculty: Inspired by patients, nursing instructor runs long-distance race in all 50 states

By Heather Cass

Publications & Design Coordinator, 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.

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Inspired to start running to help her patients suffering from cancer, Alison Walsh, 34, lecturer in nursing, recently finished a 50-state running challenge—completing a marathon (26.2 miles) or half marathon (13.1 miles) in each state from Alabama to Wyoming.

We recently got Walsh to stop moving for a few minutes (no easy task, we’ll have you know) and tell us about her all-American feat:

How long have you been at Penn State Behrend? I was an adjunct instructor in 2010 and became full-time instructor in 2011.

Do you still work as a nurse? I work per diem at Saint Vincent Hospital in the float pool, which means I work in whatever unit needs me that day.

When did you start running? I have been terribly un-athletic my whole life! I really did not run seriously until 2009.

Why did you start running? In 2008, I was working on an oncology unit and I was quite connected to my cancer patients. A fellow nurse on that unit asked if I wanted to run a half marathon with her to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, and I agreed. I severely underestimated how hard it would be to run 13.1 miles! That first race was rough. During the race, I remember thinking that I was quite sure I would never put myself through it again!

And, yet, you ended up deciding to do a distance race in all 50 states. How did that happen? There was just no feeling like crossing that finish line. Runner’s high is a real thing and I became an addict. I did my first full marathon in 2010.

How long did it take you to accomplish a race in all 50 states? It took about seven years. Last year, I ran the most races—thirteen half marathons.

What was your last state and when did you finish? I checked the last state off my list on October 9 in Wichita, Kansas. I know what you’re thinking: Why wasn’t it Hawaii or someplace more amazing? Poor planning on my part. But Kansas was actually a great race which is part of the fun of doing a 50-state challenge. You never know what nook-or-cranny in this country will surprise you with an awesome experience.

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Which was your favorite race/state? Surprisingly, one of my favorite races was the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2010. It’s a hilly course and it poured rain the entire time, and I remember halfway through the 26.2 miles that maybe I needed to reevaluate my life choices. But the crowd support was phenomenal. Despite the rain, every inch of that course was covered with people cheering and screaming no matter how fast or slow anyone was running. Their energy, as well as a beautiful course, made that race unforgettable.

What was your most unique race? In July, I went on an Alaskan running cruise! Instead of excursions and the usual activities you do on a cruise, every place we docked, there was a race. The scenery was phenomenal, the locals at each port were very supportive of our races, and it was really cool to hang out with a couple hundred people that were just like me and would sign up for something like that!

Were there any races that you thought were overrated? I have to say the Disney World races. I’d suggest anyone try it once because there’s nothing quite running through the parks and having Disney characters cheer you on! But, when I ran it a second time, I was annoyed by the insanely steep registration price, the early start (you have to be at the start line at 3:30 a.m. because of road closures), and the large number of participants. This is definitely not a race you run to get a good finish time because there are just too many people.

Were there any you didn’t think you’d finish? Why? I injured my knee at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn., around mile 15. The pain was terrible. I called my sister mid-race, bawling because it was going to be my first DNF (did not finish). I was inconsolable. I kept saying to myself: ‘OK, just get to the next medical tent and then you can stop.’ But when I got there, I realized I could go a little further, and that happened at each opportunity to stop. When I got to mile 21, I knew I was going to finish. It was my worst time ever, but I finished, despite running on a bad knee for 11.2 miles.

How do you get through a tough race? Are there any mantras you repeat or mind-games you play with yourself? During Grandma’s Marathon someone was holding a sign that said ‘Pain is Temporary, Pride is Forever.’ I think that random stranger holding that sign was the thing that inspired me to finish that race.

Why do you like distance racing? The coolest thing about a marathon is seeing so many different people of all ages, fitness levels, sizes, and ethnicities coming together and sharing an experience. In those few hours, we are all one big family, supporting each other.

Have you had to deal with any injuries? Thankfully, that knee injury resolved quickly and was never an issue again. My first major injury happened in March, when I got bursitis in my hip. It was terrible. I had to stop running for a few months to let it heal, and that was when I really saw how much running meant to me and how much I rely on it as a stress reliever.

What is your training schedule like? I run about four days a week, anywhere from four to eight miles, depending on what race I’m training for and when it is.

What do you enjoy most about running? Why do you do it? It took me years to actually enjoy running. For quite a while, I hated training and only did it for the medal at the finish line. It was only in the past few years, that I realized how much I enjoy running just for the sake of it. It’s a great stress reliever. It also helps me stay in shape and has given me a great excuse to travel to places I never would have otherwise.

What’s your next big goal? I’m not quite sure! I have not run a full marathon in a few years, so I would like to do that in 2017. In January, I’m running the Louisiana half marathon in Baton Rouge. Running and traveling have become a huge part of my life, and I’m not planning to stop anytime soon.

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At the Las Vegas Rock ‘N Roll 1/2 marathon, Alison, left, stopped for a photo with “Elvis.”

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Alison’s 50 States jacket. States are colored in as they are completed. Alison’s is fully colored now!

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Another by-product of distance racing—lots of “bling,” I.e. finisher’s medals.

 

Science Alum, Ivy League Ph.D., Bound for Singapore

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

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James Pander ’12, seated, and Dr. Jason Bennett, associate professor of chemistry, photographed in 2011 at Penn State Behrend.

James Pander ’12 knew he wanted to be a scientist before he even knew what that might entail.

“I think the inspiration came from movies and TV shows, where you’d have an eccentric scientist character who could seemingly solve any problem,” Pander said. “While those programs were a big exaggeration of reality, I’ve always thought it very inspiring that you can, with enough time, money, and effort, solve just about any problem with science.”

Pander, who graduated from Penn State Behrend with degrees in Chemistry and Mathematics and minors in Physics and Statistics, recently successfully defended his Ph.D. at Princeton University, where he also earned a graduate degree in Chemistry.

He has accepted a research position at the Singapore Berkley Research Institute for Sustainable Energy, and will be moving overseas as soon as all his travel documents are in order and approved.

We caught up with James before he left to learn more about his future plans, his time at Princeton, and how his Penn State Behrend education helped him get there.

What do you like about chemistry?

Out of all the fields of science, I think chemistry is the most interesting because everything is chemistry. Chemistry occupies this interesting space between biology and physics. You can look at the chemistry of living things with biochemistry, or you can delve into the quantum mechanical world to look at the fundamentals of how atoms and molecules interact with each other using physical chemistry. And, in that way, you have a subject that has the flexibility to cover almost everything.

Did you do any research projects with faculty members while you were here?

Yes! I think that research is the single most important part of any science education. In lecture and lab courses, there is always a correct answer and a specific series of steps you take to get to that answer. That is not how the world really works. Actual science is much more open-ended. You have to figure out what information you are trying to find, how to design an experiment to best find that information, and how to interpret your results. It’s so much less straightforward and so much more exciting.

While at Behrend, I worked with Dr. Jason Bennett, associate professor of chemistry. I started in the second semester of my freshman year and worked with him until graduation. My advice for anyone interested in science is to start doing research work early! Talk to a faculty member and jump in. It’s the best way to supplement your education and to get to know the faculty. Dr. Bennett was an amazing mentor and I certainly couldn’t have been as successful as I have been without his support and the support of the rest of the chemistry department.

Was Princeton your first choice for graduate school?

Overall, when I looked at the departmental atmosphere, the professors who work there, and the location, yes, Princeton was my first choice.

Do you think the research experience you had at Behrend helped you get into Princeton?

There is no doubt in my mind that my undergraduate research experience was a big benefit as I was applying to graduate school. In graduate school, your primary job is to do research (classes and teaching are secondary) so there really is no better way to prove to them that you can be successful in that type of environment.

The best thing about Behrend is that you work directly with professors on research work, and that mentorship is invaluable.

Did you feel Behrend prepared you for an Ivy League graduate school?

Definitely. Graduate school was by far the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. A small fraction of people continue on to post-graduate education, so you naturally end up with a group of really smart individuals from all over the world. And that is really intimidating!

You quickly go from being one of the best to middle of the pack. It’s very comparable to the transition between high school and college, and just like during that transition, the most important skill is knowing how to learn. Your job in college is to gain a broad knowledge of a subject, whereas in graduate school your job is to become an expert on a very, very specific topic. So you end up going from having virtually no specific knowledge of a field to becoming an expert in a few years, and most of that is fairly self-focused education, so you need to know how to learn.

I definitely think that Behrend did a great job at preparing me for that, even if though it felt overwhelming at first.

On a lighter note…how did Princeton’s winters compare to Behrend’s?

It was a nice change. Winters got very cold in New Jersey, but there was nowhere near as much snow, which was nice. My least favorite part of winters in Erie was driving in the snow.

You just successfully defended your Ph.D. at Princeton, correct?

Yes. It was a really surreal experience. You spend four or five years working on one specific problem and then it all culminates in writing your thesis and then trying to summarize what feels like your life’s work into a single presentation, which means so much gets left out!

After I was done, everyone was congratulating me and calling me doctor, and I just felt like, wait, I’m the same person I was an hour ago, nothing’s really changed. But, in reality it’s the biggest accomplishment of my life so far. It didn’t really sink in right away. But when it did, it was a great feeling. I’m really proud of the work that I did in graduate school.

So what’s next?

I’ll be working for the Singapore Berkley Research Initiative for Sustainable Energy. It’s a collaborative effort between a few different institutions, including the National University of Singapore and University of California, Berkeley, to research different aspects of sustainable energy with the goal of using solar energy to convert carbon dioxide into fuels. It’s an exciting opportunity!

When will you start there?

Hopefully soon. I’m navigating the visa process right now, so as soon as the Singapore government approves that, I’ll be able to move.

Have you always wanted to work overseas?

No, not at all! The thought had never really crossed my mind, but in graduate school I was given the opportunity to make friends with people from all over the world. Several of them are prolific world travelers and they had a big influence on me. It’s really exciting to travel and see the world, and it really opens your eyes to different cultures and ways of life. It helps you to grow as a person and I’m excited for more of those types of experiences.

What are your long-range career goals?

I’d like to go into industrial research and development. Graduate school is great because you’re adding to the body of knowledge in your field, but in an academic environment, you rarely get to see the direct fruits of your labor. I’m interested in industry because I think I’ll get more of a sense of finality to projects because there will always a specific product in mind.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I just want to thank everyone who has helped me to get where I am today: My parents for teaching me the importance of education and helping me get through college, the faculty members at Behrend—especially in the Chemistry and Math departments—who were all wonderful teachers and mentors, and my colleagues throughout graduate school.

Artistic barrels allow Behrend to save for a non-rainy day

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

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Penn State Behrend is known for its park-like campus with lush lawns, natural wooded areas, raingardens, landscaped pathways, and colorful flowerbeds.

While Mother Nature does a pretty good job of watering at Behrend, there are times the college’s groundskeeping crew has to step in and give parched plants a drink.

But just as a mother’s milk is best for babies, Mother Nature’s “milk” is best for plants. They thrive on natural rain water, which contains no chlorine, ammonia, fluoride, or other chemicals found in municipal water systems.

Now, thanks to a public art project—Don’t Give Up the Drip—conceived and orchestrated by Erie-area environmental agencies, Behrend is able to collect and save rain water for plants in three new fifty-five gallon rain barrels on campus—one at the Health and Wellness building, one at Turnbull Hall, and one at Erie Hall.

These aren’t just plain plastic rain barrels though; they are works of art.

“Our goal was to showcase our local art talent while educating the community about the benefits of harvesting rainwater and water conservation and health,” said Kristen Currier, environmental educator at the Erie County Conservation District, one of the organizations behind the art project.

A total of fifty-two plastic barrels were transformed by forty-six different artists. The barrels then were placed in publically accessible locations throughout the Erie area, including three at Penn State Behrend.

The rainwater will be used to quench the thirst of Behrend’s vast flora.

“Erie receives above average rainfall annually. Still, throughout the summer we experience shortages and the rain barrels are extremely useful then,” said Ann Quinn, director of Greener Behrend, an environmental service club on campus. “The water stored will be used to water nearby plants on our campus in a sustainable, simple way.”

Resulting, of course, in a greener Behrend.

4 reasons to collect rainwater:

  • It is better for your plants — it’s fluoride and chlorine free.
  • It will lower your water usage (and water bills).
  • It cuts down on flooding and erosion of the land around buildings.
  • It reduces runoff — the water that washes pollutants into our streams and lakes during rainstorms.

Behrend’s Barrels

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“The Green Man” by artist Luke Gehring

Location: Health and Wellness Center

 

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“Save our water” by artist Lewis Prest

Location: Turnbull Hall

 

Erie Hall

“The Life Cycle of the Monarch Butterfly” by artist Downia Glass

Location: Erie Hall

Want to see all the barrels?

For a map to the location of all the rain barrels in the Erie area, click here.

 

 

Class of 2016: Meet Olivia D’Annibale (Biology)

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2016 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.  We sat down to talk to some remarkable seniors before they left school and we’d like to a few of our students 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 Olivia D’Annibale:

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Major: Biology, Molecular & Biochemistry option

Minor: Sociology

Hometown: Erie

On choosing to major in Biology: I chose Biology because I wanted to go to medical school. In my sophomore year, I quickly realized that I had a major fear of blood, hospitals, and needles, so being a doctor wasn’t going to work for me. I stuck with Biology, though, because I took a genetics class and absolutely fell in love with it.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: I’ve been involved in undergraduate research since my freshman year. I received a Council of Fellows Undergraduate Student Research Award to work with Dr. Michael Campbell in his molecular lab doing research on potatoes and their reaction to a sprout suppressant. Dr. Campbell and I submitted a paper to the American Journal of Potato Research and I just got the news that the paper is officially published online. (Read it here.)

What you’d be surprised to know about her: I’m always carrying a Starbucks cup in my hand, but I actually hate coffee; it’s hot chocolate.

In service to others: I’ve always wanted a career that would allow me to help others, so I was pretty upset when I realized that I wasn’t going to be a doctor. I think that’s why I have enjoyed being involved with the Random Acts of Kindness club. We do things for people without wanting anything, even a thank you, in return. I’ve enjoyed being a resident assistant for the same reason.

On gaining confidence and wisdom: I’m not the same person I was when I came to Behrend four years ago. I was a very shy, timid, 18-year-old who thought she had it all figured out. Now, I’m a confident, 21-year-old who knows she doesn’t have it all figured out and that it’s perfectly OK. I’m not afraid to take life head on. I’ve grown so much here. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

Advice for current students: Don’t be afraid to try new things. I thought I was going to hate the sociology course I took in my first semester of college, and I ended up minoring in it! Some of my best experiences in college have been when I initially felt the most uncomfortable.

Olivia plans to attend graduate school following her graduation in May. In the future, she hopes to be a genetic counselor and help those dealing with genetic diseases and concerns.

Class of 2016: Meet Tyler Tracy (Secondary Math Education and Mathematics)

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2016 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 Tyler Tracy

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Major(s): Secondary Math Education and Mathematics

Minor: Statistics

Hometown: Chippewa, Pennsylvania

On choosing to major in Secondary Math Education: Teaching math is something I’ve enjoyed since high school. Seeing students succeed and grow as individuals is worth all the invested time.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: Receiving the Outstanding Math Tutor Award from the college’s Learning Resource Center. My time working as a head math tutor for the LRC and helping so many of my fellow students figure out how math works has been a truly rewarding experience for me.

Mind over math: I think the biggest obstacle for some people who don’t like math is the belief that they are not good at math and never will be. A fixed mindset like that will hinder learning. But if you go into it with a growth mindset and an attitude that you can accomplish anything with hard work and dedication, you’ll be able to learn it.

Campus involvement: I’m the head math tutor for the LRC, a GRE Prep Session instructor, and a teaching assistant in physics. I’m also a member of the math club.

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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