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.

 

 

 

Summer School for the Preschool Set

Science Story Time continues remotely

By Heather Cass,

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend’s School of Science began offering free Science Story Time events to the Erie-area community a few years ago, pairing a storybook reading with a hands-on science lesson for preschool-age children.

The outreach program not only offered young children, accompanied by a parent or caregiver, the chance to visit campus and learn that science can be fun, but it also gave Behrend student volunteers the opportunity to share their passion with a new generation of learners.

The program, which was started by Tracy Halmi, associate teaching professor in chemistry, was instantly popular. Sessions have often filled in a matter of hours or a single day after registration opens.

So when the COVID-19 crisis forced the cancelation of all gatherings on campus this spring, Halmi and her student volunteers decided to take Science Story Time online.

“We have such a great turnout for our on-campus Science Story Time program that we did not want the kids to stop learning at home,” Halmi said. “We decided to use the storybooks previously used during our on-campus events as inspiration to find hands-on activities that can be easily completed at home.”

Kennedy Wittman, a senior majoring in Early Childhood and Elementary Education, has been hosting Science Story Time videos and posting to them online at behrend.psu.edu/storytime. A half dozen videos are already posted presenting fun experiments such as “lava lamp in a glass,” “baloon rocket,” and “three-ingredient slime!”

Wittman was referred to Halmi by Jodie Styers, associate teaching professor of mathematics education, who thought Wittman would be a good candidate to help Halmi facilitate the program.

Under Halmi’s guidance, Wittman takes the lead on lesson planning, which gives her valuable experience for her future career as an elementary school teacher.

“Every week, I look for ideas online or adapt experiments we have done at past preschool events and choose ones that can be done simply in the home without having to buy many, if any, materials,” said Wittman, who always tries the experiment in advance to be sure that it works and that she can easily demonstrate it on video.

“I have really enjoyed being involved in Science Story Time because it’s fun to interact with the kids,” Wittman said. “It is amazing to see their excitement and joy when they try an experiment or learn something new. While we can’t see that right now, I’m confident it’s still happening at home.”

Wittman said the experience has help build her confidence and boost her science knowledge.

“I have learned so much more about science myself, and I feel that I will be much more confident in teaching science to my future students.”

Halmi and Wittman plan to continue offering Science Story Time online throughout the summer, posting a new video about once a week.

Check out all the current Science Story Time videos here.

 

 

 

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.

 

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.”

Distinguished Professor’s Secret to Success Career: Adaptability

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

As a professor of biology and director of the Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center (LERGREC), Dr. Michael Campbell already has a few impressive titles, but Penn State recently added another highly significant word to his academic title–distinguished.

The designation of distinguished professor recognizes outstanding academic contributions to the University and service to students. Campbell joins two other Behrend faculty members in holding the title: Dr. John Gamble, distinguished professor of political science and international law, and George Looney, distinguished professor of English and creative writing. The title serves as the sign of an educator, like Campbell, who has spent decades going above and beyond.

We recently talked with Campbell, who started at Behrend in 1994, to learn more about his career, what makes a great professor, and how he balances his research work, teaching, and running LERGREC.

Though he doesn’t point it out, it’s clear that the secret to Campbell’s success is his ability to adapt to changing conditions, much like his favored research subjects, plants, are known to grow toward the light or send down deeper roots to find the nutrients they need to keep growing.

Have you always wanted to be a professor?

Actually, no. I thought I would work in the plant science industry, but my intention when I finished graduate school was to work for a company or develop my own industry.

What did you do before Behrend?

I worked for the U.S. Forest Service as a geneticist, then for the United States Department of Agriculture as a physiologist.

What do you enjoy about teaching?

That has changed a bit over the years. At first, it was great just to see students learn and discover new material and ideas in the classroom. But, over the years, my outlook on it has become more holistic; it’s not only about teaching specific subjects but helping students develop a career path as well.

What is the most important quality for a professor to possess?

The desire to work and to help others. It is critical for a professor to enjoy the subject matter they are a specialist in, but to be a teacher at a place like Behrend, you need to also find joy in helping students find their way; it’s a big part of what we do here.

What have you had to learn the hard way?

Teaching is a moving target. Each class has a group personality and there is no one-size-fits-all to presenting the material. Each semester is a bit different.

How do you balance research, teaching, and running the grape-station research lab?

At times, I feel like a short order cook; trying to make the entrée finish at the same time as the side dish. It has been a challenge to find the time to work on projects and to dedicate time to students working on their own projects. That said, the balance is about what I expected, and I think being active in research helps me as a teacher, particularly with upper-division class material.

This semester, you had to quickly transition your classes to remote learning. How did that go?

It was definitely a challenge, especially because we had to adapt so quickly. Ultimately, though, I think this experience has been beneficial. It has given me some new approaches to teaching that I probably would not have pursued.

What research project at LERGREC are you excited about right now?

My research work involves regulating sprouting in potatoes and I’m still working on that, but I can see an overlap with connecting that work to controlling growth in grapes. It is a bit high risk, but, hey, why not? As the climate becomes more erratic, grape growers may benefit from preventing premature growth during warm winter weather. Connecting what we have learned about regulating growth in stored potatoes to controlling grape growth in the vineyard is a new and exciting avenue for research.

What’s the most important thing a professor can do for a student?

Be a good mentor. A professor’s role is to guide a student and show them the way. Success is up to the student.

What advice do you have for professors in the first years of their career?

Enjoy what you do. Keep chugging away. True success is an accumulation of small accomplishments built over time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Switching Course: Remote teaching tools inspire innovation, enhancements to course delivery

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

In large, complex organizations, change can sometimes take a lot of time, planning, paperwork, and meetings. But things could not have moved more quickly than they did the week of March 9 when Penn State made the decision to extend remote teaching and learning through the end of the spring semester to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus on University campuses.

Faculty members had a little more than one week to transition their classes to a fully remote teaching format and get up to speed on the digital tools they and their students would need to meet virtually. It was understandably challenging and stressful. But, for some, being required to learn new ways to teach was eye opening and led to revelations that will enhance course delivery when students return to campus in the future.

Dr. Jay Amicangelo, professor of chemistry, has been teaching in a traditional face-to-face manner since he started at Behrend in 2002 and said he was not fully aware of all the features available in Canvas, the online course management platform utilized by Penn State, until he had to move his classes to a remote teaching format.

“One part that I actually like is the idea of pre-recording my lectures ahead of time and then using class time to go over assigned problems, answer questions, and so forth,” he said.

It’s a new tool he plans to use when he returns to the classroom this fall to teach CHEM450 Physical Chemistry Thermodynamics, an upper-level course.

“In this class, I have always used the chalkboard to present material for the class because it is a highly mathematical class,” Amicangelo said. “I would often feel rushed in a given class to get to a certain point in my lecture notes, but now I’m thinking if I record my lectures over the summer using a camera in one of the classrooms, I can have them watch the lecture in advance, then I can use the face-to-face class session to emphasize important points of the material, go over assigned problems, and field questions.”

Amicangelo said this approach to teaching, called a “flipped” classroom, is a concept he had heard about but had never had the motivation to try himself.

“So, in a weird way, the current crisis opened my eyes to this possibility,” he said. “And, now that I’ve explored it, I like it, and plan to use it in the future,” he said. “I think students will really benefit from the extra opportunity to understand and explore the material in class rather than just listening to me lecture.”

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eye on Medical Careers: Behrend’s Pre-Health Program Seniors Stand Out

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

IMG_1000

Ashley Price

You may have heard that the eyes are the window to your soul, but did you know they also offer a pretty clear view of your overall health?

“The eye is really interesting because it can reveal a lot of health problems,” said Ashley Price, a senior Biology major and Chemistry minor in the Pre-Optometry program at Penn State Behrend. “Many people learn they have diabetes from their eye doctor because the disease affects the small capillaries in the retina.”

Other health issues that can be spotted in the eyes include hypertension, autoimmune disorders, high cholesterol, thyroid disease and even some types of cancer and tumors.

Price had planned to be a family physician but switched to optometry after shadowing an eye doctor in high school. “I just thought it was so cool,” Price said. “You’re always looking at something different. And I like the personal aspect of optometry. You see the same patients year after year and can form relationships with them.”

Like her career choice, Price’s college plan changed course after a first-hand experience.

“I was totally set on going to Pitt, but then a friend talked me into touring Behrend, and as soon as I set foot on campus, it felt like home,” she said.

For the last four years, Behrend has been her home. Price, who will graduate in May, has been a Resident Assistant for three years. She’s currently an R.A. in Ohio Hall, but this fall, she’ll move to another Ohio—Ohio State University—where she will attend optometry school.

She had a lot of options. She applied to and was accepted at six different schools that offered four scholarships, with two at the highest amount the schools offered.

Price is well prepared for the next step in her career, something she credits, in part, to several School of Science faculty members who kept her on the right path and moving forward.

“The professors at Behrend make sure you get to where you want to go,” she said. “They are always behind you and, at the same time, offering to show you the way.”

Price had one recognized adviser, Dr. Beth Potter, associate professor of microbiology. But, she also gathered several more unofficial advisers related to her course of study—Dr. Todd Cook, assistant professor of biology and chair of Pre-Health Programs, and Dr. Jason Bennett, associate professor of chemistry. “I could, and did, go to any of them with any questions I had or if I just wanted advice.”  

Behrend’s Pre-Health Professions Programs in dentistry, medicine, optometry, pharmacy, physician assistant, physical or occupational therapy, and veterinary medicine, require more precise planning than most other majors.  

 “In my first year at Behrend, I went to a pre-health program in which Dr. Mike Campbell (distinguished professor of biology) talked about how to put together the ‘perfect package’ for medical school, and basically gave us a list of things we could do and accomplish during our undergraduate years that would make us attractive to medical schools later.”

Price, who is also a Scheyer Honors College scholar, took Campbell’s suggestions as a to-do list, assuming leadership opportunities, gaining experience in her field through internships and job shadowing, and working on research projects with her professors.

It’s turned out to be a formula for success, not only for Price, but for several pre-health program participants who will be graduating in May and starting the next chapter in their careers, including: Jessie Kibbe and Taylor Hibbard, who have been accepted into physician assistant programs; Dillon Patel, who was offered admission to four dentistry schools; Aldyn Poston, who will attend optometry school, and Zainab Kareen, who was accepted to osteopathic medical school but has decided to attend graduate studies at Penn State College of Medicine.”

Price, who is also the vice president of the college’s Scrubs Club and a Lion Ambassador, said she will miss Behrend, but she’s looking forward to taking the next step toward her career goal.

“Optometrists are literally improving people’s outlooks,” she said. “I’m really looking forward to being able to do that for patients.”  

About Behrend’s Pre-Health Programs

As they navigate the application process for admission into health professional schools, students enrolled in Behrend’s Pre-Health Programs are guided by the Pre-Health Advisory Committee, comprising of faculty members from the School of Science and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, This includes continuous advising and the composition of a committee letter that highlights the student’s academic and extracurricular accomplishments and readiness for the rigors of health professional school. Over the last three application cycles, more than forty Penn State Behrend students have successfully been to various health professional schools and medical-related graduate programs.

To learn more about Behrend’s pre-health programs, visit behrend.psu.edu/prehealth.  

Darwin, Sharks, and Cake (Oh, my!)

sharks 2

February 12 event at Penn State Behrend celebrates Darwin and his Theory of Evolution

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

One of nature’s greatest success stories is one of its most fearsome creatures. Look no further than the top of the oceanic food chain– sharks—for the ultimate lesson in evolutionary survival.

“Sharks have a fossil record that extends back more than 420 million years,” said Dr. Todd Cook, assistant professor of biology at Penn State Behrend, who has done extensive research work on sharks and rays from the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras. “As a group, they have been able to survive several mass extinctions and events that have wiped out countless terrestrial and marine species.”

Learn how these predators have adapted and evolved on Wed., Feb. 12 when Penn State Behrend’s School of Science hosts Darwin Day, an international celebration of the life and work of Charles Darwin.

“Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by means of natural selection is the central tenet that unites all areas of biology,” Cook said. “This day recognizes his immeasurable contribution to science, but especially to the natural sciences.”

Don’t be fooled by the word “theory,” Cook cautions.

“Common everyday use of the word ‘theory’ would imply that it’s simply an idea or a guess,” Cook said. “But Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is a well-substantiated explanation for natural phenomena that is supported by vast amounts of evidence. It has been, and continues to be, extensively scrutinized, and it holds up as a solid scientific theory.” 

The public is invited to celebrate Darwin at Behrend from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., beginning with “Life: A Cosmic Story” at 6:00 p.m. in Yahn Planetarium, followed by a presentation “The Evolutionary History of Sharks” by Cook in Room 101 of Otto Behrend Science Building.

The event is free, open to the public, and geared toward those of all ages. After Cook’s lecture, attendees are invited to stay for a celebratory piece of cake.

TV Game Show Appearance Fulfills Lifelong Dream of Alumnus

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager at Penn State Behrend

Answer: This 2008 Penn State Behrend alumnus appeared on Jeopardy a decade after earning dual degrees in Physics and Mathematics.

Question: Who is Jeffrey Machusko?

Though he didn’t win, Manchusko walked away with $1,000 and lifelong memories of a dream come true.

Manchusko grew up near Pittsburgh watching Jeopardy, the classic answer-and-question quiz show, with his family.

“I used to keep track on my fingers of how many I could get right,” he said. “I considered it a good night when I made it to my toes.  When my wife and I started dating, we learned early on that we were both big Jeopardy fans.  Watching the show was a great cheap date for us broke college students.”

Fortunately, Machusko, 33, a data engineer for a tech consulting firm in Colorado, is no longer broke, but he and his wife still enjoy the nightly quiz show. Last year, he had the opportunity to appear on the show and meet show host Alex Trebek.

Machusko - Jeopardy

We caught up with Machusko to ask him a few questions about his experience:

When did you appear on the show?

I filmed on November 1, 2017, and the episode aired January 25, 2018. It was a crazy time in my life. In the span of a week, I got married, went to Mexico for our honeymoon and flew from the honeymoon directly to LA to film.

How did you end up on the show?

There is an online pre-screening where participants face fifty rapid-fire clues. If you pass through that screening, you can sign up to be on the show. People who do very well on the screening are invited to live auditions that are held across the country.  The auditions feature another round of testing, then there is some live play where you get to use the buzzers from the show.

How did you do?
Not well! All three of us did poorly.  It was an unusually difficult game.  I did get a True Daily Double though, so it wasn’t a total loss.

Did anything surprise you about the experience?
I was caught off guard by how warm and friendly everyone who works there was.  It eased everyone’s jitters about being on TV.  I expected a show that’s been running for more than thirty years to be a bit of a cold, business-as-usual experience.  I enjoyed spending the day with the show employees and the other contestants.

Did any questions stump you?
Unfortunately, too many! I was never much of a fiction reader, and there were a lot of literature clues as well as other things I just don’t know much about, like trains and Will Rogers.

What makes a good Jeopardy player?
I think the best thing you can possess is a skin-deep knowledge of a broad variety of topics. It also helps to be very fast on the buzzer. And, one thing I think has been overlooked until James Holtzhauer’s recent 32-game-winning streak is a willingness to take risks.

Are you just naturally curious about a variety of things?
Almost to a fault. I tend to get distracted easily.  My dad always had documentaries on when I was a child, and I think it helped foster my curiosity about the world.

What advice do you have for others who want to be on Jeopardy?
Just go for it!  I had to audition three times over ten years to get on the show. The first time I auditioned, I was a student at Behrend and I tried out for the college tournament.  In general, I’d suggest those who want to be contestants watch the show and try to understand the game. There’s a lot more to winning than just knowing the questions.

Were you involved in any clubs, sports, or activities while you were at Behrend?

My peers and I revived the Physics Club and put together a few events and a trip to Fermilab in Chicago.  I was also one of the founding members of the Rugby Club and its first president.

What is one of your fondest memories of Behrend?
Playing rugby.  It was a huge part of helping me find confidence outside of the classroom.  I also really enjoyed the astronomy nights.  Seeing Saturn through the campus observatory was breathtaking.  Overall, being in an environment where I was able to grow and learn was so important and it set me up for success in my career.

Machusko and wife rebecca at skypond

Jeffrey Machusko and his wife Rebecca at Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park.