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

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

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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!)

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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.

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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.

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

The Art of Science: Student/faculty artwork enhances science building

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager at Penn State Behrend

Science and the arts might seem to be very different disciplines, but the scientific method and the creative process are quite similar; inquiry is at the heart of each.

“People sometimes think science is about memorizing facts, but it’s really about making discoveries and wringing answers out of nature,” said Dr. Pam Silver, associate dean for academic affairs and distinguished professor of biology. “When you have a scientific question, it takes a lot of creativity to find the answer to it.”

Scientists are, by nature, creative individuals and the School of Science has recently added two works of art that visibly illustrate that.

Ties that bind

A colorful quilt, titled “A Way of Knowing,” was created by Silver and hangs in Hammermill Hall. Each color in the quilt represents a scientific discipline taught at Behrend—biology, chemistry, environmental science, nursing, physics, and mathematics and mathematics education. A spiral in the quilt represents the net movement of scientific discovery from observation to hypothesis to testing to understanding.

Furthermore, the underlying geometric design “symbolizes that the building blocks of science are not individual disciplines, but rather the discoveries to be made by merging diverse ideas, points of view, and approaches to form a strong and unified way of knowing with the goals of wisdom and the power to enact that wisdom,” Silver said.

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“A Way of Knowing,” by Dr. Pam Silver, associate dean for academic affairs and distinguished professor of biology, hangs near the stairwell in Hammermill Hall. 

Math in flight

High overhead at the entrance of Roche Hall, is another work of art—a stage-5 Sierpinski tetrahedron that models a fractal with infinite triangles—created by the School of Science Math Club under the direction of club president Thomas Galvin  and Dr. Joe Previte, associate professor of mathematics.

“A fractal is a self-similar structure with recurring patterns at progressively smaller scales,” Previte said. “Fractals are useful in modeling natural structures such as plants, coastlines, or snowflakes.”

Some natural objects appear to be completely random in shape, but there is an underlying pattern that determines how these shapes are formed and what they will look like, according to Previte. Mathematics can help us to better understand the shapes of natural objects, which has applications in medicine, biology, geology, and meteorology.

Students built the fractal using Zometool construction parts. It consists of 2,050 white balls and 6,144 red and blue struts. Learn more about fractals at www.mathigon.org/world/Fractals

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A stage-5 Sierpinski tetrahedron created by the School of Science Math Club hangs above the entrance to Roche Hall. 

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Student garden interns spend summer sowing seeds of sustainability

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager at Penn State Behrend

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Cuddling chickens is not an activity you would expect at Erie’s Blues & Jazz Festival, an annual weekend-long summer music concert in Frontier Park. But two Penn State Behrend students, Jessie Johnson and Pearl Patterson, knew that a handful of hens at this popular event would be a great way to draw attention to their efforts to overturn a law against keeping chickens in the City of Erie.

Johnson and Patterson are spearheading the operation through Chicks4Erie, an online community they formed through Instagram and Facebook to spread the word about urban poultry-keeping.

“Allowing Erie residents to legally keep chickens will bring numerous positive benefits, including improving the environment through the reduction of pests like ticks and providing organic soil amendments for gardeners,” according to the Chicks4Erie mission statement written by Johnson and Patterson, both Student Garden interns at Behrend. “It will also increase self-sufficiency and food security through the production of eggs and contribute to the city’s encouraging overall trend toward urban agriculture.”

The Chicks4Erie initiative is just one of several projects that three Behrend students—Johnson, Patterson and Aydin Mitchell— have been hard at work on this summer as interns for the University’s Sustainable Food Systems Program.

The program, which launched at University Park three years ago, was expanded to Penn State Behrend in 2018 because of food systems already in place on campus. Among these is the student garden, started by the Greener Behrend student organization in 2016. Greener Behrend president, Celeste Makay, a senior Environmental Science major, has continued to help with the garden for the last two years.

Student Garden interns are responsible for the gardens on Behrend’s campus, but their work reaches far beyond weeding and watering.

“They run the campus CSA (community supported agriculture) program that we started, including generating a newsletter and recipes for members, supporting the Erie schools by serving as coordinators of the Jefferson Elementary School garden, and doing outreach programs throughout the district,” said Katie Chriest, sustainable food systems program coordinator for Commonwealth campuses.  “They also are active members of Erie’s Food Policy Advisory Council, and they are finetuning plans for a new campus club that will debut this fall,”

But, that’s not all. The student interns also host educational activities at Behrend for students from Bethesda Trinity Center and the Neighborhood Art House, staff an informational table at the Little Italy Farmers’ Market in Erie, and research expansion efforts for campus garden space and other sustainable food systems initiatives.

Mitchell, a senior Environmental Science major, didn’t have much gardening experience before this summer, but said he has learned a lot along the way. Not all of it is rooted in the ground, but in other vital connections.

“I thought I’d just be taking care of the gardens, but it turned out to be so much more than that,” said Mitchell, who oversees the Jefferson gardens and serves as the manager of education and outreach for the Student Garden intern program. “It’s really about making connections with people in the community and helping them see how vital sustainable food systems are and how and why they should care.”

Which brings us back to the Erie Blues & Jazz Festival’s Sustainability Village where Patterson and Johnson were so successful at making a case for raising poultry in the city that they quickly ran of petition pages to sign.

“At one point, I asked Jessie, who is just going into her sophomore year, what it feels like to be gaining so much support and enthusiasm for their initiative from residents and community leaders,” Chriest said. “She said she was just amazed that, at such a young age, she could have such an impact on the community around her. I’m not sure there’s a more powerful message we could hope to send to our students than that their work matters and that they can make the world a better, and more sustainable, place.”

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Secret Lives of Staff — Talia Smock, French and Indian War Reenactor

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communications, 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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Most weekdays, you can find Talia Smock at her desk in the School of Science office, where she is an administrative support assistant. However, on some weekends, she steps back in time and becomes a completely different kind of working woman. As a French and Indian War reenactor, she portrays a working class woman in the mid-1700s. Dressed in layers of historical clothing, Smock maintains camp, prepares meal, and shops at settler tents while her husband, Mike, is off fighting the British.

“The simplest way to describe the French and Indian War, which is also known as the Seven Years’ War, is that it was an imperial war between Great Britain and France over who would be the stronger controlling power in North America,” Smock said. “Because the French and Indians were fighting against the British in North America, it became known as the French and Indian War. In fact, though, Indians also fought on the side of the British.”

Smock, her husband and his family portray people on the French side. Behrend Blog talked with Smock about reenactments and what life was like for women in the mid-1750s.

How did you get involved in reenactments?

My husband’s family introduced me to it. Back when we were dating, I went over to his house one day and there were wool garments and petticoats all over their living room. They were leaving for a reenactment—the 250th anniversary at Fort Niagara. I was immediately intrigued by the idea. His family noticed my interest and asked if I wanted to join the troupe.

Why the French and Indian War as opposed to, say, the Civil War?

Many reenactors feel that Civil War events are just too crowded. The French and Indian War is often overlooked and so not as popular with reenactors.

What troupe do you belong to?

I belong to Compagnie LeBouef. Mike is a part of the Dauphine Batterie Artillerie de Niagara (Cannon Crew of the Niagara Artillery).  He portrays a soldier in the battery.

What does reenacting entail? What are your days like?

Compared to the schedule and rigor my husband, Mike, has, my day is quite leisurely. I help prep the meals for the day, clean up after meals, and shop at the different settler’s tents. The shops are mostly period accurate, so they are a great place to pick up fabric or other items I need for my reenactment outfits. I have time to walk about and enjoy the battles. My favorite is the Battle of La Belle Famille in which the British ambushed a French relief force just outside of Fort Niagara. There are children in our troupe and I really enjoy playing common period games with them like Shut the Box.

Where do you do reenactments?

We really enjoy going to the Fort Niagara reenactment, near Youngstown, New York. It feels like home for us. We also like the event in Cook Forest. We hope to make it to some other events, too, such as Fort Ligonier in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.

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Fort Niagara encampment

Where do you get the outfits you wear?

I make them with help from Mike’s family as they are much more knowledgeable about sewing 1750s-era clothing then I am. You can certainly purchase period accurate clothing, but it is not cheap. Sometimes, when it comes to elaborate clothing, the idea of sewing it myself is daunting, but the hand-sewing part is cathartic to me.  If I ever run into trouble, there are many women I can turn to who are involved with reenacting and have plenty of experience making their own outfits.

What do you enjoy about reenacting?

I would say it is a tie between being disconnected from technology and the complexity of modern life and the joy of being immersed in living history. I love turning off my phone and forgetting about the real world for a weekend, and I love watching history happen around me.  I remember the first time I watched a battle by myself, I cried because then I understood the true impact of conflict. You can never really get that from reading a history book. Being a part of living history makes you appreciate history in a completely new way.

Is there anything unpleasant or uncomfortable about the experiences?  

Stays and layers of clothing. Stays are like corsets; they are stiff and become quite hot when you wear them in warm weather. In addition, they are constricting. It is a running joke among reenacting women that we often have second dinner because as soon as the stays come off, we are all starving. As for the layering, here’s the lineup: First, there is a shift/chemise (an under dress), long wool socks, stays, jacket, kerchief, petticoat (skirt), cap, and apron. As you can imagine, it gets very warm.

As for Mike, his entire outfit is wool, so keeping him hydrated and cool is extremely important. I provide him with a lot of cooling towels and water throughout the day.

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Student puts marketing claims to the test

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silver Celebrated: Professor honored for decades of work on journal Freshwater Science

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

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Dr. Pam Silver, interim associate dean for academic affairs and distinguished professor of biology, was in graduate school when she submitted her first paper to what was then the journal of the North American Benthological Society (now the journal Freshwater Science).

“It came back covered in red ink,” Silver said. “The founding editor of the journal, Rosemary Mackay, worked with me and taught me how to write.”

It’s a favor that Silver went on to pay forward for twenty-one years, serving in various roles at the journal, including editor-in-chief for the last thirteen years, until her retirement from the journal this spring.

“Pam worked tirelessly to improve and grow the journal while unselfishly working in the trenches with authors to improve their manuscripts,” said Jack Feminella, professor and associate dean of academic affairs at Auburn University, and Charles Hawkins, professor in the department of Watershed Sciences at Utah State University, in their nomination of Silver for the Society for Freshwater Science’s Distinguished Service Award. “Over her tenure as editor-in-chief, Pam has been a role model and mentor to many young authors and new appointees to the Editorial Board. Aside from her incredible work ethic, Pam’s ability to work effectively with all kinds of personalities is perhaps her greatest strength.”

These attributes did not go unnoticed at Penn State Behrend, where last year Silver was tapped to serve as interim associate dean for academic affairs. It was a promotion that ultimately led her to give up her work at the journal.

“My head needs to be here at Penn State Behrend,” Silver said.

Before she left the journal, however, they honored her with a Distinguished Service Award at the group’s fall conference in Detroit.

Though Silver prefers to avoid the spotlight, we did get her to sit down for a Q&A about the award, her years at the journal, and why the sleep deprivation was all worth it.

Why are scientific journals important?

It’s a way to disseminate information in a way that ensures its validity. Is the work scientifically valid? Can the findings be trusted? If it is in Freshwater Science, it’s been peer-reviewed. Now, what you can know depends on the tools and techniques that are currently available. And, so, in that way, journals can be historically valuable, too. They contain the history of how that knowledge evolved over time. It’s also a way of creating a network of people, a community, that share information. Sharing that information can inspire more curiosity, which leads to more science. It’s like scaffolding. Scientists just keep building on top of earlier work. Every paper published is resting on a pyramid of other papers.

Tell us about the journal for Freshwater Science. Who reads it? How is it distributed? Who submits articles?

It’s a professional journal for ecologists, biologists, and environmental scientists who both read it and submit to it. The Society for Freshwater Science co-publishes the journal with the University of Chicago Press quarterly. To my knowledge, it’s the only major scientific journal in the field of freshwater science that is still society-published. Most other journals have been sold to commercial publishers. There is both a print and an online version that is available to SFS’s 1,500 members.

Are all submitted papers published?

Definitely not. Articles are fully peer-reviewed. The editorial board rejects about 60 to 65 percent of submissions.

How did you get involved with the journal?

The journal was founded when I was in graduate school and I submitted a paper. The editor bled red ink all over it, but she taught me how to make it better. I actually thought, ‘I want her job.’ I applied to be a member of the editorial board (they review the science in the papers) and was accepted in 1997. In 2002, they asked me to be a co-editor. When Dave Rosenberg, the journal’s second editor-in-chief retired in 2005, they asked me to take the job.

This was in addition to your full-time job as a biology professor at Behrend?

Yes. It was like having another full-time job. I probably worked an additional forty hours a week editing articles and working with the writers.

What would people be surprised to know about editing a scientific journal?

The amount of work that it requires. Each article involved about twenty hours of time, and we published about 100 articles a year, so that’s about 2,000 hours annually. By the time an issue published, I will have read and edited every page at least four times.

Were you responsible for reviewing the science, too?

No. The editorial board did all the science. I did the wordsmithing and double-checked the science.

The people who nominated you for the award said you did that very well.

Yes, I know that the journal got a reputation as a place to teach students how to write and edit. When I announced I was retiring, I heard from dozens of contributors who said, ‘How can you retire? We need you!’ I think I was a good editor. I was honest, but made every effort to be kind and I tried hard to keep our interactions informal. The authors may not have liked all the changes I made to their paper, but they usually agreed that I made it better.

What is the most frequent problem you encountered when editing?

Organization. If a paper was hard to understand, it was usually because of paragraph, sentence, or word order and inconsistency in how the authors were referring to things.

What are three things scientists (or anyone) could do to improve their writing?

  1. Use precise and concise language.
  2. Use the active voice.
  3. Use forward moving sentences.
  4. Think of the audience. If you can’t explain it to a non-scientist, you need to work on your communication skills.

One of the things you’re credited with is diversifying the organization as well as the membership.

I made a real effort to increase international diversity and bring more women onto the editorial board. I also tried to include more young scientists. Everyone has something to bring to the table and the publication benefited from having a variety of perspectives.

Why was it important to include young scientists?

For the same reason that I love to teach first-year students. They’re young and excited and full of energy and they still want to save the world. You can help mentor them to direct that energy to things that are important.

Did you enjoy editing?

I did. The biggest benefit of editing the journal was learning about so many different and interesting things in freshwater science. In any issue, I might be editing an article about the sex life of a water bug and another about microplastics in the Chicago River and another about molecular biology. Every paper was an intellectual challenge for me, and it made all the work and sleep deprivation worth it.

What’s next for you?

Well, I have plenty of work to do as the interim associate dean for academic affairs, and I’m hoping to find time to write about my own road salt research work. I’m still teaching a little, too. I have an Urban Ecology class in the spring semester that I’m very excited about. It’s going to be a fun challenge.

Alumnus honored for lifelong mayfly work

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

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Dr. Peter Grant ’75

As a child growing up on the bluffs overlooking Lake Erie’s Presque Isle Bay, Dr. Peter Grant ’75 delighted in chasing fireflies, plucking cicada exoskeletons from trees, and capturing mayflies that would cling to his family’s Front Street home each summer.

“I remember waking up and seeing that there had been a mayfly hatch the night before and rushing outside to catch them,” he said. “They’re pretty slow, so they were easy to get.”

Little did he know then that those ancient winged insects would become his life’s work.

Grant, who attended Erie’s Cathedral Prep and then Penn State Behrend, where he earned an undergraduate degree in biology, was recently honored for that work with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Committee of the International Conference on Ephemeroptera. Mayflies belong to the order Ephemeroptera.

“I was very surprised,” he said. “I still don’t believe it.”

Currently the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of biology at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Grant has studied mayflies for nearly four decades. He has compiled an annual bibliography on the insect for the North American Benthological Society (now the Society for Freshwater Science) for twenty-seven years and he founded and served as the editor of The Mayfly Newsletter for twenty-six years.

Over the years, he has provided many producers and authors from news organizations and publications, such as the BBC, National Geographic and The New York Times, with information about mayflies.

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An adult mayfly

Getting his feet wet in Walnut Creek

Grant’s education and career has taken him from Pennsylvania to Texas to Florida to South Carolina to Oklahoma, but he still keeps in touch with the Behrend professor who encouraged his first research work. Dr. Ed Masteller, emeritus professor of biology, recruited Grant to participate in a summer research project in Walnut Creek in the summer after his first year at Behrend.

“I mostly did water chemistry work,” he said. “Later, when I was in graduate school in Texas, I actually began to study the mayfly lifecycle.”

Mayflies are part of an ancient group of insects called the Palaeoptera, which includes dragonflies and damselflies. The gossamer-winged, short-lived mayfly has never really held a candle to its zippy, flashy “cousins.”

But they stand out for a few reasons.

“Mayflies are the oldest known winged insect,” Grant said. “The ancestry goes back about 300 million years, further than any currently living group of insects.”

Despite the longevity and variety (there are more than 3,000 species of mayflies), the insect has a brief adult life. Few live more than a day or two as flying insects.

“They don’t even have any functional mouth parts or a digestive system,” Grant said. “They exist in their adult form simply to reproduce.”

Water babies

A mayfly spends the majority of its life, up to a year or more, in its immature nymph stage as an aquatic freshwater insect. They can be found at the bottom of nearly any freshwater source—creeks, rivers, lakes—in still or running water. Turn over a few rocks in the water, and you are likely to find a mayfly on one of them.

They play an important role in the aquatic food chain. The nymphs eat decomposing matter and algae in the water and serve as a food source for more than 200 species of animals, insects, and carnivorous plants.

“The nymphs recycle organically rich material back into the food chain by consuming it and turning it into mayfly tissue, which their predators then eat,” Grant said.

peter grant - mayfly nymph

Mayfly nymph

Canaries in the coalmine

Mayflies typically hatch in mass, particularly the large mayflies that inhabit Lake Erie, which means swarms of them appear literally overnight and cover the sides of building near the waterfront.

There is good reason for this group hatch: They have an extremely short amount of time to meet up, reproduce, and lay eggs. If they hatched over a series of days, those late to the party would never have the chance to pass on their genes.

While not everyone welcomes the influx of flying insects to their community, they are a welcome sight for ecologists and those who care about clean water.

“Anything living in the water is challenged by pollution,” Grant said. “And nymphs are thin skinned, so it’s easy for them to absorb pollutants.”

Grant is quick to qualify that statement, however.

“There are a lot of factors that go into how big the summer hatch is and some species are hardier than others, so you can’t directly equate a big or a small hatch to water quality, but it’s a factor, for sure.”

Still hard at work

Grant continues to balance his academic responsibilities with his research work. He’s currently involved in a long-term project cataloging the mayflies of Oklahoma as well as a study looking at the population size of endangered species of mayflies and caddisflies (another group of aquatic insect) in the state.

“When people think of Oklahoma, they tend to think of flat, dusty land, but it’s one of the most ecologically diverse states in the country,” he said. “We have twelve ecological regions and tons of streams.”

Grant could not be happier with his lot in life.

“I’ve wanted to be a scientist since I was a kid,” he said. “Being a college professor gave me the flexibility to both teach and learn.”

Class Reunion, Borneo style: Faculty member returns to his Peace Corps roots

Jonathan Hall

Guest post by Jonathan Hall, associate teaching professor of physics

Penn State Behrend

Forty years ago, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Malaysia, teaching students in the only secondary school in the district of Sipitang, Sabah (formerly known as North Borneo). This summer, I returned to visit my former students and fellow teachers. I brought along my daughter, Liz Hall, who was a student at Behrend in 2003-04 before attending the U.S. Naval Academy.

Our trip started with a fourteen-hour flight from the United States to China, and then to Kota Kinabalu (“KK”), the capital of Sabah. We arrived late in the evening, and checked into the hotel. When the receptionist found out that I had been a teacher in Sipitang, which was near her hometown of Beaufort, it resulted in all of the staff wanting to have their picture taken with the “guru from Sipitang.” It was a warm welcome back to Sabah.

After a recovery day on the beaches of the South China Sea, we headed to a downtown hotel for a reunion dinner with some of my former students who live and work in KK.

It was Ramadan, a month-long religious observation during which Muslims fast each day from dawn to sunset, so we joined them for their evening meal when they broke the day’s fast. It was a buffet offering a wide variety of dishes, from curries to satay, which was an excellent introduction to Malaysian cuisine for Liz.

After eating, we went around the table, telling our stories from the past forty years. A friendly competition emerged regarding the number of grandchildren each person at the table had. The person with the most had seven.

 

Class reunion

First, a little history

Malaysia was formed from a collection of colonies in the early 1960s. In order to develop as a nation, expanding education from the few to the many was the number one priority of the government.

To accomplish this, Malaysia “imported” teachers from other countries to teach, especially topics such as math and science, in rural areas. This is how Peace Corps volunteers came to be in Malaysia from the early 1960s until the early 1980s, helping until Malaysia was able to train enough of their own teachers.

As is common in other nations in Asia, your academic success, and your future career, is largely determined by the results of national standardized exams. The exams are given at the end of Form 3 and Form 5 (ninth and eleventh grade). Math is a mandatory pass. If you fail the math exam, that is the end of your education.

The parents of many of my students were subsistence farmers or fishermen, but they knew that education was the key to a brighter future for their children. Unfortunately, because they lived in a remote area, many of my students did not have teachers who were qualified in math during their early years in school. We had a year or two to catch up through practice in class, daily homework, and extra classes after school and on Saturdays when necessary.

At the reunion dinner, several of my students said that they came to high school unprepared in math, but learned and became proficient enough at it to pass their exams, which enabled them to move on to careers in teaching, nursing, banking, business and law. It was very gratifying to hear that.

I don’t think that I did anything special or was a particularly good teacher as I’d just graduated from college, but it was enough for me to volunteer to be present where I was needed. In that place and time, it was critical to have a qualified teacher who was willing and able to help them prepare for their exams.

Mountain climbing with former student

On day three, Liz and I went to Mount Kinabalu to meet up with my former student, Daring Laban.

When I taught Daring, he lived in a remote village, Long Pa Sia, close to the Indonesian border. Students from his village traveled five days on foot through the rain forest to attend secondary school, where they lived in a dormitory.

mt kinabalu climbers

Liz, myself, and Daring

Today, Daring is the manager of Sabah State Parks. Sabah Parks administers several state and national parks, including Kinabalu Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Center, and the Danum Valley Conservation Area, a mostly undisturbed rainforest that is the home of orangutans, Sumatran rhinoceros, pygmy elephants, and more. Sabah Parks host 1.3 million visitors a year, playing a major role in tourism, the second largest sector of the state economy. While much of the rainforest has been lost over the past forty years, ecotourism has replaced timber as a mainstay of the economy and is helping to preserve the remaining rain forest.

On Mount Kinabalu, we traveled through four climate zones as we climbed—lowland dipterocarp rain forest, montane forest, cloud forest, and sub-apline vegetation—before reaching bare rock and the peak at 13,400 feet.

Daring Jon Liz Mt KinabaluDaring, me, and Liz on Mt. Kinabalu

Liz & Daring climbing

Climbing Mt. Kinabalu

Mt Kinabalu peak

Mt. Kinabalu peak

The park was formed to preserve its great biodiversity, including some of the world’s largest pitcher plants, and the Rafflesia, said to be the world’s largest flower. During the 8.5-kilometer hike, we climbed 2 kilometers in altitude.

In June 2015, there was an earthquake at the mountain. Rockslides killed eighteen climbers; most of those killed were students visiting from Singapore. The trail was closed for six months for repairs. The violence of the earthquake was still very evident, with large areas of newly exposed white granite where the rockslides occurred instead of dark, weathered rock seen elsewhere.

rock slide Mt K

Rockslide damage on Mt. Kinabalu

We celebrated a successful climb by stopping at an open-air restaurant specializing in wild boar, which are hunted in the oil palm plantations.

Visiting Long Pa Sia

After hiking, it was on to the interior village of Long Pa Sia. Back then, it was a 50-mile trek. Now, it is accessible by four-wheel drive vehicles over a logging road.

The village is named by the native Lun Dayeh people1. Long = mouth, Pa = river, and Sia = red. In traditional Borneo, the river was the lifeblood of the community and was used for transportation, water, food, and bathing.

We spent a day hunting and fishing with another of my former students, Lukas. Lukas retired from banking in the city to hunt, a traditional way of life in the interior. We caught several small fish in the river. Lukas and his hunting dogs brought back a barking deer.

Long Pa Sia

The village of Long Pa Sia

Liz at Pa Sia river

Liz at the Pa Sia river

Lukas & Daring after hunt

Lukas and Daring after hunting

Many changes, but friends remain

Sipitang was my home far away from home when I was in the Peace Corps. All of the towns and cities in Sabah have grown and developed so much over the last forty years, that they were nearly unrecognizable to me. (In Long Pa Sia, which was known very being remote, there is now excellent cell phone reception!) Sipitang was no exception.

In Sipitang, changes included a hospital, paved roads, enough cars to have traffic jams, new schools, factories and industries, and many more people. Gone is the old open-air fish market where fishermen off-loaded from small praus their catch of prawns, squid, fish, and rays. Also gone is the fruit and vegetable market where farmers brought baskets of bananas, durians, rambutans, and other tropical fruits. Now there are two supermarkets instead.

Taking a walk down memory lane, I showed Liz the school where I taught.

Next it was on to a “Hari Raya” dinner, celebrating the end of Ramadan. The dinner was hosted by Ramawi, another former student. Ramawi’s family happens to include Wan Musa, a fellow science teacher. We worked closely together forty years ago and became dear friends. I attended Wan Musa’s wedding, where I was the Malay equivalent of his best man, which included having the groom’s face and mine smeared with rice flour.

It was great to see him again, however briefly.

Jonathan & Wan Musa

Me and Wan Musa

Weddings, coffee, and longhouses

Speaking of weddings, the next day we traveled to Sarawak, the other Malaysian state on Borneo, crossing the Lawas River by ferry to attend a Lun Dayeh wedding.

Ishak Liz Lawas river ferry

Ishak and Liz at the Lawas river ferry

After a Christian wedding ceremony, there was a reception for the entire community, which included traditional songs and dance, and the giving of baskets of gifts by the bride to members of both families.

Lun Dayeh wedding

Lun Dayeh wedding in Sarawak

The next day, was a road trip to Tenom, to drink the locally grown coffee and visit the Sabah Murut Cultural Center. Built as a traditional longhouse, but on a much larger scale, the center includes displays of traditional dress, baskets, musical instruments (gongs), and other aspects of the culture and history of the local native people.

On the way back, we stopped at two longhouses—a traditional wooden longhouse and a new one made with modern materials. Regardless of the building materials, the basic design is the same. Longhouses are an elevated building in which each family has an “apartment” consisting of a living room, bedroom, and kitchen. All of the apartments open onto a verandah, which runs the length of the longhouse and serves as a common area.

Sipitang Longhouse

At a longhouse

canstockphoto7243483

Stock photo of a typical Borneo longhouse

Math teacher turned voice coach?

After visiting Sarawak, we returned to KK to prepare for our 3 a.m. flight home the next day. But, before leaving, we met up with other former students for the most sumptuous Chinese dinner I’ve ever had.

In my three years in Sabah, I taught one English class. Being a math/science teacher, and learning TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) on the fly, I decided to incorporate singing in the lessons. Albert, one of my former students who was at dinner that night, was in my English class and said that I inspired him to become a pretty decent karaoke singer. (As a teacher, you plant a seed and…)

Durian McFlurrys

What has changed in Sabah over the past forty years? Every town has a KFC. Also, there are McDonald’s restaurants and they serve Durian McFlurrys. This is a flavor that would not go over big in the United States.

McDonalds durian

While many Asians love the taste of durian, as do I, others have been known to object to the scent of durian. One writer described durian as “eating a delicious raspberry sorbet in a revolting public lavatory.”

Durian smells so bad, that it is banned in many public places. Upscale hotels charge large cleaning fees if it is brought into a guest room.

no durians

Final reflections

In Malaysia, one is struck by the hospitality of people. It is part of a way of life, of forming relationships with others, and strengthening those relationships is valuable and important to them. My students thanked me for teaching them. I thanked them for welcoming me into their lives.

While I taught students science, math, geography, and English, they taught me something of great value that I have kept close to my heart. The students in my class came from a wide variety of diverse backgrounds, with different cultures, languages, and religions, but they were all classmates together. They worked and learned together and respected one other.

In the classes I taught, I never witnessed anyone being left out or excluded because of differences. The class was only successful if every student was, so students helped each other.

Forty years later, that has not changed. It is normal and natural for Muslims celebrating the end of Ramadan to invite Christian and Chinese classmates to their home to share a meal. They don’t let their differences divide them, they respect and celebrate those differences2. This was particularly striking to me now because in our current times, there are some who openly advocate that if people are different, they should be kept separate.

The native people of central Borneo; the Lun Dayeh (also known as Lun Bawang), Kelabit and Sa’ban, are involved in the Heart of Borneo Project, dedicated to the conservation of the remaining rain forest in central Borneo. Preserving the environment impacts the preservation of traditions, languages, culture, and a way of life for the people there. Their slogan is: “Serurum. Selawe. Meruked.” This translates from Lun Dayeh as: “Friends. One way (united). Forever.”

Thanks and terima kasih3to the students of Sipitang for teaching this “guru” the most important of lessons.

NOTES:

1. Though we live on opposite sides of the globe, the Lun Dayeh people have a history of friendship with Americans. Before World War II, American missionaries with the Borneo Evangelical Mission lived in Lun Dayeh communities. When Borneo was occupied early in WWII, these missionaries and their families were executed. Later in the war, two American bombers crashed in the interior. Surviving crew members were found by the Lun Dayeh, who recognized them as Americans. The Lun Dayeh leaders, then made the decision to shelter, protect, and defend the American crewmen, at the risk of their own lives and communities. The Americans were guided to a location where British special forces established a small airfield to return the crewman to safety. For the full story, read The Airmen and the Headhunters by Judith M. Heimann, or watch the PBS Secrets of the Dead episode of the same name as the book title.

2. If you like holidays, Malaysia is the place to be. You can celebrate Muslim, Christian, Chinese, Hindu, Buddhist, national and harvest festival holidays!

3. While terima kasih is how you say thank you in Malay, I prefer it’s literal meaning, which is “receive love.” The response, sama sama, means “the same to you”!