Behrend THON Club Breaks Fundraising Record

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

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From left, Behrend THON dancers Tyler Malush, Morgan Shaw, and Matt Hammel.

Long before he was a college student, Jack Walker, executive director of the Behrend THON club, was committed to Penn State’s largest student-run philanthropic event, a dance marathon event benefitting children and families impacted by childhood cancer.

“I became involved with THON in my sophomore year of high school when I became the head of my high school’s ‘mini THON,’” said the Pittsburgh native and junior dual major in Political Science and Psychology. “It was really life changing. When I came to Behrend, I made a promise to myself to give everything I have to THON and make Behrend one of the best supporters of the event.”

He succeeded. Under Walker’s leadership, this year the club raised the highest amount—$57,155.67—in Behrend’s THON history.

“It truly reflects the commitment and dedication of the students involved in helping to fight pediatric cancer,” said Dr. Ken Miller, senior director of administration and student affairs.

THON is held annually at Bryce Jordan Center at University Park; this year’s event was February 15-17. Behrend’s dancers were Morgan Shaw, Matt Hammel, and Tyler Malush. Forty fellow Behrend students, including Walker, attended the event to support and cheer the dancers.

The Behrend Blog caught up with Walker to learn more about THON:

How do you choose who dances at THON?

Ultimately, the decision is based on a students’ participation in THON over their entire time at Behrend as well as money raised. We have made strides in making the process more competitive in order to push our members to be the very best they can be.

Do you have a goal?

We always have a fundraising goal, but in a larger sense, our goal is to make Behrend one of the top Commonwealth Campuses. Earning a top slot comes with advantages that include the ability to have more dancers on the floor, which, in turn, motivates members to get more involved.

How long is the dance marathon?

Dancers must keep moving for forty-six hours straight. This means no sleeping and no standing still. It takes a toll on the human body, but the dancers say it helps them to connect with the families of pediatric cancer patients who truly know the definition of marathon suffering.

What about those who aren’t dancing?

My role and the role of other Behrend students who attended are to be in the stands to support our dancers. We created a banner and made giant photos of our dancers’ faces to cheer them when they were losing steam.

What is the atmosphere like there?

THON is a transcendent experience. I don’t think there’s anything like it in the world. The energy is electric and you can feel the love in the air when dancers look to the stands to see their supporters. The entire Bryce Jordan Center feels like a big huge family. THON dancers are paired with a family that they are dancing to support. We were fortunate that all three of our families were able to attend the event this year.

What’s the most memorable part of the event?

I would say the family hour. During this hour, we hear from families who are currently going through treatment or have lost a child to pediatric cancer. Then, they have a presentation that pays tribute to every THON child who has passed away. It’s moving and motivational because you want to do whatever you can to prevent more children from being added to that list.

What would people be surprised to know about THON?

It is 100 percent student-run, from the event planning to the finances. The entire organization is filled with likeminded passionate students who are committed to ending pediatric cancer.

How did the Behrend THON club raise so much this year?

Families, sponsors, and new members were generous. Our online giving platform and going door-to-door in the Erie community to collect donations are our two most successful fundraising strategies.

Why should people get involved with the Behrend THON club?

This past year, it feels as though our club has grown into a family. Choosing to spend your free time raising money for kids who are suffering from cancer speaks volumes about the type of person you are and we accept and truly appreciate any student who makes a decision to join the club. We value every participant and volunteer in our organization. In addition, it feels really great to do good things for other people.

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Guest Post: Alternative Spring Break in Puerto Rico

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Last week, two dozen students and four advisers from Penn State Behrend participated in an Alternative Spring Break service trip to Puerto Rico. The group helped residents recover from the catastrophic flooding that occurred as a result of Hurricane Maria, a category 5 hurricane which devastated the area in 2017, causing billions of dollars in damages and claiming nearly 3,000 lives in Puerto Rico. Here is a reflection on the week’s activities from one of the participants.

By Alex Siernerth

Junior Marketing major, ASB board member and ASB trip participant

On our first day in Puerto Rico, we stopped at a local BBQ for lunch and had our first taste of Puerto Rican cuisine, which was wonderful! We stopped at a local Walmart for some supplies, then headed to the camp to get settled. We stayed at Campamento Yuquibo which was in the El Yunque National Forest.

On the second day of the trip, we began our service. We headed to a part of the El Yunque where Hurricane Maria had stripped the natural canopy from parts of the forest. Strong grasses and vines took over the hiking trails. We worked to remove the excess brush to expand the trails.

On the third day, we split into teams to paint houses that had suffered external damage from the hurricane. One team rolled a fresh coat of orange onto a home, while another worked to paint a new house, which was built after the hurricane destroyed the original home.

The fourth day was spent finishing up the painting of the orange house and cleaning up. Another team painted the kitchen of a nearby home where the walls had been re-plastered due to water damage. The final group spent the day working on landscaping.

Our last day of service was spent at the Natural Reserve Cabezas de San Juan. We learned lot about the post-hurricane reforestation efforts that are being undertaken to revitalize the plant and wildlife in the area. We helped to tag young trees and tend to the newly planted ones by spreading mulch and watering them.

On our cultural day, we were able to explore coral reefs and learn about the ecosystem that they exist in. Snorkeling in the beautiful Puerto Rican waters allowed us to get an up-close-and-personal feel for the sea creatures and other wildlife. A friendly dolphin even paid us a visit.

We had a few hours before leaving for the airport, so we explored Old San Juan.

It was such an amazing experience being able to meet and interact with the kind, resilient people of Puerto Rico. The Behrend students took every opportunity with smiles on their faces and love in their hearts.

We are grateful to all the donors and others who made this service trip possible.

 

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. 

Networking 101: 12 Tips for Good Connections

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

Student enrolled in the Black School of Business’ new C3W Leadership Program, recently spent an evening learning about networking, then practicing it with some of the Erie area’s most prominent female business and government leaders, including Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper.

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The C3W Leadership Program is a co-curricular certificate that female students can complete over one to two years to prepare for leadership in academic, business, and social situations. Students focus on developing these skills through three pillars (the 3Cs): capability, confidence, and connections.

The program is spearheaded by Ann Scott ’82, ’99 M.B.A., community outreach manager at Erie Insurance and one of the Black school’s Executives in Residence, who worked with faculty members Dr. Diane Parente, Breene professor of management, and Dr. Mary Beth Pinto, professor of marketing, to plan the event and give students a great opportunity to make important connections.

Before they began rubbing elbows, Pinto gave the students some tips for successful networking. Here are a dozen of her most helpful hints that would be useful for any young professional:

  1. Make eye contact, but not too much.
  2. Have a firm handshake, but not a death grip.
  3. Authenticity is everything. Be professional, but be you.
  4. Deal with the person in front of you, not the title. Don’t be intimidated by a contact who is high on the corporate ladder, just think of them as another person to connect with.
  5. If you’re wearing a nametag, put it on your right side so that when you shake hands, the person your shaking hands with can easily read your name.
  6. Be aware of your nonverbal communication and the messages your body stance and facial expressions are sending.
  7. Listen! Don’t just talk or think about what to say next, but truly listen to the person your speaking with. Allow them to do more of the talking.
  8. When you leave the conversation, find a way to show that you were listening. Something like, “It was nice to meet you and I’ll be sure to check out some of those concerts on the Bayfront.”
  9. Have a positive attitude. When you meet people, they hear your words, but they pay attention to your attitude. Never talk badly about anyone or anything and refrain from complaining.
  10. Work the room. Don’t just stand in one area or talk to one person all night. Force yourself out of your comfort zone and have conversations with as many people as you can.
  11. Send a thank you note. A personalized email is generally accepted today, but a handwritten note really stands out.
  12. Mind your manners. Hold the door for people, show gratitude for servers, smile at everyone from the coat check clerk to the CEO. Manners matter and they are noticed.

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Conferences offer opportunities for students

Industry conferences and annual meetings are a vital resource for professionals, allowing them to come together and learn about the latest research and innovation in their fields of study.

They are a valuable learning experience for students, too, offering them the chance to present their research work and to make connections with industry professionals.

Three Penn State Behrend Psychology students—Mason McGuire, Tiffany Eichler, and Mitchell Weber—recently attended the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society’s conference in Philadelphia with Dr. Heather Lum, assistant professor of psychology.

While there, the students presented posters reflecting their research work about virtual reality in gaming and whether playing Pokeman can improve spatial recognition.

“Participating in poster sessions really helps them develop the softer skills of psychology, like talking about their research and explaining the methods and findings,” Lum said. “It’s important that they be able to communicate what they have learned.”

During the three-day event, students attended a variety of seminars and talks, including a panel discussion with Lum and recent psychology alumna, Grace Waldfogle, who is a graduate student at the University of Central Florida.

Two other Behrend Psychology alumni—Richard Greatbatch and Jacob Benedict—also graduate students, were at the conference, too.

The alumni and students met up after the conference for an informal Penn State Behrend reunion of sorts.

“The interesting thing is that all of three of the alums made their first contact with their chosen graduate school at this conference when they attended the conference as undergraduate Behrend students,” Lum said.

“That’s why I like to bring students to professional conferences,” she said. “Not only does it expose them to the world of psychology and the jobs available in the field, but it also gets their name out there.”

The students travel was funded by grants from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences and Penn State University.

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Erie Free Taxes Counts on Behrend Student Volunteers

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

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When Anna Reed, a senior majoring in accounting and management information systems, goes to a job or internship interview, potential employers always ask her about one item on her resume—her experience as a volunteer tax preparer with Erie Free Taxes, a United Way of Erie County program.

The federal tax code is about four million words, so it’s little wonder that most people need help filing their income taxes.

For the last twenty-plus years, low-income tax filers in the Erie area have been able to get help for free from Penn State Behrend students enrolled in ACCTG 411: Accounting practicum VITA.

VITA, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, is an IRS-sponsored program to help those with disabilities and those who earn less than $55,000 a year with their taxes.

Reed volunteered for the program last year and found it so rewarding that she plans to do it again this year.

VITA volunteers are required to work four hours a week at a United Way tax prep location from February to April, helping those in need of services.

“There are so many residents who cannot afford to have their taxes filed professionally,” Reed said. “It was rewarding to use my knowledge and skills to help others. I really enjoyed the experience.”

It was also a valuable learning experience and resume builder.

“Working one-on-one with clients really helped me to enhance my communication skills,” Reed said. “And doing the returns helped reinforce what I had learned in my tax class.”

Student volunteers are trained on an IRS software and must pass an IRS exam to be certified to prepare taxes.

If you’re a Behrend business student interested in volunteering with Erie Free Taxes, contact Bob Patterson, lecturer in management, at x7171 or rdp4@psu.edu.

 

When You Give an Engineer a Problem….

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

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

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

The quandary

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

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

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

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

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

Seeds of change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Williams is excited about the possibilities.

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

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

It takes a village

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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