ASB 2018 – Texas – Day 5

Twenty-four students and four advisers from Penn State Behrend are participating in an Alternative Spring Break service trip to Beaumont, Texas. The group will be helping residents recover from the catastrophic flooding that occurred as a result of Hurricane Harvey, which hit the greater Houston area in August of 2017, causing at least $125 billion in damages and claiming 108 lives. Behrend’s ASB group is being joined by five other Penn State campuses, including Greater Allegheny, Harrisburg, Scranton, University Park, and York.

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Office of Strategic Communication, and 2018 ASB participant

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One of the best things about being on the ASB trip is getting to know each person on the 28-member team individually.

After a few days (or hours in a car or on a jobsite), personalities emerge. You learn who is hilarious, who is tougher than nails, who takes charge, who is afraid of dogs, who isn’t going anywhere without lipstick (guilty as charged).  You learn their majors and hometowns, what sports they played in high school, if they have siblings, and whether they are a night owl or an early bird (spoiler: none of them appear to love getting up at 5 a.m. like me).

We spend a lot of time together (In the entire time I’ve been here so far, I have had exactly 45 minutes of free time, not counting my early morning hours when I creep downstairs to blog.) We eat every meal together, we work together, we sleep in one room less than two feet from each other (women and men are in different buildings), we play together, and every night at 8 or 8:30 p.m. two of the student trip leaders do a 90-minute “reflections” activity designed to encourage deeper thinking and conversation about the lessons learned that day.

Reflections activities are guided discussions intended to help the students process what they’ve been exposed to and insights they have gained in a way that transcends the trip.  Reflections give students a wide view of the immersive-learning experience and how it leads to lifelong personal development.

Students who attend ASB say it is life changing, in ways both large and small. For some, it jumpstarts a life of service. For others, it prompts a change in majors or career or confirms they’re on the right path.  Others make friends that last far beyond their college years.

As an adviser, I’m having my own immersive learning experience. (More about that tomorrow).

For now, let me tell you how ruff my team’s day was on Wednesday.

At the 8:30 a.m. orientation, we hit the job roulette jackpot and secured a prime assignment at the Humane Society of Southeast Texas.

The no-kill shelter has been at max capacity since the hurricane as many animals were abandoned or surrendered (then and now) as people try to get their lives and homes back in order.

Our first task of the day was to organize the supply room. With seven of us and an addition three boys from a high school volunteer group who were also there, we made quick work of the room:

Before:

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After:

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After lunch, our task was to “love on the dogs” as our volunteer leader, Miss Pearl, put it. Miss Pearl loves her babies and insisted on personally introducing us to every dog in the shelter. Then, we each picked one to take out of their cages for some exercise – a walk, a game of fetch in the pens, etc.  Between the seven of us, I’m sure we walked or played with every dog there (that could be taken out), including a gentle giant of a Great Dane, a Great Pyrenees mix, and lots of young lab, pit, and hound mixes.

After “loving on the dogs” for a couple of hours, Miss Pearl put us to work in the office, separating sheets of newspaper to make cage cleaning easier for the workers. Then we headed back outdoors to transport newly-cleaned supplies (cages, plastic tubs, food dishes, etc.) to the storage shed.

At 3:30 p.m., we headed back to the church for cleanup as we had a 5:30 reservation for the whole crew at a local Texas barbecue grill. (Mmm…brisket.)

Over dinner, we caught up with the other three crews to find out what jobs they worked on that day:

  • Chris Fox’s crew continued work on a single mom’s house, clearing clutter to make it (more) liveable for the woman and her disabled son.
  • Chris Harben’s crew had the most physically demanding job of the day — removing tile flooring from a flood-damaged home.
  • Will Taylor’s crew worked at a home removing walls and insulation that had been damaged in the hurricane.

Today is our last work day. Tomorrow, we are leaving the church at 6 a.m. for an 11 a.m. flight and a 2:30 p.m. arrival in Pittsburgh, followed by a bus ride back home to Erie, where I hear there’s another storm dumping snow on the Great Lakes region.

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Students Will Spend Spring Break Aiding in Hurricane Cleanup

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By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

When Hurricane Harvey blew into Houston, Texas, in August of 2017, it altered everything in its path, causing at least $125 billion in damages and claiming 108 lives.

More than 1,350 miles away, Harvey continued to effect change, motivating those planning Penn State Behrend’s Alternative Spring Break service trip to veer off course.

“We had spent all summer looking for a trip that would focus on homelessness, but once Harvey happened, we felt that the need for volunteers would be more prevalent in the south,” said Elizabeth Mamros, a senior Mechanical Engineering major and president of Reality Check, the service club that orchestrates Alternative Spring Break each year.

“We got in touch with Community Collaborations International, a company that coordinates experiential education projects, and they already had people there assessing the volunteer situation and potential projects for spring break,” Mamros said.

Twenty-four students and four advisers will be leaving Behrend early Saturday morning to spend a week working in Beaumont, Texas.

“I think students are going to be surprised at the disarray that still exists six months after the hurricane. Most people have forgotten about it or assume it’s all cleaned up by now,” said Chis Fox, assistant director of civic engagement and the Smith Chapel. “But there’s still plenty of work to be done, especially in less populated and less affluent areas.

The Behrend group will be joined by students and advisers from other Penn State campuses, including Greater Allegheny, Harrisburg, Scranton, University Park, and York. In total, 100 Penn Staters are expected to be in Beaumont next week, helping residents recover from the catastrophic flooding that occurred as a result of Hurricane Harvey.

Teams of students will be dispatched to various sites around Beaumont to work on projects ranging from mucking out and gutting flooded homes to cleaning and reconstruction.

Groups will stay in the Community Collaborations International Volunteer Facility, and sleep in a gym or classrooms with men and women in separate quarters. Volunteers will work, rain or shine, and time will be spent each evening reflecting on the work of the day.

Penn State Behrend students attending are: Emily Archer, Hannah Carlino, Seth Cowen, Safinaz Elhadary, Joshua Hecht, Janelle Housler, Ashley Jankowski, Ashlyn Kelly, Kris Knorr, Nicole Kuhn, Kaitlyn Lacey, Max Magera, Celeste Makay, Liz Mamros, Kelly Miller, Angelica Miller, Katie Murphy, Priya Patel, Pearl Patterson, Brianna Riley, Gretchen Shaffer, Alex Sienerth, Lidong (Thomas) Wang, and Danielle Wieczorek.

The four staff members who volunteered to accompany the students are: me — Heather Cass, publications manager in the Office of Strategic Communication; Chis Fox, assistant director of civic engagement and the Smith Chapel; Chris Harben, assistant teaching professor of management; and Will Taylor, an Americorps VISTA intern at Penn State Behrend.

Behrend’s ASB group have been preparing for the trip by discussing the disaster in Texas and relief efforts, participating in safety and basic maintenance workshops, and watching Trouble the Water, a documentary about the devastating flooding that occurred in New Orleans’ 9th Ward after Hurricane Katrina. They have also been taking part in ice breakers and other activities to get to know one other better.

Check back here….or follow this blog (click on the “follow” button in the lower right hand side of your screen)…to see updates from Texas all next week.

Note: If you wish to support the students efforts in Texas with a donation to the Alternative Spring Break Program, contact Kathryn Buesink, assistant director of development, at klb44@psu.edu.

Brandon Moten’s Maryland State of Mind

By Brandon Moten
Senior Communication Major

Hello Penn State Behrend students, faculty, and staff, my name is Brandon Moten. I’m a senior from Bowie, Maryland, majoring in Communication with certificates in Advertising & Social Media. I have been attending Penn State Behrend since August of 2013 and have loved every minute of it. From the people to the class experiences, it’s been an awesome time.

Over the course of the semester, I’ll be writing a new series of blog posts called “A Maryland State of Mind” where I’ll share my experience of attending Penn State Behrend as an out-of-state student. I will discuss my transition from moving from a place I lived my whole life to a new state, differences between where I’m from and Erie, how I balance school and daily life, and how I handled the challenges I faced along the way.

Penn State Behrend is an amazing school, and I have grown in many ways and experienced so many new things. When I first came to college in 2013, I had no idea of what to expect. I have been living in Bowie, Maryland, my whole life and leaving home was not easy. In the beginning, I had nerves about experiencing new cultures, being six hours away from home, leaving my friends and family, and so much more.

I’m sure there are many current and future out-of-state students who are or will be experiencing the same emotions. I hope this blog series helps those students who have these same thoughts and emotions as I once did. Ultimately, I hope to give everyone a better idea on the life of an out-of-state Penn State Behrend student.

Stay tuned for more… WE ARE PENN STATE!

Plastics Engineering Technology Students Off to Austria and Germany

Guest Post by Haley Palys, senior Plastics Engineering Technology major

No matter how vivid the photos or descriptive the lecture, there’s nothing quite like seeing and experiencing another country in person. And, in today’s increasingly global business climate, it’s vital that students be versed in the culture and business practices of international partners. There is much to be learned from seeing how others do it. That’s why, every year, students in the Plastics Engineering Technology program have the opportunity to travel overseas to visit plastics companies and universities and attend a plastics trade show, too.

On Thursday, Oct. 12th, a group of PLET majors will begin a 10-day trip to Austria and Germany. We asked them to send us some photos and tell us about their journey. In this blog post, student Haley Palys gives us a preview of what the group will be seeing while overseas.

With the advancement of technology, foreign partnerships are becoming more and more common for many businesses. This is especially relevant for the growing plastics industry.

That’s why faculty members in the Plastics Engineering Technology program try to help us get the experience and be prepared to take on unfamiliar situations and cultures. In order to get the full experience, each year a group of seniors are given the opportunity to spend ten days studying abroad. The destination changes every year, but is often dependant on tours and technical caseshows.

On October 12, twenty-one students will be begin a journey to Austria and Germany. Our group will travel to Vienna, Munich, and Hiedelberg, while also visiting some smaller cities along the way.

The first major tour is at the Engel headquarters, an injection molding machine manufacturer. We also plan to tour Rosenheim University, a college with which Behrend is currently collaborating through an exchange program. The FAKUMA caseshow is another stop on our map. There, we will network and learn about many companies active in the plastics industry.

With about two weeks left before we depart, some of us students—including myself—are bubbly with excitement. For the majority of the group, this will be our first trip abroad. We are allowed a few cultural days, where we can form groups and schedule our own plans to enjoy the cities.

I asked around the group to see what everyone was most excited about, and it was nice to see such a broad range of interest.

Kevin Orndorf eagerly replied “skiing,” while Mitch Garus said he was just excited to experience the different countries and culture. Joe Donofrio is most excited to tour the Engel headquarters, and to see all the innovative technology they are producing.

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Engineering Grad to Serve in Peace Corps in Africa

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

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This is the time of year that graduating college seniors are making decisions about their future. Should they accept the job offer in Baltimore or the one in Chicago? Should they go to graduate school or pursue a research position?

For Alex Laffey, a senior Mechanical Engineering major, there are no questions. She has known what she’s wanted to do after college since her first year of high school.

“I learned about the Peace Corps in my freshman history class, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of it,” Laffey said. “Former president John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps as a means for individuals in America to volunteer internationally, and I figured this was the best way to go to combine my passion for traveling and service.”

Laffey, a Pittsburgh native, will leave in July to serve for two years as a secondary math education teacher in Sierra Leone, Africa. We caught up with her to ask her about the exciting adventure she will embark on after her graduation in May.

What solidified your decision to volunteer with the Peace Corps?

Last summer, I traveled to India for two weeks to visit a friend. It was the first time I had ever been away from my parents and home in a completely new environment, and I loved it. I loved trying all of the new foods, being a minority, and even learning a little bit of the language. Seeing the country also showed me how much the rest of the world needs our help. As soon as I came back from India, I immediately started my application.

Did you choose Africa, or does the Peace Corps decide where you go?

When I applied, I was asked to list the top three places I would like to serve. Sierra Leone was my first choice. It stood out in my mind from a book I had read—A Long Way Gone. I didn’t even put a second and third choice because I figured that if I couldn’t go to Africa, I’d be happy to go wherever they needed me. Luckily, it worked out that they needed math teachers in Sierra Leone and the Corps had a new group leaving in July.

Has anyone in your family ever served in the Peace Corps or do they volunteer?

Nobody in my family has ever served in the Peace Corps, but my parents always taught me to help others. Not only have they helped me with everything tremendously, but they also go out of their way to help others. They are constantly volunteering and making a difference in our community and abroad. They were my inspiration for wanting to go.

Do you choose what you will be doing there?

You volunteer in one of six sectors for the Peace Corps: agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health, and youth development. Like with location, I had to rank my top three preferences. I initially wasn’t sure what sector I wanted to volunteer in, but after speaking with a recruiter she suggested teaching because of my engineering degree.

Will you be in the same location for the entire two years?

I will be in the same country for the whole two years, but in different cities. When I arrive in July, I will be staying with a host family for three months to help with cultural integration and adjustment. After those three months, I will begin my two years of service, and the Peace Corps will decide where to place me. So, as of right now, I know that I will be in Sierra Leone. I just don’t know exactly where.

What do you know about Africa? Do they speak English? Do you go to any training to help you before you leave?

When I arrive in July, I will begin with three months of training. This includes safety, health, teaching, and even how to properly do laundry. The official language is English, but throughout the villages, many different languages are spoken so I will get a basic overview of all of those. Right now, I have been reading a lot different books about the location, and the Peace Corps has provided me with a lot of information. They also put me in touch with Peace Corps volunteers who were in Sierra Leone and that has been very helpful!

What are you taking? How does one pack for two years?

I am honestly not sure how I am going to pack all of my stuff! I can only take a carry-on, one personal item, and two suitcases. I’ve been reading a lot of blogs, and talking to returned volunteers about what is most essential. I know I will definitely be getting a hammock to enjoy the nice weather, and a bunch of solar chargers so that I can use my laptop and phone while I am there.

Where will you be living? What are the conditions like? Are they primitive?

After my first three months with a host family, I will move to my official site where I will stay for two years. It could be in a city or a village, and I won’t know that until later. Regardless, I will have internet access, so I can keep in touch with friends and family.

How many vaccinations do you have to get?

So far, I have only had to get two shots, but I have had a lot of blood work done. The Peace Corps gave me a list of twenty-some tasks that I must complete to be medically cleared to go. It has been taking awhile to get through all of those. Many of them are to ensure the country I’m traveling to can handle any medical needs I may have, and that I will respond well to medicines commonly available there.

What are you most excited about?

All of it! I cannot wait to meet the people I will be serving with and the students I’ll be teaching and to see the country. I’ve read a lot about the country and the people there and, at this point, I’m just ready to experience it all first-hand.

Is there anything that makes you nervous/apprehensive about this trip?

I am definitely nervous to be so far away from the amazing support system I have at home. It’s definitely going to be hard to do it all alone, but I know that my family and friends are only a phone call away, and that I have other volunteers to lean on while I am there.

What did your parents say when you told them you were doing this?

At first, they were really supportive, but I think that’s because they thought I wouldn’t go through with it. When I was accepted, I was hesitate to bring it up because I didn’t want them to worry. It is a lot for them to deal with. I mean, their daughter is graduating from college and moving 5,000 miles away to living in an African village for two years. But they’ve already planned a trip to visit me, and I think that has really helped ease their minds.

What are you hoping to get out of this experience?

I am hoping to gain a new perspective, and make a difference. I can get caught up in my “problems” and think that I’m having a bad day, but the truth is that I am very fortunate. I also want to teach others and encourage them to keep learning. If I can help just one student while I am there, it will be enough.

Will you get to come home at all? How will you keep in touch with your family/friends while you’re away?

I am not allowed to travel outside of Africa for the first six months or the last three months of my service. Other than that, I am able to come home or go to other countries to sightsee. I receive two vacation days a month and I can save them up for a longer trip. Friends and family are welcome (and encouraged) to visit!

What are you plans when you return to the states?

I have no idea! I am hoping to come back and spend time with friends and family, eat all of the food I will have missed, and then hopefully find a job in engineering.

Laffey plans to blog about her experiences in Africa. Follow her at alexandralaffey.wordpress.com. Read more about Laffey in her Standout Senior profile.

Circle K Club Members Carve Out Time for Community Service

By Heather Cass

Publications manager, Office of Strategic Communications, Penn State Behrend

Rare is the college student with spare time on their hands. After attending classes, studying, completing assignments, and working at a job or internship, students have precious few hours and little energy left.

Yet some Penn State Behrend students still make helping others a priority. They say service work is not draining, but inspiring and rejuvenating.

“I always tell people that they don’t know what an amazing feeling community service is until they try it,” said Nicole Overby, president of Circle K, a service club at the college affiliated with Kiwanis International. “The drive home after a volunteer event is the best feeling in the world. Knowing that you helped someone and did something to better the world around you gives you a feeling that cannot be explained, only felt.”

There are at nearly a dozen service-focused clubs at Behrend, and many more student groups and organizations that include service projects as part of their regular activities.

Overby first became involved with Kiwanis in high school.

“I was in Key Club, which is the high school branch of the Kiwanis Club,” Overby said. “Circle K is the name given to clubs at the college level.”

Behrend’s Circle K club includes twenty members from a variety of backgrounds.

“It brings together students from all majors, races, and genders,” Overby said. “It is such a diverse group, which is awesome because it means that we come up with lots of different volunteer ideas and activities.”

Among the group’s endeavors this academic year: cleaning wheelchairs and gurneys at Saint Vincent Hospital; participating in Relay for Life; helping at the Kiwanis’ antique show and bowling night; volunteering at Holy Trinity soup kitchen; taking the Special Olympics’ Polar Plunge; raising funds through the college’s Cardboard City event; cleaning up several local highways; and assisting at Meals on Wheels.

“I think the soup kitchen was one of my favorite events,” Overby said. “Besides prepping the meals, we were also able to distribute them and sit and interact with the clients. It is important to open our eyes and have compassion for the hardships others face. It also makes me much more grateful for my own life and the opportunities that I’ve had.”

Most recently, Behrend’s club hosted the Circle K Club’s spring officer training, drawing newly elected club officers from several colleges in the area including Mercyhurst and Edinboro Universities and the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford.

There was, of course, a service project embedded in the day’s activities. Attendees assembled and prepared coloring books to give to Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Erie.

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Overby, who is majoring in Accounting will be doing an internship at Bank of America in New York City this summer. She expects to graduate in December and sit for the CPA exam before returning to Behrend to earn her M.B.A.

While Overby is still pondering the area of accounting she wants to focus on, she’s sure of one thing: She will continue her service work in the future.

“I will definitely seek out the local Kiwanis Club in whatever city I end up working,” she said. “I love interacting with different people and having volunteer events to look forward to. I feel like community service helps me as much as it helps others.”

If nothing else, Overby’s service work has taught her to find the good in others. When asked who inspires her, she said: “Every person. Every day.”

She further explained: “I have met coworkers who have three jobs to provide for their families. I have met peers in my classes who are taking crazy amounts of classes so they can graduate early and save money. I have met faculty members who go out of their way to help students because they truly care about them. These people inspire me every single day. I hope that I can inspire others someday.”

Did she inspire you?

Circle K meets bi-weekly on Tuesdays at 8 p.m. in Burke 105. To get involved, come to the next meeting on February 28 or email Overby at nmo5050@psu.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rachel Cotton finds niche with BVZ: Behrend’s Voice

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By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

If Penn State Behrend’s students have not seen their classmate Rachel Cotton on campus, there’s a good chance they’ve heard her.

For listeners of BVZ: Behrend’s Voice, the college’s online student radio station, Cotton’s voice is a hard one to miss.

The junior communication major serves as station manager of BVZ and can be regularly heard across the cyber waves hosting her current show, “Next in Line,” where she previews upcoming artists. She also is happy to jump in and deejay whenever there’s a lull in programming.

She knows that professional radio jobs may not be easy to attain, but that has not stopped Cotton from positioning herself to be an ideal candidate for a future opening in the field.

“If I could ever make it in radio, that would be the best thing ever,” said Cotton, who is originally from the Philadelphia area. “Having a great personality in radio is so important, and you get to create an emotional appeal. I love it.”

Cotton’s love of radio is nothing new. In high school, she actually won a contest where she got to be a deejay on a local station for a day.

She brought her love for the medium to Behrend as she got involved with BVZ, which celebrated its fifth anniversary in November, early in her freshman year. As a sophomore, she served as PR and events manager for the station before becoming its manager this past fall.

In the past, students could not join BVZ or host a show on the station before first completing the Radio Practicum course, but Cotton saw limitations with this formula.

“There are people who necessarily cannot take the class or might be in a different major where they can’t have it as an elective,” Cotton said. “I wanted to find a way around the class, so folks in any major can find a way to participate.”

This past fall, Cotton developed a BVZ Fast Track program for students who want to host a radio show but cannot take the course. Cotton meets with interested students separately and runs them through the basics of operating a live station in just a few weeks. So far, four students have participated in the program. Cotton said she eventually hopes to have 10 to 20 students going through it at once.

BVZ continues to build its presence on campus as the station hosts weekly “Hump Day” broadcasts from Bruno’s Café. The station is also always willing to collaborate with student groups if the organization would like BVZ at an event it’s hosting.

The station has already worked with some student groups, which Cotton said has helped BVZ spread its reach.

“People love when we come out to events,” she said. “We have been at more events this year than I can ever remember. It’s stellar to see that people are noticing us more and not just for giveaways or concert tickets, either. They’re actually listening to hear us. I love it.”

To listen to BVZ, visit behrendbvz.org.

Students interested in joining BVZ and taking part in the Fast Track program should contact Cotton at ryc5136@psu.edu.