ASB 2018 – Texas – Day 4

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

One of the things the ASB Trip leaders continually stress to participants is to leave their expectations at home.  In other words, if you don’t expect things to be a certain way, you won’t be dissapointed. Be open to anything and go with the flow.

It is solid advice for ASB where so many factors are out of your control and things never go quite the way you think they should.

Job roulette

Each morning, we meet at the Operation Project Blessings trailer for a brief orientation before receiving our day’s assignments. The woman who doles out the jobs, stands at a table with a stack of orange folders. Inside each folder is a work order and a few instructions.

When you step up to the table, you get the next folder on the stack. Like spinning a roulette wheel, you hope for the best (a job that suits the talents and taste of your crew).

Some groups, such as Chris Fox’s crew, who were placed on larger jobs, elect to go back and continue work on those jobs, so they don’t change assignments every day but will stay at their job until it’s done, or they request a new one.

Crew roulette

Fox’s crewmembers do change as do mine and Chris Harben’s and Will Taylor’s. ASB student trip leaders came up with a great way to be sure everyone gets to know everyone on the trip by randomly assigning different students to different vans/advisers and therefore, crews, each day.

Each van/adviser has one or two ASB trip leaders who stay with that van all week. They are responsible for navigating, sparking or leading conversation among the van, and also the radio (this is a very important–and fun– part of traveling with college students, by the way).

Aside from the trip leader(s) and the driver, the other students in the van change from day to day so that everyone gets to know and/or work with everyone. It’s an ingenious strategy because if we all stayed with the same six people all week, we’d get to know all of them really well, but not the other sixteen students on the trip.

My navigators are Kris Knorr, a Finance major, and Ashley Jankowski, an Industrial Engineering major. They’re both a lot of fun and I’m grateful to have someone telling me what turns to make, even if I continually make them wrong.  It’s cool…we just go with the flow (of traffic), let the GPS recalculate, and get back on course.

Yesterday, our crew was almost all new to me, which is to say that I had not had them in my van before. It’s always a little awkward, at first, as everyone gets to know everyone. And, here’s the cool thing about ASB: after eight hours in together driving, working, laughing, taking turns picking songs to play, and eating lunch together, we all left the van as friends, bonded over shared experiences.


There were at least three times yesterday that I laughed so hard I cried.

The first was when we received our assignment — to remove debris from a woman’s yard as well as a hot water heater, two toilets, and a shower from her home. Kris and I just stared wide-eyed at one another, knowing that none of us in the van has any experience with plumbing or shutting off water/power. Dumbstruck, we stumbled over to the tool shed to pick up our bucket ‘o tools.

After reviewing our order, the woman told us we’d also need some plumbing tools. I quipped to Kris, “And a plumber.”


“You must do, what you think you cannot”

But, remember what I said about no expectations and going with the flow? We took our tools and cooler full of water and lunches and headed for the jobsite to see what we could do.

Her home had the telltale slash of red paint on the front door, a sad reminder of the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey. These red stripes were painted on doors to indicate that the home had been checked for people/bodies after the flood.


Like most who are still dealing with flood damage in their homes, she was not living on site, so she met us there.  Also like every flood victim we have spoke to, she teared up when we asked “How are you holding up?” Her home had stood for about three weeks in three feet of water.

First, we cleaned off the debris on her front porch, lugging heavy bags of trash, building materials, waterlogged suitcases, filing cabinets, and more out to the road. The good news was that her son had already repaired one toilet and the hot water heater, so those things didn’t need removed. That left a toilet and a shower that had to go.


After some investigating, we figured out how to turn her water off, and were able to remove one of the toilets. But, the shower was beyond our capabilities as it required someone with construction skills and a power saw to cut it from the walls.  (Someone with those skills and tools from Community Collaborations International did go back and do it that day for her.)


At 11 a.m., we had done all we could at this woman’s house, so we called in to Operation Blessings HQ for a new assignment.  They sent us to a home five minutes away to help a single mother, Darla, move her possessions from a storage facility to her trailer.

This involved six or seven trips back and forth, filling Darla’s father’s truck, carrying them into her trailer, then heading back again.

There were mishaps. The kind that occur when you use volunteer movers and a short-bed truck. On the first trip the locker, the dolly rolled right out of the back of the truck and onto the highway. One of our crew members rescued it. Then, we had to figure out how to fit it into our van. We laughed most of the short way to the storage trailer.


Later, a California King size mattress flipped off the truck and into the same road. We wrestled it back into the truck and strapped it down better that time. There were also some adventures with plastic snakes, swords, and moldy furniture, but this blog post is already too long. Suffice to say, we laughed a lot.


We returned to the church at 4 p.m. to shower and catch up with the other teams and hear about their day:

  • Chris Fox’s team continued work on a single mother’s home that was in need of major cleanup/debris removal. Fox thinks they will be there all week.
  • Chris Harben’s group worked removing floors, trim, and more on a single mother’s home.
  • Will Taylor’s crew spent the day at a local food bank, where they did some general office work and packed more than 200 boxes of food.

What does today — Wednesday — hold for us? Who knows. But, whatever it is, I’m sure it will be fine. And, probably quite fun, too.

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ASB 2018 – Texas – Day 2

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


Day 2 – Cultural Day

It seems weird to start a week of service with a vacation day, but that’s how it works best with the schedule, so Sunday was our day to learn more about the area and explore Houston.But, first, a shower.
Here is where we shower:

These are shower trailers. Each contains five to six showers, there are three trailers total, split evenly among men and women.
As I showered, I marveled at the engineering and ingenuity involved in a mobile showering unit that I’m sure is a relief in any disaster situation. (Who doesn’t love a good shower?)
The cots that we are sleeping on and the trailers that we are showering in are the same as those used in disaster relief efforts. The difference, of course, is that we have all our possessions (the stuff we could fit in a suitcase under 50 lbs.) and intact homes to return to.
Our situation is temporary. For victims of Hurricane Harvey, though, the disaster continues.
The shower trailers, cots, crowded conditions (nearly 200), and food lines are a good remind of the reason we are here.
Today (Monday), we’ll get a first look at what is left to do and how we can help.
Ah….but, back to our day off.
First stop for the Behrend ASB group was the NASA Johnson Space Center, so the engineering students could geek out and the rest of us could be seriously awed by the history and future of space travel.
More than a few times I found myself standing with a member of our group, slack-jawed at the technology, flight memorabilia, and accomplishments of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) since it was established by the United States government in 1958.
NASA occupies 1,620 acres southeast of downtown Houston, in the Clear Lake area of Texas, and employs 3,200 people, more than a few of them are Penn State Behrend, including flight director Mary Lawrence ’01, a mechanical engineering major.
Among the cool things we saw was how NASA viewed Hurricane Harvey from the International Space Station:


After spending about three hours at the space museum, we had lunch at a waterfront buffet and wandered around the wharf for a bit before journeying to downtown Houston to have a look at the city.

After a late dinner at a local Tex-Mex restaurant, we headed back to the church and our cots to prepare for our first day of work on hurricane cleanup.
We don’t know where we are going or what we are doing (We’ll learn that after breakfast), but we’re sure it will be both hard and rewarding work.

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Students Will Spend Spring Break Aiding in Hurricane Cleanup


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

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









Marketing students to explore buyer behavior for Sprint

By Heather Cass
Publications and Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

This semester, students in Dr. Mary Beth Pinto’s MKTG 344 Buyer Behavior class will have a unique opportunity to work on a collaborative research project with a leading wireless telecommunications company, and it is all thanks to one of the first classes that Pinto ever taught three decades ago at the University of Maine.

Pinto made a strong impression on student Mark Nachman who recalls that Pinto was a “highly engaged” professor who kept her classes fun and relevant. “The things she taught were applicable, not just theory,” he said.

So when Nachman, who is now a regional president for Sprint, covering Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, was looking for a new regional marketing director, he thought of Pinto, professor of marketing, and connected with her on LinkedIn.

“I was looking for a young person with fresh perspectives and cutting-edge ideas who would not be afraid to take risks,” he said. “I thought: ‘What better way to get an inside track on recent marketing graduates than to reach out to a few professors?’”


Mark Nachman, regional president for Sprint

Pinto happily supplied Nachman with several leads, and then opened the door on other ways Sprint could get involved at Behrend, including offering internships, participating in a “Corporate Day” at the Black School of Business (where representatives can meet directly with students about internship and career opportunities), and engaging students in doing research work for the company.

“I suggested he think about any ways he could put upper-level marketing students to work doing a hands-on project for Sprint,” she said.

Nachman didn’t have to think about it for long. He knew that, despite substantial investment in technology and cell towers in the Erie region, Sprint had been struggling to gain market share in the area among its key demographic (18 to 25 year olds), but he didn’t know why.

This spring, he’ll have forty-plus MKTG 344 Buyer Behavior students on the case.

Students will work in small teams using a variety of marketing strategies, including market analysis, focus groups, personal interviews, and more, to learn more about the perceptions, attitudes, and cell-phone provider preferences among Sprint’s target demographic in the Erie area.

“This is real market research for an actual client,” Pinto said. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity for these students to get hands-on experience and put some of the things they’ve been learning into practice.”


Dr. Mary Beth Pinto, professor of marketing

Students will also assess current Sprint promotions in the Erie area and, based on the team’s research findings, offer recommendations and develop “guerrilla” marketing plans that can be used to boost Sprint’s profile and users in the region.

Guerrilla marketing is an advertising strategy that focuses on low-cost unconventional marketing tactics that yield maximum results. The original term was coined by Jay Conrad Levinson in his 1984 book Guerrilla Advertising.

The top six teams will present their work to a team of executives from Sprint in April.

Nachman can’t wait to learn what they discover.

“I’m super fired up about this collaboration,” he said. “I love the whole concept and the grass-roots initiative of this project. I anticipate the students will come up with ideas that could be implemented nationwide at Sprint.”

Nachman has invested both time and money in the project. He and other Sprint executives will be on campus for the kickoff and final presentations and Sprint will be providing each student with Sprint T-shirts and demo phones so that they can be familiar with the company’s products and services.

“When I was a college student, I remember sometimes feeling disappointed and empty as I jumped through hoops and did research that was all theory,” he said. “This exercise will be entirely tangible and executable. If I were still a student, I’d find that inspiring and motivating.”

It bears noting that the college-age researchers are themselves in Sprint’s target demographic. Who better to find out what 18-24 year olds think about a company and product than their own friends and peers?

“Young adults are influencers, especially when it comes to technology decisions,” Nachman said. “They are intentionally and unintentionally steering their parents and friends on products and services daily.”

The same could be said for Pinto, whose influence on Nachman thirty years ago has clearly led to opportunities for Penn State Behrend students today.


Sprint executives will be on campus on January 12 for the class project kickoff and will participate in a “Corporate Day” at the Black School of Business. Sprint representatives will be in the Clark Café to talk with students about internship and job opportunities and, at 4:00 p.m., Nachman will be giving a talk about “Warrior Leadership” in the Black Conference Room at Burke Center. Nachman’s presentation is free and open to all.



Students create blankets for NICU babies


By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

When Ashley Sullivan, assistant professor of early childhood education at Penn State Behrend, suggested that students in two of her spring 2016 classes plan a community service project, one idea was top of mind for Karlie Aschenbrenner.

Aschenbrenner, a sophomore Elementary and Early Childhood Education major from Pittsburgh, thought of the concept behind Brady’s Blankets, a program of the Fairfield, CT, children’s non-profit Brady’s Smile, which provides homemade fleece blankets to babies and children in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

“This was the one idea that really made so much sense,” Aschenbrenner said. “If we all donated $5, we would be able to purchase fabric to make tie blankets. We could then donate the blankets to babies in the NICU.”

The students voted on the service project ideas, and Aschenbrenner’s suggestion was the clear winner.

Every student in both Sullivan’s Instruction in Early Childhood Education Derived from Development Theories and Competing Rights: Issues in American Education courses donated $5 each to participate in the project. They spent their last day of class cutting and tying to create 75 blankets, which were donated to Brady’s Smile and then sent to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Aschenbrenner was not the only student with whom the cause resonated.

“The children that we’re donating these blankets to could eventually become the kids that we’re going to teach, so just giving them a better chance to thrive and survive can mean a lot,” said Madison McFeely, a first-year Elementary and Early Childhood Education major from North East.

In addition to creating the blankets, Sullivan’s students volunteered at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania where they packed more than 200 food boxes to distribute to local seniors.

“As future teachers, I think all of us really appreciate these causes,” said Gionna Fonseca, a sophomore Elementary and Early Childhood Education major from Pittsburgh. “It was really nice to see that big pile of blankets sitting there.”

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Makers Engineer Ornaments, Fun


By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

The upcoming holiday season offers the perfect distraction for stressed-out students. In this last week of classes, we found plenty of holiday cramming going on with every area from Housing and Food Services to Student Activities to the School of Engineering fitting in some festive merrymaking before things get serious with Finals Week next week.

Wednesday evening, a dozen students gathered in an electrical lab in Burke 145 to munch holiday treats and craft acrylic LED ornaments with Dr. Chris Coulston, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Students first drew snowflakes on computers using CorelDraw and added any text they wanted before sending their creations to the laser printer to be cut out of acrylic. Then, they used soldering irons, wire, LED lights, and batteries to make their snowflakes glow.

Though the Makers group meets fairly regularly, Coulston refrains from calling it a club.

“It’s more like a gathering of like-minded makers,” he says. “I just invite students to show up and make something. It gives them an opportunity to try some of the tools we have, like the laser cutter and soldering equipment.”

Ultimately, though, it’s about encouraging critical thinking and creativity, which are key concepts for engineering students to grasp.

“We try to come up with things that challenge them or make them look at things in a slightly different way,” Coulston said. “For instance, before Thanksgiving, we made LED hot dogs. Who’d have thought you could light up a hot dog?”


While there may be no practical application for glowing frankfurters, there is certainly a demand for people with the creativity, technological skills, and theoretical knowledge to use ordinary objects in a truly unique way.

While the majority of those who attend Coulston’s Maker gatherings are engineering students, he welcomes all students and faculty members.

“I’d love to have some artists and scientists join us, too,” he said. “The more, the merrier. They’d probably have some really cool ideas.”

Coulston brought a special guest to Wednesday’s gathering, his pug, Shiloh, dressed in her holiday best.

“Anyone can get a picture with Santa, but where else can you get a photo with Santa Pug?” he says with a smile.

Just like an engineer, always looking to improve the original product.

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