A Capella Engagement at Tone-Acious Concert

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

According to the program handed out before the Tone-Acious concert in late April, the student a capella group was going to sing seven songs.

But after performing those songs for the nearly-full audience in Reed 117, instead of taking a bow, members of the group lowered a viewing screen on the stage and announced a surprise final song.

As they launched into God Only Knows by The Beach Boys, a slideshow of images from the last year of Tone-Acious’ concerts and activities played on the screen. The audience laughed and smiled at club members hamming it up for the camera.

Then, it got weird. Literally. The slideshow contained the words: “And now things get strange…” What followed were a series of photos of a little boy and girl, then a slightly older boy and girl, then a teenage boy and girl.

Eventually it dawned on the confused audience that it was the same boy and girl. Yet, they didn’t seem to be members of Tone-Acious.

It all made sense a few moments later when the adult version of the boy in the photos pulled the adult version of the girl in the photos onto the stage and dropped to one knee.

She said yes.

Well, sort of.

“I was so surprised that I could only nod with tears running down my face,” said Lexie Gee, the bride-to-be.


Gee met her future husband, Christian Olson, a mechanical engineering technology major at Penn State Behrend, in preschool. By middle school, the Warren-Pennsylvania, natives were a couple. They’ve been dating for nearly six years.


Olson arranged the surprise engagement with Tone-Acious member Ashley Meyer.

“I wanted to do something music-related and showy, but I was lacking in the number of musically-talented friends to help me, so I talked to Ashley about involving Tone-Acious.”

God Only Knows is a song we both loved from our high school choir days,” Olson said. “So that’s the song I asked them to sing for us.”

Gee had no idea Olson was planning to propose. “When the pictures of us came up on the screen, I was caught off guard.”

Her family, including her sister, who is a Penn State Behrend student and was in the audience that evening, was not. Gee’s father supplied the ring.

“It’s a beautifully engraved ring that had been my mother’s when my father proposed to her, so it’s very special to me,” Gee said. “My family is ecstatic about our engagement. They’ve known for months and were having trouble keeping it from me.”

Olson and Gee are planning a July 13, 2019, wedding in their hometown of Warren.

acapella engagement


Curiosity leads to opportunity for nursing student

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


Efua Crentsil, senior nursing major

Has your curiosity ever led you down a rabbit hole? It starts with reading something online and then you have a question, so you open another browser window and Google it. Next thing you know, you’ve lost forty-five minutes of your life researching how almonds grow (on trees!) or how spiders survive winter in northern states (in eggs!).

An inquisitive mind is an asset for students when it’s channeled toward topics in their field of study. A need to know more can lead to opportunity.

It did for Efua Crentsil, a senior nursing major, whose interest in a class project spilled into independent summer research work, which led to an invitation to present her work at two different industry events.

Crentsil, a native of Ghana, began researching whether nurses preferred to work with nurse practitioners or with physicians and what impact that had on their job satisfaction for her NURS 200W Principles of Nursing Research and Evidence-Based Practice class. The project piqued her interest and she continued working on it after the class was over.

“I wanted to know more and look deeper at the subject,” she said. “Dr. Alison Walsh (assistant teaching professor of nursing) had been asking if any nursing students wanted to develop a research project, so I told her I’d be interested.”

Walsh says Crentsil exceeded expectations. “She took her evidence-based class project and continued to develop it into a systematic review—Job Satisfaction in Registered Nurses: The Effect of Working with Nurse Practitioners Compared to Physicians.”

While Crentsil did not receive academic credit for her research work, she was rewarded with an invitation to present her work at the Annual Scientific Sessions of the Eastern Nursing Research Society in New Jersey.


That invitation, in turn, led to a second opportunity to speak at UPMC Hamot Hospital’s Research Symposium in Erie where Crentsil won the Student Award for her work, which came with a $250 education scholarship.


Crentsil said she used existing data from four online databases to do her research work, but that next she would like to collect her own research data.

“I did informal polling and observation while I did an internship at The Cleveland Clinic this summer, but I primarily relied on existing data,” she said.

Crentsil said her research showed an 80/20 percent split with the majority of nurses reporting higher job satisfaction working with nurse practitioners than with physicians.

“This was mostly due to communication,” she said. “Nurses felt that nurse practitioners listened to them more and gave them more independence and respect. Those who reported higher satisfaction in working with physicians said they preferred doctors because they tended to be straight to the point, more confident, and more knowledgeable than nurse practitioners.”

Crentsil has reason to be interested in nurse practitioners and research: She sees both as potential career paths.

“I wanted to be a nurse practitioner, but now I’m considering being a nursing researcher because if institutions can see why they should make changes, they’re more likely to do so,” she said. “The research has to be done first.”

Crentsil, who graduates on Friday with a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing and a minor in women’s studies, is currently considering several job offers. She plans to stay in the United States for a few years and return to graduate school after she gains nursing experience.

Crentsil is a recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarship, the Penn State Behrend Chancellor Scholarship, and a Special International Grant-in-Aid (SIGIA). “I am so thankful,” she said. “I truly would not be here if not for this financial support.”

Game on: Students Make Connections at Conference

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

GDC 20182

For the past five years, students enrolled in GAME 495: Senior Internship have had the opportunity to attend the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco. Eight Penn State Behrend students and two faculty members recently returned from this year’s conference which was held in late March.

GDC is the world’s largest professional game industry event. There, students join game designers, programmers, artists, producers, and business professionals for five days of education, inspiration, and networking in the global game development community.

“Students are exposed to the game industry from the inside, get a chance to talk to professionals, and make connections that are invaluable as they set course for their own career in the game industry,” said Dr. Heather Lum, assistant professor of psychology.

Students who attended the GDC were not only from the School of Engineering, but also Psychology majors from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences who are in the human factors track, which focuses on user interface and user experience.

Lum was a GDC trip leader along with Dr. Richard Zhao, assistant professor of computer science and software engineering.

“The students who went to the GDC are enrolled in the interdisciplinary minor in Game Development,” Zhao said. “While we can teach students the technical and artistic skills needed to design and develop games in other classes, GAME 495 provides students the opportunity to showcase their product and interact with the world in a way that a traditional classroom is never able to.”

One good example: face-to-face networking with industry insiders at the GDC.

“I met a user experience analyst, which is my chosen field, from my favorite gaming company, Blizzard,” said Tiffany Eichler, a senior Psychology major. “We have been e-mailing since the conference and it has been so enlightening. I have learned a lot about the industry and why psychology has a place in it. He shared with me the best time to apply for an internship with Blizzard, so I am biding my time until I can get my name in there.”

“Students who have attended GDC in previous years have gotten internships and job offers from companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and others,” Lum said.

Prior to the trip, students in GAME 495 write and practice their elevator pitches, create resumes and business cards, and learn how to get noticed and have a meaningful conversation with professional contacts, including alumni.

“We had a chance to meet up with some Penn State Behrend graduates who are now working on the west coast,” Lum said.

Students who attended the GDC trip included, Computer Science majors: Cole Trexler, Matt Benkart, Jordon Torunian, and Morgan Farabaugh; Software Engineering majors, Frank Corso, Joe Craig, and Richard Shultz; and Psychology majors, Tiffany Eichler and Donald Fromknecht.

GDC 20181

Puerto Rico Trip Sheds Light on Island Still Recovering from Hurricane

Andrea Konkol, associate director of admissions at Penn State Behrend, recently returned from Puerto Rico, an island still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Maria, which tore through the Caribbean six months ago. Hurricane Maria was the worst natural disaster to ever hit Puerto Rico and is responsible for at least 112 confirmed deaths. Some people are still missing. The death toll in Puerto Rico is believed to be much higher than reported, possibly more than 1,000. The hurricane wrought catastrophic damage to the island, with much of the housing and infrastructure beyond repair. Total losses from the hurricane are estimated at upwards of $91.61 billion. We asked Konkol to share what she saw while she was in Puerto Rico attending College Week in the Caribbean.

Andrea Konkol web photo.jpg

By Andrea Konkol

Associate director of admissions, Penn State Behrend

College Week in the Caribbean is a weeklong series of high school visits and college fairs coordinated by the Caribbean Counselor Association (CCA), a group of college and school counselors based in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I traveled with representatives from twelve other college and universities. This was my twelfth College Week since 2011. Students in Puerto Rico have only a few options for college on the island and many are looking to go to the mainland United States to pursue new and different opportunities.

I was apprehensive about traveling this year because I wondered what the condition of the islands would be like post-Hurricane Maria.

I was surprised by how green everything was when I looked out over the landscape. If you saw pictures of Puerto Rico after the hurricane, you know that the landscape and trees were stripped bare and appeared totally brown. Mother Nature can regenerate at fantastic rate! (Check out this slideshow with then and now photos of Puerto Rico).

There are certainly bruises on the infrastructure, though. Buildings with boarded-up windows, twisted and bent street signs, and the occasional out-of-order street light were all things I witnessed.

For the most part, though, life seems to be back to somewhat normal conditions. People go to work and to school. Life has gone on. As I reflect on my week, I am struck by one thought: the people living on these islands are incredibly resilient!

I should say that our travels did not take us directly into the hardest hit areas that are, by many accounts, still without water or power. I was mostly in the San Juan metro area.

However, we did spend one day traveling southwest of San Juan, to Ponce. The drive took us through the central mountains of the island. It was hard to miss the telltale bright blue FEMA tarps that dotted the hillsides and marked homes damaged by the storm. Again, the greenness of the mountains was astonishing! Both people and nature were hard at work rebuilding.

My hotel appeared to be serving as some kind of logistics center for the island’s power restoration efforts. Early in the morning and late in the evening, the elevators were filled with electrical line workers. I spoke with one gentleman from Con Edison who lived in New Jersey. He had been on the island for more than a month and was also on the island for the month of November. He asked if I was on vacation. I wish! When I told him I was a recruiter for Penn State, he told me he had a 17-year-old looking at colleges. “Keep Penn State in mind!” I said as he exited the elevator. As admissions recruiters we are always working to recruit our next student, even in elevators!

We visited eighteen schools in Puerto Rico and two in St. Thomas during our five days of recruiting. School counselors consistently told us it was a tough year. Maria hit just as students were applying to colleges for fall admission. Yet, they told stories of students and neighbors helping each other. They shared a few scarce Wi-Fi hot spots with friends so they could complete their college applications. Several schools greeted us with cheers when we arrived. Students in Puerto Rico are hungry for college information.

My time in Puerto Rico often reminds me why I love my job. I like to think higher education is the business of changing lives. While I hope some of the students I spoke with will explore Penn State further, perhaps the most important thing they learn from College Week is that a college education is possible and opportunities abound.

PR blog4

Andrea Konkol, right, at the the big public college fair. The other woman in the picture with Konkol is Glendalys Millan, mother of one of our current students Paola Maldonado-Millan.  Konkol said Millan graciously volunteered to help her at the fair because the Penn State table tends to be so busy.

PR Blog 3

Students at Academy San Jose.

PR blog 2

The San Juan skyline.

PR blog1

Oustside the American Military Academy in Puerto Rico.


ASB 2018 – Texas – Day 7 (final day)

Last week, twenty-four students and four advisers from Penn State Behrend participated in an Alternative Spring Break service trip to Beaumont, Texas. The group helped 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 was 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

group photo  cropped.jpg

On the evening of Thursday, March 8, we were finally able to have an All Penn State gathering, bringing together all of the Penn State students from all six campuses who were at the church working on homes in Texas.

It’s no easy feat to corral more than 100 students, but Kelli Dowd, program coordinator, service and leadership, from University Park, is no stranger to working with hundreds of students.

She started with a WE ARE…chant, then she and an adviser from each of the other campuses tossed Penn State ASB T-shirts to everyone. After the t-shirts were distributed, we all participated in an hour or so of icebreaker activities and group games.

Following the all Penn State meeting, the Penn State Behrend group held their final Reflections meeting and gave strict instructions for all students to be in the meeting room at 6:45 a.m. with luggage in hand, for an 11 a.m. flight.

The drive to Houston is about 90 minutes from Beaumont, though we neglected to figure in much cushion time for traffic. That nearly did us in, but the roads cleared just in time for all of us to make it to the gate with about 5 minutes to spare.

I asked some of the Penn State Behrend students on the trip to share their top takeaway from this year’s ASB experience. Here’s what they had to say:

“Everyone needs realize that everything is not fine in Houston and that even eight months after the hurricane, there are still houses that have not even been touched since the hurricane hit. I learned that even the smallest things we do for these people can still make a huge difference. Putting a smile on these homeowners’ faces is the greatest feeling you can imagine.” — Priya Patel, Nursing major

“My biggest take away from ASB is that there is no act too small when it comes to helping someone. Whether you’re ripping out a sink, taking down some drywall, or just simply taking the time to talk to someone, you are making a difference in their life. And as much as we give to the people we help, we truly get so much more from them.” — Kelly Miller, Mechanical Engineering major

“My biggest takeaway from this trip is how a group of people from various backgrounds came together to accomplish one thing—to serve others. We came together as strangers, and we are now leaving as friends by having this common goal.” — Ashlyn Kelly, Chemistry major

“The homeowners in southeastern Texas still have a long road a head of them and they know that, but it’s just remarkable how thankful they were for the help. I wouldn’t trade these lifelong memories and lessons from this trip for anything.” — Brianna Riley, Accounting and Management Information Systems major

“Alternative Spring Break is the kind of trip that you know will change your life, but you can’t even begin to understand how you will be impacted until you’re experiencing it. It’s the kind of trip that allows us to learn so much about others, but teaches us about ourselves at the same time. In summary, ASB 2018 was a trip of passion, kindness, growth, and success.” — Emily Archer, Elementary and Early Childhood Education major

“The biggest thing I learned this ASB Trip was that no matter how seemingly small a task, if it is done to support another, it will have meaning to somebody.  Also, you don’t need to be a part of a church or volunteer group to volunteer.  You just need a little heart.” — Angelica “Squeaks” Miller, Mechanical Engineering major

ASB 2018 – Texas – Day 6

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

Thursday, March 8 was Penn State Behrend’s last Alternative Spring Break workday. It was bittersweet as we all missed our families and home (and our soft, comfy beds), but we didn’t want the adventure to end.

And, there is still so much work to be done in the Beaumont, Texas, area.


This is Miss Chandra Jones. She is the owner of the final house in Port Arthur, Texas, that my team worked on (Chris Harben’s team had been there earlier in the week). When Miss Jones learned that I was a writer she told me to take her picture and tell her story so that people know the hurricane damage is not all cleaned up and that “folks is still suffering down here.”

Miss Jones was in a catch-22. She couldn’t apply for federal assistance in repairing her home until it was gutted, but couldn’t gut it herself and couldn’t afford to pay anyone to do it.

Enter Operation Blessing and service-minded students on Alternative Spring Break.

Our task at Miss Jones’ house that day was to gut her kitchen. Our goal was to finish that, then turn her electric and water back on and move her appliances back into the kitchen area so she could prepare meals. We did not want to leave her without an operational kitchen.

But, the moment we set foot in the kitchen, stepping on spongy floors, we knew that probably wasn’t going to happen. Whatever was below the linoleum was wet and rotted. It turned out to be particle board and some sort of plastic underlay with more (rotted) wood below.


We gutted the walls and removed the lower cabinets and counter (they had all be under water and had to go), tore up all but the last layer of flooring. There were plumbing and gas issues along the way. There was a brief break while we waited for the gas company to check out a suspected leak.

All the while, team members spent time on the porch, taking turns talking with Miss Jones. She was entertaining and smart. Intuitive and gregarious. She has two grown children: a son who works 16-hour days and was living in the house with her and a daughter who is a school teacher. The daughter has been begging her mom to leave her house and live with her.


Miss Jones did live with her daughter for several months after the flood, but she felt like the landlord didn’t want her there and she just wanted to live in her own home. She had paid her little home off just before Hurricane Harvey blew in and wrecked everything.

Most of the houses across the street from her are still boarded up. She said nobody has ever returned to at least three of them. “They just left,” she said.

It occurred to me that every person my team helped this week (with the exception of the day at the animal shelter), was an elderly person or a single mother. It’s our most vulnerable populations that are left struggling — they can’t fix it alone and they don’t have the ability to flee. So they are living in moldy homes with rotten floors and walls and almost no furniture as that was tossed after the flooding.

At least three times, I had to walk away from the job site to hide tears.

One of those times was late in the day after higher ups at Community Collaborations International had stopped by to check on our progress and told us there was no way we would be able to make the kitchen functional that day and that Miss Jones had to be told her house was inhabitable.


One of the students, Emily Archer, had formed a special bond with Miss Jones that day, and she volunteered to deliver the news to Miss Jones and her son.

Her son understood. He said that he had told his mother she should not be living there, but was that she wouldn’t listen to him.

She listened to Emily, whose strength, kindness, empathy, and compassion brought me to tears (again). Miss Jones agreed to temporarily move to her daughter’s house until her kitchen floor and plumbing issues could be resolved by CCI and Operation Blessing.

“I see what you did,” she said, waggling a finger at all of us. “Sending this one out here to talk to me,” as she pointed to Emily. “You know we had a special bond, me and this one. That’s why you sent her out here to talk to Miss Jones.”

Guilty as charged. But Emily wanted to tell her because she cared. We all did. We all wished we could take Miss Jones home with us.

As we worked throughout the day, Miss Jones sat on the porch and made a point of getting to know each one of us, even the ones like me who tried to sneak by.

“What are you?” she called out to me as I carried part of her kitchen cabinet to the curb.  “Are you a professor at that college?” she asked me.

“No, I’m a writer for the college,” I said.

“You a writer?! You need to write my story then. Tell them people is still living like this down here.”

“I will, Miss Jones. I promise I’ll tell your story to anyone who will listen.”

Before we left, we asked for a photo with her on the porch of her little periwinkle home. She was happy to oblige and stood in the middle wearing a scarf that another Operation Blessing volunteer had knitted for her.


She hugged each one of us tightly, and at one point exclaimed, “OOhh, youu all smell like money. I bet you all living in mansions back home in Pennsylvania.”

We don’t. But compared to her, we do.

As I helped tear out Miss Jones’ kitchen floor that day, my husband was laying a new one in our living room in Pennsylvania. He texted me some photos. I glanced at them as I stood in Miss Jones’ destroyed kitchen, a hole to the dirt ground within my field of vision.  And I teared up again. I have so much, and she has so little and I don’t know what to do about that.

So we did what we could for Miss Jones and we got the job site ready for the professionals to do their part next. There are at least two more weeks of spring break student volunteers arriving to help.  I hope she’ll be back in her home and eligible for assistance in rebuilding by early April. She told us she could reapply with FEMA then.

Here is how the other Penn State Behrend ASB teams spent their final workday in Texas:

  • Will Taylor’s team volunteered at the local Salvation Army, helping with organizing and inventory.
  • Chris Harben’s team worked on gutting a home and removing debris.
  • Chris Fox’s team worked at a home in the morning, but were done early and returned to the church to help cleanup after 200 volunteers (no easy job!)

Tomorrow, in my final ASB trip post, I will tell you about the all Penn State activities/gathering we had on Thursday evening, our travel home, and relay some final reflections from Penn State Behrend students who participated in this year’s ASB trip.

~ Heather

This slideshow requires JavaScript.








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


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:





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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.