Business Etiquette Still Matters in 2023

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By Hope Robbins

Contributing Writer

If you want to stand out in the corporate world, brush up on your business etiquette.

“It will be the skill that sets people apart in the professional world,” said Eric Robbins, associate teaching professor of finance and associate director of corporate outreach and research for Penn State Behrend’s Black School of Business. “The people who will rise to the surface are those with good soft skills for virtual meetings, email communications, and in-person interactions.”

That’s why, Robbins, with help from Phil Stuczynski, assistant teaching professor of finance, and Carol Peterson, co-curricular programs coordinator, put together “Make the Fork Be With You,” a business etiquette dinner that included a presentation on the importance of professional etiquette and communication.

Speakers at the event were George Emanuele, senior director of Global Investments for BNY Mellon, and Ann Scott, community outreach manager for Erie Insurance. Thirty Behrend students attended as well as sixteen alumni who were invited to network with the students.

According to Emanuele, it isn’t a question of whether or not you need business etiquette; it’s something that should innately encompass 100 percent of your job. He stressed the importance of many daily factors in business etiquette, such as the “sundown rule,” (that is, responding to emails within 24 hours).

Scott also talked about the maintenance of etiquette and how unprincipled table manners can distract from the subject of a company dinner. Everything that you do (for example, writing emails, wearing professional attire, and behaving appropriately at networking events and business lunches) is a representation of your employer.

If you don’t raise yourself to meet that professional bar, metaphorically speaking, Emanuele stated, “You’ll be stuck in a back-office position, and you will never see a front-end client.” For anyone seeking to rise in the ranks of the company they are a part of, this poses a professional risk and should be a call to action.

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Why is the concept of behaving respectfully and engagingly in a professional environment becoming harder for the younger generation to understand? Scott said she thinks it is a byproduct of emerging from COVID-19.

“A lot of people haven’t been able to utilize their interpersonal skills in person,” Scott said, which inspires “a lack of confidence among the younger generation.” Making a phone call, for example, may seem more intimidating than sending an email or communicating online.

One of Scott’s pet peeves is seeing people at networking events gathered in groups with others they already know rather than fulfilling the purpose of being there: networking, or as she calls it, “making new friends!”

Emanuele and Robbins both say that business etiquette is becoming a lost art and there is a contentious device (literally) behind the decline in professionalism: cell phones. According to Robbins, a new generation of employees has become accustomed to “short bursts of unprofessional communication that are typed rather than spoken” via texting and online posting. This has led to a decline in professional phrasing, creating a causal conversation style that is less than business appropriate.

Another reason business etiquette skills may be less common today? Scott said it might be a lack of practice with in-person communication, a byproduct of COVID. And along with becoming accustomed to more casual conversation, our sense of personal presentation has adjusted into a more comfortable routine.

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While there are many nuances to business etiquette, Scott summed it up with a single rule to thumb: “The basics of etiquette is to make other people feel comfortable and confident.” The only way to succeed in this is to make yourself comfortable and confident in any professional situation.

Hope Robbins is a junior majoring in Digital Multimedia Design at Penn State World Campus.

10 takeaways from “Make the Fork Be With You”

  • Do not overshare or make the conversation all about you.
    • Find common ground when networking – vacations, hobbies, etc. Have a list of conversation starters.
  • Introduce and include others in conversation.
  • Stay positive – Do not complain or talk about co-workers.
  • Follow the lead of your host (in choosing your meal based on price, whether or not to order an alcoholic drink, and where you’re seated).
  • If seated, introduce yourself to everyone at the table.
  • Look for ways to give, help, share in a conversation.
  • Demonstrate good table manners – Avoid ordering “messy” foods, eating too quickly, and putting your napkin on your chair if you leave it.
  • Respect everyone, including the staff serving you.
  • Follow up after the event, reference something specific from your conversation.

Secret Lives of Faculty: Ricardo Estremera, home remodeler and Olympic-level athlete

There’s so much more to Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members than what you see them doing on campus. In this occasional series, we take a look at some of the interesting, unconventional, and inspiring things that members of our Behrend community do in their free time. 

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


What’s an Olympic-level runner to do when he is injured and can’t work out and the entire country is taking a pandemic pause? How does a guy who runs sub-4-minute-miles survive being stuck at home for months?

He flips.

A house.

Trading in his racing flats for a tool belt, Ricardo Estremera, 36, assistant teaching professor of Spanish, and his wife, Sherez Mohamed, a professor of Spanish and linguistics at Mercyhurst University in Erie, invested in a fixer-upper and got to work.

“We figured it would keep me busy,” said Estremera, who was training for a spot on the Puerto Rico Olympic steeplechase team when Achille’s tendon issues forced a layoff.

The couple had their work cut out for them. The house, while solidly built, needed an entire interior overhaul.


“The home was built in the 1890s, and I think cats have been peeing in it since 1891,” Mohamed wrote in a post on the Instagram page—The Professors Flip—that the couple started to document the progress of turning a $33,000 stinker into a sparkling, modern home on a tight budget.

Estremera approached the job with all the energy and enthusiasm he would have spent at the track, as did Mohamed who did her share of the remodeling, renovating, and restoration work, too.  Estremera learned his handyman skills as a reluctant teenage helper to his father, repairing things around their home in Puerto Rico.

“When you’re a kid, parents make you do things and you hate it, but you end up learning a lot,” he said. “I didn’t like having to help fix things back then, but I love it now. Going to Home Depot is a good day for me.”

As soon as they closed on the house, they began a to-the-studs overhaul and transformed it into a modern home with an open concept. (See  photos on Instagram. Click on the “Before and After” story.)

“The first house was an experiment to see if we could do it,” Estremera said. “We learned a lot. It’s amazing what you can figure out watching YouTube tutorials.”

Given the results, they decided to renovate another home – a duplex, which they are now renting out.

Being landlords wasn’t in the original plan for Estremera and Mohamed. It’s more of an altruistic endeavor than a business for them.

“We decided we wanted to provide beautiful, affordable housing for people in Erie,” he said. “The city has lots of old houses with charm that are not taken care of, and the landlords don’t seem to care. We do. We will take care of our properties and renters.”

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Behrend Blog caught up with Estremera after he wrapped up a morning workout (yes, he’s back in training) to learn more about his life off campus.

What are the things you’re looking for when you’re investing in a new property?

We are very patient and look for deals in neighborhoods that are in the sweet spot. For example, houses in one area of Erie might be $130,000, but if you go a few blocks in any direction, you can find them for $60-$70,000. We are looking for residential areas where we can find a bargain, fix it up, and improve the community.

We also look at what the home needs, especially if there are any big-ticket improvements needed, such as a roof, electric, furnace, chimney or foundation repairs. These things are not deal-breakers, but we need to factor that in and make sure the renovation will pay off.

How many properties have worked on?

Our first was the home we live in. Then, we did the duplex, and we just bought another house.

So, you don’t actually “flip” them?

No. We learned that it’s actually very hard to make money flipping houses. The more time you spend doing it, the less cost effective it is.

Do you do all the home renovation work yourselves?

Most of it, yes. I enjoy the challenge, and it’s cost-effective to do the work yourself. Neither of us love painting, but it’s expensive to hire someone to do it, so we paint to save that money for other things, such as electrical work.

What have you learned the hard way?

Old houses are not square.

What are your top tips for anyone who might want to do what you do?

Do your research, shop around, and negotiate. I do a lot of research when we are looking for a new property, contractor or appliances/materials. I know how much things should cost. We shop around, even when looking for a bank loan, and we negotiate. My wife is an expert negotiator.

Switching gears, how is the running going? Are you injury-free now?

I am injury-free now, but I have found that it’s hard to stay in shape over winter in Erie due to the lack of indoor facilities. A treadmill is fine for a regular run, but not when you’re doing fast-paced training and I cannot run hurdles until at least April, so I’m months behind my competition. My plan is to train for longer distance (half marathon) in the fall and winter, then slowly shift to track season.

What are you training for now?

My end goal in the 2023 season is to wear my Puerto Rican jersey at the Central American and Caribbean Games (CAC Games) and Pan American Games.  After the 2023 season, I will retire from track and field and compete in road races, like 5k, 10k, 21k and 42k.

Do you train with anyone?

I wish that I could. It’s hard to find partners who can run my pace. I do my hard workouts at a sub-4:00 to 4:30 (minutes per mile) pace. A recovery day is a 5:45 to 6:30 pace. I do volunteer with Behrend’s track-and-field team, though.

When did you start running?

I was about 15 or 16 years old when I started running seriously. Before that, I was a competitive swimmer. I hated it, though. I only did it because my brothers did, so we all went. When I started running, I knew that it would be my ticket to college.  (Editor’s note: It was not only his ticket to college, but to a spot on the Puerto Rico Olympic team in the steeplechase. Read more about that here).

What do you enjoy about running?

It’s relaxing and it’s my time to think. I get a lot of work done while I’m running. I like to teach and then run because it gives me time to reflect on what went right, what went wrong, and what I might change.

Switching gears again…Why should students consider a Spanish minor?  

A second language is an asset to any field or major and will make you stand out. In a global world, being bilingual is beneficial. It also gives you the full experience when traveling abroad. It will open the doors to another world!

You are a full-time faculty member, a husband, a member of the Puerto Rico Olympic team, a volunteer with the college’s track team, and a Ph.D. candidate who renovates homes in his spare time. What do you say to students who don’t turn in their assignments on time?

(Laughs). I say: Do you have a better excuse than I might to not get your work done? But seriously, I tell them they need a plan. Look at your calendar and fill it in with your No. 1 priorities and things that can’t move, such as classes. Then, find the gaps in your schedule to fit in other things—a workout, lunch, a date, meal prep, etc. Time management is key to success.


Standout Seniors: Meet Laura Gil (BECON, IB, MIS)

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2022 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be introducing you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Laura Gil. 

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Majors: Business Economics, International Business and Management Information Systems

Hometown: Bogota, Colombia

Scholarships: Pathway to Success: Summer Start Scholarship, Erie Insurance Group Leadership Scholarship, PNC Leadership Scholarship, Benjamin A. and Carolyn A. Lane Open Doors Scholarship, and Pam and Greg Slusher Open Doors Scholarship.

On choosing her majors: My journey to three majors started when I saw the economic crisis that was happening in Venezuela and decided to major in Business Economics. After doing some research, I learned that there are many factors, even very small ones, that can affect a country’s economy, so I added International Business. Finally, I realized that I needed to understand how to better comprehend and portray data for other people to understand issues that happen globally, so I added Management Information Systems.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: Graduating with three majors in four years.

Campus involvement: Student Government Association, Multicultural Council, Global Boarders, and Global Ambassadors.

Awards and Recognitions: Behrend Excellence Award and the Ardeth and Norman Frisbey International Student Award, a Penn State award that recognizes undergraduate students who have contributed significantly to furthering international understanding.

What makes her unique: I am very organized and driven to learn more about what is happening around the globe.

Globe-hopping: I have traveled to more than ten countries already!

Top priority: Getting a doctoral degree.

Her passion: Learning about how we are all connected through data.

Advice for first-year students: Get involved and start networking early on!

On overcoming obstacles: As an international student, I have faced many challenges to get to where I am, but I never let any of those stop me from reaching my goals.

After graduation, Laura plans to attend graduate school and eventually earn a PhD.


Standout Seniors: Meet Mike Binni (Marketing)

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2022 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be introducing you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Mike Binni. 

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Major: Marketing

Hometown: Canonsburg, Pennsylvania

On choosing Behrend: I wanted the Penn State degree and experience, but with smaller class sizes. I’ve been able to form great relationships with all of my professors, which I don’t think would’ve been possible at a larger school.

On the many paths of Marketing: I chose my major because it is a diverse degree that offers a lot of potential career paths, from data analysis to social media management to graphic design to sales.

MVP on the mat: My proudest accomplishment at Behrend was being a two-time MVP on the varsity wrestling team.

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Penn State Behrend wrestling at UMU Invitational, Alliance, OH

He’s a people guy: I enjoy putting myself out there and talking to everyone.  I just love to hear about other peoples’ lives and experiences. I think my extroverted personality makes me a natural for a career in sales.

Highest priority in the coming years: First, I’d like to grow into an account managing role at Ansys Engineering Software Company, where I’ve accepted a sales position. Eventually, I want to move out of Pittsburgh for a couple of years, see the country, and learn more about who I am.

Priorities, part II: My definition of a good life would be retiring at a young age so that I can spend time with my family and friends, and do something I’m really passionate about, like helping others, teaching, or mentoring.

Advice for first-year students: Put yourself out there and go to events and join clubs. Stay an extra couple of minutes after class to connect with your professors. Also, enjoy your time in college; it goes much faster than you can imagine.

Mike has accepted a position as a sales development representative with Anysys Engineering Software Company in Canonsburg.

Standout Seniors: Meet Rebecca Abraham (Software Engineering)

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2022 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be introducing you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Rebecca Abraham: 


Major: Software Engineering

Hometown: Mumbai, India

On choosing her major: I have always aimed for a career in a STEM field. My parents and uncles all work in STEM.  In my senior year of high school, I did a computer science project and developed an interest in programming.

The best of both worlds: The individual work and teamwork involved in a software programming career appealed to my personality. Sometimes I enjoy thinking and working alone, and sometimes the energy and ‘joie de vivre’ of a team brings out the best in me. Hence software engineering, which offers the opportunity for both, was for me.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: There is no one single event. My whole journey at Behrend has been an uplifting experience for me. From being offered the Multi-Campus Research Experience for Undergraduates, a summer research program at University Park for students across the commonwealth campuses, to serving as president of South Asian Student Organization (SASO), life has been a series of happy accomplishments.

Campus involvement: I helped re-activate the SASO Club in 2021-2022 and was recently awarded the “Most Outstanding President of SASO” by the Multi-Cultural Council.

What people would be surprised to know about her: I look very serious, but I am fun loving.

What makes a good life good life: A good education, a strong support system made up of family and friends, my Catholic spirituality and mindfulness.

What she is passionate about: Learning, connecting, and software engineering.

Advice for first-year students: The primary focus should be to attain one’s undergraduate degree, but also remember to experience college life through friends and events on campus. Finally, do not feel pressured to belong to a group or ideology detrimental to healthy lifestyle choices.

After graduation, Rebecca plans to attend graduate school for a master’s degree in software engineering.

Standout Senior: Meet Danielle Kosslow (Mathematics and Secondary Education in Mathematics)

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2022 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be introducing you to a few of our remarkable seniors who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Danielle Kosslow: 

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Major: Dual major in Mathematics and Secondary Education in Mathematics

Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Scholarships: I have received the Chancellor’s Scholarship, Council of Fellows Leadership Scholarship, Riley Ride Alumni Scholarship, Schreyer Honors College Scholarship, and Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship.

On choosing Behrend: I felt right at home when I walked on campus. It feels like we are tucked away in our own little world. Also, the opportunities are endless. Because Behrend is a smaller school, it allowed me to develop great professional relationships with my professors, while also gaining life-long friends.

On choosing her major: I started at Behrend as a nursing major. It was a big switch to mathematics, but I love math and I have always loved working with people and helping others. So Secondary Math Education allowed me to do both. I added a Mathematics degree because I am a big nerd and math is a perfect fit for me, so why not?

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: I am on the Behrend volleyball team, so my proudest accomplishment here would have to be winning the AMCC championship twice and getting to participate in the NCAA D3 volleyball championships. I learned and played a new position, and made first-team, all-section, this year, which was just awesome. From an academic standpoint, my proudest accomplishment would have to be maintaining a 3.96 GPA while at Behrend.

Campus involvement: I am on the Behrend women’s volleyball team, the National College Athlete Honors Society (Chi Alpha Sigma), and the Math Club.

Awards and recognitions: I received the President’s Freshman Award, Academic All-AMCC, First Team All-Conference AMCC, Third Team All-Conference AMCC, and All-Academic AMCC.

What makes her unique: What sets me apart is that I am a student athlete, a dual major, a Noyce scholar, and I work at three different jobs at Behrend. I am involved in many different activities, and I juggle all of them while also having time to have some fun with friends.

What you’d be surprised to know about her: I think people would be surprised to know that I used to play the drums and had a full set at home.

Her passions: I am deeply passionate about contributing to teaching the next generation. I have loved every second of working with kids so far, and I am excited to continue. I am also extremely passionate about volleyball. It has been a part of my life for the past ten years, so it plays a significant role in my day-to-day schedule. I want to keep incorporating this sport in my life and plan to coach my own team. I volunteer as a coach every summer, so I would like to build on that.

Advice for first-year students: My main advice would be to just get involved in many different things. My freshman year I was shy and nervous about everything I did. As the years went on, the more involved I got, the more I grew as a person. If I had not forced myself to get involved around campus, I would not have made as many friends and had the same opportunities I have now. Study hard but make sure you have some fun. It goes quick and you never want to look back and say to yourself, “what if?”

After her graduation in May, Danielle plans to stay in Erie and teach mathematics in a high-needs school district.

Miniature artwork highlights big role of Lilley Library

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend


When Nancy Loker ’13 received a miniature model, “Sam’s Study,” for Christmas, she thought it looked like her workspace at Penn State Behrend’s John M. Lilley Library. So, when Loker, who works on the circulation desk at Lilley, put the model together, she decided to customize it with tiny details to highlight the services the college’s library provides.

Take a close look at the square-foot model, which is on display in the library now, and you’ll notice some familiar artwork, including a tiny bust of Moritz Behrend, a globe, plants, signage, and many other artifacts that can found in Lilley Library.

“When I could, I used real materials that we use in the library,” Loker said. “The boxes and packing paper in them are bits of materials that we use to ship and receive books. The paper covers on the books are exactly the kind you’ll find on interlibrary loaned books behind the circulation desk.”

There are plenty of bitty books on the model’s shelves to represent the stacks at Behrend, which include reference books, works of fiction, and even a children’s book section for the Elementary and Early Childhood Education majors. But, as anyone who has set foot in a library in the last twenty years knows, libraries are much more than books today. On the shelves, you’ll also find board games, newspapers, video games, movies, puzzles, and more.

A clipboard, markers and a bottle of water are meant to represent the many student workers, who often arrive for work with hydration in hand.

Next to the display is a list of the library’s services that are represented in the model. It’s like a tiny 3-D version of the “Look and Find” puzzle in the beloved Highlights children’s magazine.

Loker’s artwork is a small-scale reminder of the very big role that libraries, and librarians, play in the lives of college students.

This week, April 3-9, is National Library Week and the staff of Lilley Library will be celebrating with several activities, including a Board Game Day to highlight the library’s circulating game collection of games, and a Doodle/Adult Coloring Day to promote the library’s ongoing efforts to encourage students to find ways to relax, including taking study breaks for their mental health.

Additionally, library visitors will find a display of “staff picks”: books, movies, podcasts, games, and other media that help students discover new things, and maybe even connect to a staff member (“Hey, I love Star Trek, too!).

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Will Brake for Frogs, Salamanders, Newts, Spring Peepers….

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend


Why did the amphibian cross the road? To lay eggs on the other side.

The area around Penn State Behrend’s Advanced Manufactur­ing and Innovation Center (AMIC) in Knowledge Park is an amphibian’s paradise. Woods give way to marshy areas and small ponds, some tucked safely behind trees and shrubs, providing the perfect habitat for frogs, salamanders, and newts that live in woods but breed in water.

Each spring, a parade of am­phibians crosses Technology Drive and the AMIC parking lot to reach the ponds where they can lay their eggs. Many don’t make it, falling victim to vehicle traffic or plunging through the grates that cover road drainage tubes. Motorists passing by may not notice, but the faculty members and students in Behrend’s Biology program who study spotted salamanders do.

“Frankly, we’ve seen too many road-killed amphibians and egg-laden females stuck in the drains to not try to do something about it,” said Dr. Lynne Beaty, assistant professor of biology. “They’re not alone, though, as many wood frogs, red-spotted newts, and spring peepers also face those same hazards to reach breeding ponds in the spring.”

Beaty reached out to the college’s Maintenance and Operations (M&O) department with two solutions to mitigate the problem. One was to install “amphibian migration route” signs to encourage drivers to pay attention to amphibians on the asphalt. The second solution involves placing a mesh covering over the drains in the area to prevent small amphibians from falling through on their way to their breeding sites.

The signs, which were designed by senior Biology student Phoebe Will, are now installed, and a team of engineering students is working with M&O to create the mesh coverings for the drains.

“Our Maintenance and Operations group is always willing to help the college achieve its academic and research missions, especially when that involves protecting wildlife,” said Randy Geering, senior director of operations.

So, if you regularly travel Technology Drive, please go slow and keep an eye out for wildlife!


Secret Lives of Faculty: Dr. Dan Galiffa, tarantula enthusiast

There’s so much more to Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members than what you see them doing on campus. In this occasional series, we take a look at some of the interesting, unconventional, and inspiring things that members of our Behrend community do in their free time. 

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

Two of the most frightening things known to humans – advanced math and tarantulas – are some of Dr. Dan Galiffa’s favorite things. The associate professor of mathematics owns thirteen tarantulas and says the highly venomous spiders make great pets.

“They are one of cleanest and most fascinating animals,” Galiffa said, as his Honduran curlyhair “Curly” (Tliltocatl albopilosus), a thirteen-year-old tarantula about the size of his palm, slowly walks over and around his hand. “Each spider has a unique personality.”

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Dr. Dan Galiffa with two of his pet tarantulas

Rosalinda, a Chilean rose, was his first tarantula. Galiffa acquired her eight years ago and liked her so much that he has since gathered twelve more tarantulas, for a total of thirteen spiders of twelve different species, including greenbottle blue, Venezuelan sun tiger, Costa Rican zebra, Chilean copper, Mexican red knee, Arizona blonde, Brazilian salmon pink, Columbian giant red leg, and Mexican red rump.

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One of his most beautiful and exotic is Blue, a cobalt blue tarantula native to Myanmar and Thailand. As with most things in nature, the vibrant color is a warning.


“They’re high venomous, extremely fast-moving, and one of the most defensive species of tarantula,” he said. “Many people who own them don’t handle them.”

Galiffa does and said she is a calm and “sweet” spider. That said, he is always respectful of the spider’s space and temperament. No stranger to deep research, Galiffa has done his homework.

“I spend a lot of time learning about them, reading whatever I can find, including some scientific articles and papers that can be pretty specific,” he said. “But I actually did a lot of my mathematical research work in epidemiology, so I’m familiar with the biological science.”

There is much work to do in tarantula taxonomy. “Scientists are still learning a lot of basic things about them,” he said. “The classifications are still not solid.” He estimates there are more than 1,000 species of tarantulas and new discoveries lead to changes in taxonomy. “There are about 45,000 known spider species, in general,” he said.

We talked with Galiffa and Curly (though she was pretty quiet) to learn more about tarantulas and how they can sometimes serve as teaching aids.


What types of courses do you teach at Behrend?

The entire calculus sequence, differential equations, linear algebra, and other advanced math classes.

What is appealing to you about tarantulas?

They make really great pets. They are clean, quiet, easy to care for and they all have their own personalities. It is an exciting challenge to try and understand a species that is so far removed from humans. They communicate with their actions and behaviors.

Why do you think people are so afraid of spiders?

I think spiders get a bad rap. Anytime someone has an odd welt, and it has a visible hole, they call it a spider bite. I always ask the question, “Did you see the spider bite you?”  I’ve never had anyone say yes. More than likely, the injury was inflicted by a different insect. Spiders rarely bite unless they are directly threatened.

Where did you get your tarantulas?

I bought them at pet stores, online, and at exotic animal expos. A couple of them are rescues from people couldn’t care for them anymore.

What do they eat?

Worms, crickets, roaches. Basically, they eat anything alive that is smaller than they are. They only eat a few times a month.

You handle all of your tarantulas. Does each species feel different?

Oh, yes. The bristles can be soft, hard, very long, short, thick, or thin. Additionally, some tarantulas are much faster than others. Blue’s speed would blow you away. She could be on the other side of my office in seconds. The same is true of the Sun Tiger.

Are they venomous?

Yes, every one of them is venomous, but they are not aggressive. The venom is not all bad. It is used in some medicines, and it’s not lethal to humans.

What would happen if you got bit?

I have held my tarantulas thousands of times and have never been bitten. If someone were to get bitten, it would probably because they were careless in handling the spider.  In any event, there are two types of bites, dry and wet. A dry bite is a puncture wound from fangs. A wet bite is when the tarantula actually uses their venom. They rarely do that. They don’t even use venom when catching their prey unless it is absolutely necessary. A dry bite would be handled like any normal puncture wound with some antibiotic cream and a bandage. A wet bite should probably be seen by a doctor but, again, it’s rare and the venom is not lethal.

How long do they live?

Twenty to forty years with females living longer than males. I have eleven females and two males. When the males mature, they seek out females for mating and will die shortly after, so if a keeper has a male, it’s best to send him to a breeder after he matures.  I will have to do this with both of my males, and I’ll be very sad when that time comes. By the way, females can produce egg sacs with over 1,000 eggs!

You’ve used your tarantulas as teaching aids before in Behrend’s K-12 outreach programs. What do you teach with them?

There are many things we can teach with spiders – web strength and construction, genetics, population dynamics, gait analysis, and blood flow, which is quite fascinating in tarantulas since their blood flows through their entire body. They don’t have veins like humans do.

How can you use them to teach math modeling?

We can model them as predators and as prey. We can also study the genetic probability of obtaining certain variations of a given species using probabilistic models. For example, there are three forms of Chilean rose tarantulas – the gray, red, and pink color forms. My spider, Rosalinda, is gray form and Charlotte is a red form. The students in my workshops do a basic version of this very type of modeling and then get to see the differences in the color forms in my actual tarantulas.

Do you have any other pets?

I also have Madagascar hissing cockroaches and a skinny pig (hairless guinea pig) named Hamilton. I previously had two skinny pigs—Perry and Ty—who played games and did tricks.

What do you want people know about tarantulas beyond what we have covered above?

Here are some interesting facts:

  • Tarantulas do have eight eyes, but scientists are not sure how well they see.
  • Tarantulas have bristles, not hair. Only mammals have hair. The bristles give them a lot of information. So, yes, “spider senses” are a real thing, not just something made up for the Spider-Man comics.
  • Tarantulas use their senses to assess everything that’s happening around them and they have amazing perception despite the fact that they cannot smell and have no ears.
  • At the end of each of the tarantulas eight legs are two retractable claws, similar to those in a cat. They use these for mobility.
  • In addition to their eight legs, they possess two pedipalps or additional appendages that are located at the front of their bodies.
  • Since tarantulas are arthropods, they have to molt in order to grow. When a tarantula molts, it can often change color and grow exceedingly large.
  • Tarantulas can spin webs. The webs are not like commonly seen ones used to catch prey but are used to line their burrows and keep them safe, for example, spinning a trip “wire” near their home to sense prey and potential predators.
  • Tarantulas are opportunistic predators, which means they wait for the prey to come near their home, then attack it with extreme speed and accuracy.
  • Tarantulas have a wide variety of coloration and patterns. They are quite stunning when viewed in the right light.

Young Recycling Recruits Thrive at Bootcamp

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


Plastics recycling class opens eyes, options for high school students

When you toss your 2-liter soda bottle or yogurt container in the recycling bin, you may not think about where it ends up or how it might be recycled, but ten Erie-area students, recent “graduates” of Penn State Behrend’s Recycling Bootcamp, sure do.

The students, ages 14-18, saved their home plastic waste for a week before the all-day bootcamp event in August in Burke Center. It was led by Plastics Engineering Technology (PLET) faculty members—Dr. Alicyn Rhoades, associate professor of engineering; Dr. Gamini Mendis, assistant professor of engineering; Anne Gohn, assistant research professor; and Dr. Xiaoshi Zhang, engineering researcher. Several Behrend PLET students helped throughout the day, as well.

The students started the day identifying the different types or families of plastics they collected. They then counted the number of pieces in each family and calculated the weight fractions of each type of material, which is critical for cost-effective recycling.

“Students shredded their high-density polyethylene (recycling code #2) materials, extruded to pelletized form, and injection-molded test samples and plastic building bricks,” Gohn said. “Samples were tensile- and impact-tested at various levels of recycling content. The students then stretched and impact-tested the samples to analyze changes in material properties.”

The work they put into recycling their plastic waste opened their eyes to the challenges involved in the process.

“They were surprised by how much recycling affects the strength of plastic material and how complicated the process can be,” Gohn said.

Comments from student participants reflect the value of outreach efforts and learning in a hands-on environment. Several students said they were now “excited about plastics” and at least one is considering a career in plastics engineering. That’s just what organizers of the event hoped would be the result.

The bootcamp was funded through a $500,000 National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program grant awarded to Rhoades. The CAREER program is designed to support early-career faculty members who serve as academic role models in research and education.