Alumnus honored for lifelong mayfly work

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

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Dr. Peter Grant ’75

As a child growing up on the bluffs overlooking Lake Erie’s Presque Isle Bay, Dr. Peter Grant ’75 delighted in chasing fireflies, plucking cicada exoskeletons from trees, and capturing mayflies that would cling to his family’s Front Street home each summer.

“I remember waking up and seeing that there had been a mayfly hatch the night before and rushing outside to catch them,” he said. “They’re pretty slow, so they were easy to get.”

Little did he know then that those ancient winged insects would become his life’s work.

Grant, who attended Erie’s Cathedral Prep and then Penn State Behrend, where he earned an undergraduate degree in biology, was recently honored for that work with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Committee of the International Conference on Ephemeroptera. Mayflies belong to the order Ephemeroptera.

“I was very surprised,” he said. “I still don’t believe it.”

Currently the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of biology at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Grant has studied mayflies for nearly four decades. He has compiled an annual bibliography on the insect for the North American Benthological Society (now the Society for Freshwater Science) for twenty-seven years and he founded and served as the editor of The Mayfly Newsletter for twenty-six years.

Over the years, he has provided many producers and authors from news organizations and publications, such as the BBC, National Geographic and The New York Times, with information about mayflies.

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An adult mayfly

Getting his feet wet in Walnut Creek

Grant’s education and career has taken him from Pennsylvania to Texas to Florida to South Carolina to Oklahoma, but he still keeps in touch with the Behrend professor who encouraged his first research work. Dr. Ed Masteller, emeritus professor of biology, recruited Grant to participate in a summer research project in Walnut Creek in the summer after his first year at Behrend.

“I mostly did water chemistry work,” he said. “Later, when I was in graduate school in Texas, I actually began to study the mayfly lifecycle.”

Mayflies are part of an ancient group of insects called the Palaeoptera, which includes dragonflies and damselflies. The gossamer-winged, short-lived mayfly has never really held a candle to its zippy, flashy “cousins.”

But they stand out for a few reasons.

“Mayflies are the oldest known winged insect,” Grant said. “The ancestry goes back about 300 million years, further than any currently living group of insects.”

Despite the longevity and variety (there are more than 3,000 species of mayflies), the insect has a brief adult life. Few live more than a day or two as flying insects.

“They don’t even have any functional mouth parts or a digestive system,” Grant said. “They exist in their adult form simply to reproduce.”

Water babies

A mayfly spends the majority of its life, up to a year or more, in its immature nymph stage as an aquatic freshwater insect. They can be found at the bottom of nearly any freshwater source—creeks, rivers, lakes—in still or running water. Turn over a few rocks in the water, and you are likely to find a mayfly on one of them.

They play an important role in the aquatic food chain. The nymphs eat decomposing matter and algae in the water and serve as a food source for more than 200 species of animals, insects, and carnivorous plants.

“The nymphs recycle organically rich material back into the food chain by consuming it and turning it into mayfly tissue, which their predators then eat,” Grant said.

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Mayfly nymph

Canaries in the coalmine

Mayflies typically hatch in mass, particularly the large mayflies that inhabit Lake Erie, which means swarms of them appear literally overnight and cover the sides of building near the waterfront.

There is good reason for this group hatch: They have an extremely short amount of time to meet up, reproduce, and lay eggs. If they hatched over a series of days, those late to the party would never have the chance to pass on their genes.

While not everyone welcomes the influx of flying insects to their community, they are a welcome sight for ecologists and those who care about clean water.

“Anything living in the water is challenged by pollution,” Grant said. “And nymphs are thin skinned, so it’s easy for them to absorb pollutants.”

Grant is quick to qualify that statement, however.

“There are a lot of factors that go into how big the summer hatch is and some species are hardier than others, so you can’t directly equate a big or a small hatch to water quality, but it’s a factor, for sure.”

Still hard at work

Grant continues to balance his academic responsibilities with his research work. He’s currently involved in a long-term project cataloging the mayflies of Oklahoma as well as a study looking at the population size of endangered species of mayflies and caddisflies (another group of aquatic insect) in the state.

“When people think of Oklahoma, they tend to think of flat, dusty land, but it’s one of the most ecologically diverse states in the country,” he said. “We have twelve ecological regions and tons of streams.”

Grant could not be happier with his lot in life.

“I’ve wanted to be a scientist since I was a kid,” he said. “Being a college professor gave me the flexibility to both teach and learn.”

Class Reunion, Borneo style: Faculty member returns to his Peace Corps roots

Jonathan Hall

Guest post by Jonathan Hall, associate teaching professor of physics

Penn State Behrend

Forty years ago, I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Malaysia, teaching students in the only secondary school in the district of Sipitang, Sabah (formerly known as North Borneo). This summer, I returned to visit my former students and fellow teachers. I brought along my daughter, Liz Hall, who was a student at Behrend in 2003-04 before attending the U.S. Naval Academy.

Our trip started with a fourteen-hour flight from the United States to China, and then to Kota Kinabalu (“KK”), the capital of Sabah. We arrived late in the evening, and checked into the hotel. When the receptionist found out that I had been a teacher in Sipitang, which was near her hometown of Beaufort, it resulted in all of the staff wanting to have their picture taken with the “guru from Sipitang.” It was a warm welcome back to Sabah.

After a recovery day on the beaches of the South China Sea, we headed to a downtown hotel for a reunion dinner with some of my former students who live and work in KK.

It was Ramadan, a month-long religious observation during which Muslims fast each day from dawn to sunset, so we joined them for their evening meal when they broke the day’s fast. It was a buffet offering a wide variety of dishes, from curries to satay, which was an excellent introduction to Malaysian cuisine for Liz.

After eating, we went around the table, telling our stories from the past forty years. A friendly competition emerged regarding the number of grandchildren each person at the table had. The person with the most had seven.

 

Class reunion

First, a little history

Malaysia was formed from a collection of colonies in the early 1960s. In order to develop as a nation, expanding education from the few to the many was the number one priority of the government.

To accomplish this, Malaysia “imported” teachers from other countries to teach, especially topics such as math and science, in rural areas. This is how Peace Corps volunteers came to be in Malaysia from the early 1960s until the early 1980s, helping until Malaysia was able to train enough of their own teachers.

As is common in other nations in Asia, your academic success, and your future career, is largely determined by the results of national standardized exams. The exams are given at the end of Form 3 and Form 5 (ninth and eleventh grade). Math is a mandatory pass. If you fail the math exam, that is the end of your education.

The parents of many of my students were subsistence farmers or fishermen, but they knew that education was the key to a brighter future for their children. Unfortunately, because they lived in a remote area, many of my students did not have teachers who were qualified in math during their early years in school. We had a year or two to catch up through practice in class, daily homework, and extra classes after school and on Saturdays when necessary.

At the reunion dinner, several of my students said that they came to high school unprepared in math, but learned and became proficient enough at it to pass their exams, which enabled them to move on to careers in teaching, nursing, banking, business and law. It was very gratifying to hear that.

I don’t think that I did anything special or was a particularly good teacher as I’d just graduated from college, but it was enough for me to volunteer to be present where I was needed. In that place and time, it was critical to have a qualified teacher who was willing and able to help them prepare for their exams.

Mountain climbing with former student

On day three, Liz and I went to Mount Kinabalu to meet up with my former student, Daring Laban.

When I taught Daring, he lived in a remote village, Long Pa Sia, close to the Indonesian border. Students from his village traveled five days on foot through the rain forest to attend secondary school, where they lived in a dormitory.

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Liz, myself, and Daring

Today, Daring is the manager of Sabah State Parks. Sabah Parks administers several state and national parks, including Kinabalu Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Center, and the Danum Valley Conservation Area, a mostly undisturbed rainforest that is the home of orangutans, Sumatran rhinoceros, pygmy elephants, and more. Sabah Parks host 1.3 million visitors a year, playing a major role in tourism, the second largest sector of the state economy. While much of the rainforest has been lost over the past forty years, ecotourism has replaced timber as a mainstay of the economy and is helping to preserve the remaining rain forest.

On Mount Kinabalu, we traveled through four climate zones as we climbed—lowland dipterocarp rain forest, montane forest, cloud forest, and sub-apline vegetation—before reaching bare rock and the peak at 13,400 feet.

Daring Jon Liz Mt KinabaluDaring, me, and Liz on Mt. Kinabalu

Liz & Daring climbing

Climbing Mt. Kinabalu

Mt Kinabalu peak

Mt. Kinabalu peak

The park was formed to preserve its great biodiversity, including some of the world’s largest pitcher plants, and the Rafflesia, said to be the world’s largest flower. During the 8.5-kilometer hike, we climbed 2 kilometers in altitude.

In June 2015, there was an earthquake at the mountain. Rockslides killed eighteen climbers; most of those killed were students visiting from Singapore. The trail was closed for six months for repairs. The violence of the earthquake was still very evident, with large areas of newly exposed white granite where the rockslides occurred instead of dark, weathered rock seen elsewhere.

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Rockslide damage on Mt. Kinabalu

We celebrated a successful climb by stopping at an open-air restaurant specializing in wild boar, which are hunted in the oil palm plantations.

Visiting Long Pa Sia

After hiking, it was on to the interior village of Long Pa Sia. Back then, it was a 50-mile trek. Now, it is accessible by four-wheel drive vehicles over a logging road.

The village is named by the native Lun Dayeh people1. Long = mouth, Pa = river, and Sia = red. In traditional Borneo, the river was the lifeblood of the community and was used for transportation, water, food, and bathing.

We spent a day hunting and fishing with another of my former students, Lukas. Lukas retired from banking in the city to hunt, a traditional way of life in the interior. We caught several small fish in the river. Lukas and his hunting dogs brought back a barking deer.

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The village of Long Pa Sia

Liz at Pa Sia river

Liz at the Pa Sia river

Lukas & Daring after hunt

Lukas and Daring after hunting

Many changes, but friends remain

Sipitang was my home far away from home when I was in the Peace Corps. All of the towns and cities in Sabah have grown and developed so much over the last forty years, that they were nearly unrecognizable to me. (In Long Pa Sia, which was known very being remote, there is now excellent cell phone reception!) Sipitang was no exception.

In Sipitang, changes included a hospital, paved roads, enough cars to have traffic jams, new schools, factories and industries, and many more people. Gone is the old open-air fish market where fishermen off-loaded from small praus their catch of prawns, squid, fish, and rays. Also gone is the fruit and vegetable market where farmers brought baskets of bananas, durians, rambutans, and other tropical fruits. Now there are two supermarkets instead.

Taking a walk down memory lane, I showed Liz the school where I taught.

Next it was on to a “Hari Raya” dinner, celebrating the end of Ramadan. The dinner was hosted by Ramawi, another former student. Ramawi’s family happens to include Wan Musa, a fellow science teacher. We worked closely together forty years ago and became dear friends. I attended Wan Musa’s wedding, where I was the Malay equivalent of his best man, which included having the groom’s face and mine smeared with rice flour.

It was great to see him again, however briefly.

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Me and Wan Musa

Weddings, coffee, and longhouses

Speaking of weddings, the next day we traveled to Sarawak, the other Malaysian state on Borneo, crossing the Lawas River by ferry to attend a Lun Dayeh wedding.

Ishak Liz Lawas river ferry

Ishak and Liz at the Lawas river ferry

After a Christian wedding ceremony, there was a reception for the entire community, which included traditional songs and dance, and the giving of baskets of gifts by the bride to members of both families.

Lun Dayeh wedding

Lun Dayeh wedding in Sarawak

The next day, was a road trip to Tenom, to drink the locally grown coffee and visit the Sabah Murut Cultural Center. Built as a traditional longhouse, but on a much larger scale, the center includes displays of traditional dress, baskets, musical instruments (gongs), and other aspects of the culture and history of the local native people.

On the way back, we stopped at two longhouses—a traditional wooden longhouse and a new one made with modern materials. Regardless of the building materials, the basic design is the same. Longhouses are an elevated building in which each family has an “apartment” consisting of a living room, bedroom, and kitchen. All of the apartments open onto a verandah, which runs the length of the longhouse and serves as a common area.

Sipitang Longhouse

At a longhouse

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Stock photo of a typical Borneo longhouse

Math teacher turned voice coach?

After visiting Sarawak, we returned to KK to prepare for our 3 a.m. flight home the next day. But, before leaving, we met up with other former students for the most sumptuous Chinese dinner I’ve ever had.

In my three years in Sabah, I taught one English class. Being a math/science teacher, and learning TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language) on the fly, I decided to incorporate singing in the lessons. Albert, one of my former students who was at dinner that night, was in my English class and said that I inspired him to become a pretty decent karaoke singer. (As a teacher, you plant a seed and…)

Durian McFlurrys

What has changed in Sabah over the past forty years? Every town has a KFC. Also, there are McDonald’s restaurants and they serve Durian McFlurrys. This is a flavor that would not go over big in the United States.

McDonalds durian

While many Asians love the taste of durian, as do I, others have been known to object to the scent of durian. One writer described durian as “eating a delicious raspberry sorbet in a revolting public lavatory.”

Durian smells so bad, that it is banned in many public places. Upscale hotels charge large cleaning fees if it is brought into a guest room.

no durians

Final reflections

In Malaysia, one is struck by the hospitality of people. It is part of a way of life, of forming relationships with others, and strengthening those relationships is valuable and important to them. My students thanked me for teaching them. I thanked them for welcoming me into their lives.

While I taught students science, math, geography, and English, they taught me something of great value that I have kept close to my heart. The students in my class came from a wide variety of diverse backgrounds, with different cultures, languages, and religions, but they were all classmates together. They worked and learned together and respected one other.

In the classes I taught, I never witnessed anyone being left out or excluded because of differences. The class was only successful if every student was, so students helped each other.

Forty years later, that has not changed. It is normal and natural for Muslims celebrating the end of Ramadan to invite Christian and Chinese classmates to their home to share a meal. They don’t let their differences divide them, they respect and celebrate those differences2. This was particularly striking to me now because in our current times, there are some who openly advocate that if people are different, they should be kept separate.

The native people of central Borneo; the Lun Dayeh (also known as Lun Bawang), Kelabit and Sa’ban, are involved in the Heart of Borneo Project, dedicated to the conservation of the remaining rain forest in central Borneo. Preserving the environment impacts the preservation of traditions, languages, culture, and a way of life for the people there. Their slogan is: “Serurum. Selawe. Meruked.” This translates from Lun Dayeh as: “Friends. One way (united). Forever.”

Thanks and terima kasih3to the students of Sipitang for teaching this “guru” the most important of lessons.

NOTES:

1. Though we live on opposite sides of the globe, the Lun Dayeh people have a history of friendship with Americans. Before World War II, American missionaries with the Borneo Evangelical Mission lived in Lun Dayeh communities. When Borneo was occupied early in WWII, these missionaries and their families were executed. Later in the war, two American bombers crashed in the interior. Surviving crew members were found by the Lun Dayeh, who recognized them as Americans. The Lun Dayeh leaders, then made the decision to shelter, protect, and defend the American crewmen, at the risk of their own lives and communities. The Americans were guided to a location where British special forces established a small airfield to return the crewman to safety. For the full story, read The Airmen and the Headhunters by Judith M. Heimann, or watch the PBS Secrets of the Dead episode of the same name as the book title.

2. If you like holidays, Malaysia is the place to be. You can celebrate Muslim, Christian, Chinese, Hindu, Buddhist, national and harvest festival holidays!

3. While terima kasih is how you say thank you in Malay, I prefer it’s literal meaning, which is “receive love.” The response, sama sama, means “the same to you”!

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.

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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.

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Curiosity leads to opportunity for nursing student

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Students at Academy San Jose.

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The San Juan skyline.

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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

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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