Student garden interns spend summer sowing seeds of sustainability

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager at Penn State Behrend

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Cuddling chickens is not an activity you would expect at Erie’s Blues & Jazz Festival, an annual weekend-long summer music concert in Frontier Park. But two Penn State Behrend students, Jessie Johnson and Pearl Patterson, knew that a handful of hens at this popular event would be a great way to draw attention to their efforts to overturn a law against keeping chickens in the City of Erie.

Johnson and Patterson are spearheading the operation through Chicks4Erie, an online community they formed through Instagram and Facebook to spread the word about urban poultry-keeping.

“Allowing Erie residents to legally keep chickens will bring numerous positive benefits, including improving the environment through the reduction of pests like ticks and providing organic soil amendments for gardeners,” according to the Chicks4Erie mission statement written by Johnson and Patterson, both Student Garden interns at Behrend. “It will also increase self-sufficiency and food security through the production of eggs and contribute to the city’s encouraging overall trend toward urban agriculture.”

The Chicks4Erie initiative is just one of several projects that three Behrend students—Johnson, Patterson and Aydin Mitchell— have been hard at work on this summer as interns for the University’s Sustainable Food Systems Program.

The program, which launched at University Park three years ago, was expanded to Penn State Behrend in 2018 because of food systems already in place on campus. Among these is the student garden, started by the Greener Behrend student organization in 2016. Greener Behrend president, Celeste Makay, a senior Environmental Science major, has continued to help with the garden for the last two years.

Student Garden interns are responsible for the gardens on Behrend’s campus, but their work reaches far beyond weeding and watering.

“They run the campus CSA (community supported agriculture) program that we started, including generating a newsletter and recipes for members, supporting the Erie schools by serving as coordinators of the Jefferson Elementary School garden, and doing outreach programs throughout the district,” said Katie Chriest, sustainable food systems program coordinator for Commonwealth campuses.  “They also are active members of Erie’s Food Policy Advisory Council, and they are finetuning plans for a new campus club that will debut this fall,”

But, that’s not all. The student interns also host educational activities at Behrend for students from Bethesda Trinity Center and the Neighborhood Art House, staff an informational table at the Little Italy Farmers’ Market in Erie, and research expansion efforts for campus garden space and other sustainable food systems initiatives.

Mitchell, a senior Environmental Science major, didn’t have much gardening experience before this summer, but said he has learned a lot along the way. Not all of it is rooted in the ground, but in other vital connections.

“I thought I’d just be taking care of the gardens, but it turned out to be so much more than that,” said Mitchell, who oversees the Jefferson gardens and serves as the manager of education and outreach for the Student Garden intern program. “It’s really about making connections with people in the community and helping them see how vital sustainable food systems are and how and why they should care.”

Which brings us back to the Erie Blues & Jazz Festival’s Sustainability Village where Patterson and Johnson were so successful at making a case for raising poultry in the city that they quickly ran of petition pages to sign.

“At one point, I asked Jessie, who is just going into her sophomore year, what it feels like to be gaining so much support and enthusiasm for their initiative from residents and community leaders,” Chriest said. “She said she was just amazed that, at such a young age, she could have such an impact on the community around her. I’m not sure there’s a more powerful message we could hope to send to our students than that their work matters and that they can make the world a better, and more sustainable, place.”

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Secret Lives of Staff — Brent Crandall, race car driver

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

As the maintenance trades supervisor, Brent Crandall could be in almost any building on campus on any given day, overseeing the maintenance and repair of the college’s mechanical systems. But on Sunday evenings, he’s easy to locate. Just follow your ears and the dust in the air to Eriez Speedway in Greene Township where Crandall has been dirt track racing for twenty years.

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Brent Crandall

“I used to go watch a lot and then a neighbor who raced there invited me to come over and work on his car with his crew, and that was it. I was hooked,” he said.

A year later, Crandall participated in his first race, driving a friend’s racecar. He quickly learned it was harder than it looked from the stands.

“I got hit before I even got to the green (start) flag,” he said with a laugh, “and, I was lapped right away.”

It didn’t slow Crandall’s enthusiasm for the sport, though. He soon bought his own racecar and trailer and started pouring his free time and expendable income into racing.

It’s not a cheap hobby, requiring not only cash for tires, racing oil, and auto parts, but hours spent maintaining, improving, and repairing cars from the inevitable bang-ups and wrecks that occur.

Crandall has built a couple of his racecars from the ground up. He does most of the work himself. “I do the welding, mechanics, and fabricating,” he said. “Everything but the machining.”

We caught up with Crandall (no easy feat, by the way) to learn more about his not-so-secret racing life.

What kind of car do you race?
I started in the super sport division, which was supposed to be a less expensive class with cars made up of junkyard parts. But, as with anything in racing, the one who spends the most on their car often wins, so that division didn’t really turn out like I hoped. Now, I race street stock, which have a stock front stub, but a custom-built chassis and motor. My car is #73, which I picked because when I started driving I had two teammates and their cars were #53 and #63.

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Why dirt track? What do you like about it?
Dirt track drivers have much more control over how they do in a race. A good driver can compensate for a less expensive car, and that’s not necessarily true in asphalt racing, where the best car is probably always going to win. Also, dirt track racing is just fun and exciting. There’s a lot more action in dirt track racing.

By action, do you mean bumps and wrecks?
Well, nobody wants to wreck, and drivers don’t ram you on purpose because our cars are expensive and we all have a lot of money tied up in them. But there’s plenty of bumping and sliding on the corners. Rubbing is racing!

Tempers must flare.
Oh, sure. Drivers can get heated up and when I started racing, there were regular brawls in the pits, but the track owners have done a lot to stop that, like fining drivers and making it a rule that if you want to confront another driver after the race, you have to take a pit official with you. Another thing that has helped a lot is videotaping of the races. When you’re in the car, you see things in one way, but when you get out and review it on video, you can see the big picture and why something might have happened. It’s gives drivers perspective and settles arguments.

Have you ever been injured in a race?
I’ve broken my wrist and had a concussion before. The worst accident I have ever had was a rollover last year. Racecars are built to withstand impact, but not while upside down. I was in third place and had fifteen cars behind me and was worried one of them was going to hit me while the car was on its roof. Once it stopped rolling and I landed on the tires, I knew I would be OK. Cars have fire extinguishers and drivers wear fire suits and five-part harnesses to keep us in the car until we need to get out.

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After the rollover crash

How do you see? Is all that dirt a problem?
Most drivers wear driving glasses with a few tear-offs on the lenses that allow you to quickly rip the top layer off if it gets covered in mud or dirt so you can see. But veteran drivers learn to rely on their other senses, too. I can tell by the sound what is going on and how near other cars are. And, as crazy as it sounds, you can almost feel it, too.

Who causes problems on the track? Is it new drivers?
People who switch positions a lot cause the most trouble. I make it a point to talk to new drivers and encourage them to hold their line and let the faster cars and more experienced driver go around them. You know, we want the sport to continue, so we try to help the younger drivers.

Do you consider it a sport?
People will sometimes say that drivers aren’t athletes, but I get a workout driving. There are so many times that I get out of the car and my whole body hurts from being tensed and my shoulders and arms are toasted from steering. It’s nothing like regular driving.

I’ll bet you have no problem driving in big city traffic?
Nope, doesn’t phase me. Neither does construction on the highway, like when you’re driving 70 miles an hour with concrete dividers on one side and tractor-trailers on the other. My wife will get nervous and I’m laughing, like, don’t worry, we’ve got tons of room. I’m used to guys being inches away from me.

How much does a racecar cost?
You could spend a fortune, of course, but I’d say most spend about $4,000-$5,000 on the chassis and another $5,000-$10,000 on a motor. I keep costs down by doing all my own work and buying parts at swap meets or from other racers.

What other expenses are involved?
Racing oil is expensive, $6 a quart, and we have to change the oil every three races, if not more. Tires are another big expense. I go to the track with twelve tires and can usually get three to four races out of them. It’s important to buy the right tires, though. If you buy the wrong ones, they’ll melt right off after one race. I can usually get two seasons out of an engine, which is another big ticket item.

Do you have to spend time finding sponsors?
I have a few, but they are mostly in-kind or trade sponsorships where the sponsors give me something (like car inspections or racing oil) in exchange for advertising on my car. When I started working at Penn State, I added the Penn State athletics logo and it earns me a lot of “We are!” and thumbs up from spectators, especially during football season. I always take time to talk to them about Penn State Behrend.

Do you race every weekend at Eriez? Are you required to?
I race every Sunday, unless it rains. We can’t race in the rain or on a wet track. The racing season is eighteen weeks long from May to September and you don’t have to race every week, but it helps you in the seasonal points race if you do.

What has been your best finish or moment in racing?
When I switched to street stock, I was named rookie of the year and finished in the top five for the season.

the Crandalls

Brent Crandall and his wife, Carol (you may have seen her in Dobbin’s Dining Hall or Bruno’s Café. Carol works for Penn State Housing and Food Services). The two met in high school and have three children. Two of them, Ben and Nick, graduated from Behrend and their daughter, Olivia, is a junior majoring in Marketing. Pictured above, from left, Brent, Carol, Nick, Olivia, Ben and his wife, Courtney.

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Students witness history in the making in Europe

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

The United States is not the only nation going through a politically tumultuous time. Great Britain’s vote to leave the European Union (Brexit) has implications politically and globally.

On the other hand, Brexit has not diminished the EU’s attractiveness and importance for other countries that want membership or a closer relationship with the organization. Among these countries are Ukraine, which has been adopting constitutional changes, reforming trade, energy, and fiscal policy; and obtaining visa-free travel rights to Europe at large.

It is an interesting juxtaposition that eleven Penn State Behrend students enrolled in PLSC 499 Foreign Study Government are experiencing firsthand on a fifteen-day study abroad experience in London and in Kyiv, Ukraine. The students, led by Dr. Chris Harben, assistant teaching professor of management, and Dr. Lena Surzhko-Harned, assistant teaching professor of political science, left for London on May 12 and will travel until May 27.

While there, the group will have the opportunity to meet with representatives of transnational companies, lawmakers, members of the press, and more.

Students will meet with three members of Parliament: Lord David Hunt of the House of Lords, and the Honorable Luke Graham and Honorable Nick Boles who are both members of the House of Commons.

“Boles will be very interesting to meet with because he’s been outspoken on the matter of Brexit and, in fact, recently resigned from the Conservative Party,” Harben said. “He is a widely recognizable personality in Parliament and will provide unique insight to our students.”

Harben said that it is a particularly opportune time to visit London.

“On Thursday, May 16, students will attend the Debates in the House of Commons,” he said. “The timing is wonderful as Brexit is likely to be a topic of debate on that day given the elections for the European Parliament coming up less than two weeks later.”

Surzhko-Harned, a Ukraine native, described the course as an incredible chance for students to understand the interworking of the EU and the trading block’s economic and political power in Europe and globally.

“They will be witnessing history in the making and hearing about it directly from politicians and other leaders in Great Britain and Ukraine,” she said. “They will also be able to experience the atmosphere and culture in which these events are taking place. That’s not something they could gain by observing events from across the pond.”

For updates on the trip, you can follow Harben’s YouTube channel or follow Suzhko-Harned on Instagram or Twitter.

London and Ukraine trip.

Students met with Lord David Hunt, center, of the House of Lords on Monday, May 13. Dr. Chris Harben, far right, said the meeting far exceeded their expectations. “Lord Hunt met with us for a private question-and-answer session in the robing room at Westminster Place where the Queen will prepare when she opens the session of the House of Lords,” Harben reported. “Hunt then invited us to watch the House of Lords in action as they discussed regulations regarding agriculture in anticipation of Brexit, and then gave us access to watch the House of Commons from a special viewing area that is not open to the public.”

 

Behrend’s Story in 70 Pieces

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

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What do a dog’s gravestone, a jar of grapes, and golf tees have to do with Penn State Behrend? Find out in the Lilley Library where you can see a new exhibit, History in 70 Pieces, honoring Behrend’s 70th birthday.

Curated by the Jane Ingold, reference and instructional librarian and archivist, the exhibit explores highlights of the past seven decades in the college’s history through a collection of objects, photos, and memorabilia. There are things you might expect to see, such as a student handbook circa 1950, a freshman “dink” (beanie hat worn by first-year students in the late 1940s), and Behrend’s first yearbook, The Cub.

There are surprising items in the display as well, including never-before-seen archival items and objects that are representative of significant moments in the college’s history.

A Starbucks coffee cup may seem an odd thing to find on display, but it represents a social movement sparked by the death of first-year student Alyssa Josephine O’Neil who, before dying unexpectedly from an epileptic seizure, told her mom she wanted to get a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks. After her funeral, her parents unwittingly started a national pay-it-forward campaign by purchasing forty of the drinks and asking the barista to mark the cups with #AJO and give them to the next people who ordered them. Soon, people across the country were buying free lattes for strangers in honor of Alyssa.

“I really wanted to include some newer items, like the #AJO cup, because history is happening every day,” Ingold said. “I also tried to represent as many communities at Behrend as I possibly could, including our international student population, staff members, and other sometimes overlooked groups.”

The exhibit has sparked interest from library visitors, most of whom take time to peer through the glass and absorb a little history.

The item that generates the most attention?

“Definitely Bruno’s headstone,” Ingold said, gesturing to the slab of concrete marked with the birth and death dates of Harriet Behrend’s beloved German shepherd, which is believed to be buried near Wilson Picnic Grove on campus. Harriet is the daughter of Mary Behrend, who donated her family’s Glenhill Farm estate to Penn State in 1948 to establish what became known as Behrend Center. “Everybody loves Bruno,” she said.

The exhibit has inspired some visitors to learn more.

“I’ve had a couple of students ask to borrow Ben Lane’s Book, Behrend Remembered, after seeing a copy of it in the exhibit,” Ingold said. “Many have commented on the exhibit or asked questions.”

If you still have questions, maybe about those golf tees and the bottled grapes, stop by the library to find out how these items are intertwined with Behrend’s history. Handouts explaining each of the seventy pieces in the exhibit are available to take with you and a binder on the table dives deeper into some of the items.

History in 70 Pieces can be found across from the checkout desk in Lilley Library and will be on display through June.

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Behrend THON Club Breaks Fundraising Record

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

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From left, Behrend THON dancers Tyler Malush, Morgan Shaw, and Matt Hammel.

Long before he was a college student, Jack Walker, executive director of the Behrend THON club, was committed to Penn State’s largest student-run philanthropic event, a dance marathon event benefitting children and families impacted by childhood cancer.

“I became involved with THON in my sophomore year of high school when I became the head of my high school’s ‘mini THON,’” said the Pittsburgh native and junior dual major in Political Science and Psychology. “It was really life changing. When I came to Behrend, I made a promise to myself to give everything I have to THON and make Behrend one of the best supporters of the event.”

He succeeded. Under Walker’s leadership, this year the club raised the highest amount—$57,155.67—in Behrend’s THON history.

“It truly reflects the commitment and dedication of the students involved in helping to fight pediatric cancer,” said Dr. Ken Miller, senior director of administration and student affairs.

THON is held annually at Bryce Jordan Center at University Park; this year’s event was February 15-17. Behrend’s dancers were Morgan Shaw, Matt Hammel, and Tyler Malush. Forty fellow Behrend students, including Walker, attended the event to support and cheer the dancers.

The Behrend Blog caught up with Walker to learn more about THON:

How do you choose who dances at THON?

Ultimately, the decision is based on a students’ participation in THON over their entire time at Behrend as well as money raised. We have made strides in making the process more competitive in order to push our members to be the very best they can be.

Do you have a goal?

We always have a fundraising goal, but in a larger sense, our goal is to make Behrend one of the top Commonwealth Campuses. Earning a top slot comes with advantages that include the ability to have more dancers on the floor, which, in turn, motivates members to get more involved.

How long is the dance marathon?

Dancers must keep moving for forty-six hours straight. This means no sleeping and no standing still. It takes a toll on the human body, but the dancers say it helps them to connect with the families of pediatric cancer patients who truly know the definition of marathon suffering.

What about those who aren’t dancing?

My role and the role of other Behrend students who attended are to be in the stands to support our dancers. We created a banner and made giant photos of our dancers’ faces to cheer them when they were losing steam.

What is the atmosphere like there?

THON is a transcendent experience. I don’t think there’s anything like it in the world. The energy is electric and you can feel the love in the air when dancers look to the stands to see their supporters. The entire Bryce Jordan Center feels like a big huge family. THON dancers are paired with a family that they are dancing to support. We were fortunate that all three of our families were able to attend the event this year.

What’s the most memorable part of the event?

I would say the family hour. During this hour, we hear from families who are currently going through treatment or have lost a child to pediatric cancer. Then, they have a presentation that pays tribute to every THON child who has passed away. It’s moving and motivational because you want to do whatever you can to prevent more children from being added to that list.

What would people be surprised to know about THON?

It is 100 percent student-run, from the event planning to the finances. The entire organization is filled with likeminded passionate students who are committed to ending pediatric cancer.

How did the Behrend THON club raise so much this year?

Families, sponsors, and new members were generous. Our online giving platform and going door-to-door in the Erie community to collect donations are our two most successful fundraising strategies.

Why should people get involved with the Behrend THON club?

This past year, it feels as though our club has grown into a family. Choosing to spend your free time raising money for kids who are suffering from cancer speaks volumes about the type of person you are and we accept and truly appreciate any student who makes a decision to join the club. We value every participant and volunteer in our organization. In addition, it feels really great to do good things for other people.

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Behrend Faculty Members Collaborate on Book about Technological Innovation

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Three faculty members from Penn State Behrend’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences contributed to a new book about the ways scientific research and technological innovation shape society, politics and culture.

Dr. Heather Lum, assistant professor of psychology, conceived of and was associate editor of the book, “Critical Issues Impacting Science, Technology, Society (STS), and Our Future.” She also wrote the preface, which references RFI implants, robotic exoskeletons and the 153 hours of television the average American watches every month.

“It is clear that we are fundamentally altering what is important to us as well as how we interact with each other,” Lum writes. “For centuries, face-to-face communication was the only way to interact and learn about each other and the world. But now we can talk to each other over the phone or online and gain access to any information we want.”

The book, which was published by IGI Global, assesses the impact of artificial intelligence, automated vehicles, Blockchain and wearable technology, among other topics. Dr. Ahmed Yousof, assistant teaching professor of game studies, co-wrote a chapter about digital game-based learning. Dr. Lisa Jo Elliott, assistant teaching professor of psychology, contributed a chapter about the digital divide – the disconnect between those who regularly use technology and those who do not.

To learn more about the book, visit the IGI Global website.

Guest Post: Alternative Spring Break in Puerto Rico

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Last week, two dozen students and four advisers from Penn State Behrend participated in an Alternative Spring Break service trip to Puerto Rico. The group helped residents recover from the catastrophic flooding that occurred as a result of Hurricane Maria, a category 5 hurricane which devastated the area in 2017, causing billions of dollars in damages and claiming nearly 3,000 lives in Puerto Rico. Here is a reflection on the week’s activities from one of the participants.

By Alex Siernerth

Junior Marketing major, ASB board member and ASB trip participant

On our first day in Puerto Rico, we stopped at a local BBQ for lunch and had our first taste of Puerto Rican cuisine, which was wonderful! We stopped at a local Walmart for some supplies, then headed to the camp to get settled. We stayed at Campamento Yuquibo which was in the El Yunque National Forest.

On the second day of the trip, we began our service. We headed to a part of the El Yunque where Hurricane Maria had stripped the natural canopy from parts of the forest. Strong grasses and vines took over the hiking trails. We worked to remove the excess brush to expand the trails.

On the third day, we split into teams to paint houses that had suffered external damage from the hurricane. One team rolled a fresh coat of orange onto a home, while another worked to paint a new house, which was built after the hurricane destroyed the original home.

The fourth day was spent finishing up the painting of the orange house and cleaning up. Another team painted the kitchen of a nearby home where the walls had been re-plastered due to water damage. The final group spent the day working on landscaping.

Our last day of service was spent at the Natural Reserve Cabezas de San Juan. We learned lot about the post-hurricane reforestation efforts that are being undertaken to revitalize the plant and wildlife in the area. We helped to tag young trees and tend to the newly planted ones by spreading mulch and watering them.

On our cultural day, we were able to explore coral reefs and learn about the ecosystem that they exist in. Snorkeling in the beautiful Puerto Rican waters allowed us to get an up-close-and-personal feel for the sea creatures and other wildlife. A friendly dolphin even paid us a visit.

We had a few hours before leaving for the airport, so we explored Old San Juan.

It was such an amazing experience being able to meet and interact with the kind, resilient people of Puerto Rico. The Behrend students took every opportunity with smiles on their faces and love in their hearts.

We are grateful to all the donors and others who made this service trip possible.