Plastics Engineering Technology Students Off to Austria and Germany

Guest Post by Haley Palys, senior Plastics Engineering Technology major

No matter how vivid the photos or descriptive the lecture, there’s nothing quite like seeing and experiencing another country in person. And, in today’s increasingly global business climate, it’s vital that students be versed in the culture and business practices of international partners. There is much to be learned from seeing how others do it. That’s why, every year, students in the Plastics Engineering Technology program have the opportunity to travel overseas to visit plastics companies and universities and attend a plastics trade show, too.

On Thursday, Oct. 12th, a group of PLET majors will begin a 10-day trip to Austria and Germany. We asked them to send us some photos and tell us about their journey. In this blog post, student Haley Palys gives us a preview of what the group will be seeing while overseas.

With the advancement of technology, foreign partnerships are becoming more and more common for many businesses. This is especially relevant for the growing plastics industry.

That’s why faculty members in the Plastics Engineering Technology program try to help us get the experience and be prepared to take on unfamiliar situations and cultures. In order to get the full experience, each year a group of seniors are given the opportunity to spend ten days studying abroad. The destination changes every year, but is often dependant on tours and technical caseshows.

On October 12, twenty-one students will be begin a journey to Austria and Germany. Our group will travel to Vienna, Munich, and Hiedelberg, while also visiting some smaller cities along the way.

The first major tour is at the Engel headquarters, an injection molding machine manufacturer. We also plan to tour Rosenheim University, a college with which Behrend is currently collaborating through an exchange program. The FAKUMA caseshow is another stop on our map. There, we will network and learn about many companies active in the plastics industry.

With about two weeks left before we depart, some of us students—including myself—are bubbly with excitement. For the majority of the group, this will be our first trip abroad. We are allowed a few cultural days, where we can form groups and schedule our own plans to enjoy the cities.

I asked around the group to see what everyone was most excited about, and it was nice to see such a broad range of interest.

Kevin Orndorf eagerly replied “skiing,” while Mitch Garus said he was just excited to experience the different countries and culture. Joe Donofrio is most excited to tour the Engel headquarters, and to see all the innovative technology they are producing.

heidelbergHeidelberg Palace

Inflatable obstacle race coming to Junker pool

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

SwimJitsuIsComingErie (002)

Obstacle races are all the rage lately, including inflatable obstacle races, but Penn State Behrend Athletics is taking it one step further and hosting an inflatable obstacle course race in the pool!

The event—called SwimJitsu—is open to swimmers of any age, including adults. The $20 advance registration price gets you two-hours of swimming/sliding/jumping fun.

From the race organizer:

SwimJitsu participants, also known as ‘swimjas,’ aim to complete entertaining obstacles such as balancing across beams, swimming through trenches, and cannonballing off the top of Mt. Swimja. Once participants conquer the course and the three sacred traits of speed, agility, and wisdom, they can claim the title of Grand Master Swimja.”

Penn State Behrend’s event will be held on Sunday, October 8. Participants can register for one of three two-hour sessions: 9:00-11:00 a.m.; 11:30-1:30 p.m.; or 2:30-4:30 p.m.

Swimjas are separated into age groups and they get two hours to attempt unlimited runs on the course. Awards will be given at the end of each session for the best times per age group. There will also be four ninja-themed swimming games for competitors to practice their newfound abilities.

Penn State Behrend Athletics and Behrend Swimming and Diving are hosting the event, which has never been presented in the Erie area before.

“We’re excited to bring SwimJitsu to our facility as a fun activity for the Erie community to enjoy,” said Jen Wallace, head swimming and diving coach.

Visit to register or to learn more about the event!


Secret Lives of Faculty — Ashley Weber, tiny terrarium artist

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

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


When Ashley Weber, lecturer in English language learners (ELL) composition, wants to relax, she reaches for her glue gun and escapes into a world of itty-bitty terrariums. Using a mixture of miniature materials, she creates scenes in a variety of containers, including those as unique as Altoid boxes and gum ball machines.

“I started making my ‘Wild World Terrariums’ when I was in graduate school and needed a creative outlet,” she said. “I stumbled across Twig Terrariums and was inspired to make my own.”

It is a hobby that harkens back to her youth.

“As a child, I loved to make little houses for squirrels out of sticks, rocks, and other materials I found in the woods, so it’s no surprise that I would be attracted to creating small-scale worlds as an adult.”

Her first terrarium was a scene of a bear chasing a woman through the forest. “Dark, I know,” she said with a laugh.

She found early on that making her terrariums living pieces was not feasible.

“When I first started, I tried to keep them alive like traditional terrariums by watering them,” she said. “It was disaster. They grew mold, and the moss died. I quickly learned that I should consider them mixed-media pieces of art that do not have to be kept alive. The moss dries out a bit, but it still maintains a green shade without watering.”

She started out making them for herself, but now custom-designs them for friends and family and other customers.

Her most unique creation so far?

“I made a series of seven terrariums that, when placed next to each other in sequence, look like one long, winding, connected path,” she said. “They followed a couple through dating, marriage, buying a house, having children, and growing old together. I displayed them at my wedding.”

ashley at wedding

Weber said her miniature masterpieces provide a much-needed mental break.

“Making terrariums calms my mind in a meditative way,” she said. “I like to have complete silence and be alone in my basement workshop while I’m making them. This gives my mind a chance to quiet down, take a break from screens, and exercise the creative part of my brain.”

They also provide her with a little extra income. She sells her artwork for anywhere from $25 to $300 depending on the size and materials involved. Her terrariums have also been exhibited and sold at Erie art galleries, including Glass Growers and Kada Gallery.

She has no pieces at the galleries now, however, as she’s working on her next big masterpiece.

“I’m pregnant with my first child, a daughter, due January 20,” she said.

At Penn State Behrend, you can see Weber’s terrariums on display in the Humanities and Social Sciences Office and in Otto Behrend Annex II. Online, you can see her work on Instagram or at her online shop.   


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Behrend Lecturer Travels to Nairobi to Present Research Work

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

Peter Olszewski

Peter Olszewski, lecturer in mathematics



The adage that two heads are better than one is certainly true at universities where faculty members often collaborate with colleagues on research projects. Sometimes, the partners sit a few offices away from each other. Other times, they are a several states away. Occasionally, they are on the other side of the globe.

Such is the case for Peter Olszewski, a lecturer in mathematics, whose research partner, Dickson Owiti, is 7,600 miles away in Kenya.

Olszewski and Owiti met at the Joint Math Meetings conference in San Diego in 2013 and realized they had similar research interests.

“We are both interested in how math education should be set up at the high school level to adequately prepare students for the transition to college,” Olszewski said.

Olszewski said he appreciated and recognized the assertive tone that Owiti took in his work.

“We are very similar in that way and I thought we’d work well together,” Olszewski said.

Owiti agreed and the two began a joint research project surveying their first-year students and teaching them effective study skills.

While you might think two countries would have different problems, Olszewski said math students in Kenya struggle in the same ways students in the United States do, namely transition problems from high school to college, and a lack of strong algebra and trigonometry skills, and too many modern distractions.

In June, Olszweski traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, to join Owiti and present their findings at the Strathmore International Mathematics Conference. They shared three papers and led a workshop on researchable problems in mathematics education for undergraduate mathematics education students.


Owiti and Olszewski

“Both Owiti and I gave the students some ideas of current topics they could use in their senior research projects,” Olszewski said. “Our suggestions were well received; they loved our ideas.”

Among their top findings: High school teachers are not using homework effectively and are giving students lots of the same work, rather than challenging them to problem-solve through critical thinking; students are not being taught how to study (something they will need to do in college); and they are often looking at improper sources for more information, i.e. YouTube, Wikipedia, etc.

“We are seeing two major trends,” Olszewski said. “Students are not using equal signs correctly and they are not making connections between concepts; they are cramming for assessments and not looking at the big picture.”

While in Kenya, Olszewski also got an education of a different sort.

“My mother traveled with me as she had always wanted to visit Africa, and we went on a safari in the Nairobi National Park,” he said. “It was really wonderful, but it turned a little gruesome when we witnessed a lion killing a water buffalo calf.”

They also toured an elephant orphanage and a giraffe sanctuary, where things were a little more upbeat.

Olszewski and Owiti are polishing up their research paper now and are looking forward to their next project, which they have already been invited to speak about at the next conference in Nairobi in 2019.

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Secret Lives of Staff – Jerry Magraw, Hot Rod Restoration

By Heather Cass

Publications manager, Penn State Behrend

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


Back in the era of Atari, stonewashed jeans, and Members Only jackets, Jerry Magraw ’87, a Physical Science major, commuted to his classes at Penn State Behrend in a 1964 Chevy Impala he had bought when he was 18.

Today, Magraw is a few years older, but he still occasionally rolls up in that Impala to the School of Science building where he has been a senior laboratory technician for twenty-plus years.

“I hung around a lot of old car guys when I was a kid, and every one of them said they wished they’d kept their first car,” he said, “So I decided to keep mine. It’s moved around with me from garage to garage to garage.”

A born mechanic

The Impala runs like a champ because Magraw is a born mechanic. He was the kid tearing apart toasters, fixing his buddy’s bikes, and taking a blowtorch to his mom’s car.

“When I was 15, my mom bought her first new car, a Dodge Aries, and I talked her into letting me put a sunroof in it,” he said. “It was pretty awesome. Can you imagine trusting your kid do that?”

Magraw can. He and his 15-year-old son, Mitchell, are currently rebuilding Magraw’s late father’s ’79 Chevy pickup truck, resurrecting the boxy two-tone with a small-block Chevy engine that he pulled out of a 1988 Camaro a few decades ago.

“It was the last vehicle my father ever owned, and it will be Mitchell’s when we’re done,” he said.


Mitchell, 15, in his grandfather’s ’79 Chevy pickup.


The same truck today!

Magraw enjoys working on engines, transmissions, suspensions, and electrical systems. He prefers GM products, but he has worked on Fords and Chryslers, too. He likes old cars.

“Everything today is function over form,” he said. “In the ‘50s and ‘60s a lot of cars were built for style. They weren’t always practical, but they were cool. And loud. They were made to draw attention.”

Magraw said the only part of auto restoration he doesn’t like is body work.

“I’d much rather weld a new frame or rebuild an entire engine than do body work,” he said. “I just prefer the mechanical side of things.”

Applied science

Magraw’s mechanical aptitude comes in handy in his role as a senior laboratory technician in the School of Science. He has responsibility for the physics and chemistry departments, ordering lab supplies, stocking the labs, preparing solutions, serving as a laboratory safety adviser, assisting in designing experiments, and maintaining scientific instruments. He also sets up—and occasionally builds—necessary apparatus.

As you might imagine, Magraw loves nothing more than when a faculty member or student asks him to put his mechanical mind, creativity, and ingenuity to work designing a piece of equipment to assist them in their research work.

“Many times, professors or students will thank me up and down, and I’ll just say, ‘This is my job. I get paid to help you,’’’ Magraw said. “It is pretty cool, though. I’m treated as a colleague, and I get to have wonderful conversations about interesting topics.”

That willingness to help and share his knowledge with others extends to his garage where he often helps friends—and sometimes complete strangers—solve their most puzzling mechanical problems.

“There aren’t that many people who do this kind of work anymore,” he said, “so people come to me when they need help making their old car run.” (See some of the cars he’s worked on in the photo slideshow at the end of this post.)


Roses, shmoses… How about a car?

Magraw’s wife, Candace, has a 1977 Camaro that he restored (above). Their daughters, Marie, 20, a Software Engineering student at Behrend, and Julie, 18, both have cars carefully chosen and inspected by their father.

“I express my love for people in cars,” Magraw said.

Fortunately, he has a wife who understands and supports his hobby.

“It helps that she can see how vehicles appreciate over time,” he said. “My Impala that I bought for $3,500 in the 1980s is now valued at $35,000.”

It’s worth noting that Magraw arrived to pick up his wife for their first date in that Impala.

“In fact, if you look in the glovebox, there’s still a map she drew me to find her house for our first date,” he said.

And with that, Magraw reveals that for all his manly mechanical aptitude and macho hotrods, he is at heart a sentimental guy.

To that end, he does not part with the cars he has rebuilt. There are currently five in his 2,400-square-foot, heated-and air-conditioned garage. One more car will fill the spots available. Magraw is saving that space for his dream car—a 1957 Corvette.

“Completely junked and stripped, a ’57 Corvette is still $25,000, but once I restore it, it will be worth as much at $125,000,” he said.

What happens when he fills the garage?

“I’ll have to build another garage,” he said, completely seriously.

You won’t find him in the garage much this time of year, though.

“We work on the cars in the winter,” he said. “Summer is driving time!”

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Class of 2017: Meet Rachel Rattay

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

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2017 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 couple months, 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 Rachel Rattay:

Rachel Rattay

Rachel holds a Hololens, a new holographic device from Microsoft. She worked with the new technology during her internship last summer and her capstone project this year. She will continue working with the device when she joins Microsoft as a software engineer after her graduation in May. Learn more about how Rachel’s senior design team put the HoloLens to use for a Fortune 500 company in the 2017 issue of Engineering News.

Major: Software Engineering

Minor: Management Information Systems

Certificate: Video Game Development

Hometown: Pittsburgh, Pa.

On choosing Penn State Behrend: Coming from a small high school, I felt more at home with the smaller class sizes and I knew that professors would know me by name rather than see me as just another student among hundreds.

On choosing to major in Software Engineering: In high school, I was able to take computer science as an elective course and I really enjoyed it. I originally planned to major in Computer Engineering, but realized right away that I liked the software aspect more than the hardware aspect of computing. I immediately switched my major. It was one of the best decisions I made at Behrend.

Scholarships and awards: I received the Council of Fellows Leadership Scholarship twice, the Edward P. and Barbara F. Junker Leadership Scholarship, the Allyn and Alice Wright Leadership Scholarship, and the Commonwealth Campus First Year Student Award.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: My proudest accomplishment has been growing the women in engineering community at Penn State Behrend. Before I was elected president of Behrend’s Society of Women Engineers, we had just a few members. I’m proud to say that we now have more than fifty active members who attend meetings, conferences, and networking events.

Rachel Rattay at STEM fair

Rachel, third from left, with other members of Behrend’s chapter of the Society of Women Engineers at the 2017 GE STEM Fair in Junker Center.

Campus involvement: During my four years at Behrend, I was involved in and held leadership positions in many organizations. I was a member and treasurer for both Lambda Sigma and Omicron Delta Kappa and a member of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society. I have been vice president of the Association for Computing Machinery and president of the Society of Women Engineers for the past two years.

On mentoring future female engineers: I’m passionate about inspiring the next generation of women engineers. I enjoy speaking and volunteering at outreach events on campus, and have even organized two outreach events with local Girl Scouts to introduce them to engineering. Getting to watch the girls’ faces light up as soon as they figure out how to solve an engineering problem we give them makes all the planning and organizing worth it.

Advice for current students: The best advice I have is to form good relationships with your professors. They are here to help us learn and understand course information, so make sure to utilize office hours! Meeting with professors one-on-one will not only help you in your studies, but could open the door to research or internship opportunities.

Rachel has accepted a position as a software engineer at Microsoft in Seattle, Wash., where she will be working on the new HoloLens technology.

Class of 2017: Meet Brandon Ford (History)

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

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2017 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 couple months, 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 Brandon Ford:

 Brandon Ford - first choice

Major: History

Minor: Politics and Government

Hometown: Fort Myers, Fla.

On choosing to major in History: I love history from any time period. History enables us to look at the past and learn not only about the people who lived in that time, but their culture as well. Understanding another group’s culture is important in becoming a more enlightened individual.

On examining belief through the ages: I’m a religious historian and my research work was on the Catholic church’s view of the bubonic plague. I’m especially interested in the Middle Ages to Enlightenment and also Greek, Roman, and pagan mythology.

On whether history repeats itself: In some instance, yes. The same patterns can happen. But, in a lot of ways, history can’t really repeat itself because of the number of advances in technology and society.

Favorite Historical Figure: I admire Winston Churchill because of how influential he was to not only the people of the United Kingdom but also the world. His policies that he had implemented and amazing speeches that he gave inspired Britain in its time of need in the years prior to World War II. One of my favorite quotes is from Mr. Churchill and it was my mantra through four years of college: “If you’re going through hell, keep on going.”


Scholarships: I received two Anonymous Friend Trustee Scholarships and was a recipient of the Penn State Behrend Academic Excellence Award. I also received the Chancellor’s Award and the Provost Award from Penn State University.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: Making Dean’s List for the past two years and keeping my GPA up!

Campus involvement: I was involved in Delta Chi, the Intrafraternity Council, THON, Order of Omega, and Leadership Ambassadors.

Highest priority for the coming years: I was just accepted into graduate school at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, so finishing grad school is my immediate priority.

Career plans: I’d love to work in higher education someday, specifically in student affairs or student activities.

Advice for current students: Get involved with student clubs and organizations. It will increase how much you enjoy your college experience exponentially!

After his graduation in May, Brandon will be attending graduate school at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.