What’s it Like to Work in Health Care During a Pandemic? Bio Majors Share

Biology alumni, students share their experiences on the frontlines

By Heather Cass,

Publications Manger, Penn State Behrend

For several Penn State Behrend biology students and recent graduates, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a baptism by fire—calling on them to put their new skills to use helping to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and caring for those who have it.

We talked with some of those students and graduates to find out what it’s like working in health care during the pandemic.

Rachel Adams ’19 is a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT) at Dobler Hose in Girard, Pa.

Jessie Kibbe ’20 is a new graduate. She earned a degree in Biology in May and works as a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) at an Erie senior living facility.

Emily Jaskiewiecz1

Ellen Jaskiewicz ’19

Ellen Jaskiewicz ’19 is an EMT at EmergyCare and also a volunteer EMT for Brookside Fire Company in Harborcreek, Pa.

Rachel Sinnott ’19 is a patient care technician at UPMC Hamot Hospital in Erie and a volunteer EMT with the Brookside Fire Company in Harborcreek.

zillman2

James Zillman, junior Biology major

James Zillman is a junior majoring in Biology in the Pre-Health option. He is an emergency room technician at UPMC Hamot and a COVID-19 specimen collector at the UPMC collection center in Erie.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected how you do your work?

Jaskiewicz: The worst part now is having to wear a surgical mask all the time. It’s very difficult for our patients, who are often elderly, to hear us and nearly impossible to get a full assessment done enroute to the hospital. We all take precautions with every patient, of course, but EmergyCare now has designated COVID crews who are trained to transport patients who are positive for the virus.

Zillman: When I first started at the emergency room, it was fast-paced every single day with a lot of patients, and although there are still individuals in cardiac arrest or suffering traumas coming in, the ER has actually slowed down a lot. We are, however, ready to assist and we all have proper PPE (personal protective equipment) and follow the proper guidelines for limiting exposure.

Sinnott: I’ve always been very conscientious about wearing appropriate PPE for the situation I’m in, but I think more carefully about what I bring in and out of work. I no longer bring my purse or a reusable water bottle, and I’m more aware of things I touch regularly like my cell phone, door handles, elevator buttons, and such.

Many remain untouched by this virus. It is certainly a different experience for you. What’s it like being on the front lines?

Jaskiewicz: Our call volume is significantly lower than normal, which is good because it means that people are understanding the importance of staying home. I worry, though, that some people may be too afraid to go to the hospital for treatment now (for fear of the virus), but they should know that health care facilities are following all protocols to keep them safe, and that includes in ambulances.

Kibbe: Before the pandemic hit, it was already a bad year for influenza and pneumonia, which we have to be very careful about in senior facilities. The care center I work in was already taking significant measures to guard against spread of the flu, so the quarantine orders were something we were used to. One of the hardest things has actually been the constantly changing policies and protocols since the pandemic. Some of this is inevitable, as it’s based on new information about the virus and PPE supply availability. Despite the changes for us, we try hard to maintain a normal and optimistic atmosphere to avoid worrying our residents.

Zillman: I truly enjoy my job and helping others, but I do worry about my three-year-old brother who has respiratory issues. I try to limit my exposure to him, and I make sure to wear protective gear around every patient I encounter, whether they are suspected of having COVID-19 or not.

Sinnott: I find myself spending a lot more of my workday trying to keep patients company since they are no longer allowed to have visitors. I try to spend a little extra time talking to them, asking what they are watching on TV or looking at pictures of their family so that they feel more comfortable and have someone to talk to.

What drove home the seriousness of the situation for you?

Adams: In mid-March, I was on wheelchair transport and encountered my first severely at-risk patient. He was a recent organ transplant on immunosuppressants. As I helped transport him home, he told me how frightened he was about contracting COVID-19 because he did not think he would survive it. I cried all the way back to my post. I think about him a lot. I hope he is doing well.

Jaskiewicz: I transported an older gentleman who had spent 90 days in a hospital and then a rehab and was going to a nursing home where visitors are now restricted. He told me he had to say goodbye to his wife for a full two weeks, and they had spent every night together for the past forty years. It was beyond heartbreaking.

Kibbe: When some of the nursing staff gathered early on to discuss the ‘what ifs’ and make plans in case the virus hit our facility, it was sobering and forced me to confront and accept uncertainty.

Zillman: I was at the COVID-19 collection center, swabbing a patient who told me that we were all heroes and that he appreciated us. I understand that there is always risk when you’re on the front lines, but for some reason, his calling us heroes made me realize how serious the pandemic is.

Sinnott: The first week we restricted visitors was really tough. I had a young patient who had a major setback and another who refused surgery because she did not want to go through it alone. Later that week, I had a patient who was receiving end-of-life care and could not have his family there to be with him. It’s scary enough to be sick and in the hospital, but it’s even more frightening for patients when they are not able to have their families with them.

The pandemic is a scary situation to be thrown into as a young professional. How have you dealt with it?

Kibbe: I have not felt frightened. Concerned, sure, but not scared because I have faith in modern medicine and I know that we will find a way to combat the virus. I’ve worked as a CNA for three years, and though the uncertainty of this virus is disconcerting, I’m confident in my training and skills. When someone needs help, your training kicks in and you just do your job.

What’s giving you hope right now?

Kibbe: The people I work alongside. There’s no way for me to fully describe the measure of their compassion and dedication they give to our residents. In my three years here, I’ve seen firsthand the selflessness, sacrifice, and sense of responsibility they have, and that has only been amplified by the pandemic.

Jaskiewicz: Honestly, the free food. It’s nice to be appreciated as a health care employee.

Zillman: First, the people I work with; everyone has such a positive attitude. Also, how the public has responded to health care workers, cheering them on and thanking them. It’s gratifying and motivating.

Sinnott: My coworkers inspire me every day. They’re continuing to risk their own health to help others and they go above and beyond to put patients at ease.

Has this experience confirmed or helped focus your career choice?

Kibbe: I’m planning to attend physician assistant school and this pandemic has without question confirmed my choice to advance in my medical career.

Zillman: I’m planning to apply to medical school in June, and I could not be more motivated to become an ER doctor. I’ve spent more than 100 hours shadowing physicians in the ER before I began working there, and it has confirmed that I’m on the right path.

Sinnott: It has absolutely confirmed my career choice. While this is a challenging time to work in health care, it is also incredibly rewarding.

Parting words for those not on the front lines?

Jaskiewicz: Please do what is asked of you. Wear a mask, stay at home, limit contact with others. I realize it’s an inconvenience and may be financially detrimental to some, but your actions can and will affect others. You don’t see the look on the family’s faces when we transport their mother who is in cardiac arrest and they cannot follow us to be with her at the hospital. You don’t see the patients dying alone, unable to have the comfort of a loved one during their last moments. Honestly, I’d rather wear a mask for the rest of my life than let one patient suffer alone.

 

Join the Behrend Digital Dash ~ May 15-17

If social distancing has you feeling cooped up, Penn State Behrend’s Alumni office is sponsoring a fun way for you to get outdoors and connect with the Behrend community (remotely, of course) — the Penn State Behrend Digital Dash 5K

All runners, joggers, walkers, and rollers are invited to join in the college’s first-ever virtual 5K race on May 15-17. This race is open to all Penn State Behrend alumni, students, faculty, staff, and family.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Register by emailing Kristen at kcc146@psu.edu. Include your name, affiliation with Behrend, and the names of anyone else in your circle participating.
  2. Run, jog, walk, or roll a 5K on your own (6 feet apart, please!) any time between Friday, May 15, though Sunday, May 17.
  3. Submit your times to kcc146@psu.edu.

A few notes:

There is no cost to participate. It’s free!

If you wear Behrend gear during your run, organizers will shave ten seconds off your finish time! They want proof though: just take a photo before or after your run and tag it with #BehrendDigitalDash on Facebook or Instagram. (You can also email it to kcc146@psu.edu if you don’t do social media). They’ll do the math on your submitted time.

There are prizes! The overall winner and five other randomly selected participants will receive a gift from Behrend Athletics.

Happy running!

Related: If you live near campus, check out this blog post from the archives that lists several running route options around Behrend. NOTE: it is an old post, so the races listed at the end are not current.

 

Marketing students prepare plans for Hagen History Center

In January 2019, Dr. Mary Beth Pinto, professor of marketing at Penn State Behrend, tasked forty-four students in Marketing 444 Buyer Behavior and Applied Research with writing a marketing plan for the Erie County Historical Society (ECHS) to help the museum attract visitors under the age of 30. This is a demographic the museum staff knows it is not reaching.

The students worked in small groups through the semester and generated detailed marketing plans for ECHS. One of the recommendations was to use the name Hagen History Center for all marketing efforts. (Thomas B. Hagen ’55 is the chairman of the board of ERIE Insurance and a benefactor of the ECHS). Another recommendation was to use the slogan Make History With Us. Both were adopted by the ECHS staff in 2019.

Other recommendations included enhancements to the society’s website, increased utilization of social media, and the creation of events aimed at audiences under age 30. Many of these recommendations were implemented and continue to be expanded upon.

In 2020, the Black School of Business asked ECHS’s advancement director, Geri Cicchetti, to serve as adjunct professor for the Marketing 444 classes. With an MBA and a concentration in Marketing, Cicchetti has more than twenty years of experience teaching in an adjunct capacity at the college level.

This year’s Marketing 444 students, forty-three juniors and seniors, were hard at work on their marketing plans for ECHS when they left for spring break in March. But that’s where the lesson diverged for this semester’s students because the COVID-19 crisis forced Penn State to implement remote learning for the remainder of the term.

“For students working together in teams, it is difficult not to be able to meet physically,” Cicchetti said. “In addition, once they returned home, many students were living in different time zones. Some were international students; one was from California, and many others were also out-of-state. Some students lived in rural areas and needed to drive to other locations to get Wi-Fi. And these were just some of the challenges that students faced.”

They needed to be especially creative in completing this project, and Cicchetti said they rose to the occasion.

“They met via Zoom,” she said. “They worked independently and then shared their work with their teammates via email or Google Docs. Because of their perseverance and diligence, The Hagen History Center will again benefit from ten creative, insightful and detailed marketing plans.”

With the changes recommended and implemented from the 2019 class, what additional recommendations would the 2020 class have?

“As the museum has no marketing director, the 2019 class started from scratch and they had many opportunities to recommend basic marketing enhancements,” Cicchetti said. “But, with several of these recommendations implemented from the 2019 marketing plans, the 2020 class had a different starting point. They needed to bring the museum’s marketing to the next level.”

Cicchetti is confident they will do so and said she looks forward to sharing their plans in May with the board and staff of the Hagen History Center.

 

 

New Tech Tools Add Up for Future Math Teachers

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

The COVID-19 crisis this spring gave students in MTHED 427 Teaching Mathematics in Technology Intensive Environments an unexpectedly immersive educational experience. They, like every other math teacher in the tri-state area, were suddenly thrust into teaching (and learning how to teach) math remotely using a variety of technological tools.

To help with that transition, teacher organization and educational resource websites have been offering new professional development opportunities.

Recently, the students in MTHED 427, who are just a year or two away from being high school math teachers, were invited to participated in a virtual “unconference” centered around tools for teaching mathematics in an online environment. “21st Century Math: Engaging Online Students in Multi-Sensory Learning” was an all-day event offering various sessions that current and soon-to-be math teachers could attend virtually.

“As the title suggests, the ‘unconference’ is all about leveraging technology to teach mathematics in meaningful and engaging ways,” said Dr. Courtney Nagle, associate professor of math education. “It was an exciting opportunity for our students to be invited to attend.”

The students found it to be a valuable experience, not just because of the content covered, but also because they had the chance to interact with and learn from veteran mathematics teachers.

“There were a couple of hundred teachers in each of the sessions that I attended, and we got to interact at various points,” said Angela Dale, a junior dual majoring in Mathematics and Secondary Education in Mathematics. “In some sessions, we were sent to breakout rooms and given the chance to try different activities with the other teachers in that session. The interesting thing about that was that we were able to help one other with the software and explore a bit like students would do.”

Dale said one session piqued her interest in a new teaching tool.

“One of the sessions explored the role of music in the learning process,” Dale said. “I left the session wanting to know more about how they set up their platform and the topics the video covered. I definitely plan to look further into that concept.”

Taylor Montagna, a junior Secondary Education in Mathematics major, also attended the “unconference,” and learned a lot about the parental role in education.

“One of the most interesting sessions I attended was about parental un-involvement and how that can be addressed,” Montagna said. “I learned about ways I could handle that when I have my own classroom and students.”

Both Montagna and Dale think some of the online learning tools pressed into use during the COVID-19 crisis will remain a tool in the belts of high school math teachers.

“The activities we saw at the conference were very focused on promoting collaborative effort among students and making learning accessible for all students,” Dale said. “Some programs were games students could play at home to improve their math fluency, while others will help them continue to work with their peers to get a deeper understanding of the material that is being taught in class. I think teachers, and students, will continue to utilize these resources in the future.”

“I do believe this experience will help ‘normalize’ a level of online learning,” Montagna said. “I think teachers will likely incorporate more technology into their classrooms, not just in case of a future pandemic, but because some of these technological tools are a nice addition to traditional methods of teaching.”

The Show Must Go On(line)

By Heather Cass,

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

There are few things that singers look forward to more than a chance to get on stage and share their talent with an audience. When the COVID-19 crisis put an end to in-person gathering and, in turn, the culminating event for Behrend choral students this spring, Dr. Gabrielle Dietrich, director of Choral Ensembles and associate teaching professor of music, decided the show much go on. She came up with a plan to allow each student to step in the spotlight – a virtual cabaret performance.

We talked with Dietrich to learn more and get links to some of the students’ performances:

Behrend Blog: What were students tasked with doing?

Gabrielle Dietrich: In a typical semester, the big project we work towards in Music 103 Concert Choir) and 104 Chamber Singers is a full-length concert. We were busily working toward that goal right up to spring break. When it was announced that we would be learning remotely for the rest of the semester, I knew we needed a new project. I knew the students enjoyed a variety of musical styles and might like the chance to work on individual vocal development and a piece of music that spoke to them personally. So, we decided to do a video cabaret, featuring music, song, dance, or drama. Each student chose their own song, which I then purchased for them to use, and they had several individual coaching sessions with me to prepare for the performance.

You discovered early on that live performances on Zoom would not work well, so you asked students to record their performances?

Yes, any music-making on Zoom is impacted both by delay, which is impossible to compensate for in real time (Try singing “Happy Birthday” to someone with a group of friends on Zoom and quickly see what I mean), and sound quality because you’re dealing with both Zoom’s noise filter, which can be turned off on computers, but not on tablets or phones, and also the noise filter of the devices themselves, plus wide variations in equipment quality and sensitivity, not to mention connection speed. Making videos gave students more control over the quality of their performance and the ability to do multiple takes, experiment with microphone placement, the volume of the recorded accompaniment, etc. Once they were happy with their work, they uploaded a video to YouTube and sent me an unlisted link.

Then you gathered at a certain time to watch all the performances at once?

Yes. We kept the date and time of the original ceremony and gave friends and family members the chance to attend virtually, too, as many of them would’ve come to a typical concert. We used a different video sharing system called watch2gether. It turned out to not be ideal, but it was a learning experience. If I were to do it over, I would have requested the videos be done sooner so that I could have had time to assemble a slick playlist in YouTube or even a single video in iMovie.

How many attended/participated the cabaret? 

There were twenty performers, and probably fifty or more audience members in attendance, though that number may be higher as there were likely multiple viewers at some screens.

What was your overall impression of the event?

I was very impressed with the creativity, and I think the students had a lot of fun hearing one other. One of the things I love about Behrend choristers is how quick they are to appreciate and cheer each other on. Singers can be a competitive bunch, but our students are very supportive of one another, and I am really proud of that.

How was the transition to remote learning challenged you?

The hardest thing for all of us seems to be the visceral absence of singing together. If you haven’t had that experience, it’s hard to describe. The full-brain, full-body experience of singing in a choir pulls you out of yourself and connects you with others in an immediate and strangely intimate way, and there’s just no substitute for it. I know we are all incredibly eager for the days when we can get together and sing again.

Have there been any silver linings? Any techniques you plan to keep when you return to in-person classes? 

I like that my students had the challenging experience of being confronted by the honesty of a recording. When we’re in rehearsal, they rely on me for feedback. I work hard to focus on the positives and play to our strengths. Recording devices have no tact. I know that has been really hard for some of them. Hearing a recording of one’s own voice is challenging for most human beings. A big part of my job in the last few weeks has been to help students hear the good rather than focusing on what could have been better. I think I might do more videotaping in the future, simply because it’s a valuable check on our perceptions.

I truly enjoyed the light-heartedness some of my students brought to the table in their interpretations and their staging, and also the deep feeling and musical sensitivity and instinct they demonstrated.

Here are links to some of the students’ cabaret performances. Turn up your speakers and enjoy!

Stephen Humphries – Everything by Michael Bublé

Maribeth Miller – I’ve Got Somebody Waiting by Cole Porter

Jack Golec – Be Prepared (from The Lion King) by Alan Menken

Claire Nicholson – Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me by Irving Berlin

Victoria Ma – In my Own Little Corner (from Cinderella) by Rodgers & Hammerstein

Emily Green – With Every Breath I Take by Cy Coleman

 

Microbiology professor watches alumni, students with pride, concern

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

Dr. Beth Potter, an associate professor of biology at Penn State Behrend, considers it her job to push students just slightly out of their comfort zones.

“I think our role as college professors is to give them the confidence to excel,” Potter said. “Complacency equates to a plateau in learning/motivation. If we keep urging them off that plateau, there’s a shift that occurs. Suddenly, a student realizes they have what it takes to figure out a solution or handle the problem, and then they start pushing themselves.”

It’s valuable training for upper-level Behrend students and graduates who are now on the front lines in the fight against the COVID-19 virus. From emergency medical technicians to lab technicians to nurses, Behrend-trained science professionals are far beyond any comfort zones, working to care for patients and help contain the pandemic.

We’ll be sharing some of their stories in the coming weeks, but we also wondered what it was like for Potter, who just a semester or a few years ago, had some of these health care heroes in her classroom and laboratory.

Did you ever imagine your students or graduates would be dealing with a pandemic?

I definitely did not imagine this happening, though it was always a possibility, and some would say an inevitable occurrence, given the global nature and ease of international travel today.

You were promoting 20-second handwashing long before 2020. In 2016, you led students in your microbiology class in a service-learning project on campus that highlighted the value of handwashing.

Yes, we did. As a microbiologist, I think a passion for good hygiene naturally develops and I wanted to try and pass it on to my students through a service-learning project. Most of my students want to do something in the health profession, and if you want to be in that profession, one of the easiest and most inexpensive things you can do to promote good health is to stress good handwashing. The average person does it for just six seconds, but we should really be doing it for at least 20. Students set up handwashing stations outside Bruno’s and Burke Center. As part of the demonstration, students washed their hands for both six and 20 seconds in the presence of Glo Germ, each time placing them under a black light. They could then visualize the significant difference that comes from washing longer.

Many remain untouched, but inconvenienced by the COVID-19 virus and, lately, there has been a negative reaction to the extended social distancing. You have the biological understanding to truly appreciate this virus, what would you say to them?

For the past several years, I have begun my first microbiology lecture with a quote from one of the fathers of microbiology, Louis Pasteur: “The influence of the very small is very great indeed.” We have all been given a very important microbiology lesson by a virus. Bacteria and viruses are not going anywhere; they were here long before us and have a significant advantage. Even with the greatest scientific minds working to address them, their ability to evolve can’t be predicted. Behind the scenes are lots of hard-working scientists pushing themselves to figure this virus out. Unfortunately, that can’t happen instantaneously. One experiment may lead to new and different questions. While we might be inconvenienced, we need those scientists to find answers that they are confident about so that the best plan can be put into action. We need to respect their work and know that our communities and our economy will be stronger because we did.

As a faculty member at a close-knit campus like Behrend, students must sometimes feel like your own. Do professors worry about their former students?

Absolutely! From a young age, my own kids started referring to my college students as my big kids. Our students grow up so much in four years and, for me, it is the silver lining to the job. It makes the hours of creating exams, grading, and developing new course material and lab experiments worth it. I learn so much from each class, hopefully making me a better “parent” for the next class. I can’t turn off that parent switch when they leave with their diplomas. I love hearing stories about graduates who have found their path and are happy. I really hope our students know that we will always care about them, even after they leave us, and will be here to support them. I wish more of them would call or write “home” more often.

 

Take Notes: History is Happening

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

When Penn State Behrend faculty members were asked to record video messages that could be shared with students and the wider Behrend community on social media, Dr. Joe Beilein, associate professor of history, took the opportunity to remind us that the COVID-19 crisis will be a monumental moment in world history.

“We are living through a significant time in history right now,” Beilein said. “These days and months will be written about, taught, and reflected on decades from now.”

It’s a valuable reminder that someday the fear, inconvenience, aggravation, and disruption that we are living with will be history and that you may want to take some time during this pandemic to document what’s happening.

“Documenting what you’re thinking, doing, and feeling would be a treasure trove for future historians, as well as social scientists, especially psychologists and sociologists,” said Dr. Amy Carney, associate professor of history.

Penn State Behrend’s history professors strongly encourage others to take the time to record these monumental moments as they happen. Here are a few ways to do that.

  • Handwritten journaling is one of the most basic and accessible forms of recording history.
  • Start a blog. You can start an online blog in minutes on WordPress.com. You can share it with others or make it private and keep it for yourself.
  • Start a vlog. A vlog is a video blog (hence vlog). You can record an entry regularly and upload to YouTube. Again, you can make these private or share them.
  • Record snippets. If you don’t have a lot of time or inclination to write, download the 1 Second Video application for your smartphone and record a one-second video or photo memory every day. When you’re done, you can “mash” your seconds into a video that is just a few minutes long.
  • Download a smartphone diary app. There are several smartphone apps to aid you in daily journal keeping. Explore them to find one that works best for you.
  • Record an oral history. Record your own thoughts using the voice recorder on your phone. You might also consider including family members, too. By the way, this might be a great time to do a phone interview and oral history with elderly relatives who may be eager for interaction.

What should you record? Just document your daily experiences living in this era. Even the most mundane details about how you are living through this time will be interesting to look back on some day.

“Historians are able to find value in just about every piece of documentation or evidence we come across,” Carney said.

“It’s the absence of records that drives us nuts much more so than the quality of what the record describes,” Beilein added. “Who knows what will be important to human beings in fifty years anyway? So, the best way to get a picture of what is going on in a collective sense is through the honest observation and recording of whatever it is that a person thinks is significant.”

Need help getting started? Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, offers great writing prompts that will inspire you to record your thoughts and experiences before this pandemic becomes a distant memory.

Submit your memories

The Penn State University Libraries’ University Archives is documenting this significant and unique period for preservation and future research use. Its official curatorial program, the Penn State COVID-19 Experience Project, invites Penn State students, staff, faculty and alumni to document and share their personal experiences for submission toward a new special collection for the University Archives. Participants are encouraged to submit written journals or diaries, photo essays, video or audio recordings, zines or any other creative means of documentation. Learn more about the project and how you can contribute here.

 

Distinguished Professor’s Secret to Success Career: Adaptability

By Heather Cass

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

As a professor of biology and director of the Lake Erie Regional Grape Research and Extension Center (LERGREC), Dr. Michael Campbell already has a few impressive titles, but Penn State recently added another highly significant word to his academic title–distinguished.

The designation of distinguished professor recognizes outstanding academic contributions to the University and service to students. Campbell joins two other Behrend faculty members in holding the title: Dr. John Gamble, distinguished professor of political science and international law, and George Looney, distinguished professor of English and creative writing. The title serves as the sign of an educator, like Campbell, who has spent decades going above and beyond.

We recently talked with Campbell, who started at Behrend in 1994, to learn more about his career, what makes a great professor, and how he balances his research work, teaching, and running LERGREC.

Though he doesn’t point it out, it’s clear that the secret to Campbell’s success is his ability to adapt to changing conditions, much like his favored research subjects, plants, are known to grow toward the light or send down deeper roots to find the nutrients they need to keep growing.

Have you always wanted to be a professor?

Actually, no. I thought I would work in the plant science industry, but my intention when I finished graduate school was to work for a company or develop my own industry.

What did you do before Behrend?

I worked for the U.S. Forest Service as a geneticist, then for the United States Department of Agriculture as a physiologist.

What do you enjoy about teaching?

That has changed a bit over the years. At first, it was great just to see students learn and discover new material and ideas in the classroom. But, over the years, my outlook on it has become more holistic; it’s not only about teaching specific subjects but helping students develop a career path as well.

What is the most important quality for a professor to possess?

The desire to work and to help others. It is critical for a professor to enjoy the subject matter they are a specialist in, but to be a teacher at a place like Behrend, you need to also find joy in helping students find their way; it’s a big part of what we do here.

What have you had to learn the hard way?

Teaching is a moving target. Each class has a group personality and there is no one-size-fits-all to presenting the material. Each semester is a bit different.

How do you balance research, teaching, and running the grape-station research lab?

At times, I feel like a short order cook; trying to make the entrée finish at the same time as the side dish. It has been a challenge to find the time to work on projects and to dedicate time to students working on their own projects. That said, the balance is about what I expected, and I think being active in research helps me as a teacher, particularly with upper-division class material.

This semester, you had to quickly transition your classes to remote learning. How did that go?

It was definitely a challenge, especially because we had to adapt so quickly. Ultimately, though, I think this experience has been beneficial. It has given me some new approaches to teaching that I probably would not have pursued.

What research project at LERGREC are you excited about right now?

My research work involves regulating sprouting in potatoes and I’m still working on that, but I can see an overlap with connecting that work to controlling growth in grapes. It is a bit high risk, but, hey, why not? As the climate becomes more erratic, grape growers may benefit from preventing premature growth during warm winter weather. Connecting what we have learned about regulating growth in stored potatoes to controlling grape growth in the vineyard is a new and exciting avenue for research.

What’s the most important thing a professor can do for a student?

Be a good mentor. A professor’s role is to guide a student and show them the way. Success is up to the student.

What advice do you have for professors in the first years of their career?

Enjoy what you do. Keep chugging away. True success is an accumulation of small accomplishments built over time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alumni Society Board Members Enjoy Giving Back to Behrend

By Heather Cass,

Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

Glenn Brooks ’86 is the first to admit he wasn’t exactly a standout scholar during his years as a Management major at Penn State Behrend. “To be honest, I wasn’t an exemplary student at Behrend, in or outside of the classroom,” he said. “However, my Behrend experiences truly refined my character and taught me to work hard, to never give up, and to persevere.”

These lessons have served Brooks well, helping him build a successful life and career. In recognition and gratitude, he felt the need to give back by joining the Penn State Behrend Alumni Society board of directors.

“I really wanted to serve in a capacity that I would have never dreamed of doing back when I graduated in the 1980s,” he said.

The Behrend alumni board has fifteen members who serve three-year terms, helping to engage Behrend’s alumni ranks of 37,000-plus, a number that grows every year as more graduates are welcomed into the alumni family.

Board member Haley Sharp  is a relatively recent graduate, having obtained her degree in Mechanical Engineering in December of 2013. Sharp, who currently works as a thermal engineer at Naval Nuclear Laboratory, in West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, said she joined the board to “give back to a place that gave her so much as a student and a person.”

“It’s very rewarding for me to turn around and give that experience and passion for Behrend back to the current and new students,” Sharp said. “I enjoy interacting with each and every student  I get to meet, and it’s fun to talk about our experiences, whether they are similar or different.”

Brooks agreed that serving on the board is a labor of love.

“I truly enjoy working with so many alumni from different years and different majors to help today’s student with the challenges they may face and to encourage them to get involved with the alumni board after they graduate,” Brooks said.

Behrend Blog talked with Kristen Comstock ’06, assistant director of alumni relations, to learn more about the board, the commitment required of its members, and why the board’s role in alumni relations.

What is the Behrend Alumni Society Board of Directors? What is its role?

The main goal of the board is to engage Behrend alumni via events, communications, volunteer involvement, campus interaction, and more. The Society also created an endowed scholarship fund, which we raise money for each year, primarily through our annual Creamery Ice Cream sale. The scholarship now has more than $150,000 in its endowment that benefits Penn State Behrend students!

How does the Behrend alumni board fit into the larger Penn State picture?

The Behrend Alumni Society is a branch of the Penn State Alumni Association and receives an annual allocation from the Alumni Association to offer a variety of activities. Since its organization in 1987, the society has developed a variety of programs and activities for alumni to continue their relationship with the college.

What is the term?

Appointment to the board is for a term of three years. Board members must also be members of the Penn State Alumni Association, either paid yearly or lifetime members.

What is the commitment for board members? What are they asked to do?

We meet four to six times a year, both in-person and online via video/phone conference). All board members focus on two support areas: outreach and campus involvement.

Outreach involves social and professional networking opportunities, maintaining communication with alumni, generating ideas for the annual alumni reunion, and helping coordinate events.

Campus involvement includes helping provide opportunities for students and faculty and staff members to develop a closer affiliation with the society by co-sponsoring campus activities, creating mentor programs, interacting with student organizations, and recognizing students with awards and scholarships.

Why is an alumni board important?

The members serve as an advisory committee and driving force behind many of our alumni engagement opportunities, such as our Parents, Families and Alumni Weekend events as well as the annual Alumni Wine Tour and Pittsburgh Pirates game outing. They support fundraising for the endowed alumni scholarship to provide Behrend students with financial support. Additionally, board members serve as a resource for faculty members (as guest speakers, for example) and admissions (helping to host send-off picnics and writing welcome notes to accepted students).

Who are the current board members?

An updated list of board members is available at behrend.psu.edu/alumni.

On a fun note, we hear there’s a baby boom on the current board.

Yes! Several board members have just had babies: Ashley Brightwell ’13; Sarah (Magrini) Giambanco ’12, ’15; and Brian Wilking ’15, ’17. Board member Kyle Cyphert ’15 and his wife are expecting in June.

How can alumni join the board?

Alumni who are interested in serving on the board should send a resume or CV to Kristen Comstock at kcc146@psu.edu for the board’s review. After a resume has been reviewed, current board members vote on accepting the candidate. An offer letter is then sent, with a Penn State Alumni Association membership card/brochure, if that alumna or alumnus is not already a member.

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Switching Course: Remote teaching tools inspire innovation, enhancements to course delivery

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

In large, complex organizations, change can sometimes take a lot of time, planning, paperwork, and meetings. But things could not have moved more quickly than they did the week of March 9 when Penn State made the decision to extend remote teaching and learning through the end of the spring semester to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus on University campuses.

Faculty members had a little more than one week to transition their classes to a fully remote teaching format and get up to speed on the digital tools they and their students would need to meet virtually. It was understandably challenging and stressful. But, for some, being required to learn new ways to teach was eye opening and led to revelations that will enhance course delivery when students return to campus in the future.

Dr. Jay Amicangelo, professor of chemistry, has been teaching in a traditional face-to-face manner since he started at Behrend in 2002 and said he was not fully aware of all the features available in Canvas, the online course management platform utilized by Penn State, until he had to move his classes to a remote teaching format.

“One part that I actually like is the idea of pre-recording my lectures ahead of time and then using class time to go over assigned problems, answer questions, and so forth,” he said.

It’s a new tool he plans to use when he returns to the classroom this fall to teach CHEM450 Physical Chemistry Thermodynamics, an upper-level course.

“In this class, I have always used the chalkboard to present material for the class because it is a highly mathematical class,” Amicangelo said. “I would often feel rushed in a given class to get to a certain point in my lecture notes, but now I’m thinking if I record my lectures over the summer using a camera in one of the classrooms, I can have them watch the lecture in advance, then I can use the face-to-face class session to emphasize important points of the material, go over assigned problems, and field questions.”

Amicangelo said this approach to teaching, called a “flipped” classroom, is a concept he had heard about but had never had the motivation to try himself.

“So, in a weird way, the current crisis opened my eyes to this possibility,” he said. “And, now that I’ve explored it, I like it, and plan to use it in the future,” he said. “I think students will really benefit from the extra opportunity to understand and explore the material in class rather than just listening to me lecture.”