Standout Seniors: Meet Larissa Hedderick (Marketing and Finance)

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

Today, we’d like you to meet Larissa Hedderick:

Larissa Hedderick2

Major: Marketing and Finance with a certificate in Financial Planning

Hometown: Erie, Pennsylvania

On choosing Behrend: The ability to do a dual major was huge for me, as was obtaining the Certified Financial Planner (CFP) Certificate. I also found the smaller campus size valuable for the connections you can easily make with your professors and staff members in the Academic and Career Planning Center (ACPC).

On choosing her major: Both Finance and Marketing have concrete principles, but there is a lot of flexibility with both majors. I knew a career in either field would constantly evolve and keep me on my toes. The further I got in my studies and internships, the more I realized the disciplines pair well together. Skills I have learned in classes for each of my majors have proven beneficial all around.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: Making  the Dean’s List consecutively each semester has been a huge accomplishment for me.

Campus involvement: I have been president of the Financial Planning Association Club, a peer tutor, publicity and social chair of the National Society of Leadership and Success, a member of the American Marketing Association chapter at Behrend, a Welcome Week volunteer, and an intern at ACPC.

Top priority: I am really looking forward to developing my professional career upon graduation. In my time here, I have been able to lay the foundation through classwork, internships, conferences, and clubs, and now it’s time to apply the knowledge and skills I have acquired.

A balanced approach: I think living a balanced life is super-important. While I took my studies seriously, I also enjoyed my time in college. Prioritizing yourself and finding things you enjoy such as reading, yoga, and traveling are crucial for stress release and cultivating an identity outside of the classroom.

Advice for first-year students: Never be afraid to ask for help in any capacity. Older students, professors, staff, and industry professionals are willing to help, and now is the time to absorb and learn as much as you can without pressure to earn a paycheck.

Larissa has accepted a position in the Retail Business Banking Development Program with PNC Bank in Charlotte, North Carolina, after her graduation from Behrend.

Standout Seniors: Meet Sierra Wells (Psychology)

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

Today, we’d like you to meet Sierra C. Wells: 


Major: Psychology

Hometown: Jamestown, New York

On choosing Behrend: A few of my friends went to Behrend before me, and they had all positive things to say about the faculty and staff and the Psychology program. I am also a huge Penn State fan and knew I wanted to be a part of the Penn State community.

On choosing her major: I have always been intrigued by the psyche of others around me and am fascinated by human behavior. I wanted to study and learn much more about it.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: Completing a research study on my own and presenting my findings at two conferences. I studied and examined how crime news in the media can affect college students’ fear of crime. This project helped me understand advanced research methods and apply psychology to my work.

Can’t stop her: I think that my passion and drive for the subject of psychology make me stand out. I am very motivated to achieve my goals and believe that nothing can stop me. I aspire to learn as much as I can and be as educated as possible so that I can set an example for those around me.

What you’d be surprised to know about her: My dream job is to work alongside the criminal justice system or the FBI to do in-depth research studies on incarcerated criminals.

Her definition of the good life: Being a part of something you love, whether it is a job, a sport, or a hobby.

On second loves: In addition to my passion for psychology, I am also an avid volleyball player and will always love the sport.

Advice for first-year students: Don’t get discouraged when you are having a bad week or feel overwhelmed with homework.  Keep your eye on your end goal. It will be worth it!

Parting gratitude: I’m thankful for Behrend and the staff and my peers who have helped me along the way. I’m especially grateful for Dr. Melanie Hetzel-Riggin, professor of psychology, for being one of my biggest supporters and a role model, as both a teacher and a woman.

After her graduation, Sierra plans to attend graduate school to obtain a master’s degree in clinical psychology.

Standout Seniors: Meet Ashley Seamon (Industrial Engineering)

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

Today, we’d like you to meet Ashley Seamon:


Major: Industrial Engineering

Minor: Operations and Supply Chain Management

Hometown: McDonald, Pennsylvania

On choosing Behrend: I chose Behrend because of the small campus setting that also came with all the connections and perks of being part of a big university. Also, Behrend has a strong engineering reputation with ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accreditation, both of which were important to me.

On choosing her major: I’ve always had an aptitude for math and science, but I associated engineering with doing hands-on fixing. On a visit to Penn State Behrend, I learned that industrial engineering was a field centered around efficiency and conceptual problem solving, and I knew it would be a perfect fit!

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: My proudest accomplishment at Behrend has been my participation in undergraduate research, which has allowed me to study engineering education techniques. Along with my adviser, Dr. Omar Ashour, associate professor of industrial engineering, I have been studying the effects of integrating 3D-simulations and nonlinear storytelling into industrial engineering curricula.

Campus involvement:  NCAA DIII Varsity Women’s Basketball; Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, 2021-2022 Vice President; Lion Ambassadors, 2020-21 Internal Affairs Co-Chair/ 2021-2022 Executive Vice President; Society of Women Engineers, Behrend Chapter 2020-21 Secretary/2021-2022 President; Behrend Engineering Ambassadors, 2021-2022 Secretary; Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers; Materials & Manufacturing Group; Women’s Engagement Council

Awards and scholarships: Behrend Honors Program; Behrend Chancellor’s Scholarship; President’s Freshman Award; Behrend Leadership Scholar; Council of Fellows Leadership Scholar; Dean’s List; Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society; Chi Alpha Sigma Athlete Honor Society; 2021 Outstanding Tutor Award.

What makes her unique: I wake up every day with the intention to better myself. While it may not sound unique, I think my self-motivation to challenge myself every day is what has led to the success I’ve had during my time at Behrend.

On working (and playing) hard: In addition to being an engineering student, I currently play on the women’s basketball team. It has been a major commitment, and while it has challenged me outside my comfort zone, I have become a better person because of it. I also have four jobs at Behrend. By the time I graduate, my jobs on campus will have included peer tutoring (3 years), undergraduate research assistant (1.5 years), student grader (1 year), and teacher’s assistant (1/2 year).

On eating the elephant one bite at a time: Take every day one step at a time. Focusing on the little things will allow the big things to fall into place. Find some small way to challenge and improve yourself every day.

Her passion is learning: My goal is to earn my Ph.D. in industrial and systems engineering with a concentration in supply chain and logistics to become a college professor.

Advice for first-year students: Don’t be afraid to fail in engineering. It’s better to try and fail than to regret that you didn’t try to pursue something that could have changed your life for the better.

After graduation, Ashley plans to enter the Industrial and Systems Engineering Ph.D. Program at North Carolina State University.

Standout Seniors: Meet Matt Mathias (Communication)

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2022 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend. Over the next couple of 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 Matt Mathias: 


Major: Communication with a certificate in Public Relations

Hometown: Jamestown, Pennsylvania

Scholarships: I have received the Joseph and Isabel Prischak Trustee Scholarship and the Irvin Kochel Leadership Scholarship.

Why he chose Behrend: It was an hour from home and offered a wide variety of majors. I was unsure of what I wanted to do in college, so I liked having a lot of options. Also, who can deny the pedigree of a Penn State degree?

On choosing his major and changing plans: I changed my major a few times before deciding on Communication. It fits my skillset well and I have been able to continue with camera and video work that I’ve always enjoyed.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: My proudest accomplishment at Behrend has been making the Dean’s List in back-to-back semesters in 2021. The start of my college career was rough. I hit a wall early on when I was unsure what direction to pursue. I was unmotivated and struggled mentally, and then COVID happened and that didn’t help. In the end, support at home and here at Behrend helped me get back on my feet, and I’m incredibly proud of where I am now.

Awards and recognition: Myron Jones Broadcasting Award.

Campus Involvement: I’ve written for the Behrend Beacon since the spring of 2021 and am currently the sports editor. I also am involved in BVZ Radio.

On leadership: During the summer of 2018, I was selected to attend the Penn State Summer Leadership Conference at University Park. It was one of the best learning experiences I’ve had at Penn State.

On conversation and music: I can talk to anyone. I think this may stem from the fact that I played piano for a local church from the time I was 12 years old. I was constantly surrounded by adults and expected to hold conversations with them at a young age. It helped me become confident in my speaking abilities and taught me how to make friends and how to listen to and learn from other people. I developed compassion and empathy for others that I think has served me well as a communicator.

What you’d be surprised to know about him: I worked as a page for the Pennsylvania State Senate in Harrisburg in 2011 and 2012. I am highly interested in government and how state and national government functions, not necessarily the politics behind it all, but everything else that goes into it.

Passion for service: I love helping people. It gives me a sense of accomplishment and validates the work that I do. Not only that, but I learn a lot about myself when helping others. I’m always trying to grow and be the best version of myself.

Advice for first-year students: It’s OK to not to know what you’re going to do for the rest of your life. I’m graduating in a few months, and I still have no idea where life might take me. Just have confidence in yourself and listen to your gut. Never doubt that the hard work you put in will pay off.

Parting thoughts: I’m thankful for all the Behrend faculty members who have guided me throughout my college career as well as the advisers who paved the way for me. I’m excited for the next chapter of my life.

Matt will graduate in June and plans to find a job in media production or in the communications/public relations field.

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

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Standout Seniors: Meet Brianna Scanga (Nursing)

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2022 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend. Over the next couple of 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 Brianna Scanga: 

Briana Scanga

Major: Nursing

Hometown: Vandergrift, Pennsylvania

Scholarships: Dr. and Mrs. Arthur W. Phillips Scholarship for Schreyer Scholars; Council of Fellows Leadership Scholarship; Audrey Herbert Sweny Scholarship for Nursing; Behrend Academic Excellence Award; and Irvin Kochel Lion Ambassador Fund.

On choosing Behrend: It was one of the most beautiful campuses I have ever seen. Also, it was far enough, but not too far from home and I liked the professor–to-student ratio. I got to know my professors well and they got to know me, too. I felt like I was part of a family here.

On choosing her major: From personal experience, I’ve seen the impact that nurses have in people’s lives. It inspired me to want to be like them. I have always enjoyed taking care of children, and I believe being a pediatric nurse is what I was destined to do.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: Maintaining a GPA above 3.9 while also taking on multiple leadership positions, participating in a variety of clubs, and working on and off campus.

Campus involvement: I was a member of Behrend Benefitting THON for 2 years and traveled to THON at University Park. I have been a Lion Ambassador since my first year and serve as Treasurer for the group. I’m a member of Alpha Sigma Alpha Sorority, the Behrend Honors Program and Schreyers Honors College, and the Student Nurses Association of Pennsylvania. I have been a tutor with the Learning Resource Center and a Resident Assistant for three years. This year, I was finally able to participate in Welcome Week as a guide. It was so much fun!

Awards and recognitions: President’s Freshman Award for maintaining a 4.0 GPA my first year at Behrend and the Irvin H. Kochel Award for outstanding involvement, and I’ve been on the Dean’s List every semester.

What makes her unique: I was adopted from China when I was nine months old and brought to the United States. I am forever grateful for my parents, family, and friends who I have loved growing up, and I wouldn’t change my life for anything. I was given such a great life, and I have learned to never take what I have for granted. I have not been back to China since, but I do wish to visit my hometown when the pandemic is over.

Sunny side up: I am pretty good at staying positive and keeping morale up when things go bad. I always try to see the good in people and in situations.

Her definition of the good life: Living a life without regret. Try new things. Do things that scare you and do not let fear get in the way of your dreams.

Advice for first-year students: Join as many clubs as you can and attend lots of social events on campus. I loved attending the Lion Entertainment Board (LEB) events and the Lion Ambassador’s Midnight Bingo. I made some of my best friends in college this way.

Brianna has accepted a position at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in the Pediatric ICU (PICU) after her graduation in May. She also plans to go back to graduate school to become a pediatric nurse practitioner.

Parlez-vous Français?

 By Heather Cass, Publications Manger at Penn State Behrend

foreign language1

Do you speak French? You could learn how at Penn State Behrend, where you’ll find courses in French, German, and Spanish, as well as a class on Italian culture. Behrend’s academic offerings in global languages include a minor in Spanish and a German Studies certificate.

You can learn much more about Behrend’s language offerings during the college’s celebration of National Foreign Language Week, Monday, February 28, to Thursday, March 3.

The week’s events will include a variety of Zoom presentations on language and culture topics, making it easy to pop in from wherever you are on or off campus. See the complete schedule and get Zoom links here.

The line-up will even feature in-person events that involve food. Yum!

  • Monday, February 28, from noon to 1:00 p.m., you can sample food from different countries at World Catering Day in McGarvey Commons.
  • Wednesday, March 2, from 11:00 a.m. to noon, you can Join the Global Ambassadors in Bruno’s Café for a free taste of French cuisine and a chance to win delicious macarons.

The Behrend Blog chatted with Dr. Laurie Urraro, assistant teaching professor of Spanish, to learn more about the event and why everyone should consider learning a foreign language.

How many languages do you speak?

I am a native English speaker who is also fluent in Spanish. I speak some Portuguese and can read some French. I also understand a little Italian.

What language should students learn?

It depends on the field one enters, of course, but any foreign language is useful and will help you stand out in a job interview!

We know that it’s easiest to learn a second language as a child, but how about as a college student? College students’ minds are still developing, too, so it is not too late to learn! In fact, I would encourage anyone at any age to try to pick up another language. Just because it’s “easier” at a young age doesn’t mean it’s impossible at an older age.

Why should a student learn another language?

Here are just a few great reasons:

  • It will boost your resume. No matter what field you go into, learning a foreign language will be an “added bonus” that makes you a more attractive employee.
  • In an increasingly global world, being bilingual makes you more versatile. It also makes you more mobile as it’s easier for you to travel and explore new places.
  • It helps your English. Many languages are derived from Latin (French, Spanish, Italian), including many words in English. English is a Germanic tongue. Learning a foreign language will boost your vocabulary by familiarizing you with words that have common equivalents in other languages.
  • It makes you smarter. Research has shown that being bilingual improves cognitive skills unrelated to language.
  • It increases your cultural IQ. Studying a foreign language exposes the learner to diverse customs, ideas, and perspectives. Of course, you can still learn about other cultures without speaking the native tongue, but language learning allows for a more immersive experience.
  • It can increase your brain power: Learning a foreign language can improve your multitasking, attention, and problem-solving skills. It can also help improve your memory, which comes in handy when trying to remember the names of new contacts or clients.

Learn more about Foreign Languages Week at Behrend here.

Rough day? Take (a) note

By Heather Cass, Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend


The weeks between Thanksgiving and the end of the semester are notoriously rough for almost everyone on a college campus. Professors kick it into high gear to cover remaining material before final exams. Students scramble to stay on top of their work and study for finals. Staff and administrators work feverishly to plan for the start of the new semester that will follow break.

Penn State Behrend’s School of Science Ambassadors are no strangers to the tense atmosphere in those few weeks, so they decided to toss a little sodium hydride into the water with a bunch of eye-catching colorful sticky notes plastered on the glass walls in the breezeway between the Otto Behrend building and the Science Complex.

“At our first Science Ambassadors meeting this year, we discussed doing something fun to brighten up the science buildings,” said Lauren Barmore, a senior Biology major, who helped spearhead the project. “There was a group of four of us who put the wall up the Friday before Thanksgiving break. We wanted it to be a surprise for the students when they returned.”

The students who wrote the initial notes—Barmore, Taylor Romania, Briona Bargerstock, and Jacob Kessler—penned notes that reflect the material taught in the School of Science.

“We wanted to put our own spin on it,” Barmore said. “A lot of our professors put jokes and memes into their learning materials, so we were sort of influenced by them.”

The messages on the notes range from inspirational to encouraging to laugh-out-loud funny. Most contain math or science references guaranteed to make readers chuckle:


Or groan:


Or, if they are non-science majors, scratch their heads.:


A similar display of sticky notes can be found in the stairwell in the Reed Union Building. That project began several years ago and continues. thanks to the college’s Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) club.

It’s a popular campus feature and one that Barmore has used.

“I always loved taking notes from the RAK stairwell and giving them to my friends before exams or if they were having a rough day, or needed a laugh,” she said. “I’ve found that the smallest acts of empathy or service can have a big effect on people. We wanted to bring some of that color and joy to our side of campus.”

The notes are meant to be shared and to multiply: A container of sticky notes and pens hangs in the middle of the display, inviting anyone to share a note or joke or drawing. Take what you need. Leave what you want to say.

“We hope people enjoy reading them as much as we did writing them,” Barmore said.

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

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

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

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

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

dr gallifa
Dr. Dan Galiffa with two of his pet tarantulas

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

Tarantula Photo Frame (ALL) 10-3-21 (002)

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


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

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

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

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

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


What types of courses do you teach at Behrend?

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

What is appealing to you about tarantulas?

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

Why do you think people are so afraid of spiders?

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

Where did you get your tarantulas?

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

What do they eat?

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

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

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

Are they venomous?

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

What would happen if you got bit?

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

How long do they live?

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

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

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

How can you use them to teach math modeling?

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

Do you have any other pets?

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

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

Here are some interesting facts:

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

Young Recycling Recruits Thrive at Bootcamp

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


Plastics recycling class opens eyes, options for high school students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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