A Textbook Case of Win-Win: Student filmmakers, professors, textbook company team up to create educational videos


Dr. Papiya Bhattacharjee

By Christine Palattella
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Associate professor of mathematics Dr. Papiya Bhattacharjee’s daily summer lectures have an audience of just one unblinking video camera, but the potential to reach millions of math students.

Bhattacharjee is one of four calculus teachers chosen by regional audition to act as talent in supplemental video content to be distributed by Erie-based Larson Texts. The video series is being produced using equipment provided by Greater Erie Arts Rental (GEAR), a new outreach services of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, and with the assistance of Behrend students working as production interns for Larson.

“I think the videos are going to be extremely helpful for any student, but especially the visual learners,” says Bhattacharjee, who spends four hours each morning in the Kochel Center television studio, working aloud while illustrating her commentary in grease marker on a large pane of glass. (The glass will be flipped in post-production to make the pane readable.)

Years of teaching have left Bhattacharjee comfortable speaking in public. It’s the addition of technology that’s the challenge. “I need to remember to always look at the camera while speaking, move away from my writing so it can be seen clearly in the camera, and so on,” she says. “I am trying to have fun. All I have to remember is that the camera is my student, and I am tutoring my student.”

But this is no average student: The camera is an Epic-M Red Dragon Pro, the same model used to film Game of Thrones, The Hobbit, and Avenger: Age of Ultron. This camera is just one piece of equipment in GEAR’s inventory, which includes high-end cameras, lighting kits, and other hardware and software. The equipment is available to professional and student filmmakers and regional artists. GEAR’s equipment inventory, purchased using a $500,000 gift commitment from the Samuel P. Black Family Fund of the Erie Community Foundation, also includes lenses, tripods and stage legs; six-channel sound mixers; shotgun and wireless mics; Fresnal, LED, and HMI lighting systems; and Mac Pro, Adobe and DaVinci Resolve editing and rendering software.

Tim Larson ’87 is a partner in Grant Larson Productions, creator of the calculus video series. He anticipates filming 700 individual videos averaging seven minutes in length by the time the shoot wraps in August. Larson calls GEAR “a wonderful resource. It’s so nice to have this kind of equipment in Erie. On previous shoots we’ve had to rent cameras and equipment from Columbus and Buffalo, so this is an astounding benefit to us.”

An additional GEAR benefit is a ready-made film crew, since a rental discount is available to GEAR clients who hire Penn State Behrend students. “I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to work on this project,” says Erik Brown, a spring Communication graduate and one of six Behrend students and young alumni working for Grant Larson as paid production interns. “The great thing about working here is not only learning about the film industry itself, but also being exposed to high-quality equipment. We’re not using just a couple house lights and DSLR cameras, but industry-standard gear for lighting, sound recording, and cameras. I’ve always wanted to work in the film industry and, now, working on this shoot, I feel like I have a realistic chance of doing that.”

Erik Brown, left, Josh Lapping

Erik Brown, left, and Josh Lapping, (above) are two of six Behrend students and recent alumni working on the videos for Grant Larson Productions using equipment from the Greater Erie Arts Rental, or GEAR, a new outreach service of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences that provides professional and student filmmakers and regional artists access to high-end cameras, lighting kits, and other hardware and software. 

Josh Lapping, Ciara Smith

Penn State students, Josh Lapping, left, and Ciara Smith, work on a series of videos for Grant Larson Productions.

Shelby Dailey

Shelby Dailey, Penn State Behrend Communication major and intern for Grant Larson Productions.

Intern Shelby Dailey, pictured above, a Communication major starting her senior year at the college, appreciates that Grant Larson rotates its student workers. “We’re given the chance to experience all the moving parts of film, such as camera operating, producing, directing, and script supervising. I’ve learned things that textbooks can’t adequately prepare students for, such as (crew) dos and don’ts, set etiquette, and (the importance) of networking.”

“We want to offer an educational experience that is at the same time a close facsimile of what students will experience once they enter the professional environment of producing film and television,” says GEAR coordinator Michael Berlin, whose previous professional experiences include managing crew and equipment for New York City’s Fashion Week and the E! and Pop television networks and production management for ABC World News, CNBC, and ESPN. “The students working on these calculus videos are gaining technical know-how and a type of muscle memory that characterizes this industry, plus they are learning the responsibility that comes with arriving on-set day in and day out. They also are enjoying the benefit of getting paid for their hard work—believe me when I tell you that this type of arrangement is a very rare and very special as a teaching tool that is fair to all parties involved.”

For additional information about GEAR, email Michael Berlin at mbb21@psu.eduLarson Texts and Grant Larson Productions online.

Alumnus to star in HGTV show – Nashville Flipped

By Heather Cass Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend Troy Dean Shafer

Though we humans put a lot of thought and care into planning our future, the simple fact is that life can change on a dime. Single moments, simple choices, and chance meetings can lead us down a different path to a whole new life.

Such has been the case for Penn State Behrend alumnus, Troy Dean Shafer ’04, founder and owner of Nashville Flipped, a historical home restoration business in Nashville, Tennessee, who is the subject of a new HGTV show created by American Pickers star Mike Wolfe. The pilot episode of Nashville Flipped is scheduled to air on HGTV this Thursday, March 19, at 11 p.m., eastern standard time

Walmart detour leads to HGTV show

Wolfe and Shafer became friends after a fortuitous meeting at a Tennessee Walmart.

“I was picking something up for my wife when I heard an overhead announcement that Mike was there signing autographs,” he said. “I was a fan of the show, so I wandered over to meet him. We talked and I gave him a copy of my business card. To my surprise, he said he’d heard about my business. He said he was buying a historical building in downtown Nashville and asked if I’d come take a look at it for him.”

Shafer happily agreed and even did some work to help stabilize the building, which Wolfe converted to retail space.

The two became fast friends as they share a passion for preserving history—Wolfe through artifacts, Shafer through architecture.

Building on a Black School of Business Degree

You may remember Shafer from a story in the January 2013 Behrend Magazine, or you may remember him from the early 2000s when he spent four years at the Black School of Business earning a degree in Business Management.

Here’s the foundation of Shafer’s story: The son of custom-home contractor, Shafer grew up around the construction industry and planned to be an architect. Fearing an architecture degree would be too limiting, he went the business route at Behrend, a decision that would serve him well later. He moved to Nashville after graduation to try his hand at a singing career. While his music career blossomed (he served as a backup signer on some impressive concert tours), his business acumen and life-long love for old houses and architecture, led him to begin “rescuing” historic homes in his spare time and he founded Nashville Flipped, a home renovation business.

“I’m saving historic homes that other people would just raze,” he said. “I gut the house and rebuild it with all the latest amenities, while preserving the architecture and character of the house.”

nash flipped logo

Bucking the trend

He renovates about a dozen houses a year with the help of a handful of employees and a variety of subcontractors. He does a lot of the work himself, as you’ll see on the pilot episode of Nashville Flipped, where he works with interior designer Alexandra Cirimelli to renovate a 1932 craftsman-style bungalow in East Nashville.

“It’s in a historic part of Nashville called Cleveland Park. I bought it at an auction and actually got into a bit of a bidding war over it,” he said with a laugh. “I loved the style and feel of it. It had original moldings and door handles and built-in bookshelves. It had so much character and it needed to be saved.”

Shafer bucks the trend of many developers in East Nashville who buy old properties, tear down the house and build three more in its place.

“I’ve built a bit of a fan base because I do the exact opposite,” Shafer said. “I save the old houses when nobody else wants to put that kind of work into them.”

Labor of love

Shafer isn’t afraid of the work. It’s safe to say he loves it. He has a genuine affection for the homes he restores.

“I think about the future of that house—the newborn baby that might be brought home to it, the Christmas tree that will fit perfectly in that front window, the driveway where a kid may learn to ride a two-wheel bike. . .,” he trails off, then adding, “It’s cool to be a hidden part of those future memories.”

Shafer is the real deal. He says Wolfe is, too.

“He is absolutely the same guy you see on television,” Shafer said. “He’s one of the most intelligent, passionate people I’ve ever met.”

Together, the two are sure to build a show HGTV viewers will flip for.

Home History 101

Nashville Flipped will be unlike any other home renovation show because there will be a heavy emphasis on the history of the house, the surrounding neighborhood, and even interviews with past residents.

Shafer won’t know until late this summer if the network will order more episodes of Nashville Flipped.

“They will air several different pilots over the next few months to see what sticks,” Shafer said, “so the more people who watch the show and watch the reruns or talk about the show, the better chance it has of being picked up.”

Tune in on Thursday at 11 p.m. (EST) on HGTV.

More info

Read more about Shafer in a 2013 Behrend Magazine story and an online Q&A here.

For more information about Nashville Flipped or to see some of the company’s latest work, visit nashvilleflipped.com or follow Troy at twitter.com/nashflipped 2015-03-13 10.59.11

Meet Standout Senior Kelly English-James

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

kelly english-james dec. 14 2

Kelly English-James

Major: Management Information Systems

Minors: Marketing, Operations and Supply Chain Management

On choosing her major: “Originally, I was a Marketing major. I was always a creative person and enjoyed making things that would be visually appealing to others. I was introduced to coding, web design, and data bases in an introductory level MIS course and immediately fell in love. I learned that I’d rather be the person working on the system than in the system. Choosing MIS has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life thus far.”

Involved to the nth degree: English-James certainly made the most of her time at Behrend. She was a Lion Ambassador, president of the Human Relations Programming Council, member of the Management Information Systems Club, member of the National Society of Black Engineers, member of the Association for Black collegians, Member of the Multicultural Council, member of the Organization of African and Caribbean students, member of the Organization of Latin American students, member of Women Today, and member of the International Student Organization. Pheww….

On motivation and drive: “I have an outstanding drive and motivation. When I set my mind to things I’m truly unstoppable.”

Embracing differences: “I am most engaged and attracted to people who are intelligent and have unique mindsets. I am very excited when I discover that someone thinks completely different from others. It truly inspires me.”

Advice for new students: “Be open minded and always plan ahead. Plan your next two semesters of courses in advance. If you don’t plan, you may find yourself in a difficult academic situation!”

English-James will graduate on Friday, December 19. She has accepted an MIS position in Rhode Island.

Meet Standout Senior Kristina Peszel

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

kristina peszel

Kristina Peszel

Major: English, with Professional Writing option

Minors: Management Information Systems

Certificate: Social Media

On choosing Behrend: “It has the resources and prestige that come with being Penn State, but with smaller classes. I was able to not only really get to know my professors—and to have them know me—but also to have the kind of intense discussions in small classes that turn an average learning experience into a profound one.”

On English as a versatile degree: “I always had a knack for writing and I like helping people. With English, specifically with the professional writing option, I can help businesses communicate more effectively. I like solving problems, and ineffective communication is essentially a problem of words; every word we use is a choice, so how can we use words in the most effective way to get our point of view across? English is an exciting major because it’s a major of possibilities!”

On minoring in MIS: “I decided to minor in MIS without any prior technical background. There were times I questioned my ability to do something so different than what I was used to, but I stuck it out and eventually got two MIS-related internships.”

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: “Any time I help another student succeed. Whether that’s through tutoring (Peszel was the lead writing tutor at the college’s Learning Resource Center) or just giving someone advice, nothing makes me more proud than knowing I helped someone in a positive way.”

Words to live by: “Someone once told me that there is no comfort in the growth zone, but there’s no growth in the comfort zone. I try to remember that when I’m doing something new. If you never get out of your comfort zone and try new things, you don’t give yourself the chance to grow.”

Advice for new students: “People will tell you not to take your electives right away and to ‘save’ them, but if you aren’t sure what you want to major in, take some electives! You won’t know if something is right for you until you try it.”

During her time at Behrend Peszel was a member and officer of Alpha Sigma Tau, Omicron Delta Kappa, and Reality Check. She participated in Alternative Spring Break in 2014, wrote for the Behrend Beacon, and was involved with the Lion Entertainment Board for two years. She also served as the lead writing Tutor of the Learning Resource Center where she honed her skills in technical writing.

Peszel will graduate on Friday, Dec. 19. She has accepted an MIS position at Erie Insurance.

A Glenhill proposal


By Heather Cass, Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Glenhill Farmhouse has been the location for everything from Behrend family dinners to VIP luncheons to a women’s dormitory to the chancellor’s office.

Last weekend, it became the location for a marriage proposal when Greg Bossart ’12 proposed to Emily Harrington ’12.

The two met in Antonella Cupillari’s Introduction to Mathematical Proofs Class.

“Neither of us knew anyone in the class and we ended up sitting next to each other. Group work was a strong component of weekly assignments in the class and since Greg looked like the friendliest person there, I quickly asked him to be my partner,” Emily said. “I never expected (nor did he) that my math partner would end up changing my life.”

Their partnership grew, progressing from homework “dates” to real dates. The two would often engage in long talks over cups of coffee at the State Street Starbucks in downtown Erie.

Soon, they were a couple, sharing many, many long walks across campus from Burke Center (Greg was an Electrical Engineering major) to the Otto Behrend Science Hall (Emily was a molecular biology and biochemistry major).

“We took that walk between REDC and OBS/NICK so many times, sharing casual conversation and deeper ones including talking about some of the harder times we were both going through,” she said. “There were so many times that while walking side by side, we would slow down just to enjoy our surroundings. The serenity of the campus and natural beauty are beyond compare.”

On Saturday, September 14, Greg woke Emily up early and asked her to get in the car. He had made a CD full of songs reminiscent of their college days when they would share an iPod while studying in the library together.

 “We arrived at Behrend and got out of the car, taking our ever-familiar walk,” Emily said. “As the sun poked through the clouds in the early morning, and while Behrend students all slept in their beds, Greg took me over to the Glenhill Farmhouse, kissed me, and dropped to one knee.”

Proposal Behrend 1

She said yes, of course.

“Greg and I are best friends and share a love that started at Penn State Behrend; there was nothing more perfect than coming full circle and returning to the place where we started to grow as individuals, met, and fell in love to become engaged to each other in this place,” she said.

We think it’s perfect, too.

Well done, Greg. Congratulations to both of you!

Greg and Emily

Editors note: Um…Greg, what’s with the Pitt hat? LOL. It’s OK, we know you love PSU more.

Greg and Emily currently live in the Bloomfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Greg is an electrical engineer at ATI Allegheny Ludlum and is working on his Masters in electrical engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. Emily is a Ph.D. student in the Interdisciplinary Biomedical Graduate Program at the University of Pittsburgh. She holds a laboratory research position at Magee-Women’s Research Institute working on her thesis project on breast cancer.

~ Heather 

P.S. We hope to welcome some little Bossarts here in 20 or 30 years. 😉 (I’m just sayin’)