Holiday gift ideas from Behrend faculty and staff members

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

It’s crunch time. The holidays are nearly here and there’s only so much time left to grab the perfect gift.

Still need some help? No worries, Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members are here for you.

Here are some suggestions for gifts that are both fun and educational:

Idea provided by Tom Noyes, professor of English and Creative Writing

2018 Pushcart Prize XLII. The annual Pushcart Prize anthology gathers the best fiction, nonfiction and poetry published in America’s literary magazines and small presses over the course of the previous year, making it an ideal gift for any book lover on your list. The newest edition, 2018 Pushcart Prize XLII, contains a special treat. The poem “Praying Mantis in My Husband’s Salad” by Laura Kasischke was chosen from the pages of Lake Effect, Penn State Behrend’s award-winning literary journal. $13

Idea provided by Mary-Ellen Madigan, director of enrollment management

BRIXO. Enjoy LEGOs? Then you’ll love BRIXO, which is similar but with even more customization. Some of the things that young people can create include vehicles, wacky lamps, remote-controlled lighthouses and motorized quadcopters. If someone on your list has a big imagination, this gift is for them. Prices vary.

Ideas provided by Tracy Halmi, assistant teaching professor of chemistry

Bath Bombs. It’s a chance to bring chemistry to the tub. Bath bombs are hard-packed mixtures of dry ingredients and give off bubbles when wet. They can be purchased from the web, or young chemists can use this Bath Bombs guide to make their own. $19

Amigurumi Chemistry Set Pattern. This crochet chemistry set pattern is perfect for the person on your list who is crafty but loves science, too. $14

Organic Compounds Cutting Board. Know someone who likes to cook with spices? This cutting board displays all the molecules that add the fragrance to spices. $38.50

Reactions: An Illustrated Exploration of Elements, Molecules, and Change in the Universe. The third and final installment in the trilogy of visual books developed by Theodore Gray, this book details chemical reactions with a set of stunning pictures and stories. $30

Ideas provided by Richard Zhao, assistant professor of computer science and software engineering

Amazon Echo Dot or Google Home Mini. Who wouldn’t want a personal assistant that can tell the weather, order pizza, play music, control home appliances and more? These home automation gadgets from Amazon or Google are also on sale this holiday season. $30

Themed Night Lights. While this makes a nice holiday gift, the lights can actually be used as a home decoration all year round. Prices vary.

Catan. Able to be played by up to four players, this popular board game can be enjoyed by both family members and friends. It’s also easy to learn and fun to play. $49

Brandon Moten’s Maryland State of Mind

By Brandon Moten
Senior Communication Major

Hello Penn State Behrend students, faculty, and staff, my name is Brandon Moten. I’m a senior from Bowie, Maryland, majoring in Communication with certificates in Advertising & Social Media. I have been attending Penn State Behrend since August of 2013 and have loved every minute of it. From the people to the class experiences, it’s been an awesome time.

Over the course of the semester, I’ll be writing a new series of blog posts called “A Maryland State of Mind” where I’ll share my experience of attending Penn State Behrend as an out-of-state student. I will discuss my transition from moving from a place I lived my whole life to a new state, differences between where I’m from and Erie, how I balance school and daily life, and how I handled the challenges I faced along the way.

Penn State Behrend is an amazing school, and I have grown in many ways and experienced so many new things. When I first came to college in 2013, I had no idea of what to expect. I have been living in Bowie, Maryland, my whole life and leaving home was not easy. In the beginning, I had nerves about experiencing new cultures, being six hours away from home, leaving my friends and family, and so much more.

I’m sure there are many current and future out-of-state students who are or will be experiencing the same emotions. I hope this blog series helps those students who have these same thoughts and emotions as I once did. Ultimately, I hope to give everyone a better idea on the life of an out-of-state Penn State Behrend student.

Stay tuned for more… WE ARE PENN STATE!

Rachel Cotton finds niche with BVZ: Behrend’s Voice

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By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

If Penn State Behrend’s students have not seen their classmate Rachel Cotton on campus, there’s a good chance they’ve heard her.

For listeners of BVZ: Behrend’s Voice, the college’s online student radio station, Cotton’s voice is a hard one to miss.

The junior communication major serves as station manager of BVZ and can be regularly heard across the cyber waves hosting her current show, “Next in Line,” where she previews upcoming artists. She also is happy to jump in and deejay whenever there’s a lull in programming.

She knows that professional radio jobs may not be easy to attain, but that has not stopped Cotton from positioning herself to be an ideal candidate for a future opening in the field.

“If I could ever make it in radio, that would be the best thing ever,” said Cotton, who is originally from the Philadelphia area. “Having a great personality in radio is so important, and you get to create an emotional appeal. I love it.”

Cotton’s love of radio is nothing new. In high school, she actually won a contest where she got to be a deejay on a local station for a day.

She brought her love for the medium to Behrend as she got involved with BVZ, which celebrated its fifth anniversary in November, early in her freshman year. As a sophomore, she served as PR and events manager for the station before becoming its manager this past fall.

In the past, students could not join BVZ or host a show on the station before first completing the Radio Practicum course, but Cotton saw limitations with this formula.

“There are people who necessarily cannot take the class or might be in a different major where they can’t have it as an elective,” Cotton said. “I wanted to find a way around the class, so folks in any major can find a way to participate.”

This past fall, Cotton developed a BVZ Fast Track program for students who want to host a radio show but cannot take the course. Cotton meets with interested students separately and runs them through the basics of operating a live station in just a few weeks. So far, four students have participated in the program. Cotton said she eventually hopes to have 10 to 20 students going through it at once.

BVZ continues to build its presence on campus as the station hosts weekly “Hump Day” broadcasts from Bruno’s Café. The station is also always willing to collaborate with student groups if the organization would like BVZ at an event it’s hosting.

The station has already worked with some student groups, which Cotton said has helped BVZ spread its reach.

“People love when we come out to events,” she said. “We have been at more events this year than I can ever remember. It’s stellar to see that people are noticing us more and not just for giveaways or concert tickets, either. They’re actually listening to hear us. I love it.”

To listen to BVZ, visit behrendbvz.org.

Students interested in joining BVZ and taking part in the Fast Track program should contact Cotton at ryc5136@psu.edu.

Student finds niche playing Smith Carillon

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Penn State Behrend sophomore James Lisi began playing the campus’ Smith Carillon this fall. He plays regularly throughout the week on the campus’ practice carillon (pictured) and played a concert during finals week for the campus community. While he’s been a musician since he was a child, mastering the carillon has been a new kind of challenge. “Instead of having the keys right next to you, you have to branch out,” Lisi said. “This wears your hands out a lot faster because you have to move them all over, but there are pedals too, so some of the notes you can play with your feet, which makes it easier.”

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Walk into Penn State Behrend’s Larry and Kathryn Smith Chapel on a weekday morning and chances are you’ll hear James Lisi before you see him.

He’ll be playing one of the building’s many pianos. Or pedaling away on the practice carillon.

“I start every day by playing music here,” said Lisi, a sophomore psychology major. “When I play the piano or the carillon, it gets me going and sets the tone for the day.”

Lisi, a Cleveland native, has always appreciated music. He started singing in third grade and began playing the piano two years later. He is also a member of the Choirs of Penn State Behrend.

While he has experience playing several other instruments, Lisi said he was taken aback to learn about the college’s carillon.

“I had never heard of one before. There are only 200 or so in the country,” he said. “It’s just a really, really rare instrument.”

The 48-bell carillon, along with the chapel’s bell tower, was installed at Penn State Behrend in 2002 as a gift of the late Floyd and Juanita Smith, parents of Larry Smith, president and owner of Automation Devices in Fairview, Pa., and a longtime supporter of the college.

The carillon is an unconventional instrument, to say the least, according to Lisi.

“Instead of having the keys right next to you, you have to branch out,” he said. “This wears your hands out a lot faster because you have to move them all over, but there are pedals too, so some of the notes you can play with your feet, which makes it easier.”

Lisi’s past musical experience is serving him well, as is regular practice and lessons with Daniel Frankforter, professor emeritus of history and the college’s carillonneur.

Lisi is now playing the carillon on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. He spends hours in Smith Chapel, both studying and playing the pianos and carillon.

“I just love this whole building,” Lisi said. “I get to come here and play three different instruments. It’s a nice way for me to relieve stress. It’s definitely my favorite thing about Behrend.”

During finals week, Lisi played several holiday songs as part of a half-hour carillon concert for the campus community. Students, faculty and staff members were encouraged to gather at Ben Lane Plaza to enjoy hot chocolate as they listened to the bells chime from atop the carillon tower.

“I made some mistakes,” Lisi said with a smile, “but I knew I was not going to be perfect the first time I played publicly. Thankfully, I don’t think anyone noticed.”

He will get another chance to impress this spring at a second carillon concert to be held during finals week.

And if things go his way, Lisi will not be the only one performing. He is currently introducing the carillon to several of his friends.

“I’m really working to persuade some of my friends to play it as well,” he said. “It’s just a totally different kind of instrument. I love the high notes on it, and it’s great that we have one of these right here at Behrend.”

Still have some holiday shopping to do? Behrend faculty and staff members have you covered

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

The mad dash is almost here. It’s time to get those final holiday gifts before it’s too late.

Still scrambling for ideas? Don’t worry, Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members have you covered. Here are some of their top suggestions for gifts that are both fun and educational.

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Ideas provided by Melanie Ford, director of Youth Education Outreach

Jewelbots. Look pretty while you learn about programming? That’s exactly what girls can accomplish with Jewelbots, the friendship bracelet that teaches kids to code. $69

Robot Turtles. Designed for children ages four and up, this interactive board game helps teach young people how to program. $15

Pokemon. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Pokemon are once again hotter than ever.  Whether it’s the cards or the video games, there are plenty of ways to “catch ‘em all” this holiday season. Prices vary

Ideas provided by Tracy Halmi, senior lecturer in chemistry

Molecules: The Elements and the Architecture of Everything. Quite literally, molecules make up everything. How exactly does one visualize that, though? Theodore Gray does that for you in this book, which features stunning photography of the chemical structures that make up every material in the world. $20

Instant Snow. Even as one of America’s snowiest cities, the white stuff has been mostly absent from the region so far. We cannot make snow fall from the sky, but this gift allows a person to actually make snow (and learn about chemistry while he or she is at it.) $18

Minecraft Cookie Cutters. Every child seems to love Minecraft. Every child definitely loves cookies. This is a no-brainer. $10

Ideas provided by Dr. Richard Zhao, assistant professor of computer science and software engineering

Merge VR Goggles. 2016 is the year that virtual reality headsets hit the mainstream. The Merge VR Googles turn a person’s smartphone into a virtual reality headset. You’re then able to enjoy fully-immersive virtual environments and games right from the comfort of your living room. $60

Google Cardboard. While Google Cardboard might not look as cool as the Merge Goggles, it offers a similar experience and at a great price. $15

Idea provided by Tom Noyes, professor of English and creative writing

“Best American” book series. For bibliophiles on your list, you might check out the annual “Best American” series. Each year, 2016 included, editors compile the best examples of writing from magazines around the country. The three standards, “Best American Short Stories,” “Best American Poetry,” and “Best American Essays” are great, as are some of the other volumes, including “Best American Mystery Stories,” “Best American Sports Writing,” “Best American Science and Nature Writing,” and “Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy.” $10-$15

Idea provided by Mary-Ellen Madigan, director of enrollment management

Tile Mate. Is there someone on your list who is notorious for losing his or her keys? They won’t be anymore. This Bluetooth tracking device is small, durable and water resistant, and it can easily be attached to keys, luggage, backpacks, or anything else you carry. $25

Trip to Japan becomes ‘defining memory’ for Behrend students

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Fifteen Penn State Behrend students visited Japan this summer as part of the PSYCH 232 Cross-Cultural Psychology and PSYCH 499 Foreign Studies in Psychology embedded courses. While there, they attended the International Congress of Psychology (ICP 2016), a premiere psychology conference held once every four years.

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Grace Waldfogle expected Aug. 6 to be a somber day. Not only was it the last day of her trip to Japan as part of a Penn State Behrend embedded course, but it also marked the 71st anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing.

It turned out to be the opposite.

Fireworks engulfed the sky. The sadness she had expected was not present. Rather, there was a tone of optimism.

“We asked people about it, and they said, ‘It’s not something we dwell on,’” said Waldfogle, a senior psychology major. “It was just so different from how we approach that type of thing here in the United States.”

Cultural differences like this were one of the biggest takeaways for Waldfogle and the 14 other students who visited Japan for 18 days in July and August. The students visited the country as part of the PSYCH 232 Cross-Cultural Psychology and PSYCH 499 Foreign Studies in Psychology embedded courses, which were taught by faculty members Dawn Blasko, associate professor of psychology; Heather Lum, assistant professor of experimental psychology; and Victoria Kazmerski, associate professor of psychology.

Their trip began with a visit to Yokohama to attend the International Congress of Psychology (ICP 2016), a premiere psychology conference held once every four years. Several of the students presented research poster presentations during the five-day conference.

ICP 2016 also offered networking opportunities for the students, who heard from a number of prominent speakers, including famed animal rights activist Jane Goodall.

“The whole conference itself was a total blast,” said Emily Galeza, a senior Psychology major who presented research on the effectiveness of a dog therapy program with students with autism. “The size of (the conference) was just incredible, and we had the freedom to go to any session we liked.”

Stephen Dartnell, a general business student who will graduate in December, agreed.

“I got to interact with people from all over the world,” Dartnell said. “It was kind of the icing on the cake on my educational experience, and I definitely would love to attend a psychology conference like this again.”

Beyond the conference, the students also spent time in Kamakura and visited several temples across the country. To help prepare for the cultural changes, students met with MBA student Yuki Takahashi, a native of Japan, for language and culture lessons prior to the trip.

Even with the advance lessons, the language barrier was a challenge. However, the students were impressed at how easily it could be overcome with some patience (and Google Translate, of course).

“Everyone was just so friendly and willing to help,” Dartnell said. “There was one instance where I needed a trash bag for my camera because it was raining. I just kind of explained it, and a woman at the hotel helped me. You just constantly saw language barriers being broken down.”

The numerous public art displays and eastern-style architecture were also a point of culture shock for students.

Perhaps the most significant cultural difference for students, however, was the food.

“I thought I liked fish, but then I got there, and I realized I did not. They’d give you the entire fish, and you’d have to just use chopsticks,” Waldfogle said. “Every meal was a workout.”

Not all of the food differences were negative, though.

“They had so many different items that they called ‘sweets.’ They were really, really good,” Dartnell said.

From attending the conference to visiting temples across the country, the trip provided students with a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience. It might have only been an 18-day visit, but the memories will last.

“This will be one of my defining memories of Behrend,” Galeza said. “I could never have planned all of these activities by myself.”

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‘I feel so much more comfortable now.’ — Summer Bridge program prepares incoming students

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Brent Sutula, Sujata Chhetri, Joseph Lombardi, and Sydnie Moore, pictured left to right, were four of the participants in the Summer Bridge Program at Penn State Behrend. The six-week program is designed for students who want to sharpen their study, note taking, critical reading and time management skills, among others.

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend welcomed 1,280 new first-year students to campus last week.

For 28 of them, the setting felt more than a little familiar, since they had only recently completed a Summer Bridge Program to ease the transition to college.

The six-week program is designed for students who want to sharpen their study, notetaking, critical reading and time management skills, among others.

“I feel so much more comfortable now. This has just been great to meet new people and learn how to get around campus,” said Joseph Lombardo, a first-year History major from Erie.

The program even included a scavenger hunt in which students learned how to navigate campus by finding places and objects. They also spent time learning about the college’s numerous resources such as the Academic and Career Planning Center and Lilley Library.

“Transition is key. There is such a disconnect from what students did in high school to what they will do here,” said Mary Connerty, a lecturer in English who taught the program.

The program was sponsored by the college’s Office of Student Success and Retention. Half of the program’s attendees were immigrants or refugees.

“We’re obligated to help prepare these students who may need the extra help to succeed,” Connerty said.

To get students accustomed to a college workload, participants in the program received weekly homework assignments, including regular critical readings and a requirement to write multiple-page papers. Connerty estimates that each week’s assignments took students a minimum of three to four hours to complete.

That type of workload can be daunting for any first-year student, but it was also helpful for these students to become aware of college expectations.

Sujata Chhetri, a first-year International Business major, estimated that on a scale of 1-10, her nervousness about college was a 9. She says that after completing the Summer Bridge Program, that number was down to a manageable 5.

“It was a great program,” said Chhetri, a Nepal native who immigrated to Erie. “It really taught me about the workload I’ll be getting. It was somewhat overwhelming, but it also taught me about all of the resources I have that I didn’t know that I have. I don’t feel lost anymore.”

If she or any of the other attendees do happen to feel lost, the good news is that they now know where to go.

“There’s always someone you can go to talk to,” Chhetri said. “I’ve already found so many people who are going to help me with my math.”