Move over, Bill Nye. Penn State Behrend has its own ‘Science Guy’

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

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Joel Solomon, a physics major, was the recipient of this year’s T. Reed Ferguson Award. The award recognizes a junior who has demonstrated scholarship, leadership and citizenship through academic and out-of-class involvement and gives promise of further achievement in the senior year.

For some kids, it’s Cartoon Network. For others, it’s Nickelodeon. For Joel Solomon, it was the Science channel?

“Growing up, I just always watched that channel,” says Solomon, who recently completed his junior year at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College. “I was fascinated by what humanity has been able to do over the years, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of that.”

Math and science resonated with Solomon, and that interest led the New Wilmington, Pa., native to Penn State Behrend. As he got older, he knew he wanted to pursue research in college, and he could think of no better destination than Behrend.

“Being able to get a great education at a small campus is great,” says Solomon, a physics major. “I was looking for a research-oriented institution, and Behrend is one of the few schools in the region that offers such opportunities. I know that with a degree from here, I can go anywhere that I choose.”

This past year, Solomon collaborated with Bruce Wittmershaus, associate professor of physics, on a research project titled, “Concentration Dependence of Coated Gold Nanoparticles for Metal Enhanced Fluorescence.” The project was recognized as the Best Poster Presentation this past April at the Sigma Xi Undergraduate Student Research and Creative Accomplishment Conference.

Undergraduate research has been a big part of his time at the college, but Solomon’s interests go beyond the academic realm. For the past three years, he’s been a goalie on the men’s soccer team. This past year, Solomon was inducted into Chi Alpha Sigma, a national society that honors collegiate student-athletes who excel in both the classroom and in athletic competition. The society recognizes student-athletes who received a varsity letter in their sport while maintaining a cumulative GPA of 3.4 or higher throughout their junior and/or senior years. Solomon is also a former AMCC All-Academic selection.

“I feel as if soccer complements my academics. Just being physically active helps me keep up with my coursework,” he says.

Solomon’s accomplishments on the field and in the classroom played a key role in his receiving the 2014-15 T. Reed Ferguson Award last April at the college’s 66th annual Honors and Awards Convocation. The award recognizes a junior who has demonstrated scholarship, leadership and citizenship through academic and out-of-class involvement and gives promise of further achievement in the senior year.

“I was very happy to receive the award, and it was nice to know my work is paying off,” Solomon says. “It just reassured me that I’m on the right path, but I know there’s more that I can do.”

Solomon will get the chance to fulfill that promise of further achievement this fall, continuing his undergraduate research as the recipient of a grant to explore the topic of “Enhancing the Photostability of Fluorophores Using Metal Enhanced Fluorescence.”

For the future, Solomon plans to attend graduate school and possibly work with optics. His ultimate goal, though, has its roots in the programs he watched on Science as a boy.

“My dream job is always going to be something with NASA. I have always been fascinated by all of NASA’s accomplishments,” he says, “so that’s the dream, and that’s what I’ll keep working toward.”

Behrend student returns to regional Science Olympiad as a judge

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By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

One of the Science Olympiad’s stated goals is “to create a passion for learning science.” If the organization is looking for an ambassador, it need not look any further than Gary Fye.

Fye, a first-year Biomedical Engineering major at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, was a volunteer judge at the regional Science Olympiad held at Behrend this March.

More than 400 students from thirty-three area school districts competed in forty-six science-related events. Among the participating schools was North Clarion High School, which happens to be Fye’s high school alma mater.

From grades seven through twelve, Fye participated in the Science Olympiad. In fact, he took first place in at least one event every year but ninth grade.

“The time just never seemed to last long enough,” Fye said. “It was something I really, really enjoyed.”

That enjoyment is still present today. Although Fye was at home in Leeper, Pa., for spring break, he traveled on a bus with his former high school just so he could volunteer his time at the Science Olympiad.

Experimental Design, the event Fye judged, had participants experiment with a springboard and then propose a hypothesis based on that experiment. Experiments like this are what helped pique Fye’s interest in science and engineering years ago.

“It broadens your horizons. You really get a feel for lab work,” he said.

After attending his first Science Olympiad, Fye’s interest in science only grew. In middle school and early high school, he was appropriately nicknamed “Gary Fye the Science Guy.” The name referred to Fye’s love of science, but it was also a word play on Bill Nye, who was the host of the popular PBS children’s show “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” Fye also happened to be a big fan of Nye, which made the nickname an even better fit.

The Science Olympiad influenced Fye in another way as well. The event exposed him to Penn State Behrend.

“I would actually put that as one of the number one reasons as to why I’m here at Behrend,” Fye said. “It definitely introduced me to engineering concepts.”

So far, Behrend has been a good fit.

Earlier this winter, Nye visited Behrend as part of the college’s Speaker Series. Given his natural love of science and interest in the Science Guy, Fye was more than a little excited when he heard the news.

“I sat in the front row,” he said with a smile.

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Bill Nye the Science Guy draws large crowd at Penn State Behrend

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By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Vee Butler was in search of a draw. She needed to find a speaker capable of filling the house.

“I just saw (Bill Nye’s) name and I thought, ‘What do ’90s kids like more than bonding with other ’90s kids about ’90s things?’ It seemed perfect,” said Butler, a junior arts administration major and executive director of the Lion Entertainment Board at Penn State Erie, The Behrend College.

A jam-packed, standing-room only crowd of almost 2,000 squeezed into Junker Center at Penn State Behrend Wednesday evening to watch Nye as part of the college’s Speaker Series. Nye hoped to inspire students to change the world, but it’s clear he’s already done his fair share of inspiring.

It’s been 15 years since a new episode of the PBS television show “Bill Nye the Science Guy” has been produced, but the effects of the show are still evident today.

Sophomore chemistry major Joshua Wilkins said Nye’s show actually inspired him to pursue a science degree. He was more than a little excited when he heard that Nye would be visiting Behrend.

“Ever since I found out he was coming, it’s been in the back of my mind,” Wilkins said. “It’s been a highlight of my year.”

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Wilkins said “Bill Nye the Science Guy” is one of his most cherished memories from the sixth grade. He recalled struggling to get through science class, but things always became bearable once the teacher popped a “Bill Nye the Science Guy” tape in the VCR.

“He made science funny. We could all feel his enthusiasm, and he was always the guy we wanted to see because he took us away from the traditional classroom setting,” Wilkins said.

Junior project and supply chain management major Chad Muscarella agreed.

“From his television show to the experiments to the ride at Walt Disney World, I remember it all,” Muscarella said. “He was always making education fun.”

In its five-plus year run on PBS, “Bill Nye the Science Guy” won 18 Emmy Awards and continues to be used in classrooms for educational purposes. An attraction at Walt Disney World’s Future World at Epcot, Universe of Energy, is based on the program. Nye also has written five books under “The Science Guy” moniker.

Zany phrases, wacky experiments and quirky music were par for the course on “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” which is one reason Nye believes it continues to be successful.

“This is an extraordinary claim, and I do not have extraordinary proof of this, but there’s a lot of entertainment there,” Nye said. “The show was information-packed and fun to watch.”

However, even Nye is at a loss for words when he hears of how the show has inspired lives.

“I say all the time that I don’t think I get it,” Nye said. “People come to me and say, ‘You’re the reason I became an engineer. You’re the reason I’m a scientist,’ and I’m like, ‘What?’ It amazes me.”