Career Roundtable educates School of Science students on available opportunities

Todd Thorniley, a 2014 Penn State Behrend biology graduate, now works as a quality control technician at Southern Tier Brewing Company in Lakewood, New York. On Wednesday, March 25, he was one of the alumni who returned to Behrend to educate current School of Science students on the opportunities available to them during the Career Roundtable for Biology and Chemistry Majors.

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

For a biology or chemistry graduate, there’s no shortage of opportunities. Environmental consultant, genetic counselor — even a quality control technician for a brewery.

“Students have no idea how much they can do with their degree,” said Todd Thorniley, a 2014 biology graduate of Penn State Erie, The Behrend College, who now works as a quality control technician for Southern Tier Brewing Company in Lakewood, New York. “It’s not just medical. It’s not just research. You can go work with beer, too.”

Emphasizing the diverse career paths available to students was one of the purposes of the Career Roundtable for Biology and Chemistry Majors, a networking event hosted by the School of Science at Penn State Behrend on Wednesday, March 25.

Designed like a round of speed dating, professionals who work in science-related fields were seated at tables in McGarvey Commons. A group of six to eight students was also seated at the table.

For ten minutes, professionals discussed the tasks, challenges and requirements of the jobs they perform every day. At the end of ten minutes, the professionals moved on to the next table, and the process repeated.

“The structure of the event really allows students to hear about a number of career paths in a relatively short amount of time and begin networking,” said Beth Potter, assistant professor of biology who coordinated the event. “The event is great for freshman as well as seniors, who still may not know what they want to do.”

During the two-hour event, more than 100 students interacted with 10 professionals, many of whom were Penn State Behrend alumni, representing companies that included Michael Baker International, the Pennsylvania State Crime Lab, PerkinElmer Genetics, Southern Tier and Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine.

One of the alumni in attendance was 2013 graduate Leah Wolfe, who attended the same event while she was a student.

“When I attended, I wasn’t sure who I wanted to be, what I wanted to be or where I wanted to go,” said Wolfe, who is now pursing a master’s degree in orthotics and prosthetics from the University of Pittsburgh. “But actually hearing from these professionals was so helpful.”

Denise DeVore, a sophomore biology major, was one of the students in attendance at the Career Roundtable. She hoped the event would have the same effect on her that it had on Wolfe years earlier.

“I’m interested in pediatrics, but I’m not entirely sure that’s for me,” DeVore said. “I feel like this is going to help me narrow it down to what I want to do because there are so many options out there for a science major.”

6 Things I Learned at the Science Café

Science Cafe_2013-14.pdf

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Each year, the local chapter of Sigma Xi, a scientific research society which several School of Science faculty members belong to, hosts a series of informal get togethers (the Science Café) designed to “bring scientists and community member together to explore scientific topics in a pubic, accessible, and relaxed venue.”

“Our catch phrase is ‘Food. Beer. Science,'” said Dr. Jay Amicangelo, associate professor of chemistry.

They had me at food. Beer sealed the deal.

So last night, my 10-year-old-daughter, a budding biologist, and I attended the November Science Café at Calamari’s Squid Row, a bar and restaurant in downtown Erie, along with 50+ other people. Many were college students, probably earning extra credit, judging by the note taking I saw going on but there were also several families with kids there.

Last night’s topic was “Wildlife at Presque Isle” and the presenters were Ray Bierbower ’05 (a Behrend grad)  and Brian Gula, Environmental Education Specialists at Presque Isle State Park.

The pair clearly love their jobs. Their enthusiasm for the park, nature, and wildlife was evident and infectious.

As an avid runner and Erie native, I’ve run every inch of that park more times than I can possibly count and, yet, last night, I still learned some things I never knew.

1. Lake Erie, which is the shallowest of the Great Lakes (210 feet at its deepest point),  has more consumable fish than all the other Great Lakes combined.

2. There are typically 6 to 9 coyotes on the park and 40 to 60 deer, and that is a manageable number. There have been as many as 14 coyote and more than 100 deer, which is too many.  Cars, more than guns, tend to cull the herd.

3. Presque Isle Bay is home to a “living fossil.” The bowfish is the last of its species, which thrived about 150 million years ago. It has a lunglike swim bladder that opens to the throat, allowing it to breathe air.

4. One of the ugliest species in the lake has a deceiving cute name. The mudpuppy, which lives its entire life underwater, is distinguished as the only salamander that makes a sound—a dog-like barking.

Mudpuppy (Necturus maculosus).  Walhonding River just below 6-mile dam.

Photo from

5. People let all kinds of animals go free at Presque Isle. The rangers have found everything from a skate , a small stingray-like fish, to alligators to pot-bellied pigs to pet rabbits, birds, cats, and dogs.  Most of them die.

6. Auto/animal deaths are frequent and are a really good reason to drive the posted 20 m.p.h. speed limit at the park. Three of four fox kits born last year were killed by cars. The mother was eventually hit by a car and killed, too.  The rangers don’t blame motorists.  “There are 4.5 million visitors to the park every year — that’s a lot of cars to dodge,” Gula said. Beirbower added that he’s had many near misses even when driving 10 or 15 miles per hour. That said, they still wish motorists would slow down and keep an eye out for wildlife when driving around the park.

The Science Café was just what Sigma Xi intended it to be — a low-key, informal, but informative scientific “lecture” in non-intimidating environment.  My daughter and I enjoyed it equally.

Mark your calendar now for the remaining Science Café presentations. On the menu:

February 13, 2014 — “Meat, Bacteria and Antibiotics: A Recipe for Concern”  — at Calamari’s Squid Row.  (Hmm…methinks few may order dinner that night.)

March 20, 2014 — “Debunking ‘Bones'” at Voodoo Brewery in Meadville, Pa. (I hear this place is absolutely worth the drive down I-79).

Science Cafe_2013-14.pdf