No place like home? A team of astronomers that includes Penn State scientists might beg to differ after the discovery of Kepler-186f, the first Earth-sized planet orbiting a star (not our sun) in a “habitable zone” that would allow for the presence of liquid water. Astronomy and astrophysics professor Eric Ford is co-author of a paper on the discovery, which utilized NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope. It’s a big deal, although probably not somewhere any of us should plan on relocating to anytime soon: Kepler-186f is about 500 light years from Earth.
How their garden grows: Here’s a cool example of collaborative learning and making a positive impact in your community, compliments of students and faculty at Penn State Berks. Undergrads Melissa Sauer and April Moore, both future schoolteachers, were looking for a way to contribute to the local elementary school where both are student teaching. The decided to create a garden, and with the help of Berks faculty from social sciences and biology, as well as classmates majoring in biology, they turned the idea into reality. Now, the garden at Glenside Elementary is a hit, inspiring hands-on learning among a growing number of young students. Says Sauer, “some of the shyest, most withdrawn students are the most involved.”
Diamond days: The State College weekend forecast is 60s and sunny—not quite Blue-White Weekend warm, but still perfect weather for some baseball. The Nittany Lions, who host Illinois in a three-game series starting tonight at Medlar Field, are off to a great start under first-year coach Rob Cooper, including an 8-0 mark at home. I met Rob recently and came away impressed by his positive approach to building a winner in Happy Valley; he also claims to have beat James Franklin to the “dominate the state” recruiting motto, although, as he laughingly admits, “When Coach Franklin says it, they put it on the front page of the newspaper.”
Ryan Jones, senior editor
Space jam: It was a party yesterday afternoon at the HUB for the announcement of the Homecoming 2014 Honorary Grand Marshal. The lucky leader: Michael Paul, director of the Lunar Lion team. We told you all about Lunar Lion’s mission to the moon back in the fall (it was the cover story in our Nov./Dec. 2013 issue), and since then, the team has made huge strides, with 120 students now working on the project.
More than words: Here’s a feel-good story about a Penn State fencer who’s helping promote LGBT equality in college sports. Working with non-profit group Athlete Ally, Heather Nelson wants fellow athletes to understand the power of their words: “It can be hard to be an athlete who isn’t out to their team and be forced to listen to teammates make derogatory comments,” says Nelson. “It can drive you to feel less like you belong and less like a welcome member of the team.” Check out Athlete Ally’s Q&A with Nelson here.
Groovy movie: Well, this is… interesting. Ripped! is a psychedelic, sci-fi, musical film about a British rock group in space. Film profs Rob Bingaman and Maura Shea co-created the film, which premiered last night at the State Theatre. Penn State students and alums make up the entire cast and crew. Trust me — the trailer is worth your 2 minutes and 33 seconds.
Mary Murphy, associate editor
Herb Hand Pizza Crawl! I have no idea what kind of an offensive line coach Herb Hand is, although we’re soon going to find out, given that the Nittany Lions barely have enough linemen to fill a two-deep. But there’s no doubt that the guy is a social media genius. Hand tweeted in February about stopping at Canyon Pizza for lunch. This understandably shocked the Penn State corner of Twitter, many of whom had no idea Canyon served food before, oh, 11 p.m. or so. Soon everyone was tweeting their favorite pizza places at Hand, and then Onward State got involved, and now there’s a glorious result: the Herb Hand Pizza Crawl. For $20, on April 27 you can accompany Hand and, as Onward put it, “explore the State College pizza scene.”
You also get a limited edition T-shirt, which I very much hope looks like the logo (above) I borrowed from Onward State’s website, and the proceeds go to Uplifting Athletes and Bands 4 RAINN. I imagine this will fill up soon, so if you’re interested, sign up quickly.
Dare I hope that the next such charity event is a James Franklin Balloon Party?
Good writing alert: If I’ve got a “coaching tree,” consisting of the young journalists I’ve mentored when they were students, among the most excellent branches are Jenny Vrentas ’06 and former Penn Stater intern Emily Kaplan ’13, who are colleagues at Sports Illustrated‘s MMQB website. So when Jenny tweets a story written by Emily, I click. This morning’s offering is a piece that uses the upcoming film Draft Day as a look at female executives in the NFL. Spoiler: Real life isn’t quite as it’s portrayed in the movie.
Ready for prime time: The Nittany Lions are going to get significant exposure in prime time this fall: The Ohio State game on Oct. 25 will start at 8 p.m. That caps an odd October for the team, which has two off weeks (Oct. 4 and 18) and two prime-time games. The game at Michigan on Oct. 11, as previously announced, will begin at 7 p.m.
Lori Shontz, senior editor
Monday Night Live: Kenan Thompson brought big laughs to Eisenhower Auditorium last night as part of the Student Programming Association’s Comedy Month. Thompson, who’s been a cast member on Saturday Night Live for a whopping 11 seasons, performed stand-up and answered audience members’ questions about SNL. Check out the Collegian’s coverage here (warning: some of Thompson’s material borders on NSFW). My favorite snippet: When asked which celebrity made the worst guest host, Thompson demurred—but admitted that her name just happens to rhyme with “Baris Milton.”
Coming soon: Here’s some cool news about a program coming to University Park in July: The “Summer Academy for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired” is a three-week program that helps visually impaired students transition to a life in a college setting, with networking workshops and career-planning help. The academy is spearheaded by Penn State and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry; Penn State students in the College of Education will work as chaperones. Read more here.
Phoenix rising: Maggie Lucas is headed west: The Lady Lion senior guard was selected by the Phoenix Mercury with the 21st overall pick in the WNBA draft last night. The Phoenix Mercury last won the WNBA championship in 2009; this year, the team finished third in the West conference. Lucas, who’s coming off her own record-breaking season, shared her reaction on Twitter (below):
Mary Murphy, associate editor
I had a chance to attend the official closing ceremony on Saturday evening for the university’s $2 billion fundraising campaign, “For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students,” and it was such a happy occasion. There was a lot to celebrate—raising more than $2 billion is huge under any circumstances, much less the fact that the campaign spanned the economic recession of 2007-09 and the Sandusky scandal. To have raised that kind of money in the face of those challenges is pretty amazing.
Below is a gallery of some photos I took at the finale in Eisenhower Auditorium.
Tina Hay, editor
The future is now: Seven years, 600,000 donors, nearly $2.2 billion raised, and an immeasurable impact on the university. Those are the (almost) final numbers from For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students, which was celebrated this weekend at University Park. The fundraising total for the campaign, which officially wraps June 30, stands at $2.158 billion, making Penn State one of just 12 public U.S. universities to exceed a $2 billion goal. As you can see from that shot of campaign chair Peter Tombros ’64, ’68g, the “future” theme allowed for some fun during Saturday’s unveiling of the campaign total. Our Tina Hay ’83 was there and will post some photos from the weekend celebration later today.
A beauty for Blue-White: The Happy Valley weather was glorious this weekend, which was good timing both for the campaign celebration, but also for the return of Penn State football. More than 70,000 fans made their way into Beaver Stadium Saturday afternoon for the Blue-White Game. The game coincided with at least one national recruiting service elevating the Nittany Lions to the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation based on oral commitments for 2015, and with the announcement that John Urschel ’12, ’13g has been named the 2014 winner of the Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur athlete. All in all, not a bad weekend for our football program.
Feeling a draft: Maggie Lucas and Ariel Edwards, two standouts from the Lady Lions’ terrific senior class, will be hoping to hear their names called Monday night at the 2014 WNBA Draft. Draft coverage kicks off at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.
Triple-threat Lionettes: The Penn State Lionettes dance team returned from Daytona Beach over the weekend with its third straight national championship. The Lionettes edged Louisville and Virginia Tech to earn the Division I-A title at the NDA Collegiate Dance Championships for the third consecutive year.
Ryan Jones, senior editor
As she introduced president Rod Erickson, who was speaking to Alumni Council one last time before his retirement, Alumni Association president Kay Salvino noted that there’s something unusual about Old Main today. Generally, banners aren’t permitted there. But now there’s one hanging above the iconic columns that thanks Erickson for 37 years of service to the university, and it will hang there for a week. Salvino ’69 noted that it was paid for by Penn State students.
Erickson noted, with a laugh, that he hadn’t been asked permission—and that he wouldn’t have given it. Then he got serious and said the tribute means a lot because it came from the students. In his retirement, he said, he hopes to keep helping with the Presidential Leadership Academy, where he’s gotten to know a number of undergraduates, and possibly take on some kind of a mentoring role.
Not during the winter, though. That’s when he’ll be fishing off the coast of Florida.
A few other noteworthy items from Erickson’s talk:
Capital campaign: It sounds as though Penn State will hit its goal for For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students. That’s a whopping $2 billion, which would make the university one of only 12 institutions to raise so much money. Erickson said he doesn’t know the total—that will be announced Saturday night at the celebration for the end of the public part of the campaign. (And the campaign does continue through June 30; Erickson joked that he’ll have pockets full of envelopes this weekend, so anyone who wants to donate a little more can certainly do so.)
The anticipated success is especially sweet, Erickson said, because “two and a half years ago, a lot of people were telling us that we should drop the campaign, lower the goal” when the Sandusky scandal broke. “We said, ‘When the chips are down, the Penn State family will come through,’” Erickson said. “Indeed they did.”
Future challenges: Asked what he saw as the biggest challenge incoming president Eric Barron will face, Erickson returned to a theme he has sounded repeatedly: the affordability of a college education. He noted again that Penn State takes its status as a land-grant university seriously and it is proud that so many of its students are the first in their families to attend college.
Looking back: Asked if there’s anything he would have done differently, Erickson said the university was “not very well equipped” to communicate during the Sandusky scandal because the university’s communications had been set up to communicate with external constituencies, via news releases and the like. “We over-emphasized marketing,” he said, “and underemphasized internal communications.” He said Fred Volkmann, who has been serving as Penn State’s interim vice president of strategic communications since October, had emphasized the need to communicate with students, faculty and staff, and alumni. Erickson said he believes that Barron—who moved into Schreyer House today and will begin transitioning into the job Monday—will be looking carefully at the communications position; Erickson added that he hadn’t made a permanent hire because he thought the next president needed to put together his own team.
Out-of-state students: Erickson said Penn State now gets more applications from out-of-state than from Pennsylvania residents, and he added a fascinating tidbit. Pennsylvania is still the top overall state. But the next seven are New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Virginia, California, Texas, and Florida.
Lori Shontz, senior editor