Author Archive

Penn State’s Partners in Music

Tonight, my family and I will head over to a local elementary school for one of those parental rites of passage: our son’s school band concert. What makes this one different (and maybe even unique) is how Penn State professors are involved in polishing the far-from-perfect sounds of our son and his fellow fifth graders.

“Partners is Music” is a collaborative effort between Penn State music educators and State College area schools, through which members of the various elementary school bands come together each fall to prepare for a joint concert. That’s why, each Wednesday for the past six weeks, I’ve been dropping off my trumpet-toting kid at the Blue Band building for rehearsals before the sun has even cleared Mount Nittany. Those early mornings haven’t been easy, but we’re excited to see the payoff tonight.

As parents, it’s hardly the first time we’ve seen all the ways the university enriches the local community. From Penn State student teachers in our kids’ classrooms, former Nittany Lion football players teaching their gym classes, or just typically talented students helping out with extracurricular activities of all sorts, it’s another reminder that we’re lucky to be here.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

November 12, 2015 at 2:19 pm Leave a comment

For Kwame Alexander, a Resounding “Yes”

Through multiple revisions and repeated rejections, Kwame Alexander continued to believe that the book that would become The Crossover was “the best thing I’d ever written.” It seemed like no one would agree with him—18 editors turned down the manuscript, leaving Alexander to settle on publishing it himself—before one company finally bought the book. It was a smart choice: Published last year, The Crossover was awarded the 2015 Newbery Medal as the best children’s book of the year.

Alexander accepts the Lee Bennett Hopkins award Thursday at Paterno Library

Alexander accepts the Lee Bennett Hopkins award Thursday at Paterno Library

On Thursday, Alexander was on campus to accept another honor: the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, give annually for “the most outstanding new book of children’s poetry.” The award is named for Hopkins, the prolific children’s poet and Scranton native, and presented by the Penn State Libraries and the Pennsylvania Center for the Book. For Alexander, who remembered reading Hopkins as a child and then reading Hopkins to his own daughter, said receiving the award “felt like coming full circle.”

The Crossover started, Alexander says, as “a book of poems that were linked. I didn’t realize it was a story.” The final version, a “novel in verse,” tells the story of tight-knit, basketball-loving twin brothers who face conflict and family tragedy. The book’s bumpy path to publishing—Alexander say he was told “boys don’t like poetry, and girls don’t like basketball”—taught him to “accept the no’s.” After absorbing all that rejection, the eventual “yes” was that much sweeter.

An eager advocate for the use of poetry in education, Alexander called the form “the bridge that gets students to appreciate language and literature.” With a freshly signed copy of The Crossover in hand, I’m looking forward to sharing that bridge with my own kids this weekend.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

October 2, 2015 at 5:39 am 1 comment

BTN Finds ‘Treasure’ at the All-Sports Museum

We just got a heads up from Ken Hickman ’98, director of the Penn State All-Sports Museum, encouraging us to tune in (or set our DVRs) for tonight’s episode of Big Ten Treasure Hunter on the Big Ten Network. The show, in which a BTN “expert” searches out and appraises memorabilia related to Big Ten schools, will feature both the All-Sports Museum and the private collection of George Henning ’63, who—if you don’t know—boasts what might be the greatest Penn State collection anywhere. You can check out this old USA Today feature to get an idea of Henning’s dedication, and tune in to BTN tonight at 8 p.m. EST for the episode.

And of course, next time you’re on campus, make time to check out the All-Sports Museum in person.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

September 29, 2015 at 11:19 am Leave a comment

A Lovely Day for a ‘Metamorphosis’


Walking up the mall toward Pattee Library a little before noon on Thursday, you could hear the beat of a semi-recent pop hit coming from speakers set up under a crowded white canopy. The song was “Crazy,” followed in short order by the Prince classic “Let’s Go Crazy.” If you were paying attention, you knew the titles weren’t coincidence, but part of a theme.

Madness was the theme of the fourth annual Penn State Marathon Reading, which kicked off Thursday at noon. I hung out at the tent for the first hour or so Thursday, both to catch the headliners, and to make my own five-minute contribution to chipping away at Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, the opening book.

As she has since the event began in 2012, Sue Paterno ’62 opened the reading. Before she started, she talked about reading Kafka as an English major “fifty-some years ago,” and, if I heard her correctly, seeing the author’s childhood home on a trip to Czechoslovakia some years later with Joe.

Sue handed things off to women’s volleyball coach Russ Rose (above), who was followed by Susan Welch (below), long time dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, and then State College mayor Elizabeth Goreham. After that came the non-celebrity readers, me included—although I didn’t realize quite was I was getting myself into.

Liberal Arts dean Susan Welch takes her turn with "Metamorphosis"

Susan Welch takes her turn with “Metamorphosis”

I knew in advance that the organizers planned to have readers in multiple languages, including The Metamorphosis in its original German. What I didn’t know was that I had signed up for a time slot in the midst of the grad-student readers who were going to be handling the Deutsche translations. Among them was Katherine Anderson (below), a graduate student in German literature; like all the readers who tackled the book in its original tongue, they added an emotional punch the rest of us couldn’t quite match.

Grad student Katherine Anderson & English department head Mark Morrisson

Grad student Katherine Anderson & English department head Mark Morrisson

Of course, they also made things a bit tricky for those of us (ahem) who had to pick up (in English) where they left off (in German). But it wasn’t so bad. If I want to be able to really immerse myself in Kafka (and one of these days I suppose I should), I can do that on my own time. On this day, the communal vibe of sharing in a good book trumped anything that might get lost in translation.

Ryan Jones, senior editor


September 25, 2015 at 8:13 am Leave a comment

Getting a Read on “Madness,” One Book at a Time

Kicking off Thursday at noon, this year’s Penn State Marathon Reading will feature 10 books united by “madness and psychological themes.” For 24 (or so) hours straight, the normally tranquil lawn in front of Pattee and Paterno Libraries figures to get pretty intense.MARATHON

This year marks the fourth annual Marathon Reading, and after taking part in the first two—we read Catch-22 in 2012 and One Hundred Years of Solitude in 2013—I can vouch for this being a really cool event. I’m still kicking myself for missing last year’s marathon read, which introduced the theme concept with readings of famously banned books Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Fahrenheit 451. Sarah Denes of the School of Languages and Literatures, which co-hosts the reading, says a theme event gives readers and curious listeners alike the chance to “come and sit for maybe an hour and hear an entire reading.”

Whether you’re reading, listening, or (ideally) both, the marathon reading is a group effort. Denes says 328 people read at last year’s event, most for just five or 10 minutes at a time. Exceptions include the classes that drop in as a group—meaning each student might only read for two minutes—and the hearty bibliophiles who stick around for the overnight stretch. Denes says that last year, “there was one person who read for 25 minutes at 4:30 in the morning.”

I’m not quite that enthusiastic—or, well, crazy—but I’m excited to read during daylight hours on Thursday, hopefully while the opening book, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, is still underway. The marathon is set to end early Friday afternoon with Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, and like nearly all of the titles, you can expect to hear it both in English and at least one other language. Depending on when you show up, you might hear Kafka in German, Lu Xun in Chinese, or Camus in French.

Oh, and if you’re there Thursday afternoon, you might also recognize some of the readers: President Eric Barron and women’s volleyball coach Russ Rose are both set to read in the opening few hours, not long after we kick things off with the event’s now-traditional opening reader, Sue Paterno.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

September 23, 2015 at 9:02 am 1 comment

Eating Local—and Eating Well—on Campus

If you’re a foodie who lives reasonably close to State College—and assuming you don’t already have dinner plans tonight—you might want to think about swinging by Redifer Commons. Tuesday night is the latest installment of Redifer’s twice-annual “Local Food Night,” in which guests can try an entire meal made from food sourced within 150 miles of campus. Tuesday’s local offerings, which will be served at Piatto Felice, feature an entree option of grilled beef skirt steak or toasted local creamy cow cheese on focaccia with a honey glaze, along with baked Provence-style stuffed vegetables with sharp cheddar and roasted grapes, and an heirloom tomato and romaine salad with fresh basil and herb dressing.Redifer-Sustainable-Dinner-Sign-FA15

I know. It sounds pretty good.

I first heard about these local dinners—which are open to everyone, and run just $7.99—while reporting on the “eating across campus” feature we’re working on for our Nov/Dec issue. While wrapping up the actual eating portion of my reporting last week, I had a chance to talk with Stephane Gawlowicz, the French (and French-trained) chef who oversees all the food prep at Redifer, and who will be preparing tonight’s meal. We’ll have more on Gawlowicz in the magazine soon, but for now, it’s worth checking out this interview with him conducted by a member of Penn State’s new student farm.

And yes, you read that right—the university has a new student-centered farm, which is another topic you might be reading about soon in the magazine. The cool tie-in here? The romaine lettuce in tonight’s meal was grown by students.

If you make it over there, lettuce—er, sorry … let us know if dinner was as delicious as it sounds.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

September 22, 2015 at 9:28 am Leave a comment

Penn State’s artsUP: Vibrant, Hands-On Fun

From the weather to the array of options for discovery and fun, Sunday’s artsUP event at University Park was just about perfect. My family and I spent much of the day on campus, hearing live music (in groups both small and very, very large), painting, building, “throwing” pottery, and generally enjoying a terrific, creative vibe. I’m sure we weren’t alone in rooting for this to become an annual event.

For a taste, click on the photo gallery below.

One last thing: I sadly wasn’t able to get a decent shot of the Soul Rebels, the New Orleans brass outfit who closed artsUP with an hour-long set at Eisenhower Auditorium. If I had one very minor gripe about the day, it was that the band’s high-energy, funk-infused set didn’t really fit a comparatively staid venue where patrons are asked to stay in their seats. So it was fitting—and fun—when Rebels’ trumpet player/vocalist Marcus Hubbard announced, about two-thirds of the way through the show, that “We’re the Soul Rebels, and we’re in charge of the building.” Just like that, the crowd was up and dancing. Because what’s art if you can’t occasionally break the rules?

Ryan Jones, senior editor


September 21, 2015 at 9:37 am Leave a comment

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