Fresh Memories of Vietnam

The annual Penn State Forum speaker series kicked off Wednesday with guest speaker Doug Bradley, a Vietnam vet turned professor and co-author of We Gotta Get Out Of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War. Bradley talked about his experience and that of many of the vets he’s interviewed, played some of the classic songs of the era, and offered sometimes surprising context for how and why those songs so resonated with soldiers, both during and after the war.

Bradley’s appearance coincides with a flood of events and media, both nationally and at Penn State, marking 50 years since the height of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. WPSU is the driving force behind a multimedia project called A Time To Heal — The Vietnam War: Telling the Pennsylvania Story, a companion piece to the new Ken Burns documentary on PBS. The campus public broadcasting station is also sponsoring a visit by the Traveling Wall (pictured above), an 80 percent scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. The wall will be on display at University Park Oct. 5-8.

Ryan Jones, deputy editor



September 21, 2017 at 9:50 am 1 comment

For STEM Companies, Career Fair Offers an Abundance of Potential New Recruits

Photo via Savita Iyer

It was impossible to miss Raychel Frisenda and her friend Brianna Bennett in the melee of formally dressed students thronging the Bryce Jordan Center on Thursday, the third day of Penn State’s annual Fall Career Fair.

Not only had the engineering juniors eschewed the de rigeur suit, their pink (Rachyel) and blue (Brianna) hair set them apart from the crowd.

“Sure, it’s a little intimidating to show up dressed like this and see 4,000 people in suits,” Raychel said with a laugh, “but suits are so not me.”

“I don’t do ties and suits,” Brianna added, “and that’s not going to change, probably not even when I go to work.”

By all accounts, though, attire and hair color are irrelevant to the many companies gathered at the BJC on Thursday, technical recruiting day: Recruiters for these firms said they have positions to fill and they know they can count on Penn State to offer up smart, highly qualified STEM candidates like Reagen Alexich ’16, a chemical engineering major who found her current job at CoverGirl cosmetics at the Career Fair.

Coty, CoverGirl’s parent company, really needs more process engineers, Reagen said, and Penn State students are highly coveted.

It’s no secret that STEM jobs are among the hardest to fill. Companies reportedly have a tough time finding qualified candidates, and now, many are focused on creating a diverse workforce by hiring more women and minorities.

“Engineering is a very male dominated field,” Reagen said, “and in my graduating class, there were definitely more guys than girls.”

Today, diversity is a business imperative for any STEM company, according to Wayne Gersie, associate director of Penn State’s multicultural engineering program, and those companies that don’t have a diverse workforce stand to lose against their competitors in a globalized world.

Photo via Savita Iyer

It is not easy, though, for colleges to attract and retain STEM students from minority backgrounds. These are tough subjects, Gersie said, and they’re costly undertakings for many students, “but our office is dedicated to ensuring students not only succeed academically, but that from the moment they set foot on campus, they start developing a career trajectory that makes them highly attractive targets by the time they get to the Career Fair.”

Penn State is also making a dedicated effort to promote and retain women engineering students, Gersie said, thanks to the efforts of Cheryl Knoblauch, associate director of the Women in Engineering Program, and that’s making a difference out in the professional world.

“Even in the short time I’ve been working, I’ve seen that recruitment has become much more diverse, with more women joining male-dominated industries like the steel industry,” said Kailee Waugaman ’16, who also found her job with steel giant AreclorMittal at the fair, and is now recruiting for the firm.

Overall, opportunities abound for engineers, scientists, mathematicians and the like. And companies are not only looking for techies: A fair number of the 530-plus firms present during the three-day Career Fair came to scout out non-technical prospects as well.

This year’s recruiting companies represented a range of sectors and included Amazon, American Eagle Outfitters, Boeing, Corning, Dell, Nestle, Siemens and many more. The Pennsylvania State Police, the United States Postal Service, the City of Pittsburgh, and other entities were also present.

Savita Iyer, senior editor

September 20, 2017 at 9:24 am Leave a comment

It’s Good to Be the King

Don Roy King’s already-packed trophy case added another Emmy on Sunday night. King ’69, a 2016 recipient of Penn State’s Distinguished Alumni Award, won the Emmy for Outstanding Directing for a Variety Series for his work on the April 15, 2017 episode of Saturday Night Live, the first in the program’s history that aired live in all four major American time zones.

After receiving his seventh Emmy since becoming the director of the long-running show, King took one question from the press about comedy’s place in America’s “fraught political climate.” Saying that he’s always been “proud of the show,” King said that the 42nd season of Saturday Night Live “felt different, more important” and that it mixed “holding people accountable” with “doing some healing.”

Bill Difilippo, online editor

September 18, 2017 at 3:06 pm 1 comment

Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

When we met Mike Karns ’11 for our Sep./Oct. 2015 feature on alums making their way on Broadway, his digital startup Marathon Live Entertainment was handling social media for small, off-Broadway clients, a few real estate agents, and was in the infancy of its current stint with a show that had just started its run on Broadway, Hamilton. And just as the “ten dollar founding father’s” star has risen, so has Karns’ profile.

Today, he oversees a digital and social media empire for the Broadway phenomenon, which still plays to packed houses in New York City and has spawned a national tour. With tickets still in high demand, merchandising for the show has grown to include a mixtape, an instrumental soundtrack, and now a smartphone app—launched Aug. 11 by Karns’ company—that recently surpassed 750,000 downloads.

His social media efforts have attracted more than two million followers. In addition to Hamilton, Marathon Live handles the digital marketing for a number of other Broadway and off-Broadway productions, and he himself has become a Tony-nominated producer, after having latched on as a co-producer with Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, a Broadway musical that has featured, among others, Josh Groban and Ingrid Michaelson. Away from Broadway, he’s president of the School of Theatre Alumni Program Group and a recipient of the 2017 Alumni Achievement Award.

Not bad for a guy whose claim to fame before A. Ham was having handled social media for a show called 50 Shades! The Musical, which Karns says “is laughable, now, to look back on.” The turning point? A meeting, set up through a mutual friend, with Jeffery Seller, the Tony Award-winning producer of Hamilton.

“I happened to meet him at a time when he was really interested in finding someone new to run all of his social and digital efforts, so it was sort of serendipitous,” Karns said when we caught up with him by phone recently. “I picked his brain about producing” while also mentioning his social media work with 50 Shades!

Before long, he was on board as Sellers’ social media guy. A few months later, in February 2015, Hamilton premiered at New York’s Public Theater and Karns’ profile took off from there. He shudders to think of where he might be without Hamilton.

“I have no clue, to be honest with you,” Karns says. “I never anticipated starting a business. I never anticipated being in the social media space. I wasn’t even looking for jobs in social media when I met [Seller], and the opportunity sort of presented itself and it’s taken me on quite an unexpected trajectory.”

He still has a goal of producing his own Broadway show, and toward that end he’s taken on jobs with that type of project in mind. Connections he’s made through his work on Hamilton led to his involvement with Great Comet.

“In addition to coming on and running social media, I also came on as a co-producer,” he says. “I helped with fundraising for that show and was involved from a producing level as well, which was a really good learning experience. I was really able to learn and see both sides of it.”

At the moment, he’s in the process of developing a winter concert in New York that hopefully will tour nationwide. And, of course, he’s looking for his next Broadway project. How long Hamilton lasts is anyone’s guess, but Karns couldn’t be happier with his role in its legacy.

“The thing that’s most exciting to me is that one of the determining factors of the brand’s longevity is its digital and social presence,” Karns says. “I feel like I am fortunate enough to be able to really play a key role in helping to lay the groundwork for people to continue to be interested in it.”

And so what ends first, the show itself, or Karns’ time with the production before deciding to move on to other projects?

“I’ll never leave Hamilton, man,” Karns says. “I’m gonna ride this thing until I can’t anymore. I think that Hamilton is going to be an enduring brand for a long time. Watching as the company starts to think not only about what we need to do to sustain the brand now, but also what we’re doing to maintain the brand in 10 years is a really fascinating thing, and I continue to have new opportunities to learn and be a part of that.”

B.J. Reyes, associate editor

September 5, 2017 at 1:46 pm Leave a comment

A First-Person Account of Surviving Harvey

Scrolling through my Twitter feed last night, I came across this first-person account of a family in the Houston suburbs that tried to ride out the floodwaters of Hurricane Harvey, only to be forced out of—and rescued from—their half-submerged home. Turns out the piece was written by my old Daily Collegian colleague Ramit Plushnick-Masti ’95.

The attention to detail in Ramit’s account is no accident: She spent most of her career as a journalist, including more than a dozen years with the Associated Press, before relocating to Texas to work as communications director for the Houston Forensic Science Center. She hasn’t lost a bit of her reporting chops—it’s a compelling read. Great to hear that she, her husband, and their three sons made it out OK.

On the topic, the folks at the Alumni Association’s Houston Chapter have been posting throughout the storm on their Facebook page, including links for people looking to donate.

Ryan Jones, deputy editor

August 30, 2017 at 2:47 pm Leave a comment

Stuff We Get From Readers

From time to time, readers send us things: handwritten letters recalling memories of their Penn State days, photos of themselves holding a copy of The Penn Stater at some location halfway around the world, pictures of their babies decked out in Penn State gear. We love it. We don’t always know what to do with it, but we love it.

Recently a reader in Gettysburg sent us two Penn State postcards that date to the 1920s; they came from a friend whose father was a student back then. I thought you’d enjoy seeing them. The first is of McAllister Building—or McAllister Hall, as it was called then:McAllister-Bldg

The building dates to 1904, when it was a men’s dorm—it changed over to a women’s dorm in 1915. Today it houses the Math department, as well as the campus post office.

The other postcard is more curious to me, because I can’t figure out what it is:

You can click on the photo to see it bigger. It looks like a painting, but it’s definitely a photo. From the caption, one of the buildings in the postcard apparently is the museum of the “Department of Fine and Industrial Arts”—but what was that? And where on campus was it? Calling all historians… If you can shed light on this one, let us know in the comments section below.

Tina Hay, editor

August 28, 2017 at 2:52 pm Leave a comment

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