Getting an Earful with World in Conversation

It’s a safe bet that nearly every student who has spent time at University Park in the past 20 years or so is at least somewhat familiar with the work of Sam Richards and Laurie Mulvey. Many thousands have taken the SOC 119: Race and Ethnic Relations course that Richards first began teaching in the early 1990s, and many more have been reached by the vision that he and Mulvey ’94g have expanded well beyond that one famous undergraduate class. It was a treat to be able to dive into their work for a feature in our September/October issue.

In “Taking the World by the Ear,” we highlight Penn State’s World in Conversation, the “student-driven public diplomacy center” that grew out of the often brutally honest class discussions that have made 119 the most buzzed-about elective at University Park. The center’s reach is now truly global, thanks to Sam and Laurie’s vision, the dedication of a small but hard-working staff, and an army of student “facilitators” who lead the WiC dialogues—small, intimate conversations on the most sensitive topics imaginable. The video below gives a feel of the World in Conversation approach:

A personal highlight of working on this story was having an excuse to crash SOC 119 a few times last year. I took the class as an undergrad back in the mid 1990s, and it’s only grown more daring—and, I’d argue, more vital—in the two decades since. And while World in Conversation has grown at an incredible rate, the center is still very much rooted in 119’s philosophy of critical thinking and honesty above all else. A taste of Sam’s approach to the class can be seen in the popular TEDx talk he gave in 2010:

Sam and Laurie are now neighbors of mine, and it’s been very cool to be able to engage with them as an actual grown-up. Working with them to wrap up fact-checking on this story a few weeks back, they shared some very cool news: SOC 119 will be live-streamed this semester. Whether you’re an alum with fond memories of the course, or one who never had the chance to take it, it’s recommended viewing. If you’re interested, tune in to the SOC 119 channel on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4:35 p.m.

And of course, we hope you’ll check out the feature in our new issue, hitting Alumni Association members’ mailboxes any day now.

Ryan Jones, deputy editor

August 25, 2016 at 2:54 pm Leave a comment

Inside Our September/October 2016 Issue

Squirrel with magazine (2)

Photo by Mary Krupa

Alumni Association members should keep an eye out for our Sept./Oct. 2016 issue, which should be arriving any day. From the photo on the right, it looks like Sneezy the Penn State squirrel already has her paws on one. Sneezy is featured on the cover, along with student Mary Krupa, who is widely known as “The Squirrel Whisperer.”

Krupa, who is set to graduate this December, befriended Sneezy on the Old Main lawn as a freshman; since then, the pair have made headlines around the world for their adorable photos. But what people don’t know about their friendship is that it’s also empowered Krupa to tackle her Asperger’s at a critical time. Read about her incredible college journey starting on p. 28.

In “Kelly Ayotte Makes Her Case,” Ryan Jones profiles one of the most prominent female Republicans in the country. Learn about how Ayotte ’90 is more than ready to fight for her place in the party starting on p. 36. Also in the magazine is a feature on student group World in Conversation, the Penn State program that’s bridging ethnic, religious, and national divides—all through meaningful dialogue.

More from this issue: a documentary on legendary fly fisherman Joe Humphreys ’58, ’63g; a chat with the 2016-17 Penn State Laureate; fun photography with volleyball superstar Haleigh Washington; and a lesson on playing Pokémon Go around campuses.

Have some thoughts about the new issue? Let us know by commenting below or emailing us at

Amy Downey, senior editor

August 25, 2016 at 10:31 am 1 comment

Haleigh Washington Wants to Win, Have Fun, and Study Aristotle

Photo via Cardoni

Photo via Cardoni

When Haleigh Washington decided she wanted to play volleyball in college, she turned to her father for advice on where she should go. There was one rule: She wanted him to point her towards the best volleyball school in the country.

So Alecs Washington told his daughter about Penn State, which had just won its fourth straight national title. She completely believed her dad – “I didn’t do any research after that, I was horrible about it,” Washington recalls – and years later, Haleigh is a national champion, an All-Big Ten selection, and one of the leaders on a 2016 Nittany Lions squad that is once again expected to be among the best in the nation.

And while she is a leader for a team that wants to win another championship this fall, Washington is making sure that she’s having fun. In fact, she’s having so much fun that Onward State called her the most fun athlete at Penn State last year (this is an assessment with which Washington disagrees, because she thinks “every athlete that goes to Penn State is having a blast doing what they’re doing”).

That’s not to say the junior middle blocker doesn’t take volleyball seriously. When asked about Penn State’s uncharacteristic early exit from the 2015 NCAA tournament – the team was eliminated by Hawaii in the regional semifinals – Washington says that the bad outweighed the good for the team last year, specifically referencing a number of “little mistakes that didn’t click,” like inconsistency. Washington says that the team has worked to correct those smaller issues as it prepares for 2016.

But Washington’s definition of fun is somewhat unique. She doesn’t think having fun means goofing around or being light-hearted. Rather, Washington thinks fun stems from a place of loving what you’re doing.

Photo via Cardoni

Photo via Cardoni

“I think fun in the context of volleyball comes from loving the game,” Washington says. “Because it’s so much easier to have fun when you’re in love with what you’re doing, and when you don’t love what you’re doing it’s really hard to enjoy doing it.

“I love what I study, I love philosophy, my family’s incredible, my friends that I surround myself with just make it easy to enjoy being me,” she adds.

Off the court, Washington has fun by majoring in philosophy and psychology. She’s able to rip through her favorite philosophers with the same ease that she lists her goals for the volleyball team this season.

“I’m a sucker for Aristotle,” Washington says. “I’m a sucker for the ancient philosophers, I love them. I love Aristotle and I love Socrates, I love Aristotle’s ethics, most importantly, because it talks about happiness and I think that that’s a big thing, especially when you’re in the college years.”

Once her volleyball career ends, Washington wants to go to Columbia University for graduate school. But for now, she hopes to have a bit more fun on the court. Oh, and she wants to win as many games as possible, because that’s how she defines success.

“If I want to be successful, I want to win,” Washington says. “That’s what success is for me, is, like, when you win. And don’t get me wrong, you can have a successful team and not win…but that isn’t successful enough for me. I want to win.”

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

August 24, 2016 at 9:51 am 2 comments

Eric Ekobeni is Helping the Children of Cameroon

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When it came time for Eric Ekobeni ’16 to put his degree from Penn State World Campus to use, he decided to help people in a Cameroonian village. Ekobeni, a native of Cameroon, came to the United States as a refugee in 2002 and lives in Philadelphia with his family.

Ekobeni’s work in Cameroon involves coming up with a plan for a bilingual junior high school in Ndento. The project – upon which Ekobeni interned – was originally passed by local authorities in 2010, but the person who spearheaded the effort died the week that it was approved. Ekobeni estimates that the project is about two-thirds of the way done (see photos above), and is in need of additional funding. If you’re interested in donating, you can do that right here.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

August 22, 2016 at 1:58 pm Leave a comment

Joe Kovacs’ Sterling Performance Earns Him a Silver Medal

Photo via @JoeKovacsUSA

Photo via @JoeKovacsUSA

Joe Kovacs ’11 is an Olympic medalist. Kovacs, the reigning world champion in the shot put and one of two Nittany Lions to compete in the event in Rio, took home a silver medal on Thursday night thanks to a throw that went 21.78 meters. This is Kovacs’ first-career Olympic medal.

Kovacs’ medal is the first individual silver medal that any Penn Stater has won since 1976, when Michael Shine took home the silver in the men’s 400 meter hurdles.

Speaking to Frank Gogola of after the event, Kovacs called winning a silver “bittersweet,” but remarked that the feeling is “settling in” and applauded the gold medal winner, who set the Olympic record in the event and also hails from the United States.

Penn State’s other representative in the men’s shot put, Darrell Hill ’15, came in 23rd overall and did not advance past the qualifying round.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

August 19, 2016 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Miles Chamley-Watson and Monica Aksamit Earn Bronze Medals

A pair of Penn State fencing alumni picked up medals at the 2016 Olympic Games over the weekend. Miles Chamley-Watson ’13 and Monica Aksamit ’12 won bronze medals as members of the men’s foil team and the women’s sabre team.

Chamley-Watson earned his bronze on Friday when the U.S. took down Italy, 45-31, and the squad earned its first medal in the event since 1932. This was a rematch of the semifinals at the 2012 Olympics; all four American fencers who competed on Friday were on the 2012 team.

Aksamit won her medal on Saturday. The women’s sabre team also beat Italy, 45-30, and it marked the second bronze in a row for the United States in this event.

Both of these medals were significant for Penn State’s fencing program, as Chamley-Watson became the first American alumnus and Aksamit became the first female alumnus to medal.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

August 15, 2016 at 12:06 pm Leave a comment

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