It is extremely difficult for western journalists, American journalists in particular, to enter The Islamic Republic of Iran. But Laura Secor, journalist and author of Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran (Riverhead Books, 2016), was fortunate enough to be able to visit the country on several occasions between 2005 and 2012, and to gain unique insight into the hearts and minds of Iranians struggling against a harsh and repressive regime in their quest for a national and cultural identity.
Secor—daughter of retired Penn State English professors Bob and Marie Secor—spoke at a Penn State Forum luncheon on Friday. She’s written widely on Iran for The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Foreign Affairs, among others. Her book encapsulates the shifting political and intellectual tumult in Iran, and the ebbs and flows of dissent that have ensued since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
She was drawn to Iran, she says, “because as a journalist I loved the idea of going into something forbidden. And when I was growing up, Iran was so off-limits, it was so demonized.”
The time Secor spent in Iran brought her close to a wide array of dissenters: Philosophers. Bloggers. Student activists. Feminists. Intrepid journalists. She also got to know key Iranian dissenters living in exile in other countries and got their stories.
“I was blown away by the level of civic engagement and civic courage I encountered in Iran,” she told me after the luncheon. “By my second visit, I was completely engulfed by people I got close to, by their stories, and I admired the bravery, grace, and dignity with which they operated.”
Needless to say, the Iranian government kept strict tabs on Secor’s comings and goings (the people she interviewed were closely followed, too), and in 2012, she was detained and questioned by the authorities, asked to prove that she was indeed a journalist and not a spy.
She was released—but since then, Secor has been denied a visa to Iran and has not been able to return to the country.
Which saddens her greatly, she says, even as she plans to move onto covering other parts of the world.
Savita Iyer, senior editor
Gary Eberle’s name had been floating around the Penn Stater office for years before we finally got around to writing about him. We knew that Eberle ’67 was a former Nittany Lion football player who had gone on to become a successful California winemaker, and we’d occasionally talk about whether he might make a good feature for the magazine. But for all sorts of reasons, we never got around to it.
If you’ve seen our March/April issue, you know we finally got around to it. What changed: A little more than three years ago, Eberle was blindsided by what amounted to a hostile takeover of his namesake winery. It took 18 frustrating months before he and his wife, Marcy, finally reclaimed their business—an incredibly difficult experience for them that also made them a much more compelling story for us.
We’re glad to report it has a happy ending: Back under Gary and Marcy’s leadership, Eberle Winery is thriving. You can read about it here.
Ryan Jones, deputy editor
When you talk to Ben and Zach Lieb, one word pops up more than anything: We.
Ask them what happens when they play tennis against each other. You’ll get an answer that anyone with siblings can relate to.
“We fight,” Ben said.
Almost immediately after Ben finished his sentence, Zach chimed in: “We always, whenever we play any sport, we always somehow get into an argument.”
The sophomore twin brothers from Newtown Square, Pa.—featured in our March/April issue—are really good at this. Sometimes, one will start a sentence, the other will jump in and continue the thought, and the one who kicked things off will interject one last time to finish what the two of them said.
As you can guess, the pair have a bond that is impossible to replicate. This goes beyond tennis: In addition to playing on the same team, they live together and are both business majors (Ben is majoring in supply chain management, Zach plans on majoring in finance). Even the decision to attend Penn State stemmed from the fact that the two wanted to be together. Ask them if they planned on attending the same university, and “we” pops up immediately.
“We were always a package deal,” Ben said. “We’re so used to being together, we live with each other, here and at home, obviously. We always wanted to go to school together.”
Schools like Louisville, Richmond, Boston, and Penn all tried to acquire the services of the Liebs. Eventually, the desire to play a Division I sport, get a degree from the Smeal College of Business, and represent their state school meant Penn State checked all the boxes.
It helped that they were given the opportunity to come to Happy Valley as a package deal. It’s not a huge surprise—according to tennisrecruiting.net, both were five-star recruits after wildly successful high school careers at The Haverford School. Over the Liebs’ four years at the school, Haverford accrued an absurd 94-1-1 record.
“We won a few league titles in a row,” Ben recalled. “Then we got to our senior year, we got invited to play at the National High School All-American tournament in California where we finished sixth, we were on the all-tournament team there.”
“It’s team oriented, but it’s singles and doubles, so you play six singles and three doubles,” Zach continued. “We could play both, same as college. Ben and I were selected as All-Tournament team, I think there were 10 of us…”
“And then eventually All-Americans after that,” Ben interjected.
“High school All-Americans,” Zach quickly clarified.
Thanks to their chemistry, success, and time they’ve spent playing with one another—they first picked up rackets when they were around 4 and played in their first tournaments before they turned 10—the pair know each other on the court better than anyone. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that Zach “hates” playing Ben, because “we’ve played so many times it’s boring.”
Still, they rely on each other. Despite being different players—the hallmark of Ben’s game is consistency, while Zach’s style of play is based around power—they would always make it a point to prepare and warm up with one another growing up while attending tournaments. This has helped them on the court in a few ways. Getting coaching from someone who knows their game so well is a benefit, but being teammates with your brother also forces you to step up your level of competition on and off the court.
“You don’t wanna be left behind,” Zach said. “If I see Ben doing well in school or tennis, I’m gonna try and catch up.”
After their freshman years, Zach admitted he had a little bit of catching up to do—he accrued a 5-4 singles record and a 6-5 doubles mark as a freshman (Ben went 20-10 in singles and 9-3 in doubles). While Ben thought the two adjusted pretty easily, Zach disagreed, at least when it came to tennis.
“I didn’t really play as well as I wanted to last year, but I’ve been playing a lot better this year,” Zach said. “Our courts are really fast … It’s all power tennis—big serves, big forehand, points are really fast, just not something I was used to coming in. I think I’ve caught on now.”
Ben, on the other hand, wasn’t as high on how he played in the fall, admitting to losing some matches he thought he should have won. Two things he wanted to focus on heading into the spring were his mental toughness and consistency over the course of an entire match.
They’re different off the court, too.
“We’re different, but we like to do the same things,” Ben said. “Growing up, we were always active, we weren’t huge into video games…”
“…I think people would say you’re more serious than I am,” Zach interjected. “I have kind of a goofy personality. I might have read a little bit more. I’m a bit smarter, that’s why.”
“I don’t know about that,” Ben quickly replied.
Like Ben said—they’re brothers. They fight.
Bill DiFilippo, online editor
When we dropped in on Rich Bundy’s Old Main office in January, the university’s new vice president for development and alumni relations was still unpacking boxes. He laughed when we asked if he felt “settled in,” but given his background, Bundy ’93, ’96g is better positioned than most to adapt quickly to his new role.
The son of longtime Blue Band director O. Richard Bundy ’70, ’87g, Rich began his career in Penn State’s annual giving office before leaving to gain extensive fundraising experience at Michigan State, Iowa State, and Vermont, where he served as president and CEO of the University of Vermont Foundation. He returns to his hometown and alma mater in time for the start of a new fundraising campaign, A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence. An avid marathoner, he understands well the need to hit the ground running.
It’s been 20 years since you last worked on campus. How different does this place feel?
I was coming back to State College on a regular basis, but it had been a long time since I actually just walked across the campus. And this place has grown—the Millennium Science Complex was an intramural field when I was an undergraduate. So the place has grown in ways that are really impressive, and the campus is beautiful in a way that I don’t remember. It always was a beautiful campus, and maybe there’s a little nostalgia there, but I just think this is an exciting time to be at Penn State. There’s a robust sense of all the things that make Penn State a top-notch institution.
You know as well as anyone the size of the shoes you have to fill in replacing Rod Kirsch. What lessons or insight do you take from his tenure here?
Rod is one of very few people in the country who’ve led multiple billion-dollar-plus campaigns on the same campus. I think his longevity in the role is really what we aspire to in the advancement profession. So much of our work is based on relationships that we build and maintain. To have that kind of tenure is extraordinary, and Rod exemplified service and leadership in a way that I think is really meaningful and aspirational.
Most Penn Staters hear your name and automatically think of your father, who retired in 2015 after more than 30 years with the Blue Band. I’m guessing you don’t mind that connection.
Certainly being linked to my father is a plus. Very much like Rod, I think my father is just one of the good guys. You’d be hard-pressed to get a bad word out of my father about anybody or anything. He was a humble, dedicated leader who aspired to be the best at what he did, so that the Blue Band could be the best at what it did. I think there’s an important lesson there, and I hope I can be like him as I lead the development and alumni relations teams to even greater accomplishments.
You arrive just as the university is gearing up for another major fundraising campaign. How do you see your experiences leading campaigns at Vermont and Iowa State helping you in that role here?
I have a network at Penn State that I’ve developed over my lifetime, so I think the learning curve will not be as steep for me coming in. I think I can marry the experiences I’ve had at other schools with a knowledge of the traditions that make Penn State great. We’ll have to do some things differently to be successful in this campaign, but that’s not a repudiation of the past—we want to respect tradition while recognizing that Penn State is forever evolving and growing.
Regarding the campaign, what are your top priorities right now?
Communicating to our stakeholders how this campaign will be different from past campaigns here—particularly that this is a shorter campaign singularly focused on achieving the objectives laid out in the institution’s strategic plan. That’s very exciting, and part of what made the job attractive beyond the emotional connection I have to Penn State. Not many universities have undertaken campaigns that are that directly linked to their long-term strategic plans, or are that focused in duration. A five-year campaign means that some of the normal trappings of quiet phases—like opportunities to really build your infrastructure before you go public—that’s not going to happen. We’ve got to create a sense of urgency. Penn State has a great tradition of really robust volunteer leadership in its campaigns, and we just need to get that structure in place.
The Alumni Association also falls under your leadership. What are your thoughts on the work we’re doing?
I think the Alumni Association is often the friendly face inviting our stakeholders into the institution. I really see it as a solemn responsibility of people who are in our line of work to be stewards of the lifelong relationship that alumni have with their institution, and the Alumni Association helps to bring rigor and thoughtfulness to that lifetime of engagement.
That said, I think that the traditional role of alumni associations is going through a profound change. The key piece of that change, particularly with our youngest alumni, is that they no longer need us to be the connecters to their classmates, or to other members of the alumni community. They can do that themselves, through LinkedIn, through Facebook, Twitter, you name it. I think the challenge for alumni organizations is to identify what the new value added opportunities are and aggressively pursue those opportunities—for example, how we can partner with career services, and make sure that Penn Staters everywhere have access to career opportunities, career counseling, those sorts of things? That’s one example of many where I think we can continue to provide great benefits to our alumni community.
It’s a huge challenge. And layer on top of that, we have students now who are graduating with enormous debt, so their economic connection to the institution is strained. We have students on 24 campuses, some of whom never step foot on University Park. I worked out at a gym in Burlington, Vermont, with a Penn State alum who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in plastics engineering from Behrend; he’s never once been in State College, he’s never seen a Penn State football game. So his Penn State is not the same as my Penn State. But they’re both Penn State. So I think we’ve got that challenge as well. And then you layer on top of that just demographic difference—the millennial generation feels very differently about big organizations than Generation X does. So we have to tailor our communications and our message and everything that we do with some understanding of how that’s going to be received.
Lastly, I know you’re a marathon runner. As you arrive at the start of a five-year campaign, I’m wondering if your hobby provides a useful analogy for your work.
Yeah, I think it does. There’s a saying in the marathon community that you can’t win the race in the first mile, but you can lose it. I think there’s some synergy to what we do in campaigns: I’d rather start slow and maintain a solid, steadily increasing pace than start really, really fast and crash and burn at the end of the campaign. We want our fundraising to be sustainable over the long term.
Ryan Jones, deputy editor
For our latest issue, we sat in on Michael Green’s class at Penn State Hershey that teaches medical students about the power of comics. But it’s not the only initiative in which Penn State is using graphic narratives to help raise understanding and empathy around difficult health issues.
Although a handful of universities like Rutgers and Ohio State have published books about the comic culture and cartoonists, the Penn State Press has dedicated an entire series to the graphic medicine genre. English professor Susan Merrill Squier, who has been teaching comics to grad students since 2011, co-edits the series with physician and artist Ian Williams. The first book, published in 2015, was Graphic Medicine Manifesto, a volume of scholarly essays and visual narratives that is as much an intro to “comics in medicine” as a declaration for its place in this world.
In just under two years, Penn State Press has published at least seven other graphic memoirs, on subjects from caring for a mother with Alzheimer’s (Aliceheimer’s) to parenting a daughter with Down Syndrome (Hole in the Heart). One book getting a lot of press right now is My Degeneration by Alaskan cartoonist Peter Dunlap-Shohl about his daily struggle with Parkinson’s. Says Publishers Weekly: “The narrative covers the fear and determination that make up [his] daily life, from the terror of suddenly unable to walk to the triumph of still being able to dress himself.”
People are reading—and sending pitches—from around the world. Squier recalls how one customer bought Graphic Medicine Manifesto for a brother with incurable throat and jaw cancer: “[His brother] had basically all the treatment he could have, but was now just trying to find a way to live with the situation. And he was blown away by the possibility to express what he was really feeling and not able to get out yet.”
Squier and Green are also part of an international committee that organizes an annual global conference on graphic medicine. Says Green: “We’ve brought together communities of artists and scholars and physicians and teachers and patients, all around this common interest in comics in medicine.”
Got a case of the winter blahs? Blue-White weekend can’t get here fast enough? Our latest issue might just have the cure for what ails you: Saquon Barkley coming right off the cover! Our March/April 2017 issue features a look back at an incredible season of Nittany Lion football highlighted by comebacks, big plays, and big players—like Barkley—who took fans on a wild ride to the Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl. The photo spread begins on p. 26.
The new issue, arriving in mailboxes soon, also features comics, but it’s probably not what you think. In “Truth Between the Lines” (p. 37), we take you into the classroom at Penn State Hershey, where fourth-year med students reflect on the experience of becoming a doctor through an unusual practice—writing and drawing their own graphic narratives. You’ll find some of their work on our pages, too.
And you’ll get a glimpse into the life of Gary Eberle ’67, who turned a passion for wine into his life’s work, only to have his thriving California winery snatched away—before ultimately getting it back. “The Boar Endures” (p. 44) is a story of perseverance and the importance of savoring success.
More from the issue: a profile on Alex Patin, a Penn State junior who has developed a set of headphones that can read brainwaves to create playlists that match your mood; and John Hanrahan ’91, an All-American wrestler during the 1980s who’s still at it today—and recently won a world championship.
What do you think about the new issue? Let us know by commenting below or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
B.J. Reyes, associate editor