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Strumming Circle


The “Club Hopping” feature in our March/April issue offers a brief glimpse inside the Penn State Ukulele Club. But a 75-word short didn’t seem to do it justice.

In this video, you see the club in action—well, in practice, which the club holds every Thursday night in 301 Boucke. It’s open to everyone—students, faculty, and staff—from seasoned pros to anyone who has never picked up the instrument . Just ask Micah Kress ’12, an IT administrator in the College of Science, who found a ukulele in the street one summer and then just so happened to poke his head into the classroom last winter upon hearing the gentle strumming sounds in the Boucke hallways. “I asked, ‘Hey, is this a club or a class?’” he recalls. “They said it’s a club, it meets this time every week; I said, ‘Alright, I’ll see ya next week. When I left I heard them all cheer, and someone said, ‘We got one!’”

It turned out to be a great decision, too. “They helped me push myself,” he says. “I probably wouldn’t have made as much progress if I hadn’t. I wish I had joined when I was an undergrad.”

The main draw of the club is the instrument itself: It’s easy to learn, and it’s fun to play. With just four string, the chords are simpler than a six-string guitar, and all the notes are of a higher pitch, which makes the sound gentler and more pleasant. After all, the instrument is probably most closely associated with a light island breeze on a Pacific Isle beach with a piña colada nearby.

When they’re not in the classroom, members of the club can sometimes be found just playing in a quad or vacant lawn space. But they also get gigs, like playing at THON and other campus events. “Basically, the core of it all is to just have fun, hang out, and play the ukulele,” says Nick Pugliesi, vice president of PSUkulele. “We do do a little bit of learning, like understanding the chords, but we mostly just want to have fun.” (You’ll see Pugliesi at the lectern in the video above.)

The club, founded in 2014, currently boasts about 30 members, most of whom happened across the club via word of mouth or at the annual Student Involvement Fair. Carly Danielson, a junior from Pittsburgh, sought out the club after having picked up the instrument the summer before coming to school. “I always thought they were a really interesting instrument,” she says. “I love music, but I can’t really play anything that well. I wanted to pick up something and ukulele just seemed like a really good thing.”

That feeling of happiness inspired by the ukulele is another big draw. “It feels happy when you play it,” says Madison Schrenk, a freshman majoring in secondary education. “Different instruments evoke really different feelings, and the strings of the ukulele—it’s lighter and bouncier than a lot of things.”

“I’d say the ukulele is the instrument of peace,” Pugliesi adds. “It’s really soft and just relaxing. And it does boost morale. “It brightens up my mood. When I’m stressed out, I just take a step back and ukulele is what I play.”

—B.J. Reyes, associate editor

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March 21, 2018 at 2:40 pm Leave a comment

Inside Our March/April Issue

Many alums will no doubt be reminiscing about the first time they saw the Phyrst Phamily, late nights at Café 210 West, or memories of the recently closed Rathskeller when our March/April issue arrives. The nostalgia comes in the form of Penn State alumni who are a part of the Happy Valley music scene. We catch up with a number of local musicians and bands, some of whom arrived on the scene relatively recently, and others whom your parents might have seen. The photo feature starts on p. 40.

We also take a look at how Cael Sanderson has turned Penn State into the nation’s most formidable collegiate wrestling program. Former ESPN reporter Dana O’Neil ’90 profiles Cael Sanderson to explore what drives his sustained success. And a new book by Roger Williams ’73, ’75g, ’88g chronicles the life and legacy of Evan Pugh, Penn State’s first president.

You’ll also meet Kurt Gibble, the Penn State scientist who’s trying to make the world’s most accurate clocks even more precise; learn from nutrition professor Penny Kris-Etherton which  “good” fats your body needs; and find out why nursing students sometimes wear scrubs to classes.

It’s all in our March/April issue, arriving in mailboxes this week.

—B.J. Reyes, associate editor 

March 1, 2018 at 3:01 pm Leave a comment

Inside Our January/February Issue

The turn of the calendar always brings some changes, and the Penn Stater is no exception. When you get our January/February issue, you’ll notice the difference right away, with a smaller page size, new binding, and a new font for our tighter magazine name (notice the missing “The” in “Penn Stater”). You’ll also see a beefed up and, we hope, livelier “Pulse” section, and some big photography spreads. The changes in formatting and content extend throughout the magazine, but we hope that the quality of writing and the selection of articles is everything you’ve come to expect from the Penn Stater magazine. Let us know what you think of the changes at heypennstater@psu.edu.

As far as what you’ll find in the issue, the cover story details the complicated legacy of Harry Anslinger. Although you may have never heard of his name, his imprint on 20th century American culture is hard to mistake. Anslinger 1915 was the first head of the forerunner to today’s Drug Enforcement Administration, the father of the drug war who battled cannabis culture and also took on organized crime. Michael Weinreb ’94 details his story.

Elsewhere in the issue, you’ll find tales of love on campus. We asked for your stories of how it happened for you while you were here and what we got back were tales that were heartwarming, tender, funny, sweet, happy, and sad. And you’ll hear from Steven Levy ’74g, one of the nation’s top tech journalists, who discusses the promises—and perils—of today’s internet world.

You’ll also find out why there’s an air traffic control tower (or not) atop Deike Building, get the original story of the iconic Comic Swap store downtown, and learn what former Nittany Lion basketball star Calvin Booth ’98 is up to in the NBA.

Our Jan./Feb. 2018 issue should be arriving in mailboxes soon. Let us know what you think at heypennstater@psu.edu.

B.J. Reyes, associate editor

December 21, 2017 at 10:15 am Leave a comment

Tyler Smith, A True Basketball Globetrotter

Our Nov./Dec. 17 issue includes an item on a new book by former Nittany Lion basketball player Tyler Smith, who spent much of his career overseas chasing a professional basketball contract. As you might guess, the extensive traveling involved in such a venture could lend itself to stories, and Smith ’02 has some pretty good ones. He detailed most of them in emails home to family and friends—having to take toilet paper to away games, playing on odd surfaces, and 30-hour bus trips one way just to get to games. It all lent itself to a pretty good outline for a book.

And so Smith compiled them all into just that: Called for Traveling: My Nomadic Life Playing Pro Basketball Around the World was released in October by Sports Publishing. “People seemed to get a kick out of the stories,” Smith said when we caught up with him by phone recently. “I loved hearing them kind of laugh through their emails.”

Smith’s LinkedIn profile tells the story. On it is a line: “Pro Basketball Player, 2002­–2013.” Under locations it lists Holland, Italy, Uruguay, Argentina, Utah Jazz, NBA D-League, Japan, and Thailand. “It’s such an unorthodox lifestyle—you’re in these foreign countries, you don’t speak the language, sometimes teams don’t pay you, you’re away from everybody and everything you know,” Smith said. “People wouldn’t believe some of the stuff that happens. They think, ‘Ohh, it’s traveling the world, and living this amazing life.’ Sometimes we have some pretty cool experiences and sometimes you’re bringing your own toilet paper to away games.”

He counts playing in Holland and Italy among the better experiences he had. Then there was Argentina: “I took a 30-hour bus ride, one-way, to play a game. They brought two bus drivers because we’d just drive as long as we could until one of them had to pull over and have a smoke.”

“I played in Uruguay three times, and the first time I went down there was the most shocking because there’s 16 teams in the league, and only four of them had wooden-floor courts,” he said. “It was like some kind of concrete or a tile or I don’t even know what you call it—you’re sliding all over the place. One time we were playing a game and my point guard wasn’t running back on defense and our coach is yelling at him and he says he can’t, his shoe is stuck in the floor. There, literally, was a hole in the floor and his shoe got caught in it.”

Still, Smith considers himself lucky to have had the experiences over an 11-year playing career. But the nomadic lifestyle is still in him: Smith has spent the past four years working as a medical device sales representative, still travelling across states to consult on medical equipment and prosthetic implants.

As for the book, “You don’t have to be a hardcore basketball junkie to like this book,” he says. “There’s a little bit of everything in there. I talk about family and bringing my kids with me—that adds a whole new element of challenge to the journey—and talking about my faith. I don’t know if anybody other than the three ladies in my mom’s book club are gonna read it, but if nothing else it’ll be down on paper and I can show it to my daughters.”

B.J. Reyes, associate editor

 

 

 

 

November 7, 2017 at 10:58 am 2 comments

A Blue-White Weigh-in

Illustration via Corrine Furjanic

Weigh-offs before a mixed martial arts fight have a reputation for lots of posturing, stare-downs and the occasional scuffle. School spirit, not so much. But before his January 2012 fight against Rashad Evans, light heavyweight Phil Davis ’08 stepped on the scale wearing a Penn State singlet, the kind he would have worn as a four-time all-American and 2008 national champion for the Nittany Lions.

“It was a time where we needed a little morale,” said Davis during a promotional visit to Happy Valley ahead of the Bellator MMA promotion’s debut in the Bryce Jordan Center. Davis, along with three-time national champion Ed Ruth ’14, will be fighting Nov. 3 on a Spike-televised event from the same arena that would be packed to the rafters when they wrestled. As he prepares for a homecoming in the cage, the time seems right to bring the singlet back. “I might have to get a hold of one of those fatigue ones, man. That was sick,” says Davis, referring to the blue and white digi camo singlet that makes occasional appearances on the mat. “We’ll have to talk to somebody.”

The light heavyweight, known for donning pink shorts in the cage, said he appreciates the individualism afforded a fighter, mixing it with the team-first mentality of his college days. “Our values are that the basic blue and white, and uniformity is how we achieve together,” he said. “No names on the back. That’s who we are. Penn State, the wrestling singlet was unchanged for 100 years, and on our 100th-year anniversary we went from a blue singlet with white writing—get this, it’s going to get crazy—to a white singlet with blue writing. And that was living on the wild side. … I feel like I come to love and appreciate that mindset, and then take that forward with me into the world. But also, I think it’s fun to showcase my uniqueness and character a little bit. But not too much personality.”

There’s more on Davis and Ruth and their transition to the MMA cage in our Nov./Dec. 2017 issue, already arriving in mailboxes.

Bill Zimmerman, special to PennStaterMag.com

October 26, 2017 at 2:33 pm Leave a comment

Inside Our November/December 2017 Issue

You may have come from thousands of miles away, or from the nearest town over, but nothing quite compares to arriving on campus for the first time. Whether you were nervous to meet your roommate, excited to be on your own, or sad saying goodbye to family and friends, most of us probably remember that day.

We wanted to see what incoming students today thought of the experience, so we sent photographers to five Penn State campuses on arrival weekend to get up close with students—new and returning—and capture them in their element: suitcases, boxes, duffel bags, and lots of cheap plastic storage bins. The feature begins on p. 28.

Also inside, we take you back to a time of great transition and tension in the world, and particularly on campus, as the college transitioned into a military training camp during World War I. The story is told through the love letters between Norman Lake ’22 and Helen Gladys Keller, his then-girlfriend whom he would later marry. Their story begins on p. 40.

And you’ll meet David Titley ’80, a retired Navy admiral and atmospheric expert who has become a prominent voice on climate change as a national security threat.

Plus we’ll take you to the scene of the first away pregame tailgate, hosted by the Alumni Association, and introduce you to Denis Smirnov, the Russian hockey phenom who turned down the chance to play in a top Russian pro league and the NHL to play for the Nittany Lions.

Our Nov./Dec. 2017 issue should be arriving in mailboxes soon. Let us know what you think at heypennstater@psu.edu.

B.J. Reyes, associate editor

October 25, 2017 at 11:18 am 2 comments

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