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Kelly Ayotte in a Photo Finish

The fight for Kelly Ayotte’s U.S. Senate seat appears headed for a recount.

Ayotte ’90, the Republican incumbent from New Hampshire whose race was one of the most closely watched of the 2016 election, is locked in a dead heat with Democratic governor Maggie Hassan. As of Wednesday afternoon, that race was still too close to call: With all precincts in the Granite State reporting, Hassan held a lead of roughly 700 votes among more than 700,000 cast. Citing the totals, Hassan declared victory Wednesday, but Ayotte has yet to concede, and both sides expect a recount before the results are official.

Ryan Jones, deputy editor

November 9, 2016 at 3:16 pm 1 comment

A Rough Night for Kelly Ayotte

For Kelly Ayotte ’90, the home stretch seems to be an uphill climb.

Ayotte, the Republican U.S. Senator from New Hampshire featured in our Sept./Oct. issue, remains in a virtual dead heat with Gov. Maggie Hassan as she attempts to hold on to her seat. The candidates faced off Monday night in a televised debate, and Ayotte appeared to fumble her response to a question about whether she thought Donald Trump should be seen as a role model to children. On a relatively quiet day in the national campaign, it quickly became an unwanted headline:

The reaction was swift and overwhelmingly harsh for Ayotte, who has attempted to balance her party loyalty with concerns over her party’s nominee, and continues to maintain a stance of supporting but not endorsing Trump. With Hillary Clinton polling ahead of Trump in New Hampshire, and Election Day just five weeks away, it remains to be seen if Ayotte’s debate gaffe is one she can overcome, or one that might cost her the election.

Ryan Jones, deputy editor

October 4, 2016 at 2:23 pm 1 comment

On Kelly Ayotte, Penn Stater in the U.S. Senate

Our September/October issue includes a profile of Kelly Ayotte ’90, the U.S. senator from New Hampshire who is in the midst of a tough reelection battle. Outside of the presidential campaign, Ayotte’s race is one of this election year’s most intriguing: A working mother and her state’s first female attorney general, she is among the most prominent female Republicans in the nation, widely seen as one of the party’s bright hopes. She’s got strong conservative credentials, but also boasts one of the more bi-partisan records in the Senate.

For all that, she’s in a virtual dead heat with her challenger, Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan. (New Hampshire holds its Senate primary next Tuesday, Sept. 13, but Ayotte is expected to easily defeat her challenger, former state senator Jim Rubens.) It’s a race that’s drawing attention well beyond the borders of the Granite State, as the outcome could decide control of the Senate. The ad below offers a look at how Ayotte is handling the challenge.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump has become one of the defining issues of Ayotte’s campaign. She’s tried to walk a fine line with regard to the GOP presidential nominee, publicly calling him out for his comments about the parents of a Muslim-American soldier who spoke at the Democratic National Convention, and saying more than once that she won’t endorse him; still, she has reiterated that she plans to vote for Trump in November. In a state with a strong independent streak, Ayotte’s ability to balance party loyalty with public sentiment may decide the election.

Party loyalty and public sentiment were two factors we had in mind when we scheduled this feature to run just a couple of months before the election. Not surprisingly, we’ve heard from a handful of readers who took issue with both the subject and the timing of our story, essentially accusing us of promoting a partisan agenda. For us, the subject—the highest ranking alumnus currently in public office, one whose name has more than once been connected to potential presidential tickets—makes Ayotte an obvious choice for coverage in The Penn Stater. Alumni don’t get much more prominent than sitting U.S. senators.

Regarding the timing, we discussed our own concerns about running the story in the run-up to the election, and knew at least a few readers might see it as something akin to a campaign ad. Ultimately, we felt that the timing—the fact that Ayotte’s in a neck-and-neck battle to keep her seat, and the implications for both her party and her career—is part of what makes the story compelling. We’re also confident that, when it comes to a national politician with strong feelings on issues like gun control or abortion, some readers won’t want to read it no matter when it might run.

As for accusations of bias, we know that comes with the territory. In the past year, I’ve had the chance to profile union leader Richard Trumka and conducted an interview with a group of Penn State’s Muslim students; after each story, we received letters decrying our obvious liberal bias—and, in some cases, much worse. We trust that most of our readers will appreciate our desire to tell good stories about interesting Penn Staters, no matter their political ideology or religious beliefs. And that we’ll continue to get your letters when you disagree.

Ryan Jones, deputy editor

September 7, 2016 at 2:22 pm 5 comments

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 twitch.tv 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

The Penn State Rugby Dynasty Continues

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We appreciate the continued commitment of the women’s rugby program to making us look smart. The Lions, who we featured on the cover of our May/June issue last year, traveled to California over the weekend and came back with their fifth straight national championship. Penn State knocked off BYU, 15-5, to extend one of the most impressive dynasties in college sports.

Led by coach Kate Daley ’09—who we profile during her All-American undergrad days way back in 2009—and an MVP performance from freshman Azniv Nalbandian, the Lions claimed the inaugural D1 Elite final, the title game of the new women’s college rugby playoff format. But there was nothing new about this for Penn State: It was not only the program’s fifth consecutive championship, but its 11th overall, the most of any team in the nation.

Ryan Jones, deputy editor

May 9, 2016 at 9:56 am Leave a comment

A Sneak Peek at the New Student Farm

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Did you know Penn State used to have a student-run farm? If you’re old enough, you might remember the student-farmed, off-campus plot—and the controversy when the university took control of it and it eventually shut down. Times have changed, and today, in a very different form (and right on the edge of campus), Penn State’s student farm is back.

Approved by the administration in January, the new student farm (and the Student Farm Club that runs it, under the umbrella of the university’s Sustainable Food Systems Program) recently broke ground on a plot, with plans to begin planting this summer. Looking to get the word out—and take advantage of a Blue White Weekend forecast that looks just about perfect—the club is hosting something of an open house this weekend: From 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, visitors can tour greenhouses and take part in family-friendly interactive games, all just across Curtin Road from the Creamery. Check out their Facebook page for more info; should be plenty of time to squeeze in a visit before kickoff.

We’ll probably stop by, too: We’re planning an in-depth feature on the student farm and the changing face of agricultural education in a future issue. Keep an eye out.

Ryan Jones, deputy editor

 

April 15, 2016 at 8:26 am Leave a comment

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