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
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
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
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
Sitting quietly at his locker on Tuesday night, 90 minutes before tip-off, Tim Frazier was busy with one of the NBA’s most enduring pregame rituals: filling out envelopes.
Frazier was in Philadelphia with the rest of the New Orleans Pelicans for a mostly meaningless late-season games against the Sixers; “meaningless,” of course, being a relative term. Neither team will make the playoffs this season, so it didn’t mean much in the standings. But for Frazier ’13, ’14, a second-year player looking to establish himself as an NBA regular, every game—every possession, really—is a chance to prove himself worthy. For guys like Frazier, every game matters.
He didn’t seem to be feeling the pressure before the game, filling out envelopes for the comp tickets he was leaving for some friends. Times like these, Frazier looks like a seasoned vet, calmly handling one of the NBA’s more mundane tasks. His focus now is on showing that same sort of veteran composure and production on the court.
His story should be familiar to Penn State fans: Undrafted in 2014, he spent most of the 2014-15 season in the NBA’s developmental league, where he was nothing short of dominant, winning D-League Rookie of the Year and MVP honors. That effort earned him brief call-ups last season with the Sixers and Blazers, and it was Portland that signed him for the 2015-16 season. But the Blazers’ backcourt depth mostly relegated Frazier to the bench this season, and he went back to the D-League, nearly averaging a triple-double for the Maine Red Claws in eight D-League games.
Signed by the injury-ravaged Pelicans three weeks ago, he’s been better than good so far in New Orleans, posting a career-high 19 points and 13 assists last weekend in a win over Brooklyn. He was slated to start against the Sixers, the team that gave him his first, brief NBA opportunity. In the locker room pregame, seeing a familiar face from his days at Penn State—where he finished his career as the Nittany Lions’ all-time assist leader and one of the most complete players in program history—he’s happy to take a minute to look back, and to look ahead.
He says he keeps as close an eye on his alma mater as his schedule will allow, talking regularly with coach Patrick Chambers, who made the drive down to Philly for the game. He’s heard plenty about the Nittany Lions’ incoming recruiting class, potentially the best in program history, and a group loaded with Philly talent. He speaks regularly with teammates from his time in Portland; he and Damian Lillard, the Blazers’ star point guard with whom Frazier became particularly close, are in daily contact, and he says Lillard will watch his games and offer advice and critiques.
It’s suggested that the biggest difference in Frazier’s game this season is simple confidence. “So much,” he concurs, his eyes going big with acknowledgment. Unlike the rookie who was called up late last season and thrown into the NBA fire, he understands the importance of looking for his own shot. His on-court unselfishness worked against him at times last season, as he almost never looked for his own shot, even when left open. As he showed with that 19-point outburst last weekend, or his 10-point first quarter against the Sixers Tuesday night, it’s one of the many lessons Frazier has learned since.
He also had five assists in the first quarter Tuesday, and for all practical purposes he was the best player on the floor as the Pelicans built an eight-point lead. But they lost it when he went to the bench for a breather, and as the game went on, the Pelicans looked every bit like a team with its top six scorers out injured, fielding a roster of unfamiliar call-ups in their place. The Sixers ended up running away with the game, winning 107-93. Frazier’s stat line—12 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals—was probably the most impressive on the team.
His contract with New Orleans guarantees him a spot through the end of the regular season, now just a week away. Asked if he has a hunch about what happens next, Frazier is blunt: “July 1,” he says. That’s the date NBA teams can begin negotiating with free agents. Until then, he’ll keep looking for chances to make his case.
Ryan Jones, deputy editor
It’s been a month since our March/April issue hit Alumni Association members’ mailboxes—plenty of time, in other words, for readers to share their opinions. Not surprisingly, we’ve heard from plenty of them: dozens of emails (quite a bit more than we usually get, certainly) and a handful of phone calls and handwritten letters, the tone of which has been pretty evenly split between those who are upset or angry about our cover story on the lives and experiences of Muslim students at Penn State, and those who are proud and supportive.
We will of course run many of those letters in our May/June issue, but I thought it was worth writing here to say a bit more about the students themselves. The roundtable conversation that led to the feature was pulled together with the help of May Ayad, a junior graphic design major and current president of the Muslim Students Association. Our curiosity had been sparked by the MSA’s “Free Pizza Friday” giveaways, and once we contacted Ayad, she was able round up a few of her classmates to join the conversation.
The pizza giveaway is just one outreach activity of the MSA, which was created to “unite the Muslim body and integrate with the State College community.” Ayad and Hamsa Fayed, a senior international politics major and the MSA’s events coordinator, were featured in February in a USA Today article on the MSA’s “Day in Her Hijab” event, which gave students from any religious or ethnic background the chance to experience what it’s like to wear the traditional Muslim head covering on an American college campus.
They’re not the only MSA members making news: Zico Khayat, a junior studying biological sciences, was recently featured on Voice of America news for his efforts to help found a Penn State chapter of Alpha Lambda Mu, considered the nation’s first Muslim fraternity. Zico made a point of wearing traditional formal garb in our photo shoot, but the State College townie told us he generally only does so on special occasions; when I ran into him last week at State College High School, where he was helping out with an elementary school volleyball tournament my son was playing in, he was wearing a T-shirt and basketball high-tops.
Then there’s Ramisa Fariha, one of just a handful of Bangladeshi students at Penn State, and probably one of the sharpest students on campus. A junior in the Schreyer Honors College studying biomedical engineering (which we mistakenly referred to as “biomechanical” in the feature—sorry about that, Ramisa), she started out at Penn State Behrend, where she was named the campus’s Outstanding First-Year Student in 2014. Finally, Khaled Enab is something of an outlier in this group: A grad student working toward his Ph.D. in energy and mineral engineering, Enab is married with two young children.
As a group, they don’t represent the entirety of Muslim experience on campus, let alone the United States. But with due respect to those readers who disagreed, we felt (and still do) that theirs was a perspective worth sharing. I hope their decency, intelligence, and thoughtfulness came through in the story. They’re proud to be Penn Staters, and I’m proud we’ve got that in common.
Ryan Jones, senior editor