Author Archive

A Fitting Community Tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.

One year before he was assassinated in Memphis, TN., Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. rented a house in Jamaica and penned a final manuscript entitled “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?”
Last night at the Eisenhower Auditorium, on the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination, the answer was clearly “community.”

In a glorious and moving tribute to King’s life and legacy, put together by music professor Anthony Leach ’82 MMus, ’96 PhD A&A and Russell Shelley ’97 DEd A&A, six choirs took the stage in turn to perform a number of much-loved songs. They included the iconic anthem “We Shall Overcome,” and Leach’s original arrangement of the beloved gospel “This Li’l Light of Mine,” for which the Penn State Glee Club (conducted by Christopher Kiver, director of choral activities); Essence of Joy and Essence 2 Ltd (both conducted by Leach); The State College High School Master Singers (conducted by Erik Clayton ’06 A&A, ’08 MU Ed); the State College Choral Society and the Juniata College Concert Choir (both conducted by Shelley) crowded together on the stage in a grand finale.

Leach—who was featured in our Sept./Oct. 2017 issue—expressed hope that the community spirit would continue here at Penn State and beyond. The much-loved choir director, who came to Penn State as a graduate student and founded Essence of Joy and Essence 2 Ltd.—will retire shortly.

On January 21, 1965, Dr. King addressed a crowd of 8,000 people at Rec Hall on the University Park campus. Those who were unable to get a ticket listened to his speech on Penn State’s first student radio station, WDFM, which broadcast it live.

King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. He was 39 years old.  —Savita Iyer     MLK image

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April 5, 2018 at 10:42 am 2 comments

Talking About a Functioning Democracy

A functioning democracy is a work in progress with many moving parts, one of the most important being vibrant debate and discussion.

That’s just what political science professor Michael Berkman, director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State, and Jenna Spinelle, the Institute’s communications specialist, are hoping to encourage with a new podcast series entitled “Democracy Works”

The series—which will air weekly at https://www.democracyworkspodcast.com, and can also be found on Itunes, Google Play and Stitcher—will look at the many issues impacting democracy, and how they work together, through discussions with Penn State faculty, alumni, and guest speakers.

“There are so many overtly partisan podcasts out there—we saw a niche that we could fill by stepping back from the daily news cycle to look at the bigger issues in a democracy, and what different people are doing to make democracy work,” says Spinelle.

“We’re not coming at those issues from a partisan perspective or playing pundits,” Berkman says. “We’re just talking to people about the work they are doing, and putting that in a larger context so that we can all understand what a functioning democracy is.”

Berkman and Spinelle say they were greatly inspired by Pennsylvania’s iron and steel workers: “They came together to build something bigger and better. Similarly, each of us has a role to play in building and sustaining a healthy democracy,” Berkman says.

Upcoming podcast episodes include a conversation with Daniel Ziblatt, associate professor of government and social studies at Harvard, about his recent book How Democracies Die, and interviews with students at State College Area High School who attended the recent “March for Our Lives” event in Washington, D.C..

The Democracy Works Team invites anyone from the broader Penn State community who has an idea for an episode, or who would like to speak to any aspect of democracy, to contact them at democracyInst@psu.edu.

“We know that there are so many great Penn State alums doing interesting work that we don’t even know about, so we encourage people to come in,” Spinelle says. — Savita Iyer

 

Democracy Works Logo

 

April 3, 2018 at 3:04 pm 2 comments

When Truckers Fight Trafficking

The Freeman Project House on the south side of Columbus, Ohio, looks like any other house. Yet it is distinct from the other homes on the street because it’s been set up to serve as a refuge for female survivors of human trafficking, as a place to help them get a fresh start in life.

The home—which will welcome its first residents this summer—was founded by Barbara Freeman, a survivor of trafficking and a great source of inspiration for Pearl Gluck’s latest movie, The Turn Out.

The feature-length film—which has its world premiere tomorrow at the Columbus International Film & Animation Festival—sheds light on human trafficking at truck stops across the U.S., a huge and underreported problem. Gluck, an assistant professor of film and media studies in the Bellisario College of Communications, fears it could only get worse going forward.

“Wherever you have drugs and addiction, everywhere that young people aren’t being given educational opportunities and where they lack stable environments, and wherever there is prostitution, there is trafficking,” she says. “Predators are everywhere— they’re looking at everyone and at vulnerabilities from homelessness to lack of love. They’re watching what your kids put on Instagram.”

Behind the Scenes Turn Out

Pearl Gluck (center) with actors on the set of The Turn Out

The Turn Out is told from the point of view of a trucker whose active role in a domestic sex trafficking ring rises up to haunt him when he engages with an underage victim. More often than not, victims of trafficking are transported across the country on trucks, but many people are not aware of the fact that truckers are also important players in the fight against trafficking, Gluck says.

“We like to point our fingers at truckers— but they’re on the road, they really see what’s going on, and I wanted people to know that many truckers are actually every day heroes in the fight against trafficking,” she says. “The organization Truckers Against Trafficking trains truckers to observe what’s going on when they’re on the road, to ask someone they think might be a trafficking victim how old they are and whether they’re where they are of their own volition, and to generally report any activity they find suspicious.”

For The Turn Out, Gluck interviewed truckers, lawyers, police officers and many others who are working to end trafficking. She also spoke to multiple survivors, who shared their painful stories with her.

“The trafficking network in this country is vast and it encompasses everything from intricate, nationwide networks run by gangs, to smaller networks that start in the home,” she says.

According to Polaris, the leading organization working against global trafficking, reports of human trafficking increase every year here in the U.S. In 2016, over 8,000 cases were reported, most of which were sex-trafficking cases of underage girls and boys. The average age of a child tricked into prostitution and trafficked is 13.

Gluck hopes more states will take a cue from Ohio and the work done by State Representative Teresa Fedor (D-Toledo), a strong voice in the fight against human trafficking for the past 15 years. Fedor is the architect of the 2014 End Demand Act that, among others, broadened Ohio’s definition of trafficking and increased the penalty of purchasing sex from a minor from a misdemeanor to a felony. She also hopes that more states will create CATCH Courts, which were started in 2009 by Judge Paul Herbert in Columbus as a way to provide victims of trafficking forced into prostitution with a path of rehabilitation, recovery, and support.

The Turn Out is set to premier this week. Gluck has also written and directed Summer, a short film about two teenage girls at a Hassidic Jewish sleep-a-way camp, which premiered earlier this year at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s New York Jewish Film Festival; and Where is Joel Baum?, starring veteran actress Lynn Cohen. The movie won several awards, including best film at The Female Eye film festival.

Savita Iyer, senior editor

 

 

 

March 22, 2018 at 1:17 pm 3 comments

From Undocumented Immigrant to Immigration Reform Advocate

When she speaks at college campuses across the country, Julissa Arce is often asked why undocumented immigrants in the U.S. don’t do things the “right” way, why they can’t simply “get in the back of the line.”

Her answer is always the same: If there was a right way to come here, if there was indeed a “line” to stand in, then that is where undocumented immigrants would be. That’s where Arce—a former Wall Street executive who came to the U.S. from Mexico with her parents when she was 11 years old, and lived and worked here undocumented for more than a decade—would have happily stood. Unfortunately, “the line is a mythical place,” she says, because contrary to what many believe, there are very few ways for people to legally emigrate to the U.S.

Julissa 1

Arce—who spoke earlier today as part of the Penn State Forum series at the Nittany Lion Inn—considers herself “lucky” as far as undocumented immigrants go. Her parents brought her into the U.S. by plane and on a valid tourist visa, and that made things easier for her years later when she married her American boyfriend and applied for a green card, before becoming a U.S. citizen in 2014. But for Arce, the relative ease of the final administrative processes can never erase the torment of being undocumented, of waiting in stomach-churning fear for the authorities to get wind of her status, realize that her social security number and green card were fake. When would they come for her, Arce wondered almost every day, as she successfully completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at Austin (she began studying there the year Texas passed a law allowing noncitizens, including some undocumented immigrants, to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges), completed internships at Goldman Sachs in New York City, and accepted a full-time job with the firm, rising through the ranks quickly to become vice president?

Inevitably, the ax fell when Arce had every piece of the American dream she’d always wanted, with a phone call informing her that her dad (her parents returned to Mexico when she started college) was seriously ill.

“My mother begged me not to go,” she said, because her undocumented status meant Arce would not be allowed to re-enter the U.S., “but I knew if I did not go, I would never be able to live with myself. Anyway, while I agonized about whether to go or not, my dad died. That was the cost.”

Everyday across the U.S., undocumented immigrants are facing similar dilemmas, Arce—who quit her job at Goldman Sachs after she got her green card—says, and having to take difficult decisions with painful consequences.

Since revealing her incredible story in 2015, she’s been a tireless advocate for proper immigration policy—particularly as it pertains to Dreamers, undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. She is chairman of the board of the Ascend Educational Fund, a New York-based organization that provides educational scholarships and mentoring to young, undocumented immigrants who want to go to college.

“Education was my way up and I’d like for others to have the same opportunity,” she said. “That’s what we come here for—opportunity.”

Arce’s 2016 memoir, “My (Underground) American Dream” has been adapted into a television miniseries starring actor America Ferrera.

Savita Iyer, senior editor

In the May/June issue of the Penn Stater, we’ll feature interviews with experts from across the university on the topic of immigration.  

March 20, 2018 at 4:33 pm Leave a comment

Love at Penn State

JF18_LoveLetters_small.pngWe received so many wonderful emails and letters in response to our call for your Penn State love stories, that it was very hard to choose which ones to run in our January/February issue.  So we decided we’d share some more of your stories online. And what better time to do that on Valentine’s Day? Happy Valentine’s Day from the Penn Stater!

Lion Lover

My desk in the Sigma Phi Alpha fraternity house was in a bay window facing a woman’s rooming house. Three coeds raised their window, and motioned for me to raise mine.  They asked what was gaping at them from my desk.  I told them I was the Nittany Lion and kept the head there to keep track of them.  I asked one of the girls if she would meet me at a house party the following Saturday. But just as the girls were coming in, the lights went out. Not knowing which girl I’d invited, I gravitated to the tallest girl silhouetted in the dim light from the street.  It was her and we danced the evening away. We got engaged on December 11, 1944, married on June 23, 1945 while I was in the navy, and enjoyed 67 years of a happy marriage.  Bob Ritzmann ’44, ’46 Sci, State College

 

This Girl, not That One

I didn’t realize, until I picked her up, that the girl who answered the phone when I called for a date was not the one I met at a square dance the week before, but her roommate. Lorraine Hershey had a nice smile, though, and a wonderful warm personality. I took her to a Friday night dance at my fraternity and I remember a warm, good night kiss on soft lips. We soon became inseparable and were married after she graduated in 1965. Bob Ferguson ’64 Agr, Memphis, Tenn.

 

Three Credits and a Wife

Burch and I both signed up for a spring break tourism class that took place over a week in Jamaica.  We fell in love on the beaches and have now been married for 21 years.  Burch likes to say that he really benefited from that tourism class – he got three credits and a wife! Jennifer Wilkes ’94 H&HD, State College

 

Move-in day Meetup-to-Marriage

We met on move-in day. We quickly became friends and ended up going out a few times, but we thought it was best to focus on our studies instead. Years later, unbeknownst to either of us, we both ended up in New York City.  A cousin of mine (who was also a friend of Candace’s from Penn State) reached out to her on Facebook to let her know that we were both now living in the same city and that we should meet up sometime.  After some initial trepidation, we agreed it would be good to catch up. Three years later, we were married. Philippe Rouchon ’05 Sci, Washington, D.C.

 

Bonding over Bagels

During freshman year, I attended Hillel’s “Jewish Speed Dating.” The bagel store was full of guys but one of them, Craig, saw me and it was love at first sight (no joke, ask him). Most people would have said it was “beshert,” the Yiddish word for “meant to be.” Not quite. Craig reached out to me on Facebook, but I forgot to answer. Five months later, we ran into each other on Beaver Avenue during Arts Fest and then at a fraternity party. Eight years later, we got married. It was “beshert” after all. Wendy Cukierman ’12 Edu, Matawan, N.J.

 

In Sickness and in Health
Steve and I met our very first day as freshmen at the Fishbowl Dance in the Pollock Quad.  We became very good friends and hung out all of the time.  We gradually fell in love and a few years later, got married and started a family.  We lost our first two babies:  Kendall was stillborn and Matthew died when he was 16 days old.  We were blessed with our son Daniel in 2001 and in 2005, we adopted our beautiful daughter, Alaina, from Guatemala.  Our love has endured through the best of times as well as the worst. Alisa Kulchinsky Muir ’90 Bus, Florence, S.C.

 

A Near Miss

He suggested we meet to the right of the stadium at the SUV with the orange cone on the roof at the Penn State/Ohio State game on October 29, 1994. We didn’t realize, though, that a lot of tailgaters use orange cones to mark their locations, and we didn’t consider which view of the stadium we were thinking of when we said to meet at “the right.” My best friend and I walked through the different lots and as we approached each orange cone, my heart sank. We didn’t find him. After a consolation dinner with my girlfriend at The Corner Room, I went upstairs to use the ladies room. When I came out, there he was. Fate, good timing and an amazing coincidence brought us together again. That night, we exchanged phone numbers. We haven’t parted since and recently celebrated our 20th anniversary. Erica Fetner Keagy ’95 H&HD, Ardmore, Pa.

 

A Tall Tale

I met the love of my life, René Susan Albrecht, in Waring Dining Hall during Spring Term 1975, and we have one Richard Bartlett to thank for that. René was a 6’ 2” volley baller, and I had a soccer scholarship.  She was in McKee Hall, the graduate dorm, and I was in Irvin Hall, both part of the Waring Quad. Simply put, since I was a reputed “leg man” it was inevitable.  As Rich was a friend in common, and he sometimes shared a table with René, I prevailed upon him for an introduction.  René and I have been sharing bliss now for four decades. Timothy Quentin Unger ’76 Lib, Healdsburg, Calif.

 

Chemical Reaction

My Chem 101 group project in Abington had that inevitable member who didn’t show up for most of our sessions. She had invited one Alen Chao to join our group without telling the rest of us, and we didn’t know he’d actually worked on her portion of the project. When Alen’s name popped up in my packet of peer evaluations, I gave him a negative evaluation: “I have no idea who Alen Chao is and he does not deserve any credit for this project.” Alen saw the evaluations and introduced himself to the group. He and I collaborated, in person, for the next group project and it turned out we had good chemistry. We started dating by the end of the semester and got married in June 2015. Erin Chao’07 Abgt, Stafford, Va.

 

Sweet Spot

I was sure that the guy sitting in front of me knew the answer to the last question on the biochemistry exam paper that I didn’t know. He sat there, relaxed with his chair perched back and arms folded, occasionally adjusting his glasses. Awed by his confidence, I tapped him on the shoulder, which led to a little science talk and a three-year friendship. One humid Fourth of July, while watching the fireworks on the lawn of the Hershey Medical Center, he asked me out on our first date. We’re married now. I’ll never know if I got that question right on my first graduate school exam, but I will always be grateful for it because it led me to my future husband and a lifetime of happiness. Now I know why they call Hershey “The Sweetest Place on Earth.” Christine Sibinski ’15 Hershey, Cockeysville, Md.

 

Lost and Found

At the beginning of my sophomore year, a classmate invited me to a party at his fraternity house. That night, I danced with a guy named Lew. I gave him my number.  He never called, and though I wasn’t surprised, I never forgot him. As seasons and semesters passed, I occasionally steered my friends to that frat, always with a remote and secret hope that he might be there.  And, then, about a year later, he was! Without a moment of thought, I approached him with “I know you.  You’re Lew.  L.E.W.” Surprisingly, he didn’t run away.  And this time, he even called me back.  Turns out, he lost my number the first time around and had been looking for me too. Six years later, we were back at Penn State—this time to get married. Liz Gorman ’07 EMS, Clearwater, Fla.

 

 

 

February 14, 2018 at 10:34 am 1 comment

Award-Winning Writer Susan Miller’s New Play Debuts Off-Broadway

Susan Figlin Miller does not keep a journal. She doesn’t ​jot down or​ record interesting tidbits of conversations she might hear on the subway in New York, or at Webster’s Bookstore Café in downtown State College, where she wrote portions of her new play, 20th Century Blues.

“Once I put words down on a page,” says Miller ’65 Lib, “a story hopefully takes on its own original life.”

Sound easy? Well, perhaps so for a prolific and award-winning author, who has written not just for the stage, but for television (Miller was a writer for the ABC series Thirtysomething), the movies (she wrote the screenplay for a short film called The Grand Design, starring Six Feet Under’s Frances Conroy) and the web (her indie web series Anyone but Me—which airs on Youtube and Hulu—has been viewed over 50 million times).

20th Century Blues, directed by two-time Obie award winner and Tony award-nominee Emily Mann, is Miller’s most recent play, and it begins performances at the Signature Theatre in New York on Nov. 12, running until Jan. 28. The play recounts the story of four women, friends for many years, who meet once a year to have their pictures taken in a ritual that chronicles their changing selves as they navigate life—its rewards and challenges. But when it transpires that those private pictures could go public, their decades-long, tight-knit relationships are suddenly tested, forcing the four women to confront their past and prepare for their future.

“This play is called 20th Century Blues because I don’t think any of us are really living in the 21st century yet,” Miller says. “These women lived most of their lives in the previous century. And the things that happened then, seemed to happen in a way that gave us space and time to absorb the huge impact of what had occurred—World War II, the Army-McCarthy Hearings, the fight for Civil Rights, AIDs. Now, because of the 24-hour news cycle and social media, and the awareness of global tragedy, there is no time to take it all in or heal from it.”

In her body of work, Miller has taken on the big themes—race, gender relations, sexuality, communication— and she’s also focused on what she calls “otherness:” She creates characters that, for one reason or another, fall out of the mainstream (one of the four women in 20th Century Blues is African-American and gay), and she places those characters in situations that are unexpected, situations that force them to think about who they are, how they came to be who they are, how they relate to the people around them. And how the world sees or should see them.

“I feel like our country is still very much in denial of otherness—whether that’s race or culture or just people who are uniquely different,” Miller says. “One of the only ways I think that the fear of otherness can be overcome is to define it and then transform it into something human, because we all participate in this world. It’s something important to me that somehow runs through 20th Century Blues and in my other work.”

Miller wrote her first play, No One is Exactly 23, when she was 23 years old and teaching high school in Carlisle, Pa. She won an Obie award in playwriting, and the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, for her autobiographical, one-woman play My Left Breast.

Miller and cast

Susan Miller and the cast of 20th Century Blues

November 10, 2017 at 10:25 am Leave a comment

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