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Special Agent Timothy McGee Pays a Visit

Sean Murray and his mom, Vivienne Bellisario, with Penn State President Eric Barron and his wife, Molly. Photo by John Beale.

Penn State rolled out the red carpet for Don Bellisario ’61 and his family last weekend, honoring the Hollywood producer and screenwriter (NCIS; JAG; Magnum, P.I.) for his $30 million gift to the academic unit now known as the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

When the college posted a collection of photos from the weekend to Facebook, one face in particular jumped out at me: Sean Murray, who plays Special Agent Timothy McGee on my absolute favorite TV show, NCIS. Murray happens to be Bellisario’s stepson; he’s the son of Bellisario’s wife, Vivienne.

Sean Murray (via Twitter)

It turns out that Bellisario brought 48 family members for the festivities at Penn State last weekend. (Another celebrity offspring in the group was Bellisario’s daughter from a previous marriage, Troian, who starred in the TV series Pretty Little Liars.) The events included the official dedication of the Bellisario College on Friday, a ceremony at halftime of the Penn State/Michigan game on Saturday night, and a recognition dinner on Sunday night.

The Bellisario entourage also got a bus tour of campus and town, so they could see some of their patriarch’s roots—including a house on West Prospect Avenue where Bellisario once lived. By coincidence, the dean of the college, Marie Hardin, later owned and lived in the same house.

It’s just fun to know that Special Agent McGee got to see our campus, had his picture taken at the Nittany Lion Shrine, and watched the Lions’ spectacular White-Out win over Michigan from the president’s suite in Beaver Stadium. You can see him—and, of course, his famous stepfather—in the photos by John Beale on Facebook.

Tina Hay, editor

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October 27, 2017 at 9:47 am Leave a comment

Stuff We Get From Readers

From time to time, readers send us things: handwritten letters recalling memories of their Penn State days, photos of themselves holding a copy of The Penn Stater at some location halfway around the world, pictures of their babies decked out in Penn State gear. We love it. We don’t always know what to do with it, but we love it.

Recently a reader in Gettysburg sent us two Penn State postcards that date to the 1920s; they came from a friend whose father was a student back then. I thought you’d enjoy seeing them. The first is of McAllister Building—or McAllister Hall, as it was called then:McAllister-Bldg

The building dates to 1904, when it was a men’s dorm—it changed over to a women’s dorm in 1915. Today it houses the Math department, as well as the campus post office.

The other postcard is more curious to me, because I can’t figure out what it is:

You can click on the photo to see it bigger. It looks like a painting, but it’s definitely a photo. From the caption, one of the buildings in the postcard apparently is the museum of the “Department of Fine and Industrial Arts”—but what was that? And where on campus was it? Calling all historians… If you can shed light on this one, let us know in the comments section below.

Tina Hay, editor

August 28, 2017 at 2:52 pm Leave a comment

Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night,’ Updated

dsc_0814-maria-viola-fabiana-medWhen I heard that Penn State Centre Stage would be presenting the Shakespeare classic Twelfth Night this season, I pictured a production and costumes that would be—well, Shakespearean.

But it turns out that director Steve Snyder wanted to offer a more contemporary take on the tale. He set it in 1953, and studded it with a few musical numbers from the 1940s and 1950s—songs like “As Time Goes By,” “Unforgettable,” “Beyond the Sea,” and “C’est Si Bon.”

After all, Snyder says, the themes of the 17th century play are still relevant: “We still fall in love with the wrong people,” he writes in the show’s notes. “We still try to disengage from life, or alter how we engage with life, when it gets hard. We still desire to rise or somehow get more. We still have that one relative who is insufferable, but is still family. We still deal with bullies, then sometimes become the bully ourselves. We still have to learn and re-learn the need for forgiveness, kindness and mercy.”

Snyder is an Equity actor and faculty member in Penn State’s School of Theatre, and virtually everyone else involved in the play—from the cast members to the set designer to the costume designer—is either an undergrad or grad student in the school. It’s an impressive ensemble.

Twelfth Night had a preview performance on Monday and and will have another tonight, with the official opening tomorrow night. The show goes dark next week, but resumes Nov. 29. It closes Dec. 3. More information here.

Below are a few photos I took at a dress rehearsal last weekend. Click on them if you’d like to scroll through them individually.

Tina Hay, editor

November 16, 2016 at 3:55 pm Leave a comment

Just a Few Things Going on This Weekend…

StraightNoChaser

Straight No Chaser. Photo by Tina Hay

Anyone looking for something to do at University Park this weekend has plenty of choices. Between sports and music, you could pretty much spend your whole weekend on campus.

Last night a friend and I took in the Straight No Chaser concert (photo above) in Eisenhower Auditorium. The 10-member group does entirely a cappella versions of pop hits and Christmas tunes, including a hilarious version of “The 12 Days of Christmas” that you can find on YouTube. The ensemble got its start 20 years ago as a student singing group at Indiana University, which made for some good-natured banter on the eve of today’s Penn State football game with the Hoosiers: Group members tried to make the case that it was about time for Indiana to beat Penn State, and audience members responded with a spontaneous “We Are…” cheer.

Eisenhower will host another concert tonight: the Penn State Glee Club’s annual fall concert. Meanwhile, over at the Bryce Jordan Center, there’s a concert tonight by Brand New.

And then there’s all of the sports on campus this weekend:

—The men’s ice hockey team beat Alaska-Anchorage 7-3 last night in the Pegula Arena. And, because it doesn’t make much sense for a team to travel all the way from Alaska to play just one game, the two teams will square off again tonight at 7.

—The women’s ice hockey team skated to a 1-1 tie with Lindenwood this afternoon at Pegula.

—The women’s field hockey team, fresh off winning the Big Ten championship, was upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament today, losing to Princeton, 2-1. A tough end to the season, but an impressive 17-3 record.

—The women’s soccer team—defending NCAA champs—beat Bucknell 6-0 last night at Jeffrey Field in the first round of the NCAAs.

—The men’s basketball team lost to Albany, 87-81, last night in the Jordan Center. The Lions return to the BJC Sunday evening at 6 to host Duquesne.

—The women’s basketball team hosts St. Peter’s in the BJC tomorrow afternoon at 1.

—The wrestling team has its first home meet of the season tomorrow, hosting Stanford at 2 pm in sold-out Rec Hall. The Lions are coming off a 45-0 shutout of Army last night at West Point.

Other than that, it’s pretty quiet around here this weekend.

Tina Hay, editor

 

 

 

November 12, 2016 at 7:01 pm Leave a comment

Headshots—of Birds

dsc_0710_female_cardinal

I’ve long been a fan of the bird-banding program offered by the Arboretum at Penn State. (I’ve written about it here, here, and here.) Under the direction of volunteer Nick Kerlin ’71, who has both a state and federal license to do this sort of thing, students put up “mist nets” to catch wild birds, then fit each bird with a tiny metal ID band. They record data on the bird’s weight, age, sex, etc., and then set it free.

Nick sends the data to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Bird Banding Laboratory in Patuxent, Md., where scientists can use the information to monitor the health and migration patterns of bird populations.

I like the research aspect of bird-banding, of course, but I also like how it offers Penn State wildlife science students—and anyone else who’s interested in stopping by—a chance to learn about birds in a very up-close way. It’s also a great chance to photograph the birds. This morning I took a macro lens along, to try some close-up portraits, and I thought I’d share a few of the images I got. Above is a female cardinal, and below is a more extreme close-up of the same image:

dsc_0710_female_cardinal_cropped

The group this morning also banded several white-throated sparrows, a handsome bird that, around here, shows up in the fall and stays until spring. Here’s one:

dsc_0635_white_throated_sparrow

And here’s a tufted titmouse. Note the leg band he’s just acquired:

dsc_0659_tufted_titmouse

There are two more banding sessions remaining in the fall season; you can see more information about them here.

Tina Hay, editor

October 19, 2016 at 1:12 pm Leave a comment

What I Learned About Earthquakes on My Lunch Hour

ElizaRichardson

Eliza Richardson

Today I went to a lunchtime lecture at Schlow Library downtown, to hear Penn State geoscientist Eliza Richardson talk about earthquakes. No special reason, really, except that we just finished the November/December issue of the magazine, so suddenly I have a little more time for such things. Lectures like these are a good way for us to scout possible stories for the magazine. And, besides, I know pretty much nothing about earthquakes.

In an hour’s time, I learned a lot. Here’s a sampling:

—Scientists would love to be able to predict earthquakes: when they’ll strike, where they’ll strike, and how big they’ll be. Richardson calls it the “holy grail” in her field.

—”The biggest earthquakes aren’t always the worst,” Richardson says. She showed three lists—the 10 biggest earthquakes in history, the 10 deadliest, and the 10 costliest—and pointed out that only two earthquakes appear on all three lists. (Those were the 2004 quake and tsunami near Sumatra and the 2011 quake and tsunami off the Japanese coast.)

—The so-called “World Series Earthquake” of 1989 in San Francisco was not quite as strong as the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti—the San Francisco quake was a magnitude 7.0, vs. 7.2 in Haiti—yet only 68 people died in San Francisco, vs. 159,000 in Haiti. “That’s all about infrastructure,” Richardson says: San Francisco has many buildings that are seismically retrofitted, while Haiti, an impoverished country, does not.

—Earthquakes happen along fault lines where two tectonic plates bump into each other, and “stress overcomes friction” along that fault line. “If the plate boundaries could all be lubricated with the scientific equivalent of WD-40, earthquakes would never happen,” Richardson says.

—Earthquakes happen far more often than people realize. Her title slide included a USGS-generated world map very similar to this one…

USGS world earthquake map

…which shows all earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater just in the past 30 days.

You can click on the map to see it bigger. Obviously the fault lines along the West Coast of the Americas are pretty impressive, along with poor Italy, which is practically obliterated by all the dots.

—Speaking of Italy: Scientists often are hesitant (“cagey,” Richardson called it) about saying they’re working on earthquake prediction. She cited the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake in Italy as one reason: The city had been experiencing tremors for months, so a special meeting of seismologists was convened, and many people interpreted the scientists’ comments at that meeting as suggesting there was nothing to fear. A week later, a magnitude-6.3 quake hit the city, and more than 300 people died. Five scientists ended up standing trial for manslaughter—and were convicted. A higher court eventually overturned the convictions, but the events surely had a chilling effect on seismologists worldwide.

(You can read an interesting account of the L’Aquila quake and subsequent criminal trial at Smithsonianmag.com.)

—While seismologists can’t yet predict earthquakes, there’s been a lot of progress in the field in the past 10 years. Scientists are starting to pay more attention to silent earthquakes called “slow slip earthquakes,” which can be measured by GPS devices. These slow slips may turn out to be harbingers of a larger, far more damaging quake.

—There’s a fairly prominent fault line in the U.S. midwest, called the New Madrid (pronounced MAD rid) Fault, which in 1811 and 1812 spawned the largest earthquakes in U.S. history. If they happened today, says Richardson, they would level Memphis and several other cities. They reportedly shook the White House, hundreds of miles away, and caused church bells to ring in Boston.

(You can read more about the New Madrid earthquakes here.)

OK, there’s lots more, but I’ve probably babbled enough. Suffice it to say I think Richardson’s research is really interesting and would make for a great story in the magazine sometime.

The lecture was sponsored by Schlow Library as part of its Research Unplugged series; the fall schedule continues through Nov. 10.

Tina Hay, editor

October 13, 2016 at 4:10 pm Leave a comment

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