Posts filed under ‘Around the Commonwealth’

At the National Aviary, Birds—and Penn Staters—Abound


Jenny Walsh ’06 and a laughing kookaburra.

I’ve long been fascinated by birds—from the cardinals and chickadees that frequent my backyard feeders to the toucans and hummingbirds I’ve seen on trips to Costa Rica. On a visit to Orlando, Fla., some years back to speak at a magazine conference, I skipped Disney World and instead spent my free time at Discovery Cove, because it has a very cool aviary.

But I hadn’t been to the National Aviary in Pittsburgh in many years. And when I found out that a Penn Stater, Cheryl Columbus Tracy ’86, is executive director of the aviary, I decided it was time for a road trip.

A few weeks ago I drove to Pittsburgh and got a tour of the place from Cheryl. Wow, has she made an impact there—she’s overseen a major expansion in the past seven years, adding new exhibits, new space for the penguin colony, a FliteZone and a Sky Deck for special shows with live birds, and other features.

In the new Grasslands exhibit, I got to see birds I never knew existed: owl finches, Gouldian finches, paradise whydahs, and red bishops, to name a few. Elsewhere I saw one of the aviary’s four Andean condors, part of a breeding program to help restore populations of the endangered bird. I met a beautiful hyacinth macaw named Benito and a couple of strange-looking birds called rhinoceros hornbills.


Valentino, the aviary’s enormously popular—and mellow—baby sloth.

A highlight was the chance to see one of the aviary’s newest and most beloved residents: Valentino, the baby two-toed sloth. Valentino came to the aviary last winter to serve as an ambassador for sloths, birds, and other creatures whose rainforest habitat is shrinking—and, oh man, is he cute. (Click on the photo at left to see a bigger version and gaze into his dreamy eyes.)

I also got to hang out for a while with some of the Penn Staters at the aviary:

Mike Faix ’05, an education trainer, who teaches the birds to perform in the aviary’s shows.

Tammy Carradine Frech ’85, who’s in charge of volunteers and interns.

Teri Danehy Grendzinski ’93, supervisor of animal collections. She’s been at the aviary for 23 years, pretty much ever since she graduated.

Michael Leonard ’04, who does IT for a local law firm and volunteers at the aviary.

Jessie Baird Lehosky ’06, events manager. She handles weddings and other events that take place at the aviary.

Jenny Walsh ’06, assistant manager of behavioral management and education.

I shot the short video clip below with Tammy Frech, who’s holding a scarlet macaw named Red. As you’ll see, Red can speak on command—when he’s not busy eating a treat.

You can read more about my aviary visit in the September/October issue of the magazine, and you can see a handful of additional photos from the aviary visit on my Flickr page.

Tina Hay, editor


August 30, 2016 at 9:07 am Leave a comment

Eric Ekobeni is Helping the Children of Cameroon

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When it came time for Eric Ekobeni ’16 to put his degree from Penn State World Campus to use, he decided to help people in a Cameroonian village. Ekobeni, a native of Cameroon, came to the United States as a refugee in 2002 and lives in Philadelphia with his family.

Ekobeni’s work in Cameroon involves coming up with a plan for a bilingual junior high school in Ndento. The project – upon which Ekobeni interned – was originally passed by local authorities in 2010, but the person who spearheaded the effort died the week that it was approved. Ekobeni estimates that the project is about two-thirds of the way done (see photos above), and is in need of additional funding. If you’re interested in donating, you can do that right here.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

August 22, 2016 at 1:58 pm Leave a comment

Mandy Eagler’s Graduation Day

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Last Wednesday’s episode of The Today Show featured a video package about the stigma surrounding women’s mental health. Included in the video was Mandy Eagler ’16, a Penn State alumna who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from her time serving in Afghanistan with the United States military.

Eagler’s full story was published in a recent edition of AlumnInsider. She took courses via Penn State World Campus while she was overseas and attended Penn State Shenango when she came back to the U.S. She has since become an advocate for female veterans who suffer from PTSD.

Earlier this month, Eagler graduated from Penn State and served as Shenango’s commencement speaker.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

May 31, 2016 at 3:10 pm Leave a comment

John Kasich to Visit Penn State Brandywine


The second presidential hopeful of the 2016 cycle will make their way to Penn State this week. Ohio Governor and Republican candidate John Kasich will hold an event at Penn State Brandywine on Thursday afternoon.

Currently running third in the GOP field behind Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, Kasich will speak at Brandywine’s Commons Building. Doors open at 1:30 p.m., and the event will begin one hour later. The event is free, and if you would like to attend, you can register here.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

April 20, 2016 at 11:52 am 1 comment

Say Aloha to Penn State Fayette Basketball’s Trio of Hawaiians

It’s not every day that you hear about a Division III basketball program in southwest Pennsylvania finding success in recruiting in Hawaii. That’s the case at Penn State Fayette, as we learned from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Fayette coach Mark John has managed to pull three recruits from the island of Maui – senior guard/forward Luke Williams, junior forward Spencer Perieff, and freshman guard Marvin Sidon – because of a speech that he gave their high school program while he was on his honeymoon.

This is an interesting read on how Williams, Perieff, and Sidon have adjusted to being thousands of miles away from home and how John has managed to build a roster with players from all over the country (Fayette also has players from Minnesota and California on its roster).

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

January 22, 2016 at 12:23 pm Leave a comment

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