Posts filed under ‘From the Magazine’

Isaiah Harris Is Still Learning How Fast He Might Be

Photo via Cardoni

Isaiah Harris is really, really fast. This is kind of obvious: You’d assume that runners who receive Division I track scholarships can run much faster than the average person.

But in Harris’ case, his speed is almost unrivaled. On Jan. 28, 2017, the sophomore star lined up for the 600 meters at the Penn State National Open. Competing next to his friend, professional runner Casimir Loxsom ’13, Harris threw down the second-fastest time in the event ever.

The previous world record for the race, which was set eight days prior, was 1:14:97. Loxsom finished the race in 1:14:91, while Harris ran a 1:14.96. This was all in the plan for the pair, as Loxsom had mentioned to Harris prior to the event that he planned on breaking the record.

Harris had beaten Loxsom a few times in the past, so he had a strategy. He wanted to get on Loxsom’s shoulder, hang there, and try to beat him down the race’s home stretch. That didn’t quite happen, but he came about as close as humanly possible.

This was the latest big moment for Harris during his wildly successful collegiate career so far. The Gatorade Player of the Year for track in his home state of Maine as a high school senior, Harris is a middle-distance runner whose specialty is the 800 meters.

Since joining the Nittany Lions, he is 4-for-4 on Big Ten champions in the 800—he won the indoor and outdoor titles as a freshman and successfully defended his titles as a sophomore. Harris has also made it to the NCAA Championships in the 800 meters twice, coming in fourth in 2016 and second in 2017.

In addition to all of that, Harris nearly topped his freshman year off with a trip to Rio for the 2016 Olympics in the race. The top three made the team, and competing at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Eugene, Ore., Harris came in sixth place. Afterward, Penn State track coach John Gondak told Harris that he never had an athlete make it that far.

“Going into it I didn’t have too high of expectations for myself,” Harris says. “Not saying that I was just happy to be there, but I didn’t really know what I was capable of. I kind of just went in and felt I had nothing to lose and just went through the rounds. By the time I made it to the finals, I wasn’t super nervous because I was like ‘No matter how I finish, it’s a pretty big accomplishment making this far, there’s nothing to lose.'”

It’s been a relatively fast ascent for Harris, whose track career began when he was a high school sophomore. He ran when he was in elementary school for fun but decided to give that up to play baseball in middle school.

Photo via Cardoni

During his sophomore year, his godfather bribed him to give up football—the sport he played in the fall—for cross country and track. While he mainly did the former because he enjoyed the success the team had, and because it got him in shape for basketball, the sport he liked the most, Harris’ success on the track happened almost right away.

He made it to the state championship meet in his first year on the team, where he took home first place in the 800 with a time of 1:54:17. For reference, that time would have been good for 18th in the Big Ten this year. Harris did that as a high school sophomore.

Still, while he won a state championship, he didn’t quite know just how impressive that time was. He got a good idea after the meet, though, when he learned he informally got his first scholarship offer.

“The University of Maine coach talked to my high school coach and was like ‘I’ll offer this kid a full scholarship if he wants to come here,'” Harris says. “It was too early for the coaches to talk directly to me and he told my coach that. From that point I was like ‘Oh, I actually might be pretty good.'”

Fast forward a few years and Harris is among the fastest people on the planet. While he plans on getting his degree—an important goal for him, as he’d be the first college graduate in his immediate family—Harris has his sights set on winning an NCAA title in the 800, going pro, and seeing how far running can take him.

Next up is the U.S. Championships in Sacramento, which began on June 22. He made it through the preliminary rounds, coming in 15th with a qualifying time of 1:48:09. Harris will participate in the semifinals on Friday night, and if he makes it through to the finals, will compete on Sunday afternoon for a spot at the World Championships in London.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

June 23, 2017 at 10:44 am Leave a comment

Inside Our May/June 2017 Issue

A look back at some of the musical acts to make their way through Happy Valley, starting on the cover with Jon Bon Jovi.

If you’re feeling nostalgic, our May/June issue will help you relive some of the more memorable and iconic musical acts to play the Bryce Jordan Center since its opening in 1996. Starting with Jon Bon Jovi on the cover, longtime BJC marketing director Bernie Punt ’84 takes us backstage to talk about what it took to land Paul McCartney, the parenting skills of Gene Simmons, and what makes Garth Brooks a favorite among BJC staff, among other behind-the-scenes stories. The retrospective begins on p. 44.

The new issue, arriving in mailboxes soon, also tells how Dr. J. Richard Ward ’66, a civilian chemist, befriended a Russian defector in the waning days of the Cold War and unwittingly became a secret operative for the CIA. The tale of “The Accidental Spy” begins on p. 38.

You’ll also get a look at how Penn State experts are helping the Central American nation of Colombia move away from the cocaine trade by instead growing the key ingredient in chocolate (p. 30). You’ll meet Rob Turrisi, a professor whose research has shown that short, targeted conversations with teenagers can have a substantial impact on reducing high-risk behaviors like tanning and binge drinking (p. 52). Plus a look back at memorable seasons for Penn State wrestling (again) and men’s ice hockey.

What do you think about the new issue? Let us know by commenting below or emailing us at heypennstater@psu.edu.

B.J. Reyes, associate editor

April 26, 2017 at 12:00 pm Leave a comment

Emily Frederick Forged Her Own Path to Rio

Photo via Cardoni

If it wasn’t for an error on a GPS, it’s possible that Emily Frederick wouldn’t have found herself in Rio for the Paralympics last fall.

No, so she didn’t drive all the way down to Brazil on accident or anything like that. Frederick, an Alabama native who was born with dwarfism and stands 4-foot-1, needs special pedals to drive. When she was in high school and eager to get her license, her mother drove alone to a facility in Birmingham, Ala., called Lakeshore.

There are two Lakeshores in Birmingham. The one they needed was a rehabilitation center that had those pedal extensions; the other was a training facility for athletes with disabilities. They’re right next door to one another. The GPS brought Frederick’s mom—an assistant high school track coach—to the training facility. She got a tour and realized it was the perfect place for her daughter, who grew up playing sports but had stopped because she struggled to keep up with her teammates.

Initially, Emily wasn’t on board with her mother’s idea. (more…)

April 26, 2017 at 9:25 am Leave a comment

From the Magazine: Gary Eberle Endures

Gary Eberle’s name had been floating around the Penn Stater office for years before we finally got around to writing about him. We knew that Eberle ’67 was a former Nittany Lion football player who had gone on to become a successful California winemaker, and we’d occasionally talk about whether he might make a good feature for the magazine. But for all sorts of reasons, we never got around to it.

If you’ve seen our March/April issue, you know we finally got around to it. What changed: A little more than three years ago, Eberle was blindsided by what amounted to a hostile takeover of his namesake winery. It took 18 frustrating months before he and his wife, Marcy, finally reclaimed their business—an incredibly difficult experience for them that also made them a much more compelling story for us.

We’re glad to report it has a happy ending: Back under Gary and Marcy’s leadership, Eberle Winery is thriving. You can read about it here.

Ryan Jones, deputy editor

 

March 13, 2017 at 3:13 pm Leave a comment

It Takes Two

Photo via Cardoni

Photo via Cardoni

When you talk to Ben and Zach Lieb, one word pops up more than anything: We.

Ask them what happens when they play tennis against each other. You’ll get an answer that anyone with siblings can relate to.

“We fight,” Ben said.

Almost immediately after Ben finished his sentence, Zach chimed in: “We always, whenever we play any sport, we always somehow get into an argument.”

The sophomore twin brothers from Newtown Square, Pa.—featured in our March/April issue—are really good at this. Sometimes, one will start a sentence, the other will jump in and continue the thought, and the one who kicked things off will interject one last time to finish what the two of them said.

As you can guess, the pair have a bond that is impossible to replicate. This goes beyond tennis: In addition to playing on the same team, they live together and are both business majors (Ben is majoring in supply chain management, Zach plans on majoring in finance). Even the decision to attend Penn State stemmed from the fact that the two wanted to be together. Ask them if they planned on attending the same university, and “we” pops up immediately.

“We were always a package deal,” Ben said. “We’re so used to being together, we live with each other, here and at home, obviously. We always wanted to go to school together.”

Schools like Louisville, Richmond, Boston, and Penn all tried to acquire the services of the Liebs. Eventually, the desire to play a Division I sport, get a degree from the Smeal College of Business, and represent their state school meant Penn State checked all the boxes.

It helped that they were given the opportunity to come to Happy Valley as a package deal. It’s not a huge surprise—according to tennisrecruiting.net, both were five-star recruits after wildly successful high school careers at The Haverford School. Over the Liebs’ four years at the school, Haverford accrued an absurd 94-1-1 record.

“We won a few league titles in a row,” Ben recalled. “Then we got to our senior year, we got invited to play at the National High School All-American tournament in California where we finished sixth, we were on the all-tournament team there.”

“It’s team oriented, but it’s singles and doubles, so you play six singles and three doubles,” Zach continued. “We could play both, same as college. Ben and I were selected as All-Tournament team, I think there were 10 of us…”

“And then eventually All-Americans after that,” Ben interjected.

“High school All-Americans,” Zach quickly clarified.

Thanks to their chemistry, success, and time they’ve spent playing with one another—they first picked up rackets when they were around 4 and played in their first tournaments before they turned 10—the pair know each other on the court better than anyone. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that Zach “hates” playing Ben, because “we’ve played so many times it’s boring.”

Photo via Cardoni

Photo via Cardoni

Still, they rely on each other. Despite being different players—the hallmark of Ben’s game is consistency, while Zach’s style of play is based around power—they would always make it a point to prepare and warm up with one another growing up while attending tournaments. This has helped them on the court in a few ways. Getting coaching from someone who knows their game so well is a benefit, but being teammates with your brother also forces you to step up your level of competition on and off the court.

“You don’t wanna be left behind,” Zach said. “If I see Ben doing well in school or tennis, I’m gonna try and catch up.”

After their freshman years, Zach admitted he had a little bit of catching up to do—he accrued a 5-4 singles record and a 6-5 doubles mark as a freshman (Ben went 20-10 in singles and 9-3 in doubles). While Ben thought the two adjusted pretty easily, Zach disagreed, at least when it came to tennis.

“I didn’t really play as well as I wanted to last year, but I’ve been playing a lot better this year,” Zach said. “Our courts are really fast … It’s all power tennis—big serves, big forehand, points are really fast, just not something I was used to coming in. I think I’ve caught on now.”

Ben, on the other hand, wasn’t as high on how he played in the fall, admitting to losing some matches he thought he should have won. Two things he wanted to focus on heading into the spring were his mental toughness and consistency over the course of an entire match.

They’re different off the court, too.

“We’re different, but we like to do the same things,” Ben said. “Growing up, we were always active, we weren’t huge into video games…”

“…I think people would say you’re more serious than I am,” Zach interjected. “I have kind of a goofy personality. I might have read a little bit more. I’m a bit smarter, that’s why.”

“I don’t know about that,” Ben quickly replied.

Like Ben said—they’re brothers. They fight.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

March 2, 2017 at 12:01 pm Leave a comment

For Rich Bundy, A Running Start

richbundyWhen we dropped in on Rich Bundy’s Old Main office in January, the university’s new vice president for development and alumni relations was still unpacking boxes. He laughed when we asked if he felt “settled in,” but given his background, Bundy ’93, ’96g is better positioned than most to adapt quickly to his new role.

The son of longtime Blue Band director O. Richard Bundy ’70, ’87g, Rich began his career in Penn State’s annual giving office before leaving to gain extensive fundraising experience at Michigan State, Iowa State, and Vermont, where he served as president and CEO of the University of Vermont Foundation. He returns to his hometown and alma mater in time for the start of a new fundraising campaign, A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence. An avid marathoner, he understands well the need to hit the ground running.

It’s been 20 years since you last worked on campus. How different does this place feel?

I was coming back to State College on a regular basis, but it had been a long time since I actually just walked across the campus. And this place has grown—the Millennium Science Complex was an intramural field when I was an undergraduate. So the place has grown in ways that are really impressive, and the campus is beautiful in a way that I don’t remember. It always was a beautiful campus, and maybe there’s a little nostalgia there, but I just think this is an exciting time to be at Penn State. There’s a robust sense of all the things that make Penn State a top-notch institution.

You know as well as anyone the size of the shoes you have to fill in replacing Rod Kirsch. What lessons or insight do you take from his tenure here?

Rod is one of very few people in the country who’ve led multiple billion-dollar-plus campaigns on the same campus. I think his longevity in the role is really what we aspire to in the advancement profession. So much of our work is based on relationships that we build and maintain. To have that kind of tenure is extraordinary, and Rod exemplified service and leadership in a way that I think is really meaningful and aspirational.

Most Penn Staters hear your name and automatically think of your father, who retired in 2015 after more than 30 years with the Blue Band. I’m guessing you don’t mind that connection.

Certainly being linked to my father is a plus. Very much like Rod, I think my father is just one of the good guys. You’d be hard-pressed to get a bad word out of my father about anybody or anything. He was a humble, dedicated leader who aspired to be the best at what he did, so that the Blue Band could be the best at what it did. I think there’s an important lesson there, and I hope I can be like him as I lead the development and alumni relations teams to even greater accomplishments.

You arrive just as the university is gearing up for another major fundraising campaign. How do you see your experiences leading campaigns at Vermont and Iowa State helping you in that role here?

I have a network at Penn State that I’ve developed over my lifetime, so I think the learning curve will not be as steep for me coming in. I think I can marry the experiences I’ve had at other schools with a knowledge of the traditions that make Penn State great. We’ll have to do some things differently to be successful in this campaign, but that’s not a repudiation of the past—we want to respect tradition while recognizing that Penn State is forever evolving and growing.

Regarding the campaign, what are your top priorities right now?

Communicating to our stakeholders how this campaign will be different from past campaigns here—particularly that this is a shorter campaign singularly focused on achieving the objectives laid out in the institution’s strategic plan. That’s very exciting, and part of what made the job attractive beyond the emotional connection I have to Penn State. Not many universities have undertaken campaigns that are that directly linked to their long-term strategic plans, or are that focused in duration. A five-year campaign means that some of the normal trappings of quiet phases—like opportunities to really build your infrastructure before you go public—that’s not going to happen. We’ve got to create a sense of urgency. Penn State has a great tradition of really robust volunteer leadership in its campaigns, and we just need to get that structure in place.

The Alumni Association also falls under your leadership. What are your thoughts on the work we’re doing?

I think the Alumni Association is often the friendly face inviting our stakeholders into the institution. I really see it as a solemn responsibility of people who are in our line of work to be stewards of the lifelong relationship that alumni have with their institution, and the Alumni Association helps to bring rigor and thoughtfulness to that lifetime of engagement.

That said, I think that the traditional role of alumni associations is going through a profound change. The key piece of that change, particularly with our youngest alumni, is that they no longer need us to be the connecters to their classmates, or to other members of the alumni community. They can do that themselves, through LinkedIn, through Facebook, Twitter, you name it. I think the challenge for alumni organizations is to identify what the new value added opportunities are and aggressively pursue those opportunities—for example, how we can partner with career services, and make sure that Penn Staters everywhere have access to career opportunities, career counseling, those sorts of things? That’s one example of many where I think we can continue to provide great benefits to our alumni community.

It’s a huge challenge. And layer on top of that, we have students now who are graduating with enormous debt, so their economic connection to the institution is strained. We have students on 24 campuses, some of whom never step foot on University Park. I worked out at a gym in Burlington, Vermont, with a Penn State alum who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in plastics engineering from Behrend; he’s never once been in State College, he’s never seen a Penn State football game. So his Penn State is not the same as my Penn State. But they’re both Penn State. So I think we’ve got that challenge as well. And then you layer on top of that just demographic difference—the millennial generation feels very differently about big organizations than Generation X does. So we have to tailor our communications and our message and everything that we do with some understanding of how that’s going to be received.

Lastly, I know you’re a marathon runner. As you arrive at the start of a five-year campaign, I’m wondering if your hobby provides a useful analogy for your work.

Yeah, I think it does. There’s a saying in the marathon community that you can’t win the race in the first mile, but you can lose it. I think there’s some synergy to what we do in campaigns: I’d rather start slow and maintain a solid, steadily increasing pace than start really, really fast and crash and burn at the end of the campaign. We want our fundraising to be sustainable over the long term.

Ryan Jones, deputy editor

February 27, 2017 at 11:39 am 1 comment

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