Posts filed under ‘From the Magazine’

Aurelia Meijer Is a Breath of Fresh Air for Penn State Field Hockey

Photo via Cardoni

When Aurelia Meijer came to Penn State in the fall of 2015, it wasn’t just her first time on a college campus. It was her first time ever stepping foot in the United States.

Meijer, a standout midfielder/forward on the Nittany Lion field hockey team, holds the distinction of being the first foreign-born player in program history. Born in South Africa, Meijer has lived in the Netherlands since she was 4.

It was not long after that Meijer started playing field hockey. She picked up the game after watching her father play in the country’s highest men’s league and her grandfather play for the national team in the Netherlands. The Meijers even have a turf next to their house in the Dutch municipality of Hattem, where you can watch the family play and work on their skills.

Basically, field hockey—in addition to being part of the cultural identity of the Netherlands—has been a constant presence in Meijer’s life from the time she was a child.

So it only makes sense that Meijer is really good at the sport. When she was 15, Meijer played against women in their 30s as a member of the Overgangsklasse, the second tier of field hockey in her country. While she never got the opportunity to play for the national squad, she was a member of her regional team as well.

But despite the success she had at such an early age, Meijer’s interests went beyond playing the sport. She says combining field hockey with coming to America and studying seemed “so logical and awesome.”

“I put so much time in field hockey and this was a way to get something out of it,” Meijer says. “I knew I was never gonna go for the national team—I was not good enough at the time. This was a way to get something out of field hockey and I love it.”

Photo via Cardoni

Meijer says she had always wanted to visit the United States, as pieces of American culture—movies and songs especially—were part of her childhood. Later, a friend who is a member of the field hockey team at Northwestern encouraged Meijer to consider heading stateside to play.

But while her friend’s transition to America was relatively easy, Meijer struggled. She was homesick and had to work to improve her English. She wouldn’t eat when she’d go to dining halls because she didn’t know what to eat. Meijer wasn’t only pushed out of her comfort zone culturally; she also had to learn a new approach to playing field hockey. According to Meijer, there’s more of an emphasis on developing skills in the Netherlands, while teams in the United States look to be as physically and mentally strong as possible. While she came to Penn State with an advanced set of skills and a rare feel for the game for a young player, she struggled in the weight room and had never gone through as much conditioning as she did as a freshman.

Still, Meijer’s talent helped her secure first-team All-Big Ten honors as a freshman. She duplicated that last season as a sophomore, and her higher comfort level was reflected in her selection as an All-American.

Meijer’s freshman season also featured a moment when she briefly became an internet sensation: In her best game in blue and white, she recorded her first career hat trick in a 3-2 win against Iowa—scoring her final goal as time expired.

The game—which doubled as the first time her father saw her suit up for Penn State—was broadcast on Big Ten Network. Right after it ended, a fired-up Meijer gave an interview which led to her being described as “a breath of fresh air.”

Halfway through her Penn State career, Meijer has opened an international pipeline for the Nittany Lions: She was joined last season by defender Bes Bovelander, who is also from the Netherlands. But Meijer says she doesn’t view being the team’s first international player as a point of pride. If anything, she laughs at the fact that having a player from somewhere other than the United States was a new experience for everyone. “It was funny because it was new for me,” she says, “but it was also new for the team.”

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

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August 24, 2017 at 5:04 pm Leave a comment

Inside Our September/October 2017 Issue

Since she was young, Zena Cardman has wanted to explore—to become a novelist, to venture out into the great outdoors. A high school interest in science led her down the path of more intellectual exploration. As an undergrad at North Carolina—where she earned a biology degree and minored in marine sciences, creative writing, and chemistry, with an honors thesis in poetry to boot—something clicked, and she realized science wasn’t just in the lab, but also out in the field. Research has taken her from the Gulf of Mexico to British Columbia, Antarctica, and now, Penn State, where she’s a Ph.D. candidate.

Next stop: outer space. As a member of NASA’s 2017 astronaut class, Cardman will train for missions beyond our own atmosphere and perhaps even into those of other planets, namely Mars. Meet Penn State’s newest astronaut—she would become the fifth alum to hold such a distinction—in our Sept./Oct. 2017 issue, which should begin arriving in mailboxes this week.

The new issue also includes an interview with Ben Locke,  director of Penn State’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). “Coping Skills & Growing Pains” explains how the campus counseling center is helping today’s college students navigate anxieties and pressures unlike those of previous generations. And: How did a Penn Stater and OB/GYN by training step in to deliver a baby gorilla? Read her story in “It’s a Boy!”

Plus, learn about the former Golden Gloves winner and Penn State’s only professional boxing champion; go beyond the bleachers and into the structure and history of Penn State football’s iconic home with a crash course on Beaver Stadium; and see how this year’s senior class is looking to break tradition with three separate gifts.

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

August 23, 2017 at 7:04 pm Leave a comment

Nittany Lions in the Great War

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Our July/August 2017 issue has a short piece on the Penn State All-Sports Museum’s current exhibit on university athletes who fought in World War I. “Field to Front: Nittany Lions at War, 1917–1919” is a fascinating exhibit of mementos, photos, letters, cards, pins, flags, and other assorted memorabilia from the approximately 210 students who served in the Great War. Of those 210 young men, roughly 75 to 80 were sent overseas, and eight died.

The project was spearheaded by museum director Ken Hickman ’98, who spent the last year and a half researching and collecting the pieces for the exhibit, located in the temporary exhibition space. Hickman’s research process started with a book, Penn State in the World War, which was compiled after the conflict.

The book’s authors surveyed alumni and faculty in the years after the war to put together a collection of bios on all Penn Staters who served. For this project, Hickman and a small staff compiled a list of athletes and proceeded to work backward, tracing their genealogy forward to current living relatives. It was then a process of sending out surveys, contacting people, and trying to flesh out what information they could and couldn’t trust.

The result? “We did much better than I expected,” says Hickman. (more…)

July 12, 2017 at 10:59 am Leave a comment

Inside Our July/August 2017 Issue

When Harry Swimmer ’51 started a therapeutic horse riding program for special needs children at his North Carolina farm 23 years ago, the staff consisted of, essentially, just him and his horses. There was one rider, a 7-year-old girl with cerebral palsy. He didn’t charge a dime. Today, there are some 200 volunteers, 69 riders, and 26 horses on Swimmer’s 83-acre Misty Meadows farm. And to this day, he has never charged any money for the services.

That altruistic approach to service earned him recognition as one of CNN’s Heroes in a ceremony last year, and landed him on the cover this month’s issue of The Penn Stater, arriving in mailboxes soon. In “A Farm Full of Hope,” we visit Misty Meadows to see how Swimmer has kept up with the needs of the kids and the community, as well as his reaction to the CNN tribute.

The new issue also gives you a look into how last year’s Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl berth turned many skeptics into believers of James Franklin and his approach to building the football program, in a profile called “Unite and Conquer.” Additionally, we talk to retiring American Studies professor Simon Bronner, whose office is filled with items from the cultures and communities he has studied in “A Folklorist at Work.”

Plus we’ll tell you what the $30 million gift from Hollywood producer Donald P. Bellisario ’51 means for the College of Communications, take you inside a class that looks at the stereotypes of “good” vs. “bad” moms in literature, and look back at a historic Big Ten championship for men’s track and field.

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

June 26, 2017 at 4:54 pm 1 comment

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.

(Update: Harris officially came in second in the 800 meters with a time of 1:44:53. He will represent the United States in London this August.)

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

June 23, 2017 at 10:44 am 1 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

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