Alia Gant, a diversity resident librarian with the Penn State Libraries, had never shared her story in public. Being a lifelong, plus-size woman in a society obsessed with thinness is tough, to say the least, and the experiences—many of them hurtful—Gant has endured over the years are not easy to recount.
But Gant was inspired to come forward and share her story Wednesday as a “human book” at Pattee and Paterno Library. She was one of a number of people who took part in Penn State’s first Human Library project, a global initiative that originated in Copenhagen, Denmark, and uses dialogue and human interaction to counter stereotypes and preconceived notions that people have about others.
Typically, readers will “check out” a Human Library “book” for a one-on-one “read.” But Megan Gilpin, outreach coordinator for Library Learning Services, who spearheaded the effort at Penn State, felt that small, 45-minute storytelling sessions with no more than 10 people attending at a time, would be more conducive to encouraging the free flow of words, thoughts, and experiences between storytellers and their audiences.
That format appealed to Gant and encouraged her to participate in the project. “I really liked the setting—it was intimate in a way that allowed people to trust each other with their experiences in a safe space,” she said.
Allison Subasic ’09g, former director of Penn State’s LGBTQA Resource Center, felt the same way. “I’m a shy person,” said Subasic, who spoke candidly to a small group about her difficult childhood, her family, and being dyslexic. “This was good for me.”
Even experienced storytellers like Brian Davis (above), an undergrad majoring in African-American studies, criminology, and sociology who has spoken before large gatherings and given TED talks on his former life as a gang member in Philadelphia, favor the Human Book format. “I feel like I’m able to breathe and tell my story more intimately,” Davis said. “We all have certain prejudices, no matter what we think, but by sharing stories and listening to stories, I believe those prejudices do dissipate.”
Gilpin first heard about the Human Library project at a librarian’s conference last May and thought it would be perfect for Penn State. The event, part of the All In campaign launched last October to promote and commit to diversity and inclusion, featured 14 storytellers sharing often difficult-to-tell stories on race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation, among others.
“We wanted people to hear someone else’s stories and recognize that others have had barriers,” Gilpin said. “We wanted stories to be told in settings where people could ask questions, where everyone is reciprocal and everyone can learn something new about someone else.”
The Human Library concept has spread to more than 70 countries since its inception in 2000. Gilpin hopes it will be repeated at Penn State on a regular basis.
Savita Iyer, senior editor
Our Jan./Feb. 2017 issue features a story on the Craighead siblings, a trio of Penn Staters whose lives’ work stemmed from a dedication to nature. One project of the two Craighead brothers—Frank ’39 and John ’39—was a 12-year study of grizzly bears at Yellowstone National Park. According to the official Craighead Institute website, the duo “developed field techniques to attach the collars and track the movements of the bears.”
During one encounter, the mix of drugs they used to sedate the bear wore off before they could collect all of their data, which led to an especially scary run-in with the animal. There is video of the incident, which you can watch here. It illustrates both the dangers of their research and how close they got to the animals they studied.
Bill DiFilippo, online editor
There’s only one Penn Stater left in the 2017 NFL Playoffs, and he never took a snap for the Nittany Lions on the gridiron. Chris Hogan ’10, who totaled nine catches for 180 yards and two touchdowns in New England’s 36-17 win over Pittsburgh, played lacrosse for four years in Happy Valley.
An all-conference selection, Hogan scored 57 goals for the Nittany Lions, a run that former Penn State coach Glenn Thiel described as “dominant” when discussing him last year. While he played football in high school, Hogan never suited up for Penn State.
Due to an injury suffered during his sophomore year, Hogan had one year of athletic eligibility remaining after he graduated from Penn State. He wanted to try football, and ended up at Monmouth University in his home state of New Jersey. A two-way player, Hogan accrued 12 catches for 147 yards and three touchdowns as a wide receiver and 28 tackles with three interceptions as a defensive back.
Undrafted in 2011, he bounced around for two seasons, earning stints with the 49ers, Giants, and Dolphins. He was signed to the Bills’ practice squad late in 2012, promoted to the team’s active roster a month later, and spent the next three years playing in every game for Buffalo.
This past offseason, Hogan—aka “7-Eleven,” a nickname he earned in Miami because “he’s always open“—joined the Patriots. He set a career high in receiving yards (680) and starts (14) this year, while also bringing in 38 receptions and four touchdowns.
Hogan broke out in a huge way during Sunday’s conference title game. His 180 receiving yards were a career best and the most in the team’s postseason history. The two touchdowns and nine receptions were also career highs.
During his time with the Bills, Hogan said, “I still feel I have hurdles to clear and ways for me to become a really good slot receiver.” He proved that he is indeed a really good slot receiver on Sunday night, and now, he’s going to play in the Super Bowl. Not bad for a former lacrosse player.
Bill DiFilippo, online editor
Prior to Penn State taking on USC in the Rose Bowl, a B-2 bomber flew over the stadium while the Blue Band played the National Anthem. The common thread: the man piloting the bomber was a Penn Stater.
The pilot—who asked that we not share his name for security reasons—attended Penn State for two years before deciding to join the Air Force. He comes from a family of Nittany Lions, and when describing the experience of the flyover, called it “a true honor and a dream come true.”
Several pictures were taken by the boom operator who refueled the plane, and as you can see in the photos above, the pilot made sure his alma mater was represented during his flight. You can watch a clip of both the Blue Band’s performance and the flyover below.
Bill DiFilippo, online editor
In the Jan./Feb. issue, we asked readers to share memories of the mail they received in college. The feedback was many more letters than we were able to publish in “Sent With Love.” Here are just a few more memories (and mementos) about campus mail.
My wife and I are from Johnstown, Pa. We met and started dating in the summer of 1966. Upon returning my sophomore year, we started writing letters. We each wrote a letter every day until graduation. I graduated in December and we married in January. We still have a few of those letters and are happily together after 47 years.
David C. Long ’69
I received a letter from a girl I had met during the summer of 1964. The letter was addressed as follows: Larry Husbands Penn State. Somehow it found its way to my mailbox in the dormitory.
Lawrence N Husbands ’68
You wouldn’t know by looking at her or hearing her speak in her soft voice, but Nicole Medvitz lives dangerously.
Well, maybe she doesn’t live dangerously, but when she’s on the balance beam, Medvitz pulls off a move so risky that it’s only performed by one other person on Earth.
It’s her move – it’s literally called the Medvitz-Jarred (you can find it at the 46-second mark of this video) – and the senior Penn State gymnast has been doing it since her sophomore year of high school.
“So I did the base of the move before the actual move,” Medvitz said. “It’s pretty much a turn with one leg in the air. I did it with my beam coach, Jen Zappa, who I’ve worked with my entire life before I came here. And she was like ‘Why don’t you just try it to a scale?’ and we looked and it hadn’t been done before. So I tried it and it worked out and then started competing it.”
What makes this so difficult is that doing a move like this on the beam gives her no margin of error. In fact, Medvitz said it’s rated at the highest degree of difficulty. This kind of expertise on the beam has made her one of the top gymnasts in the conference – Medvitz was a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2016.
Her success, especially on the beam, shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. From 2009-13, Medvitz was a Level 10 gymnast, a classification in which the top meet is the Junior Olympics. The only level above this is Elite – the top meets for that one are World Championships and the Olympics.
She was a three-time Junior Olympic national champion on the beam. She racked up wins over U.S. Olympians like 2012 alternate Elizabeth Price and Gabby Douglas, who won the gold medal at the 2012 Games in the all-around.
And yet when the opportunity to move up and potentially become an Elite gymnast came about, Medvitz declined.
Instead, she thought it was important to focus on things like her education. Becoming an Elite gymnast requires a strict dedication to the sport, something that Medvitz knew about and decided wasn’t for her – she cited the fact that this level of gymnastics usually requires being homeschooled.
Medvitz was, however, competing at a college level for years. Level 10 is essentially the same level of competition as college gymnastics, although there are some differences.
“Three times a week we come in at 6 a.m., I never did that in club,” Medvitz said about her collegiate training regimen. “So we’ll come back later at 1:30 and practice the rest of the events. Club we did a lot more drills and stuff because we were still learning new skills, but here it’s a lot of perfecting the skills that we already have because we don’t really need to learn too much more.”
In addition to being technically sound, Medvitz is one of the toughest athletes on Penn State’s campus. For proof, look no further than her freshman year, when she suffered a torn labrum in her shoulder. Instead of getting surgery, Medvitz decided to compete in two events: balance beam and uneven bars. She competed in every meet, all the way through NCAA Championships.
That summer, she got the surgery she needed. Medvitz did only beam as a sophomore while working her way back before feeling like she was “fully better” as a junior. Now a senior, Medvitz feels all the rust that may have built up while getting to full health is gone. With this comes the optimism that she can compete in more events during her senior year. Medvitz hopes to try her hand at the vault and the floor exercise (which she admits are not her strongest events).
When she’s not on the beam, Medvitz is a standout in the classroom, as she was an Academic All-Big Ten selection as a sophomore and a junior and earned the title of Big Ten Distinguished Scholar last year.
She is a management major who wants to combine her love of sports and entertainment after she graduates, and this past summer, Medvitz was a global sales intern for Nike, where she worked with the organization’s integrated marketplace team. Medvitz is also the secretary and oversees the communications and media committee for Penn State’s Student-Athlete Advisory Board.
Penn State women’s gymnastics team begins its 2017 campaign – one which Medvitz hopes will end with a conference championship – on Jan. 7.
Bill DiFilippo, online editor