Shortly after we shipped the Sept./Oct. issue off to the printer, I took off for a two-week vacation, in the form of a photography workshop in Peru. Most of the time on the trip was spent in the Amazonian rainforest—the Tambopata National Reserve, where we photographed macaws, toucans, frogs, and other critters. But for the last three days, we were based in Cusco, and on one of those three days we made the trip to Machu Picchu.
We went to the famed Incan site the easy way: We took a train from Cusco to the town of Aguascalientes, then rode a bus up the mountain to the site. There was definitely a bit of uphill walking after the bus dropped us off, and the altitude (about 8,000 feet) had me huffing and puffing. But it was nothing compared to the trek the die-hards make on the Inca Trail, a roughly four-day, 26-mile hike with elevations of more than 13,000 feet in some places. We saw a lot of the trekkers in Aguascalientes, and some of them were in our train car back to Cusco.
On that ride back, one of the other photographers on the trip asked me if I had seen the guy with the Penn State sweatpants on. I had not! So I immediately took a walk up the train car, found the guy, and asked him the obvious yet dumb question: “Did you go to Penn State?” The answer: He had, and so had his travel partner in the seat next to him.
So, meet Michael Stegura ’13 Eng (left) Paul Ferrera ’13 Bus:
(You can’t see it here, but Ferrera was the one in the Penn State sweatpants.)
The pair, who have known each other since they were kids in the Lehigh Valley, were on their way back to Cusco after completing the four-day hike to Machu Picchu. I asked them how they were feeling, and they said, “Tired.” But to me, they looked great for a couple of guys who had just finished one of the top treks in the world.
Tina Hay, editor
Our new issue includes a short feature on Joe Humphreys, Penn State’s legendary fly-fishing educator. For the story, writer Matt Sedensky caught up with Humphreys and with Lucas and Megan Bell, the husband-and-wife team wrapping up production on Live the Stream, a feature-length documentary on Humphreys due out this year. You can watch the trailer here. – B.J Reyes, associate editor
Joe Humphreys seems every bit the veteran fly-fisherman, wearing waders, a ratty, decades-old vest and a face full of character that doesn’t hide his 87 years. Then a crowd masses on the riverbanks, or another angler asks for a photo, and you realize you’re in the presence of something more: Fishing royalty.
Now the story of Humphreys ’57—so highly regarded for his fishing skills that his company has been sought by statesmen and celebrities alike—has garnered the interest of filmmakers who are wrapping up shooting of “Live the Stream,” a documentary about his life. Fly fishing’s serene waters and graceful casts of the line may seem the antithesis of an engrossing feature-length film, the humility, genuineness, and joy Humphreys continues to exude somehow exhilarate the viewer, elevating a sport to art.
He still remembers the day when his father first took him fly-fishing at the age of six, the Kingfisher bamboo rod he clumsily held and that eight-inch trout he was thrilled to catch. It’s been a constant in the eight decades since. “I still have that basic excitement that I had when I was six years old,” he says. “And that’s one thing that I suppose I won’t lose till I can’t pick up a rod.”
After Penn State, Humphreys coached and taught before also establishing one of the first high school fly-fishing programs. In 1970 came the realization of a dream, a return to Penn State to lead the angling program started by his mentor, George Harvey ’35. His time at Penn State spanned almost two decades.
Throughout his career, students have included Jimmy Carter, Dick Cheney, Bobby Knight and Liam Neeson. Just as meaningful as the big-name companions, though, have been those he’s touched through programs he’s been involved in that help instruct young people and injured veterans. Some of those he’s taught find themselves so obsessed with catching a fish, Humphreys has to offer two words of advice: Look up. He tells them to look at the hemlocks, at the sunlight peeking through their boughs, at the magnolias in the distance. See the sky, listen to the brook, relax in the crystal waters. Humphreys feels God there. “There is no stress,” he says. “There are no tensions.”
Humphreys has traveled to world championships, penned two books, and hosted an ESPN series. Still, when the husband-wife team of Lucas and Meigan Bell approached him with the idea of a film, he was surprised his story would be interesting to a wide audience. Lucas Bell ’02 met Humphreys while filming a history of the angling program as a film student at Penn State. After reconnecting with him last year at a fly-fishing show (the Bells, too, are aficionados), he had the idea for the project. His wife was sold soon after meeting Humphreys.
“Within a few minutes you get it,” she says. “You’re laughing, you’re charmed, you’re entertained and you suddenly realize why he is such a great man.”
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.
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
Though he and his friends used to imitate pro wrestlers, today Tom Hannifan ’11 Com is content just watching from ringside. Hannifan works for World Wrestling Entertainment, calling the action under the name Tom Phillips and serving as lead announcer for the company’s developmental branch, NXT. “It’s not like [traditional play-by-play]—we’re telling stories,” says Hannifan. “We’re trying to get you connected with the characters on the screen.”
Hannifan knew he wanted to get into broadcasting, so he joined ComRadio at Penn State, where he covered a variety of college and high school sports and hosted radio shows for four years—even while attending Penn State Altoona as a freshman and sophomore. After graduating, he made ends meet by calling basketball games for Division III Juniata College and bussing tables, until 2012, when he auditioned as an announcer for WWE.
Today, Hannifan is based in Orlando, Fla., where his work includes training new announcers. As for wrestling? Hannifan insists he’s happy just to call the action:
“I would probably break and burst into a million pieces if I ever got into the ring.”
Bill DiFilippo, online editor
It’s a safe bet that nearly every student who has spent time at University Park in the past 20 years or so is at least somewhat familiar with the work of Sam Richards and Laurie Mulvey. Many thousands have taken the SOC 119: Race and Ethnic Relations course that Richards first began teaching in the early 1990s, and many more have been reached by the vision that he and Mulvey ’94g have expanded well beyond that one famous undergraduate class. It was a treat to be able to dive into their work for a feature in our September/October issue.
In “Taking the World by the Ear,” we highlight Penn State’s World in Conversation, the “student-driven public diplomacy center” that grew out of the often brutally honest class discussions that have made 119 the most buzzed-about elective at University Park. The center’s reach is now truly global, thanks to Sam and Laurie’s vision, the dedication of a small but hard-working staff, and an army of student “facilitators” who lead the WiC dialogues—small, intimate conversations on the most sensitive topics imaginable. The video below gives a feel of the World in Conversation approach:
A personal highlight of working on this story was having an excuse to crash SOC 119 a few times last year. I took the class as an undergrad back in the mid 1990s, and it’s only grown more daring—and, I’d argue, more vital—in the two decades since. And while World in Conversation has grown at an incredible rate, the center is still very much rooted in 119’s philosophy of critical thinking and honesty above all else. A taste of Sam’s approach to the class can be seen in the popular TEDx talk he gave in 2010:
Sam and Laurie are now neighbors of mine, and it’s been very cool to be able to engage with them as an actual grown-up. Working with them to wrap up fact-checking on this story a few weeks back, they shared some very cool news: SOC 119 will be live-streamed this semester. Whether you’re an alum with fond memories of the course, or one who never had the chance to take it, it’s recommended viewing. If you’re interested, tune in to the SOC 119 channel on twitch.tv Tuesdays and Thursdays at 4:35 p.m.
And of course, we hope you’ll check out the feature in our new issue, hitting Alumni Association members’ mailboxes any day now.
Ryan Jones, deputy editor
Alumni Association members should keep an eye out for our Sept./Oct. 2016 issue, which should be arriving any day. From the photo on the right, it looks like Sneezy the Penn State squirrel already has her paws on one. Sneezy is featured on the cover, along with student Mary Krupa, who is widely known as “The Squirrel Whisperer.”
Krupa, who is set to graduate this December, befriended Sneezy on the Old Main lawn as a freshman; since then, the pair have made headlines around the world for their adorable photos. But what people don’t know about their friendship is that it’s also empowered Krupa to tackle her Asperger’s at a critical time. Read about her incredible college journey starting on p. 28.
In “Kelly Ayotte Makes Her Case,” Ryan Jones profiles one of the most prominent female Republicans in the country. Learn about how Ayotte ’90 is more than ready to fight for her place in the party starting on p. 36. Also in the magazine is a feature on student group World in Conversation, the Penn State program that’s bridging ethnic, religious, and national divides—all through meaningful dialogue.
More from this issue: a documentary on legendary fly fisherman Joe Humphreys ’58, ’63g; a chat with the 2016-17 Penn State Laureate; fun photography with volleyball superstar Haleigh Washington; and a lesson on playing Pokémon Go around campuses.
Have some thoughts about the new issue? Let us know by commenting below or emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Amy Downey, senior editor