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

Joe Kovacs’ Sterling Performance Earns Him a Silver Medal

Photo via @JoeKovacsUSA

Photo via @JoeKovacsUSA

Joe Kovacs ’11 is an Olympic medalist. Kovacs, the reigning world champion in the shot put and one of two Nittany Lions to compete in the event in Rio, took home a silver medal on Thursday night thanks to a throw that went 21.78 meters. This is Kovacs’ first-career Olympic medal.

Kovacs’ medal is the first individual silver medal that any Penn Stater has won since 1976, when Michael Shine took home the silver in the men’s 400 meter hurdles.

Speaking to Frank Gogola of TeamUSA.org after the event, Kovacs called winning a silver “bittersweet,” but remarked that the feeling is “settling in” and applauded the gold medal winner, who set the Olympic record in the event and also hails from the United States.

Penn State’s other representative in the men’s shot put, Darrell Hill ’15, came in 23rd overall and did not advance past the qualifying round.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

August 19, 2016 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Miles Chamley-Watson and Monica Aksamit Earn Bronze Medals

A pair of Penn State fencing alumni picked up medals at the 2016 Olympic Games over the weekend. Miles Chamley-Watson ’13 and Monica Aksamit ’12 won bronze medals as members of the men’s foil team and the women’s sabre team.

Chamley-Watson earned his bronze on Friday when the U.S. took down Italy, 45-31, and the squad earned its first medal in the event since 1932. This was a rematch of the semifinals at the 2012 Olympics; all four American fencers who competed on Friday were on the 2012 team.

Aksamit won her medal on Saturday. The women’s sabre team also beat Italy, 45-30, and it marked the second bronze in a row for the United States in this event.

Both of these medals were significant for Penn State’s fencing program, as Chamley-Watson became the first American alumnus and Aksamit became the first female alumnus to medal.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

August 15, 2016 at 12:06 pm Leave a comment

Pushups For the Troops

Photo via Joy Neal Feigles

Photo via Joy Neal Feigles

Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day. To honor those fallen soldiers, a pair of Penn State alums held an event in which those in attendance participated in the 22 Push-up Challenge.

Ron ’58 and Joy Neal Feigles ’58 invited former All-American linebacker Bruce Bannon ’72 to a committee meeting for the 9/11 Heroes Run, which takes place in several locations and was founded in their hometown of Doylestown, Pa. Prior to the meeting, the Feigles, Bannon, and several other members of the Heroes Run committee went onto the Feigles’ front lawn and did 22 push-ups.

The Feigles were made aware of the challenge – which is growing in popularity on social media and has its participants do 22 push-ups for 22 days with the hopes of raising awareness for the military’s suicide rate – by one of their friends. More information on the 22 Push-up Challenge can be found on 22Kill.com.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

August 10, 2016 at 2:32 pm Leave a comment

Do the Champley-Watson

Photo via USA Fencing

Photo via USA Fencing

Miles Chamley-Watson will compete Friday at the Rio Olympics for the U.S. fencing team in the quarterfinals of the men’s foil. If you watch, pay close attention, because Chamley-Watson may pull off a move that has the fencing community buzzing.

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GIF via GoPro

As the former standout for Penn State’s fencing team told The New York Times, the move is called “The Champley-Watson.” The move requires putting your sword behind your head and making contact with your opponent, and it stems from Chamley-Watson’s desire to add some excitement to the sport – he told
the Times that he enjoys hearing the crowd go “ooooooh” when he does this because, “It’s really nice to bring that different type of feeling, a new phase to a sport that’s one of the oldest.” (He’s not all style over substance, of course: In 2013, he became the first American male to win a individual senior world championship.)

His favorite part, though, is how his opponents react to the move: “They’d rather get a yellow card than get embarrassed on live television. I don’t blame them.”

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

August 10, 2016 at 10:01 am Leave a comment

NASCAR on Two Wheels

Photo via Steve Boyle

Photo via Steve Boyle

His older brother loved to race bikes, and so, as a boy of only 5 or 6, Matt Baranoski found himself dragged along to the track. He was technically too young to join in, but he knew how to ride, and it hardly seemed fair to make a kid that age sit and watch while the older boys had all the fun. So his parents asked, and the folks in charge at the Lehigh Valley Velodrome said sure, and an exception was made.

Fifteen years and a cabinet-full of trophies later, the exception seems to have worked out pretty well.

It’s late April as Baranoski tells the story by phone from suburban Toronto, where he’s part of a select group of cyclists training at a sparkling new Canadian cycling center. It’s among the best facilities of its kind in the world, and the elite competition is exactly what he needs as he works to peak in time for Rio. “It’s always good to be pushed,” he says.

Photo via Steve Boyle

Photo via Steve Boyle

In truth, Baranoski doesn’t seem like the type to struggle for motivation. A junior national champion by the time he was 12, able to hold his own against top international competition just a few years later, he quite literally never slowed down. His ambitions on the track informed his college choice: The Perkasie, Pa., native chose Penn State Lehigh Valley because of the proximity of the world-class velodrome and the campus’s cycling program, led by longtime coach Jim Young, whom Baranoski calls “a legend in the collegiate cycling world.” (Baranoski will be joined in Rio by Bobby Lea ’06 Berks, a fellow Lehigh Valley alum making his third Olympic appearance.)

Baranoski rides in an event called the keirin, which he calls “the most fun race on the track.” It’s an eight-lap sprint around the 250-meter banked track, paced by a motorcycle, that leads Baranoski to compare it to NASCAR; world-class cyclists will approach 50 miles per hour down the stretch, occasionally bumping each other to protect their position. “For the last two and a half laps,” he says, “it’s all-out war.”

Six days after his final race in Rio, Baranoski will be back at University Park for his final semester in the Schreyer Honors College; the electrical engineering major is set to graduate in December. It’s a quick turnaround, but if anyone can handle that sort of pace, he’s probably the guy.

This story appears in the July/August 2016 issue of The Penn Stater, the official publication of the Penn State Alumni Association. Not a member? Click here to join.

Ryan Jones, deputy editor

August 4, 2016 at 11:07 am 2 comments

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