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

We Want to Hear Your Penn State Love Stories

Lynn Johnson/Black Star

The Penn Stater is accepting submissions for an upcoming feature on alumni love stories. Do you have a memorable story of meeting your future spouse or partner on the first day of classes, or in line at the dining halls? In an awkward lab pairing, or squeezed together in the student section at Beaver Stadium? Whatever the story, we’d love to hear it.

Tell us how you found love at Penn State by emailing heypennstater@psu.edu. Please keep your submissions short—no more than 300 words. The deadline for entries is Aug. 8.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

July 6, 2017 at 3:58 pm 1 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

George Etzweiler, 97 and Still Climbing

George Etzweiler made history over the weekend, becoming the oldest person to ever complete the Mount Washington Road Race. Etzweiler ’49, a former engineering professor at Penn State, has run the race 12 times and is a member of its hall of fame.

He’s 97 years old.

Courtesy Mt. Washington Auto Road

The 12.2K race presents unique challenges for runners—Mount Washington is the tallest mountain in the northeastern part of the country at 6,288 feet, and according to Running Magazine, the average incline of the road is 12 percent.

Etzweiler holds a number of records for the race. He boasts the course record for three different age groups (85-89, 90-94, and 95-99), and is the only person above the age of 88 to run the entire course. This year, he finished the race in 4:05:29.

You can watch a clip of Etzweiler’s climb up the mountain here.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

June 22, 2017 at 10:06 am Leave a comment

From Penn State, Ty Burrell Stumbled into the Real World

Ty-Burrell

Ty Burrell’s portrayal of Modern Family‘s Phil Dunphy has earned a number of accolades, including a pair of Primetime Emmy Awards. One of Dunphy’s endearing traits is the nervous, nutty energy that Burrell ’97g displays.

As it turns out, that energy is something that followed Burrell as he pursued a career in acting. He wrote a column this week for The New York Times recalling the first time he met with an agent, which involves him soiling himself and looking at the McDonald’s golden arches “the way I imagine immigrants spotted the Statue of Liberty.”

But before he got to that point, Burrell explained how fear impacted his desire to put off finding a job and continue his education, which led to him enrolling at Penn State.

So off to grad school I went. I spent three incredible years at Penn State, working very, very hard and accidentally doing what I’d said I was doing it for in the first place, which was convenient. I did actually dig very deeply into theater and very deeply into acting. After graduation, I discovered, to my horror, that I had no more options to put off the real world. “Really? There’s no Ph.D. in acting? No acting think tank? No heavily funded acting research focused on one day finding the cure for blinking?”

Burrell appears in the film Rough Night, which comes out nationwide on Friday, June 16.

Bill DiFilippo, online editor

June 15, 2017 at 9:43 am Leave a comment

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