P E N N S TAT E B E H R E N D S C H O O L O F H U M A N I T I E S & S O C I A L S C I E N C E S | 2 0 1 7
INSIDE: FINDING YOUR WAY THROUGH PLAY 6 TLC PROGRAM FEATURES HISTORY PROFESSOR 7 HOW ALUMNI PUT MAJORS TO WORK 8 A PLACE FOR POETRY 10
STUDENTS SHINE AT SPRING MUSICAL
Questions for the New H&SS Director
Eric Corty, Ph.D.
VITAL STATISTICS Hometown: Wilmington, Delaware
Family: Wife, Sara Douglas; two grown sons, David and Paul.
Pets: Two cats and the shredded furniture to prove it.
First job: Sweeping up tickets at Delaware Park Raceway.
Behrend beginning: I came here on a one-year appointment in 1993. The person I filled in for that year didn’t come back, and they offered me his job. I’ve been here ever since.
In his ear: I listen to podcasts and really enjoy RadioLab. If you have never listened, try one of these episodes: “Fu-Go,” “The Buried Bodies Case,” or “Eye in the Sky.”
Hobbies: Crossword puzzles, word games, cycling, and playing pool.
Guilty pleasure: Just one? Then it has to be a Panera Bread cinnamon crunch bagel: warm, crusty, doughy deliciousness!
ON THE COVER: Brooks Bennett, a junior Mechanical Engineering Technology major, and Lia Vinciguerra, a senior majoring in biology, played the lead couple in the college’s spring stage show, Dogfight. 2
This spring, Dr. Eric W. Corty was appointed director of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. He brings to the position more than three decades of experience in teaching, research, outreach, and academic leadership. Corty, a professor of psychology at Penn State Behrend since 1993, had served as interim director of the school since 2015. Prior to that, he was associate director. While he’s a familiar face on campus, H&SS News wanted to dig a little deeper so you could get to know the guy behind the bow tie. Why did you want to be the director of the school? I like helping people. I want to give our faculty the resources they need to do their jobs and as much support as I can provide for research, scholarship, creative activity, and teaching. And I want to shape the direction of the school. We are the home of liberal arts at Behrend, and we should fly that flag high and proud. What are the initiatives you want to focus on first? One is upgrading the TV studio. I hope we’ll be transmitting regular newscasts next year. Another is giving art a more prominent role on campus. We’ve recently installed two large pieces in Kochel. Heather Cole, lecturer in digital arts, created a 20- by 8-foot augmented reality mural called Don’t Give Up the Ship, and we also have a piece by business student Sean Wither, who created a flag out of empty energy drink cans. (And he really drank all of them himself!)
What do you want people to know about the School of H&SS? Our programs lead to great opportunities and meaningful careers. While you won’t find many job postings titled “English majors wanted,” the skills learned as an English major are applicable in many careers. See pages 8-9 for examples from our own alumni.
Why are the humanities and social sciences important today? Because these disciplines are about understanding human beings and telling their stories. This is just as vital today as it was when our ancestors sat around a fire and listened to poets and storytellers. The humanities and social sciences teach us how to take in and communicate information, increase respect for diversity, and improve our understanding of others. If that is not vital, I don’t know what is.
You’re very open about the fact that you have Parkinson’s disease. When did you first learn you had it? In 2011, my voice had become quieter and I was having trouble typing. Those are two things that a college professor doesn’t need! It turned out to be Parkinson’s, and I made the decision early on to be very upfront about it. I make use of as much technology as I can like dictation software to type and a microphone when I need one. What would people be surprised to know about you? I used to have a ponytail and routinely wore cowboy boots. Advice for incoming students? Get connected! Join a club or organization and get involved. Also, choose a minor in a school other than the one that houses your major.
NEWS & NOTES SCHOOL DEVELOPMENTS
The English Language Study Center, which opened under the guidance of Dr. Mary Connerty, ESL program director and senior lecturer in English, in the Carriage House Annex II on campus, offers tutoring and advising for international students and other English-language learners. Dr. Miriam McMullen-Pastrick, lecturer in speech communication, and Guadalupe Alvear-Madrid, senior lecturer in Spanish, retired after decades of dedicated service.
NEW FACULTY AND STAFF H&SS welcomed eight faculty: professor of communication and senior associate dean for academic affairs, Dr. Mary Kahl; assistant professors Wilson Brown, psychology; Lisa Ciecierski, education; and Massimo Verzella, English; and lecturers Michelle Fowler, Kristy McCoy, and Audrey Thompson, English; and Jennifer Myler, education.
REMEMBERING KAY LOGAN Kay Hardesty Logan, a longtime supporter of arts and cultural programs at Penn State Behrend, died last June. Logan, who was a professional flutist, exemplified the values that Penn State espouses: a love of learning, an appreciation of culture, a commitment to making a difference, and a generous spirit. In 1989, Logan established Music at Noon: The Logan Wintergarden Series at Penn State Behrend, offering informal lunchtime performances by professional chamber music ensembles. The programs, which typically are attended by more than 300 people, including students from Diehl Elementary School, have since been moved from the Wintergarden to McGarvey Commons to accommodate larger audiences. The educational component of the performances was important to Logan. Every artist who performs at Music at Noon agrees to provide an in-school residency and workshop at Diehl and to meet with students in an undergraduate General Arts course at Penn State Behrend.
“For children, and even for some adults, ‘chamber music’ is an intimidating set of words,” Logan said in 2015. “We tried to design a program that was user-friendly while exposing different sectors of the population to the music and making them happy about it.”
HONORS, DISTINCTIONS, AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
George Looney was named distinguished professor of English and creative writing. Dr. Craig Warren, professor of English, received the Guy W. Wilson Award for Excellence in Academic Advising. Dr. Melanie Hetzel-Riggin was promoted to professor of psychology. Four faculty were promoted to associate professor and tenured: Dr. Sara Luttfring, English; Dr. Janet Neigh, English; Dr. Amy Carney, history; and Dr. Kilic Kanat, political science.
RESEARCH AND CREATIVE ACTIVITY H&SS faculty members published forty articles, presented more than 100 conference papers/ posters, were awarded more than 100 research grants, and published five books: Bushwhackers: Guerilla Warfare, Manhood, and the Household in Civil War Missouri, Dr. Joseph Beilein, history; The Irish Vampire: From Folklore to the Imaginations of Charles Robert Maturin, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and Bram Stoker, Dr. Sharon Gallagher, English; The Benefits of Peace: Private Peacemaking in Late Medieval Italy, Dr. Glenn Kumhera, history; Splattered Ink: Postfeminist Gothic Fiction and Gendered Violence, Dr. Sarah Whitney, English and women’s studies; Medical Spanish for Nurses: A Self-Teaching Guide, Dr. Soledad Traverso and Dr. Laurie Urraro, Spanish, and Dr. Patricia Pasky McMahon, student health and wellness. 3 3
IN BRIEF BEHREND FACULTY, STAFF TEAM UP TO AUTHOR MEDICAL SPANISH TEXTBOOK
DID YOU KNOW? According to the U.S. Census Office, the United States will have an estimated 138 million Spanish speakers by 2025, which will be the largest Spanish-speaking population on earth.
Several years ago, Dr. Laurie Urraro, lecturer in Spanish, was visiting a colleague, Dr. Soledad Traverso, professor of Spanish, in the hospital when a nurse overheard them speaking Spanish. She asked for help with a few basic words, explaining that while the hospital employed interpreters, there were sometimes gaps when one could not be reached and she wished she knew a little of the language. This brief bedside conversation led Traverso and Urraro to work with Penn State Behrend’s Nursing program and Community and Workforce Programs office to develop a sixteen-week course in conversational medical Spanish for area nurses and medical professionals. The class was—and still is—a success; it fills quickly when offered. In an effort to keep up with demand and reach health care workers beyond Erie, Traverso and Urraro teamed up with Dr. Patricia Pasky McMahon, director of the college’s Health and Wellness Center, to write a self-teaching textbook, Medical Spanish for Nurses. The guide is designed for those with no experience speaking Spanish and includes on-line audio help to provide correct pronunciation and prepare learners for a wide array of medical situations. The book uses a step-by-step approach with plenty of examples, question-and-response scenarios, vocabulary quizzes, anatomy identification, summary exercises, and even tips on cultural competence. The text is now available at bookstores and online book sellers.
ALUMNUS NAMED PENNSYLVANIA “RISING STAR” Guy Reschenthaler ’04 was named by City and State Pennsylvania magazine as one of forty “Rising Stars in Pennsylvania” under the age of 40. Reschenthaler, a Political Science graduate, joined the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps shortly after graduating from law school in 2007. After assignments that included prosecuting terrorists in Iraq, he moved back to his hometown of Pittsburgh in 2012 and was elected a district judge. Two years later, Reschenthaler, a Republican, was elected to the state Senate to represent the citizens of the 37th Senatorial District. The magazine cites Reschenthaler’s “passion to serve, ability to foster concord, and focus on criminal justice reform” among the reasons for including him in its list of “rising stars” in Pennsylvania politics. Read the story at cityandstatepa.com. Guy Reschenthaler ’04
CAPSTONE PROJECTS SHOW SKILLS OF ARTS ADMINISTRATION MAJORS
Patricia S. Yahn chats with students.
GIFT EXPANDS STUDENT ART SHOW A $50,000 gift from Patricia S. Yahn and her son, Greg Yahn, is being used to expand and improve the college’s spring art show. The gift allows organizers to recruit jurors and award art supplies to the division winners; it also provides resources for students in the college’s Arts Administration major, who are assuming a larger role in planning, producing, and marketing the show. More than thirty students submitted works this year. In recognition of the gift, the annual show has been named the Patricia S. Yahn Student Art Show. The late Walter Yahn, a 1952 graduate of Penn State, first proposed the endowment as a way to honor his wife, a watercolorist who began her career creating advertisements for Trask department store in downtown Erie before opening a home design business, Interiors of Erie. The Yahn family has long supported the college, most visibly with funding for Yahn Planetarium at Penn State Behrend. The art show endowment, in addition to honoring his mother, reflects an effort to balance the family’s philanthropy across the college, said Greg Yahn, who earned a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering at Penn State and an MBA from Penn State Behrend.
“Creativity, imagination, vision, and insight are immeasurably important to students, including those in technical fields,” said Greg Yahn. “Art, music, and any other kind of creativity that enables you to think outside the box can broaden you as a person and as a professional.”
Students in Penn State Behrend’s Arts Administration program— an interdisciplinary major launched in 2012— are finding new ways to showcase individual artists and the community that supports them. Seniors in the program plan and stage arts events as part of a required capstone project. They orchestrate every aspect of the event, including logistics, marketing, sponsorships, and sales support for the artists. This year’s events included pop-up exhibits, a cabaret-style concert, a meet-and-greet networking event, and a crafting program that featured Erie folk artists. “You can sit in a class and theorize all you want, or write a ten-step plan for how to pull off an event,” said Abagail Johnston, who developed the folk-art program, which was held at the Erie Zoo. “But when you actually have to do it, and you have to solve all the little problems that come up, that’s when you really learn what you can do.”
These figures are part of a pop-up art gallery—“The Visual Snack Shop”— planned by Laura Flockerzi, for her Arts Administration senior capstone project.
FINDING YOUR WAY THROUGH
hen was the last time you used a paper road map or asked for directions? There is little doubt that GPSenabled mobile devices have changed the way we navigate the world. But have these technical advances come at the expense of the cognitive skills that have evolved to help us learn and live in our surrounding environment? Five Psychology students working with Dr. Heather Lum, assistant professor of psychology, and Dr. Dawn Blasko, associate professor of psychology, set out to answer that question by designing and implementing an innovative research study using the wildly popular mobile game, Pokémon Go. “We wanted to understand the mental mapping skills of players, how they might differ between experienced and novice players, and if there would be a gender difference,” said Grace Waldfogle, who along with fellow students Jacob Benedict, Tiffany Eichler, Kameron Landers, and Mason McGuire, received an undergraduate research grant to study spatial intelligence.
“Pokémon Go offered a unique opportunity to look at this because the game uses a real-world platform and augmented reality,” Lum said. “The real world and the game world share many of the same roads, paths, landmarks, and buildings.” The team recruited sixty participants for the study, students as well as staff, faculty, and community members. The mean age of the pool was 23, and it was nearly evenly split between genders and between novice and experienced players. Participants were tested on their mental rotation and spatial perception skills using online tools. Then they each were given a blank campus map and instructed to draw in the buildings. After being sent outside to play Pokémon Go around campus for twenty minutes, they repeated the map project, but this time they were also asked to draw in the Pokéstops. “This allowed us to gauge whether playing the game helped them remember where they had been on campus,” Waldfogle said. “Did playing improve their mapping skills?” According to the study’s results, it did for male players, who did significantly better than females on the campus map task. In particular, males were able to correctly identify more Pokéstops on the post-play map drawing. Does that mean males are better at mental mapping? Lum said that question requires more study. “More of the males were ‘experts’ at the game and did better on the initial mental rotation task,” she said. “Does that mean men are inherently better or did the game make them better? Alternatively, are those with better spatial skills drawn to these types of games?” It’s all fodder for future study and opportunity for psychology students to do real research with faculty members. It could even bring students a little cash—this year’s Pokémon Go research team won the poster contest at the college’s annual Sigma Xi Undergraduate Research and Creative Accomplishment Conference, taking home $100 each. Lum points out that there could be a real-world application for this research. “If we find this is a viable way to improve mental mapping, maybe Admissions could work with the School of Engineering to develop an augmented reality game as a way for new students to learn their way around campus,” she said. “It would be much more fun, and possibly more effective, than a paper map.”
Student researchers, from left, Tiffany Eichler, Grace Waldfogle, Mason McGuire, Jacob Benedict, and Kameron Landers. 6
TLC GENEALOGY PROGRAM FEATURES DR. JOSEPH BEILEIN
hen the producers of the TLC celebrity genealogy gunpowder and cared for the horses.” program “Who Do You Think You Are?” needed Brazier returned to find a pro-Union home guard in control an expert in Civil War court records, they contacted of his community. Fearing for his life, he went into hiding. Dr. Joseph Beilein, an assistant professor of history at Penn Eventually, he surrendered. He was sent to Alton, a prison near State Behrend. the Mississippi River. The facility was built to hold 800 inmates. Beilein had just published a book, Bushwhackers: Guerrilla When Brazier arrived, the population was nearing 1,500. Warfare, Manhood, and the Household in Civil War Missouri. The men, mostly Confederates, were malnourished, with He knew how to find and analyze the hand-written transcripts inadequate clothing for an Illinois winter. A smallpox epidemic of military commission hearings, which would be central to the killed so many that sick prisoners were banished to tiny TLC program’s narrative. McPike’s Island. More than 1,000 He would be working not only men died there. with the show’s producers, but with a Beilein met with Biel at the guest star—the actress Jessica Biel, National Archives in Washington, “There wasn’t an option to who starred in “7th Heaven” and is D.C. They talked on camera for wave a white flag and say, married to the actor and singer Justin nearly two hours. Timberlake. Biel hoped to learn “I really feel like I’m understand‘Just fight around me.’ It the fate of her great-great-greating what the reality was for a family was, ‘Do what you can to grandfather, Francis Marion Brazier, a stuck in the middle of this thing,” Confederate who was sentenced to Biel said as they reviewed the stay alive.’” a year of hard labor at Alton Prison in records while the cameras rolled. Illinois. “There wasn’t an option to wave Brazier fought just once, at the a white flag and say, ‘Just fight Battle of Prairie Grove. There, on December 7, 1862, two wellaround me.’ It was, ‘Do what you can to stay alive.’” matched armies fought for control of northwestern Arkansas. The documents showed what happened to Brazier: On In the end, Beilein said, the Confederates retreated. September 10, 1864, he and several other inmates attempted Brazier deserted and went home. an escape. Brazier was shot and killed as he swam into the “He was just trying to live his life,” Beilein said. “He sympaMississippi River. thized with the South, but he clearly was not gung-ho about “I absolutely have empathy for him,” Beilein said. “I ungoing to war.” derstand all of the decisions he made, at least on a cognitive The war upended southern home life. “The men went out to level. It’s clear from the records that he very much was a man fight, and the women operated a sort of domestic supply line, trying to take care of his family while being pulled in all these using kinship networks,” Beilein said. “They made bullets, hid different directions.” 7
Vee Butler ’15
Ainslie Ulmer Brosig ’01 (with her daughter, Madelyn)
Jon McConnell ’09 (with his fiancé, Liz Pashley)
Gregory Cass ’17
OUR GRADS GO PLACES The careers available to those with degrees in the humanities and social sciences are as diverse as the graduates themselves. We caught up with a few graduates to find out how they are putting their H&SS education to work. VEE BUTLER ’15, ARTS ADMINISTRATION Box office manager at Williamstown Theatre Festival, a Tony Awardwinning resident summer theatre on the campus of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
How did Behrend help get you where you are today? Behrend allowed me to think outside the box and gave me the opportunity to find my passion of working in non-profit arts without being on the production end. Furthermore, my Arts Administration degree prepared me to earn an M.F.A. in Arts Leadership from Seattle University.
What do you love about your job? Working in patron services is fun and challenging to me. It is my job to make the theatre experience better and more convenient. So many people think about the art on stage (which is, of course, important), but few think about how the lobby signage, the website, the cost of refreshments, and such affects patrons. My job is to make people happy and relaxed without them knowing I am doing it, and I love that!
What do you love about your job? The biggest thing for me is being “in it,” being in the entertainment world, where I’m working on novels, stories, and screenplays, and I am surrounded by creative people who inspire me. My current job involves learning about the business side of entertainment, and I enjoy helping to deliver the creative work of others to as wide an audience as possible.
GREGORY CASS ’17, ELEMENTARY AND EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION Cass graduated in May and is currently interviewing for elementary education teaching positions.
AINSLIE ULMER BROSIG ’01, COMMUNICATION
How did Behrend help get you where you are today?
Executive director of the expERIEnce Children’s Museum in Erie.
I wouldn’t be where I am today without all of the incredibly kind, patient, and caring faculty and staff members who encouraged me. After the fall semester of my sophomore year, I failed my Middle Field Placement test, which meant I would not be able to begin student teaching. I was devastated. I wanted to give up, but my parents and my Behrend professors inspired me not only to continue but also to strive to excel.
How did Behrend help get you where you are today? I made many lifelong friendships and professional connections while at Behrend. The professors were so encouraging! I will never forget Mike Simmons’ class on writing for the media. It truly laid the foundation for my future.
What do you love about your job? I love that I am making a difference in my community. I love that, through my work at the museum, families are engaging in play together and creating memories.
JON MCCONNELL ’09, CREATIVE WRITING Content syndication manager at LightWorkers, a subsidiary of MGM Studios, in Los Angeles.
How did Behrend help get you where you are today? I started as a Computer Engineering major, but I was really struggling. 8
With the support of faculty and staff members, I came to realize that it was not that I wasn’t capable, but that maybe engineering just was not for me. I was encouraged to explore different classes. As a nervous teen who was convinced I’d screwed up my whole life plan, I found it exceedingly valuable to hear that the arts were worth pursuing, and that it’s okay to not know exactly what you’re doing.
What are you most looking forward to about teaching? I cannot wait to have a classroom and students of my own. I believe that the absolute most important qualities for a teacher to possess are empathy and compassion. When you care deeply about your students and what you are doing, you create a nurturing place for learning to occur.
CRYSTAL VELASQUEZ ’97, ENGLISH Author of Just Princesses, the Hunters of Chaos series, the Your Life, But… series, and four Maya and Miguel books. Editor, freelance writer and proofreader at Working Partners Ltd.
Crystal Velasquez ’97
Kristina Peszel ’15
Christal Lepak ‘12
What do you love most about your job? In my job as an editor for a middle-school/young-adult book packager, I get to be creative every day. My whole job is coming up with new ideas for kid’s books and helping turn those ideas into finished novels. I get to give new writers a chance to get paid to write, which is awesome! As far as writing books myself, well, that was my dream and it came true! How could I not love making up stories, playing with language, and letting my imagination go crazy? The best part, though, is when kids who read my work tell me how much they loved it or that they want to be writers, too. Sometimes, I can’t believe this is really my life!
Lauren Piera Jowell ’04, right
James Hodge, ’09
raise a child, but you have to build the village first. It is ironic that it’s the youth who are trying to build the village, but they are eager to be agents of change.
What do you love about your job? I love that it doesn’t feel like work! Also, it is a rewarding job. I enjoy helping parents see how valuable they are to their children and vice versa. When I see my students engage with leaders and members of our community and become civically engaged, it gives me hope for the future and for the youth we serve who dare to dream of bettering their lives and their community.
How did you get published? My path was unconventional. I worked as a production editor for years and learned how to put books together before I wrote one of my own. My first paid writing job actually came from responding to an ad on Craigslist! I’ve found that one opportunity, no matter how small, usually leads to more.
KRISTINA PESZEL ’15, ENGLISH (PROFESSIONAL WRITING OPTION) Associate IT analyst in User Experience at Erie Insurance.
How did Behrend help get you where you are today? My English degree gave me an edge over my peers in being able to communicate effectively and clearly. Poor communication is a considerable problem for many companies, and my degree gave me the skillset to be competitive in this space. My undergrad coursework also helped me develop critical analytical skills, which positioned me for success as an IT analyst.
Advice for students? Don’t be afraid to apply for an internship or job opportunity just because your major isn’t listed as a required field of study. H&SS majors are inherently flexible. You just need to demonstrate how the skills you learned are applicable to the job.
CHRISTAL LEPAK ’12, HISTORY Youth service program coordinator at Youth Leadership Institute of Erie.
Tell us about your job. I work for a nonprofit after-school leadership program where the students are empowered through service learning and true leadership. With my history background, I have been able to teach them about their heritage and help them explore different cultures. They have developed an understanding of Erie’s diverse cultures and are excited to plan community events that bring people together. They say it takes a village to
LAUREN PIERA JOWELL ’04, POLITICAL SCIENCE International relations officer and monitoring and evaluation specialist with the U.S. Department of Labor. In the photo above, Jowell is in Tanzania to conduct oversight of a project to eliminate child labor in the agriculture sector.
How did Behrend help get you where you are today? I went on my first trip abroad with the Behrend Concert Band. During my political science classes, I was inspired to become a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine, which launched my career. Writing an honors thesis was also critical for enhancing my writing and analytical skills.
What do you love about your job? I love working toward eliminating child labor worldwide and ensuring government accountability for the use of grant funds.
JAMES HODGE ’09, PSYCHOLOGY Director of evaluation at Susan Hirt Hagen Center for Community Outreach, Research and Evaluation (CORE) at Penn State Behrend.
How did Behrend help get you where you are today? The education and support I received was phenomenal. I entered graduate school with a level of knowledge and experience that many of my peers did not have. My degrees made me uniquely positioned to understand and promote positive social change from a scientific perspective, which dovetails perfectly with the work I am doing at CORE.
What do you love about your job? I am making a real, measurable difference at CORE. We work extensively with non-profit organizations and incredibly dedicated college students and community members, and it has been beyond rewarding to witness the extent to which we have helped foster positive social change in Erie County, particularly among youth. Another thing that I love about my job is that I am back at my alma mater! I bleed blue and white, and it makes me so happy to call Penn State Behrend my home. 9
A PLACE FOR
What is the hardest part of writing poetry for you?
What are your favorite topics to write about?
hen did Columbus sail the ocean blue? Thanks to the verse we all memorized in grade school, you probably recall that it was 1492. Verse, rhyme, word association, alliteration — in essence, poetry— has long helped us remember things. In fact, poetry predates literacy. Before people could read and write, poetry was used as a means of recording oral history, storytelling (epic poetry), genealogy, law, and other forms of expression or knowledge that modern societies might expect to be handled in prose. In fact, the greater part of the world’s sacred scriptures are made up of poetry rather than prose. But how does this ancient art form fit into today’s practical, hard-nosed, capitalistic society? Who has time to engage in word play when there are widgets to improve, profits to be maximized, and modern conveniences to invent? Why make room for poetry today? “The value of poetry is the value of all the arts,” said George Looney, distinguished professor of English and creative writing. “It’s been said that science may save the world but art makes it worth saving. Art challenges conventional assumptions about the nature of the world and of us and about our place in the world. And art gives meaning to an indifferent universe and provides solace as well as joy and pleasure.” Solace. Joy. Pleasure. Meaning. Is life not a constant quest for these very things? The poet then, through his or her use of language and literary structure, can comfort us, delight us, entertain us, and enlighten us. “Poetry infuses the world with meaning through the crafting of language and form,” Looney said. This spring, Looney, author of seven full-length collections and two chapbooks of poetry as well as a collection of fiction stories, was named distinguished professor, an honor bestowed on fewer than 150 Penn State faculty members. To receive the designation, a faculty member must be an acknowledged leader in his or her field, show leadership in raising the standards of the University, and provide significant contributions to the education of students. In his eighteen years as a faculty member at Behrend, he has opened many eyes to the ancient literary art. We asked Looney to discuss his craft with us.
The hardest part is the revising process that follows on the heels of completing the exploratory first draft. That first draft discovers, through the process of working with language, something worth saying. This act of exploration and discovery is the pleasure for the writer (as Robert Frost said, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”) Revising is the harder part of the process—but a necessary part.
Yeats once wrote that the only fit subjects for poetry were sex and death. I don’t think I can improve on Yeats’ statement!
What is your process for writing poetry? What comes first? This has varied over the years. Currently, I find that I’m utterly incapable of writing singular poems. I need to write poems that are part of a project. For example, the manuscript I’m currently working on is a book-length series of poems that respond to photographs from the 1930s by Walker Evans.
Who are your favorite poets? Richard Hugo, Larry Levis, and Stephen Dunn are the three who are most important to me. There are, however, many other poets whose work I also love and learn from.
What does a good poem do to/for its reader? It pleases both through its unique and invigorating use of language and by the singular vision it offers of the world and our experience of it.
What are good poems for beginners to start with to cultivate an appreciation for the art? I’d suggest poems from Making Certain It Goes On: The Complete Poems of Richard Hugo, Winter Stars and/or The Widening Spell of the Leaves by Larry Levis, and New and Selected Poems: 1974-1994 by Stephen Dunn.
What do you like about teaching poetry? I enjoy being present when a student begins to grasp what poetry has to offer them and then begins to want it. My goal is to create an environment in which this can occur. The best ammunition I have in that effort is my own passion for the art of poetry.
What is your proudest accomplishment so far? Having Stephen Dunn write a jacket blurb for one of my recent books, then hearing him publicly praise it among a group of writers and to his wife. It’s an incredible feeling to have someone I admire think highly of my work. A year or two later, he told a former student of mine who was working on her MFA in Georgia that I had really figured something out in my work. I just wish I knew what it was he thinks I have figured out!
THE SKY MIGHT WELL BE A PRIEST By George Looney Last night the moon was a scythe low in the sky & so beautiful death, glimpsing itself in its orange blade, smiled & took the night off. This morning, the memory of that blade of a moon carves graffiti on my rough heart. I want to swing the scythe that is memory or the sliver of a moon through the fields between here & Ohio & cut down every weed that grows despite the emptiness in the language locals mumble into a sky that might as well be a priest, they confess so much to it. There’s nothing to keep me from a hotel room & a woman lovely enough to gather what’s been cut & with it, weave together a man who would shiver awake in her arms, confess everything. From Looney’s full-length collection, Meditations Before the Windows Fail.
George Looney, distinguished professor of English and creative writing.
Penn State Erie, The Behrend College School of Humanities and Social Sciences 170 Kochel Center 4951 College Drive Erie, PA 16563-1501
Non-Profit Org. U.S. POSTAGE PAID Erie, PA Permit No. 282
DOGFIGHT AT THE STUDIO THEATRE: The college’s spring stage show was Dogfight, a two-act musical that explores love, war, and friendship. All six performances sold out.
STUDENT BY DAY, STAR BY NIGHT
or the past four years, Christa Schonthaler juggled not just the busy schedule of an involved college student, but also the demands of being a singer in a successful and popular Erie band, The Romantic Era. Schonthaler had recently graduated from high school when The Romantic Era, in need of a female singer, saw videos she had posted to YouTube and invited her to join the then all-male band. “I’m the only woman in the group, so it’s like I have eight big brothers,” she said with a laugh. The diverse group performs original pop-EDM music and has done shows all over the country from Stadium Red in Manhattan to Fenway Park in Boston. Most recently, they performed in Beverly Hills, California. “Music is my number one passion,” Schonthaler said. “I’ve been singing since I could talk and cannot imagine my life without it.” That is why she decided to major in Communication with a focus in radio production. “Whether I sing or not, I want to work in the music industry,” she said. “I am also very comfortable talking to people, so Communication fit my personality, desires, and interests.” While at Behrend, Schonthaler was involved with BVZ Radio and did an internship at Happi 92.7, an Erie pop radio station, where she dabbled in all aspects of radio from promotions and social media to on-air broadcasting. All this while maintaining impressive grades. “I’m proud of having been on the Dean’s List my last six semesters,” she said. “It was rewarding to earn that while balancing school, work, and the band.” Schonthaler, who graduated in May, plans to continue singing with The Romantic Era while also pursuing a job in radio.
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