Secret Lives of Staff: Dave Lesher—Beekeeper (and much more)

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

There’s much more to Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members than what you see on campus. In this occasional series, we’ll take a look at some of the interesting, unconventional, and inspiring things that members of our Behrend community do in their free time.

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Give me a half hour with anyone and I’ll come away with a story. Every person has one. Some have more than a few. Take Dave Lesher, for example.

This piece was supposed to be about Lesher’s beekeeping hobby, but his activities, interests and talents—his “secret lives”—are many.

In addition to being a police services officer at Penn State Behrend and a beekeeper, Lesher is also a professional photographer, distance trail runner, cyclist, gardener, home brewer, clean-eater, and a website programmer/designer. Oh, and he’s also a veteran, husband, and father.

Clearly, when Lesher is interested in something, he goes all in. But serendipity plays a role in most of his ventures, too.

Twenty-five years ago, when he was working at a grocery store after having completed basic training in the U.S. Army Reserves, a coworker mentioned she was attending a municipal police training academy. Lesher enrolled a week later.

After graduation, he was hired at Behrend. It’s a job he said he has enjoyed since day one.

“I really like the people here,” he said. “In my role, I come in contact with a wide variety of people and I enjoy interacting with everyone from the janitorial staff to the Chancellor.”

He even likes educating students who have gotten themselves into a bit of trouble.

“Often, the student has just been misguided or made a mistake and the incident can be turned into a learning experience,” he said. “I’d say we can do that 95 percent of the time.”

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Honey habit leads to hobby

A serious health scare a decade ago inspired Lesher to begin exercising and taking a closer look at the foods he was putting into his body. He eats clean now, avoiding processed foods, meat, caffeine, artificial dyes and additives, and most forms of sugar, with one sweet and all-natural exception—honey.

“It’s expensive, though, and I was eating a lot of it,” he said. “So I started doing some research on beekeeping and got some bee boxes.”

He found his first set of bees on Craigslist.

“This guy was tearing a house down and found the walls were full of honey-bees, so he offered them up to anyone who would come take them,” Lesher said.

“Cut-outs,” as such bee acquisitions are called, are tougher than simply scooping up a homeless swarm and encouraging them into a new home.

“With a cut-out, you’re invading their territory and they will defend it,” Lesher said. “Swarming bees are actually safer to collect. They swarm when they are looking for a new home, so they have nothing to protect and are usually happy to climb right into a bee box.”

Lesher is pleased to offer them a home, and the college’s maintenance and operations staff are just as thrilled to have someone nearby to call when swarms are found on campus.

Except for the occasional replacement queen, Lesher doesn’t buy bees. He prefers to collect native bees since they are used to Erie’s climate.

Lesher has a beekeeper’s hat, but doesn’t wear a full suit because honey-bees are rarely aggressive. He’s been stung only twice.

The average hive makes sixty to eighty pounds of honey a year, which is harvested in the fall. Only a portion of the honey is taken, however, as the bees have to have food for the winter.

“My hives are new this year, so I won’t take any honey,” he said. “I want to keep them happy so they’ll stay and produce more next year and then I can take some.”

From programming to photography to political science 101

A different kind of buzz—talk about the then-new World Wide Web—caught Lesher’s attention twenty-plus years ago. He began reading about, then dabbling in, website programming and design. He soon had paying clients (he still has some today) and a concern about finding adequate photography for their sites.

So he began reading about photography. You see where this is going, right? Today Lesher also works as a professional photographer. He shoots family portraits, senior pictures, and weddings.

Another hat he wears? College student. This fall he’ll complete his degree in General Arts and Sciences with an emphasis in Political Science.

Man in motion

You may wonder where Lesher gets the stamina to keep up all of his hobbies, jobs, and activities. It’s a strength that is, no doubt, hard earned on the trails and roads around Penn State Behrend where he’s logged thousands of miles.

Last summer, he did his first ultra run, the Megatransect, a formidable thirty-mile race up, on, and around Bald Eagle Mountain, just south of Lock Haven—with former Behrend engineering professor and trail-runner Dr. Chris Colston.

“The funny thing is that when I was in the Army, I hated running,” he said. “I never thought I’d start doing it competitively. But then I got interested in it and ended up buying the gear and doing some races and… you know, how it goes.”

Yes, with Lesher, we do know how it goes now—all the way.

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8 fun honey-bee facts

  1. Honey-bees are not native to the United States. They were imported by European settlers.
  2. Honey-bees, while instinctual, aren’t very smart. “I have to have different landing strips on my hives or the bees will go in the wrong hive and be killed as invaders,” Lesher said.
  3. Honey-bees use dances to communicate. For example, when honey-bees find food, they do a choreographed “waggle” dance that instructs the rest of the hive where to find a food source.
  4. Honey-bees keep each other warm and fed over winter. Honey-bees keep the hive at about 92 degrees in winter, feasting on the honey they have collected all summer.
  5. Honey is harvested in the fall. Hives typically contain about sixty to eighty pounds of honey; some must be left for the bees to eat.
  6. Unhappy honey-bees will leave. If conditions in the hive are not suitable, the queen will call for a swarm and they’ll swarm and depart.
  7. The honey-bee queen is the sole reproductive female in the colony. She lays 1,000-to-3,000 eggs per day. Female worker bees perform all other colony duties. Male drones exist only to mate with a virgin queen.
  8. Drones are dead before winter. Drones are a liability to the wintering hive and are not allowed in after fall, so they die outside.

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Collecting a swarm

Lesher provided this video of a swarm he collected:

 

Artistic barrels allow Behrend to save for a non-rainy day

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

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Penn State Behrend is known for its park-like campus with lush lawns, natural wooded areas, raingardens, landscaped pathways, and colorful flowerbeds.

While Mother Nature does a pretty good job of watering at Behrend, there are times the college’s groundskeeping crew has to step in and give parched plants a drink.

But just as a mother’s milk is best for babies, Mother Nature’s “milk” is best for plants. They thrive on natural rain water, which contains no chlorine, ammonia, fluoride, or other chemicals found in municipal water systems.

Now, thanks to a public art project—Don’t Give Up the Drip—conceived and orchestrated by Erie-area environmental agencies, Behrend is able to collect and save rain water for plants in three new fifty-five gallon rain barrels on campus—one at the Health and Wellness building, one at Turnbull Hall, and one at Erie Hall.

These aren’t just plain plastic rain barrels though; they are works of art.

“Our goal was to showcase our local art talent while educating the community about the benefits of harvesting rainwater and water conservation and health,” said Kristen Currier, environmental educator at the Erie County Conservation District, one of the organizations behind the art project.

A total of fifty-two plastic barrels were transformed by forty-six different artists. The barrels then were placed in publically accessible locations throughout the Erie area, including three at Penn State Behrend.

The rainwater will be used to quench the thirst of Behrend’s vast flora.

“Erie receives above average rainfall annually. Still, throughout the summer we experience shortages and the rain barrels are extremely useful then,” said Ann Quinn, director of Greener Behrend, an environmental service club on campus. “The water stored will be used to water nearby plants on our campus in a sustainable, simple way.”

Resulting, of course, in a greener Behrend.

4 reasons to collect rainwater:

  • It is better for your plants — it’s fluoride and chlorine free.
  • It will lower your water usage (and water bills).
  • It cuts down on flooding and erosion of the land around buildings.
  • It reduces runoff — the water that washes pollutants into our streams and lakes during rainstorms.

Behrend’s Barrels

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“The Green Man” by artist Luke Gehring

Location: Health and Wellness Center

 

Turnbull

“Save our water” by artist Lewis Prest

Location: Turnbull Hall

 

Erie Hall

“The Life Cycle of the Monarch Butterfly” by artist Downia Glass

Location: Erie Hall

Want to see all the barrels?

For a map to the location of all the rain barrels in the Erie area, click here.

 

 

Students create blankets for NICU babies

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By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

When Ashley Sullivan, assistant professor of early childhood education at Penn State Behrend, suggested that students in two of her spring 2016 classes plan a community service project, one idea was top of mind for Karlie Aschenbrenner.

Aschenbrenner, a sophomore Elementary and Early Childhood Education major from Pittsburgh, thought of the concept behind Brady’s Blankets, a program of the Fairfield, CT, children’s non-profit Brady’s Smile, which provides homemade fleece blankets to babies and children in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

“This was the one idea that really made so much sense,” Aschenbrenner said. “If we all donated $5, we would be able to purchase fabric to make tie blankets. We could then donate the blankets to babies in the NICU.”

The students voted on the service project ideas, and Aschenbrenner’s suggestion was the clear winner.

Every student in both Sullivan’s Instruction in Early Childhood Education Derived from Development Theories and Competing Rights: Issues in American Education courses donated $5 each to participate in the project. They spent their last day of class cutting and tying to create 75 blankets, which were donated to Brady’s Smile and then sent to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Aschenbrenner was not the only student with whom the cause resonated.

“The children that we’re donating these blankets to could eventually become the kids that we’re going to teach, so just giving them a better chance to thrive and survive can mean a lot,” said Madison McFeely, a first-year Elementary and Early Childhood Education major from North East.

In addition to creating the blankets, Sullivan’s students volunteered at the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Pennsylvania where they packed more than 200 food boxes to distribute to local seniors.

“As future teachers, I think all of us really appreciate these causes,” said Gionna Fonseca, a sophomore Elementary and Early Childhood Education major from Pittsburgh. “It was really nice to see that big pile of blankets sitting there.”

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Class of 2016: Meet Michael Pacacha (Mechanical Engineering)

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2016 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend.  We sat down to talk to some remarkable seniors before they left school and we’d like to a few of our students who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Michael Pacacha:

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Major: Mechanical Engineering

Hometown: Hunker, Pennsylvania

On majoring in Mechanical Engineering: Growing up, I always enjoyed math and science, so I knew I wanted to pursue a career focused on those. Having participated in the Pennsylvania Envirothon since sixth grade, I was also interested in environmental science/engineering. I went with Mechanical Engineering because it gave me a broader group of industries I could work in.

Campus involvement: I’ve been involved with Lion Ambassadors, Lion Scouts, THON, and Engineering Ambassadors.

What you’d be surprised to know about him: I was homeschooled, so college was definitely a new and exciting experience for me. Sometimes people wonder if I socialized in high school. I did; I started working early and was always involved with several organizations.

Traveling engineer: I hope to find a job that offers me the opportunity to travel. I love exploring and going to places I’ve never been before, so finding a position that allows that outside of a professional environment is important to me.

Marathon dancin’ man: In February, I was blessed to represent Penn State Behrend at THON, the University’s 46-hour dace marathon that raises money to help kids with cancer.

Advice for current students: Always be responsible and accountable for your actions. Also, time management skills are extremely important in college!

Michael is planning to work as an engineer in the field of aerospace, defense, or energy following his graduation in May.

‘Looks Like We Made It’: Behrend choristers perform alongside Barry Manilow

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By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

It was not until the lights came on that Elizabeth Seng fully realized the significance of the moment.

Behind her was a jumbotron. In front stood a multi-platinum singer-songwriter. Beyond him was a crowd of thousands of people.

Seng, a senior psychology major at Penn State Behrend, has made many memories in her four years at the college, but performing alongside Barry Manilow as part of the Choirs of Penn State Behrend might take the cake.

“We were out on the stage, and then they shined the lights on us,” said Seng, a Seattle native who has been a regular member of the choir during her time at the college. “There were all these people there, and it was just really exhilarating. It was probably my most memorable experience I’ve had here at Behrend.”

Manilow invited the Behrend Choirs to perform alongside him at his April 25 concert at Erie Insurance Arena. Tone-Acious, Penn State Behrend’s student a cappella club, joined the choir for the performance, which was part of Manilow’s “One Last Time!” tour.

“This was a really unique opportunity, and it highlighted Behrend’s arts offerings in front of a huge audience,” said Gabrielle Dietrich, director of choral ensembles at the college. “It also provided a fun and highly motivating year-end experience for our students.”

“When I found out, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, are you serious?’” Seng said. “It just felt so special to think that Barry Manilow thought we were good enough to be a part of his concert.”

The choirs’ performance was especially meaningful because they joined him for the three final songs of the concert, which were amongst his greatest hits: “Copacabana,” “Miracle” and “I Write the Songs.”

The day of the concert, the choirs arrived at the arena at 3:30 p.m. and practiced before going on stage at 9:30 p.m.

“We were sent to holding rooms in which they had us practice a lot and learn the choreography,” said Taylor May, a junior software engineering major and member of both the Behrend Choirs and Tone-Acious. “We even ran through it once on the stage with the soundtrack, but thankfully we got to relax a bit before the concert.”

To honor the occasion, choristers created “Behrend Hearts Barry” t-shirts which they wore under their gowns during the concert. They even gave an extra t-shirt to Manilow as a memento.

The shirts are a reminder of what was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many of the choristers.

“Before you knew it, you could see the streamers (coming down from the ceiling), and that was it. It just went by so fast,” Seng said. “To be part of one of his final tours was just really, really cool. I’ll remember it forever.”

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Class of 2016: Meet Dan Doleiden (Mechanical Engineering)

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Penn State Behrend’s class of 2016 is ready to make its mark on the world!  We’re proud of our students and the things they’ve accomplished and learned while here at Behrend.  We sat down to talk to some remarkable seniors before they left school and we’d like to a few of our students who have overcome challenges, pioneered new technology, participated in important research projects, and left an impression at Penn State Behrend.

Today, we’d like you to meet Dan Doleiden:

Dan Doleiden

Major: Mechanical Engineering

Hometown: Allentown

On choosing to major in Mechanical Engineering: It’s a major that offers endless opportunities to specialize. Mechanical engineers are employed in a vast array of exciting fields.

Proudest accomplishment at Behrend: Presenting research at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers annual meetings in both 2014 and 2015.

What you’d be surprised to know about him: I’ve been learning the Turkish language over the past year. Also, I’m a registered beekeeper!

On undergraduate research: Assisting my adviser, Dr. Adam Hollinger, with his research on fuel cells really took my education experience to a higher level. (Read all about it the latest issue of Engineering News, Pg. 10-11).

Advice for current students: Get involved in research. It’s a great way to apply concepts you’re learning (in your major and outside of your major), and it’s a great way to network with faculty members and others in academia and industry.

Dan plans to attend graduate school following his graduation in May.

Students preparing to study in “Land of the Rising Sun”

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

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Dr. Vicki Kazmerski, associate professor of psychology, goes over Japan travel information with students enrolled in the study-tour.

“You need to work on being quiet and small,” said Dr. Dawn Blasko, associate professor of psychology. “Americans are known to be big, loud, and rowdy. We spread out and take up a lot of space, and that’s not going to go over well in Japan.”

Sometimes expanding your horizons requires downsizing your personality, particularly when traveling abroad. It’s an important cultural lesson that fifteen Penn State Behrend students are learning to embrace before they embark on a twenty-day study tour in Japan.

“The overall atmosphere in Japan is quiet and calm, which is much different from my usual pace of life,” said Grace Waldfogle, a junior Psychology major. “I am outgoing and will need to remember to be more reserved there. It will be an interesting experiment, I’m sure.”

While in Japan, the students, enrolled in either PSYCH 232 Cross-Cultural Psychology or PSYCH 499 Foreign Studies in Psychology, will travel to Yokohama to attend the International Congress of Psychology. At the Congress, students will interact with researchers from across the world and attend sessions highlighting current research from a global perspective.

Some, like Waldfogle, will even present their own research work.

As an undergraduate research assistant, she has been working with Blasko, and Dr. Heather Lum, assistant professor of psychology, on a study that looks at navigation in a foreign environment, and will present her poster, “A Birds Eye View of A foreign World: Individual Differences in Spatial Cognition,” at the Congress.

Before and after the conference, Wadfogle and other students will explore cities and historical sites in and around Tokyo, including an overnight trip to visit the shrines and temples in the Kyoto area.

“I’m excited about visiting Kamakura, which is the home of the ‘Big Buddha,’ and participating in Zen meditation,” Waldfogle said.

The study tour is designed to allow students to see firsthand how culture shapes the way people view the world and develop an awareness of ethnocentric bias and ways to identify and avoid it. Students in the higher level course will learn about global psychology and how Eastern and Western culture have developed different but complementary perspectives of mind, body, and healthy living. Not all of the students attending are psychology majors, however.

Stephen Dartnell, a sophomore Business major, sees the study tour as an opportunity to enhance his professional portfolio and international business acumen.

“I’m really interested in learning more about psychology as well as Japan’s cultural and business customs,” Darnell said. “Also, having worked at Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market, I’m especially interested in learning more about Japan’s prominent seafood industry, as there were many Japanese influences at Pike Place.”

The students, who leave on July 21, have work to do before they go.

“There are required reading and assignments that have to be done before the trip,” said Blasko, who is team-teaching the courses along with Lum, and Dr. Vicki Kazmerski, associate professor of psychology.

The instructors recruited a Penn State Behrend MBA student, Yuki Takahashi, a native of Japan, to give the students a few informal advance lessons before the spring semester ended.

“Yuki covered topics such as the alphabet(s), currency, common words and phrases, regions, traditions, and customs,” Dartnell said.

Although none of the students are expected to be fluent in Japanese, Takahashi told them that giving it a shot counts.

“It’s vital that we make an effort to speak their language,” Wadfogle said. “It shows that we respect their culture and want to try and understand things from their perspective.”

Basic psychology, of course.