Pre-Health students sew first stitches in medical career

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend


Suturing—sewing together incisions or torn flesh—is a basic technique every doctor must master. It is, however, a skill that few undergraduate students have the opportunity to practice before entering medical school. But, thanks to the U.S. Army and Penn State Behrend’s Pre-Health Professions program, nearly thirty undergraduate students from four area universities were able to try their hand at three types of basic stitches at a suturing seminar earlier this month.

The class, offered by the Army Health Care Recruiting office in Pittsburgh and held at Penn State Behrend, was taught by Dr. Regan Shabloski, assistant dean for clinical education at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, and a member of the Army National Guard’s Medical Corps.

For two hours, students from Penn State Behrend, Allegheny College, Gannon University, and Mercyhurst University worked on severed pigs’ feet, practicing simple interrupted, running, and mattress stitches, using suturing kits provided by the Army.


Shabloski taught students how to hold the tools, how to start and finish stitching, how to know which stitches to use, how to choose the proper sutures, and the importance of symmetrical sewing.

Straight, evenly spaced stitches are paramount for patients.

“Neatness counts,” Shabloski said as he moved around the room, peering over shoulders at the students’ work. “Suture scars are one of the most visible reminders of your work. Patients care deeply what their scars look like, even if they are in a place where nobody will ever see them.”

Staff Sgt. Benjamin Earle and Staff Sgt. Ricardo Grey, both Army medics, were on hand to assist Shabloski with training.


The event was sponsored by the Army to bring attention to its Health Professions Scholarship Program, which provides tuition for up to four years of medical school to students pursuing an education at any accredited medical, dental, optometry, clinical or counseling psychology, or veterinary school, in exchange for a four-year commitment to working on an Army base after graduation.

“Students have to apply for this program before they enter medical school, and we were finding that many didn’t know about it until it was too late, so we’ve been making an effort to reach students at the undergraduate level and make them aware of the opportunities available to them through the Army,” Earle said.

Earle is quick to point out that being a doctor in the military does not necessarily mean working in a combat zone.

“We have Army bases all over the world, and on those bases, we have a tremendous need for all kinds of doctors for our soldiers and their families,” Earle said. “We need all the same doctors and specialists that are found in civilian life — OB/GYNs, pediatricians, general practitioners, dentists, and even veterinarians.”

Christina Hilaire, a junior Biology major who wants to be a doctor, participated in the suturing class and said the scholarship program is worth exploring.

“My mother was in the military, so I’ve thought about it,” Hilaire said.

“It is a pretty sweet deal for students inclined to spend a few years working at a military base,” said Dr. Michael Justik, associate professor of chemistry and chair for the Pre-Health Professions programs. Justik helped bring the suturing class to Behrend.

Among the perks? Full tuition paid directly to the medical school, a $20,000 signing bonus, a $2,000+ monthly living stipend, and health insurance, in addition to coverage of school-related expenses, including books, fees, and medical supplies.

It’s a deal that, according to Earle, only gets sweeter after graduation when the newly-minted doctors are admitted to the Army at the level of an officer.

“They are able to practice medicine at Army bases throughout the world without concerns about billing, overhead expenses, or malpractice premiums,” he said. “Many enjoy the lifestyle and stay in the service past their required commitment,” Earle said. “But, even if they don’t and they only put in their four years, we feel that’s a fair deal.”

The military recruits medical professionals in northwestern Pennsylvania because it’s rich in universities and medical facilities.

“Erie is a wonderful place to prepare for a medical career,” Justik said. “We have three hospitals in the area as well as LECOM, a top osteopathic medical school, all of which provide various learning opportunities for pre-health students.”

Here is what some of the students had to say about the suturing experience at Behrend:

  • “It was a fantastic event that helped solidify my career choice. I want to be a surgeon and the suturing class made me realize that it really is what I want to do for a living.” — Stephen Wells, a Penn State Behrend senior Biology major.
  • “It was really helpful to have Dr. Shabloski and the Army medics right there helping us and giving us tips. I took a similar suturing class in high school, but I learned some new and different techniques in this class.” —Thalia Soto, a Penn State Behrend sophomore majoring in Chemistry. Soto wants to be a pediatric surgeon.
  • “I really enjoyed it because it was an opportunity to do some hands-on learning, which is not often a part of the pre-med curriculum.” —Margaret Dunlop, a Penn State Behrend sophomore majoring in Psychology. Dunlop wants to be an orthopedic surgeon.
  • “The suturing class was a great learning experience in a fun, low-pressure setting. It was an excellent opportunity to do one of the many tasks that doctors and health professionals perform almost daily.” — Bethany Kelley, a Mercyhurst University sophomore Pre-Medical major. Kelley wants to be a physician assistant.

Click here for more information about Penn State Behrend’s Pre-Health Professions programs.

Click here or email for more information about the Army’s Health Professions Scholarship Program.

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Behrend alumni lead textbook company’s transition to digital age

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Behrend alumni Erika Dauber Berlin and Matthew Totzke are challenged with running a textbook company, Larson Texts, in the 21st century.

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

In an age dominated by tablets and tweets, the prospect of running a textbook company might seem daunting. There’s nothing “textbook” about the operations of Larson Texts, however.

Technology has changed the game, but the Erie-based company has continued to adapt.

“The physical book is still valuable, but the way you get your hands on it is much different,” says Matthew Totzke, CEO of Larson Texts and a Penn State Behrend mathematics alumnus. “The technology now allows us to do a much better job of enhancing the learning experience.”

Larson Texts was founded more than 30 years ago by Ron Larson, then a professor of mathematics, now emeritus at Penn State Behrend. At the time, Larson was responding to what he saw as the need for more student-friendly math textbooks.

Today, the company produces math textbooks for sixth grade through college-level calculus classes that are used by more than five million students each year. Larson has also published textbooks for such well-known educational publishers as Cengage Learning, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Pearson, and W. H. Freeman and also publishes its own textbooks through Big Ideas Learning and

Publishing a book, involves more than producing a physical textbook. With every college-level textbook that Larson Texts creates, the company also develops a fully-responsive companion website for all platforms: desktops, tablets and smartphones.

“We’re able to access so much more information than ever before. Now, we can really blend a great print book with strong digital content,” Totzke says.

That type of digital content featured on the companion sites includes worked-out proofs, instructional videos, rotatable graphs and downloadable data. All of these tools are great reference materials for students.

“There’s a lot of modeling in mathematics that you just can’t show on a print page,” Totzke says. “We put together interactive explorations that bring three-dimensional concepts to a workable medium.”

Being ahead of the digital curve is no new development for Larson. In 2001, the company created the website CalcChat as a tool that students could use to double check answers to questions posed in textbook exercises.

The site has since been supplemented by a tutor component and corresponding Twitter and Facebook accounts where students can talk with an actual tutor if they are struggling with a particular problem. Larson Texts monitors the tutor conversations as a way to gain feedback and develop solutions in areas in which students are continually struggling. According to Totzke, an estimated six million upper-level high school and college students have used the CalcChat service since 2010.

Through Big Ideas Learning, Larson publishes its own primary-school level books, a market segment the company expects to see expand as schools catch up to colleges and universities in terms of technology.

“Schools are beginning to have the infrastructure to embrace some of this technology,” says Erika Dauber Berlin, vice president of technology at Larson Texts and a Penn State Behrend communication & media alumna. “We have to draw inspiration from a lot of different areas and then anticipate how we’ll meet teachers’ needs into the future.”

It may not be the “textbook” method for creating educational publications, but Totzke would not have it any other way.

“We consider this to be an opportunity,” he says. “We’re able to deliver high-quality educational materials like we’ve never done before.”

Plastics Engineering Technology Students in Denmark & Sweden — Travel Log #2

No matter how vivid the photos or descriptive the lecture, there’s nothing quite like seeing and experiencing another country in person. And, in today’s increasingly global business climate, it’s vital that students be versed in the culture and business practices of international partners. There is much to be learned from seeing how others do it. That’s why, every year, students in the Plastics Engineering Technology program have the opportunity to travel overseas to visit plastics companies and universities and attend a plastics trade show, too.

Eleven students recently returned from a ten-day trip to Sweden and Denmark. We asked them to send us some photos and tell us about their journey. In this blog post, we pick up with the students on Day 8. (You can read the first week of their trip here.)

Day 8 – Thursday, October 22nd

After breakfast, we had a long train ride from Gotenborg to Stockholm during which we were able to admire the beautiful countryside of Sweden. Once we arrived, we made our way to our hostel along the Riddarfjärden bay. We then had the evening to scout out the different places that we wanted to visit and find a local restaurant for some classic Swedish cuisine.



Day 9 – Friday, October 23rd

On Friday, we took the train to SSAB Steel Mill for a presentation and tour of their facility. The presentation discussed the advantages their tool steels provide over more commonly used materials, including their high strength and hardness properties. Touring the mill was an eye-opening experience. The size of the equipment required to manufacture the steel itself was overwhelming. Rolling the hot steel slabs caused the entire room to shake and we could feel the heat from about 20 yards away. After the tour, we rode the train back to central Stockholm to spend the rest of the night exploring the city.

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Day 10 – Saturday, October 24th

Saturday was our opportunity to explore the historic sites in Stockholm. During breakfast we used our city and bus maps to plan our events for the day. The events included touring the Vasa Museum (a museum dedicated to a salvaged warship), exploring the Royal Palace, and roaming the scenic streets of “Old Town.” We were also able to visit some of the local shops in search of souvenirs. Our evening consisted of a final dinner together at a local restaurant, followed by dessert at a near by ice cream shop. We ended our day back at our hostel where we began packing for the journey home.

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“Old Town”

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Royal Palace

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Vasa Museum

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Day 11 – Sunday, October 25th

We ended our final day in Stockholm with a group breakfast at our hostel before hauling our luggage and souvenirs to the train station for the last time. After arriving at the airport, we chose to spend the last few hours reminiscing on our experiences as we browsed through each other’s pictures. Though we all enjoyed our time traveling overseas, by the last day we were glad to be on our way home so that we could share the stories of our experiences with our friends and family.



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Diary Gives Insight into Mary Behrend’s Life

By Allison Counasse
e-Communications Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

“Mary Brownell Behrend: Diary of a Girl/Portrait of a Woman” features excerpts from a diary Mary kept when she was 13, as well as several of her paintings.

An unexpected package that arrived over the summer at the Penn State Behrend Archives from Ernst and Mary Behrend’s grandsons, Richard and William Sayre, was particularly well-timed. It contained items for the Archives’ Behrend Family Collection and arrived while the college was nearing completion of a new monument for their grandmother.

Jane Ingold, college archivist, opened the package to find Behrend family personal items and memorabilia, including a photo of Ernst as a baby in 1869, a miniature chess set belonging to Ernst, and the diary Mary kept when she was 13 years old.

The diary held particular interest for Ingold, who curates exhibits from the archives and displays them in the John M. Lilley Library gallery. It soon became the centerpiece for a new exhibit, “Mary Brownell Behrend: Diary of a Girl/Portrait of a Woman,” which features excerpts from the diary, as well as several of Mary’s paintings.

“I wanted to display something that people could look at in conjunction with the monument’s unveiling,” said Ingold. “The diary has so much in it. You can see her in the diary when she was 13.”

Mary kept this program from the Fifth Tournament of Roses in her diary.

Mary kept this program from the Fifth Tournament of Roses in her diary.

The diary gives a glimpse into Mary’s childhood, documenting both the ordinary and the extraordinary aspects of her life—from a list of Christmas presents she received to a trip that she, her mother, and her siblings took to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and to California, where they attended the Fifth Tournament of Roses in January 1894.

Mary used her diary as both a journal and a scrapbook with decorated pages, photographs, pressed flowers, a small paper sign where she advertised her handmade dolls for sale, and trip souvenirs. These illustrate Mary’s lifelong interests in art, gardening, dolls, and travel.

The diary also provided more insight into her family. Mary’s mention of a brother named Warren, who would serve as a namesake for her son, was a revelation for Ingold and the Sayres. Ingold had run across Warren Brownell’s name during basic genealogy research but didn’t realize he was Mary’s brother. The diary enabled her to make the connection and identify Warren in photos that also are on display.

“Mary Brownell Behrend: Diary of a Girl/Portrait of a Woman” is on display through November 5 and again in summer 2016. The exhibit is open to the public during library hours.

Follow Plastics Engineering Technology Students through Denmark & Sweden — Travel Log #1


No matter how vivid the photos or descriptive the lecture, there’s nothing quite like seeing and experiencing another country in person. And, in today’s increasingly global business climate, it’s vital that students be versed in the culture and business practices of international partners. There is much to be learned from seeing how others do it. That’s why, every year, students in the Plastics Engineering Technology program have the opportunity to travel overseas to visit plastics companies and universities and attend a plastics trade show, too.

Right now, eleven students are at the tail end of a ten-day trip to Sweden and Denmark.

We asked them to send us some updates and photos so we could all learn from their journey.

Day 1- Thursday, October 15th

Today was our departure date. We left Behrend in a bus and headed to the Toronto airport to board the plane to Copenhagen. We were all anxiously awaiting departure!


Day 2- Friday, October 16th

We arrived in Copenhagen at approximately 10:00 a.m. and made our way to our hostel. After dropping off our things at the hostel, we went our separate ways to explore the city. One group toured the Christianborg Palace and visited Tivoli Gardens-the oldest amusement park in Europe. Other groups climbed local towers to see the city from above. This was our first experience communicating with other cultures and through other languages.



Day 3- Saturday, October 17th

Our second day in Copenhagen was more eventful, as we taught ourselves how to use the bus and train systems. We were able to travel across the city more efficiently to see more distant attractions. Some of these attractions included the Rosenborg Palace, Kastellet Fort, and also the Little Mermaid statue.

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Day 4- Sunday, October 18th

The last day in Copenhagen we were able to catch a few more attractions, such as the Marble Church and the picturesque town of Nyhavn. In the evening, we boarded a train to Vejen, and we arrived at our hostel late that night.


Day 5 – Monday, October 19th

On Monday, we woke up and caught the bus to Billund for a tour of the LEGO facility. The manufacturing facility was very innovative and automated, which was very interesting to see. We learned about their history, business model, company values, and processing techniques. We departed LEGO in the early afternoon and headed back to Copenhagen for the night. At this point, we went our separate ways to the hostels that each group of students had booked on their own. It was a great experience maneuvering through the city with our luggage and trying to find our hostel on our own.


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Day 6 – Tuesday, October 20th

Tuesday we visited the Danish Technical University (DTU), just outside of Copenhagen. They had incredible research facilities and free 3D printing for any university student. The university was very project oriented and encouraged all students to go “beyond state of the art.” You could tell from their work that the students were very passionate and had put time and effort into their projects to make creative ideas come to life. Afterwards, the group boarded another train to Goteborg, Sweden, where we found our hostel for the night.


Day 7 – Wednesday, October 21st

We woke up in Goteborg bright and early to make our way to the Scan Pack Packaging Trade Show. Students spent hours visiting the various booths and displays from packing companies from around the world. Some highlights included a juggling robot; collapsible, reusable, and more environmentally friendly material gaylords; biodegradable packaging; and various forms of filling equipment for assembly lines.


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To be continued….

9-hole disc golf course open at Behrend

By Heather Cass

Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend


Have you noticed the medieval-looking baskets with chains on metal poles around campus and wondered what they are for?

They’re for your entertainment.

The baskets are targets for a new nine-hole disc golf course that snakes around the perimeter of campus. Disc golf is played much like traditional golf but with flying discs instead of balls and clubs. Players stand near the tee and try to get their disc into the basket in the fewest number of throws.

Student-driven fun

The project was initiated by Kyle Stephan ’14, a former SGA president, who got the ball rolling discs flying, by approaching the Student Activities and Athletics departments to obtain approval, advice, and, eventually, funding to establish a course on campus.

Stephan was joined by Mechanical Engineering majors Trey Neveux and Mark Malecky, and Psychology major Tyler Ferraino, who worked together to design the course, locate equipment, and secure funds.

The students did the majority of the work on the course themselves, with assistance from the Erie Disc Golf Club, the college’s Maintenance and Operations department, and with instruction from Dr. Mike Naber, lecturer in geosciences, on using Geographic Information System (GIS) to layout and measure the course.


Tyler Ferraino, right, and Trey Neveux.

The course

Though the graphics for the tee markers are still under production, all of the targets/baskets are set and the tee markers (plain white signs) are in place.

The course starts in front of the tennis court/baseball fields near the Jordan road entrance to the college. From there, it snakes around to the old soccer field and then up and around the new track complex before finishing up in the woods across from the track near the bridge to Erie parking lot.

An online map that you can use on your Smartphone while you play can be found here.


A basic disc golf set contains three discs—a driver, a mid-range disc, and a putter. Just like in golf, the driver is used for long drives from tee, the mid-range disc is used for shorter distances, and the putter is used when you’re close to the target.

There are at least ten sets of discs available for students to borrow for free at the RUB desk (and Neveux says there are more to come), or you can pick up your own set at a mass retailer or online for less than $30.

How to play/rules

Standing at the tee (currently marked with plain white signs…graphics are in production!), throw your driver disc toward the basket. Players — typically two to four, but more is OK, too — take turns throwing their discs with the one whose disc lands the farthest from the basket going first (like golf).

One point (stroke) is counted each time the disc is thrown and when a penalty is incurred. The goal is to play each hole in the fewest strokes possible. A disc that comes to rest in the basket or chains constitutes a successful completion of that hole.

Most of the holes on Behrend’s course are a par 3, but there are also two par 4s and a par 5. Map here.

The player with the lowest total strokes for the entire course wins.

Learn more about how to play disc golf here.

First-timers take

Neveux and Ferraino spent some time introducing me to the sport on a recent weekday morning.

It was a lot of fun and it wasn’t hard to figure out how to throw the discs to my advantage (most drivers arc left) and when to switch discs to make use of the mid-range and putter discs.


By the third hole, I had a pretty solid grasp on the sport and enough skill to get the disc in the area I wanted it to be.

Learn more at YouTube, where you can find plenty of videos with tips on disc throwing technique.

Future expansion

Neveux, who serves as president of the Disc Golf club at Behrend, says they are already thinking of expanding.

“We’d like to add another nine holes, so we have an eighteen-hole course,” he said. “We’ve got plenty of space for it on campus.”

And, with the club’s dedication and promotion of the sport, they’re sure to have plenty of players, too.

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Summer in South Africa Inspires Political Science Major

By Heather Cass

Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend


Lillian Gabreski, a senior Political Science major, spent six weeks of her summer studying abroad at the University of Cape Town in Cape Town, South Africa.

We talked with Gabreski to find out more about what it’s like to study in South Africa and what she learned while she was there.

Why did you go to South Africa?

I studied abroad at the University of Cape Town. The experience was fully funded by a grant from Penn State Behrend to complete my research in international and constitutional law. I’ll be using this research to complete my Schreyer Honors Thesis this spring. I also participated in the Students’ Health and Welfare Centres Organisation (SHAWCO) Education program.

What were your responsibilities while there?

As a student at the University of Cape Town, I studied community development and the impact of development on regional groups and peoples. As a volunteer for the SHAWCO program, I spent 20 hours a week volunteering in the township of Manenberg teaching English and Math to middle schoolers. Manenberg has become infamous for gang-violence that has plagued its residents in recent years.


What made you choose South Africa? Have you been there before?

This was my first time in South Africa. I have always been interested in the country because of its unique socio-political history. With the guidance and influence of Dr. John Gamble, distinguished professor of political science and international law, I began to devote my time to learning about the practice of international and constitutional law. South Africa has one of the most liberal and lauded constitutions in the world, and the politics of a country re-entering the international arena after centuries of its majority population being excluded from democratic processes (see: apartheid) are both unique and absolutely intriguing. Thus, it seemed a natural area of interest for me to study as a political science major.

What was the most eye-opening thing about South Africa…or your experience there?

We have a tendency as Americans to believe that the way we do things is the best way to do them, whether in politics, business, or even our personal lives. While I’ve always considered myself to be open-minded, I still thought this way about the U.S. when I went to South Africa. Upon my return, I had a laundry list of policies and reforms that the U.S. could learn from South Africa. As a stable and relatively new true democratic state, South Africa is willing to experiment when it comes to the way they do things, which is something I think we have lost along the way here in the United States.


Lillian (second from left) with Archbishop Desmund Tutu.

How do these types of experiences enhance what you’re learning at Behrend?

It is one thing to study a country or a political system in the classroom here in the U.S. We all have our perceptions and we’re learning in our own environment. It is an entirely different experience to go to another country and to interact with its people, who have completely different preconceptions and ideas, and to learn from what’s around you. It’s really as simple as that.

What was it like in South Africa? Did you enjoy being there?

I have traveled all over Western Europe, but Cape Town is the most beautiful city I have ever visited. The people are incredibly kind, the geography is absolutely beautiful, and the perseverance of the South African nation in general is truly inspiring. While I spent only six weeks in South Africa, it was enough to leave an impression that has caused me to alter my post-graduate plans to include a focus in Sub-Saharan Africa.


What’s the most valuable lesson you learned during your experience this summer?

The South African people, specifically those who were discriminated against during apartheid, have an incredible tenet for forgiveness. Rather than seek revenge against those who have wronged them, they seek to remedy their ills via forgiveness and open conversation. I think the principle of being graceful and forgiving rather than continuing the ills of the past via pursuing a path of vengeance can be applicable in any situation whether it be personal or political.

Did you learn anything that you’ll apply this semester to your classes/projects here at Behrend?

Not only am I writing my senior thesis on South Africa and its relation to international law, I am also serving as a teaching assistant for Political Science 003H: Introduction to Comparative Politics this semester and teaching a segment on South African government and politics.

What are you career plans? What do you want to do?

Before studying in South Africa, I had intended to apply for law school. While I’m still taking my LSAT, I’m now focusing more on pursuing a Masters or Ph.D. degree in International Affairs or Public Policy. I would love to someday work in international law, in government, or with an non-governmental organization that would allow me to revise policies and practices on a global scale for the greater benefit of mankind.

Are you earning any minors/certificates?

I’m minoring in History and in Women’s Studies

Do you have any advice for incoming students in your major?

Get to know your professors! They have been invaluable to me not only when it comes to recommendation letters and research opportunities, but also in the advice they have given me to help me find the career path that will make me the happiest. Also, definitely study abroad! It will change your life and help you find your passions.

Why did you choose Behrend?

I initially accepted admission to University Park, but my mother (Dr. Tammie Merino, Lecturer in English at Behrend) convinced me to take a tour of Behrend. I fell in love with the campus and truly felt at home here. After my first year, I knew that the incredible professors and classmates I had at Behrend were invaluable, and that I would spend all of my four years here. There is something to be said for a small campus with the resources of a larger University behind it.