Behrend serves as perfect proposal spot for alumni couple


By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Proposal_018When Jonathan Wolff ’13 decided to propose to Marissa Morrissette ’14, his girlfriend of more than three years, he could think of only one place to “pop the question.”

“I wanted to make it personal, and for us, that meant proposing at (Penn State) Behrend,” Wolff said.

While Behrend is not exactly a hotbed of romance, it was for Wolff and Morrissette. The two first met in 2012 in a management course at the college. Wolff slyly asked Morrissette to study.

“I just thought, ‘Yay, study partner!’ I didn’t think anything of it,” Morrissette recalled.

However, Wolff’s intentions were far more deliberate. He wanted an excuse to spend time with Morrissette, and the two soon found that they had plenty in common.

They were both members of the Lion Entertainment Board and Reality Check, a service-based organization at Behrend that focuses on helping people on campus, in the local community, and around the country.

As part of Reality Check, the two went to Mission, Texas, that March for Alternative Spring Break, an annual week-long service trip where students immerse themselves into a community that is different from their own. They hit it off during the trip, and began officially dating.

Wolff and Morrissette made several great memories at Behrend. They traveled to Puerto Rico for Alternative Spring Break in 2013, and they spent dozens of Friday evenings together planning programming for LEB.

“Behrend allowed us to do so much together,” Morrissette said. “We both had a passion for service, and Behrend gave us the opportunities to serve.”

Their love for Behrend was further cemented on November 22 when Wolff proposed to Morrissette in front of the lion shrine on campus. While the two had talked about getting married, Wolff took steps to ensure she did not see the proposal coming. He told her he would be out of town that weekend, so Morrissette made plans to have lunch with a friend.

That friend, however, was in on Wolff’s plan. After lunch, she took Morrissette to campus where Wolff had posted clues in various areas that would then lead to the next clue.

The final clue brought Morrissette to the lion shrine where a laptop was set up to play a montage of classic moments from Disney films. When the footage ended, Morrissette turned around to see Wolff, who promptly got down on one knee.

“I was crying, and it was perfect. This is the place that brought us together,” Morrissette said.

The two plan to marry on June 3, 2017, in their hometown of Pittsburgh.

Marketing alum finds calling with Make-A-Wish Foundation

Penn State Behrend alumna Melissa Lichtinger works as online communication manager for Make-A-Wish International but also volunteers for the organization. The first wish she granted was for Lucas, who suffers from lung disease, cerebral palsy and can only communicate through non-verbal expression. A splash pad was installed in his backyard, so he would be able to play safely in water.

Penn State Behrend alumna Melissa Lichtinger works as online communication manager for Make-A-Wish International but also volunteers for the organization. The first wish she granted was for Lucas, who suffers from lung disease, cerebral palsy and can only communicate through non-verbal expression. A splash pad was installed in his backyard, so he would be able to play safely in water.

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Melissa-Lichtinger_1Melissa Lichtinger no longer worries about life’s everyday stresses. Those concerns went away after she started to work for Make-A-Wish Foundation.

“Whenever life gets tough, I’ll just watch a wish story. It always instills positivity, and you realize that your day-to-day struggles are nothing compared to what these kids go through,” the 2013 Penn State Behrend graduate said.

Lichtinger, who earned degrees in marketing and international business, works as online communications manager for Make-A-Wish International, headquartered in Phoenix, Arizona. Every day, the Erie native works to manage the organization’s social media and website presence while being attentive to the needs of the 50 different countries in which Make-A-Wish operates.

Her commitment to the nonprofit’s mission is nothing new. While in college, Lichtinger got involved with Make-A-Wish thanks to the urging of her aunt, who was a volunteer, and interned in the organization’s Erie office.

“At my internship, I did a lot of the wish story writing, so it really connected me to the mission, and I had the chance to meet a lot of wish kids. It really changed my life and made me realize I wanted to work in this sector,” she said.

Lichtinger happened to be in luck. Following her college graduation, she was hired as a digital production coordinator for Make-A-Wish America before being promoted to digital production specialist. She was promoted to her current position last June.

However, while she enjoyed her work, something was missing. At the corporate office, Lichtinger often helps with managing the global brand, sponsorships and high-level tasks. It was time to get back to basics.

“I reached out to the local office here in Arizona, so I could start the process of (volunteering) and granting wishes. It was important to get back to the mission, and remind myself of why I wanted to get involved to begin with,” she said.

Her first wish granted was for Lucas, who suffers from lung disease, cerebral palsy and can only communicate through non-verbal expression. After speaking with his mother, Lichtinger learned that Lucas loves playing in the water, but it’s difficult for him to do so because he cannot be in the water without someone holding his head up.

His family and Lichtinger ultimately decided to install a splash pad in the family’s backyard for Lucas. Commonly seen in public parks, splash pads eliminate the risks of pools while still providing plenty of water fun as ground nozzles spray water upwards.

When he was introduced to the pad, Lucas immediately started to laugh and giggle, and Lichtinger was reminded why the Make-A-Wish cause resonates with her so much.

“You get to take a kid who doesn’t get to be a kid right now, and you get to help them imagine something that they never thought was possible. You get to see the transformation where they become a little kid again,” she said.

Lichtinger is currently in the process of planning an additional two wishes. She knows her career path may one day change, but she wants to continue to make a difference in the nonprofit sector.

She also remains very thankful for all the knowledge she gained from her time at Behrend.

“I am a driven person, but Behrend instilled all of the steps of how to get there while giving me an opportunity to work with professors who really care about your success. My international business degree and the projects I worked on is what really helped me get this job,” she said. “I still talk to my marketing professors today, and they still help me if I have questions or need advice. They’re my mentors, not just for those four years, but they’re my mentors through life.”

Ho, ho, holiday reading suggestions


By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Season’s greetings, everyone!

’tis the season to kick back under the glow of holiday lights and indulge in a little pleasure reading (You know, instead of all the under-pressure reading you do for your classes!).

Traveling for the holidays? No problem…download an audio book to your Smartphone or mobile device.

Ah…but what to read/listen to? We went straight to some of the biggest book lovers on campus — Lilley library staff members and Creative Writing faculty members.  Here are the tomes they suggested:

“I just finished reading, Flash, The Homeless Donkey Who Taught Me about Life, Faith, and Second Chances by Rachel Anne Ridge. It contains awesome messages that would benefit all who read it.” — Patti Mrozowski, information resources and services support specialist

“I’ve been listening to Olive Kitteridge in the car and it is remarkably good. I had watched the miniseries but, of course, the book is always better because the author can explain what she is feeling and thinking, and the reasons she acts the way that she does.”   — Jane Ingold, associate librarian

“I just finished Me Before You by JoJo Moyes and loved it! I enjoy books and movies about love, and I especially like ones that make me cry. So, when I saw a review on the back cover that said, “to be devoured like candy, between tears,” I knew I wanted to read it. Essentially, it’s about a woman who is hired to spend time with a depressed, quadriplegic man. The story makes you consider two sides of a very controversial topic that I won’t mention for risk of spoiling the book. I saw recently that it will be made into a movie starring Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) and Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games). I just started the sequel, After You.” — Stephanie Diaz, reference and instruction librarian

“This book isn’t brand new, but Col. Chris Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth is excellent. It contains lots of interesting, but understandable science and advice on how to turn use those lessons here on Earth.” —Russ Hall, associate librarian

“I really loved Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by  Mindy Kaling. It’s a very funny memoir in which she writes about her time writing and acting for The Office (a show I loved), romance, Hollywood, friendship, Matt Damon, and Ben Affleck. She is very relatable, and she made me laugh out loud!” — Stephanie Diaz, reference and instruction librarian

“Two of our creative writing alumni have amazing new books out. Both Corey Zeller’s You and Other Pieces (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2015) and Heather Slomski’s The Lovers Set Down Their Spoons (Iowa UP, 2015) are formally innovative—both writers experiment a bit in terms of how stories get told—but these books also do what readers have always wanted books to do. They expose and celebrate the mysteries of love and loss, pain and renewal.” — Dr. Tom Noyes, associate professor of English and Creative Writing

“I love anything by Philippa Gregory, an English historical novelist. This time of year, though, I like to read Christmas books. Last year I read a fun, off-the-wall book — Christmas at the Mysterious Bookshop by Otto Penzler.  Richard Paul Evans, author of The Christmas Box, has written a few other  Christmas-themed books, too.” — Lisa Moyer, information resources and service supervisor – manager

Tips for Book Lovers

If, like me, you always forget which books friends have recommended, try one of these strategies:

1. Make a list on your Smartphone using a “note” application and you’ll always have your list with you when you’re browsing at the Lilley Library or out shopping.


2. Create a wish list at an online bookseller (I use Amazon) and add titles to your “to read” list when friends recommend them. It’s a convenient and easily-accessible way to keep track of books you want to read. (Tip: See if you can borrow the book through the Lilley Library before you purchase. I’m linking the books below to Amazon just so you can see the



Recommended gift ideas from faculty and staff members

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Still got some holiday shopping left to do? Don’t worry, Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members have you covered. Here are some of their top suggestions for gifts that are both fun and educational.


Ideas provided by Tracy Halmi, senior lecturer in chemistry

  • Weather station. Any future meteorologists on your gift list? This is perfect as it accurately measures the temperature, humidity, and wind speed. $100.
  • Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. This book offers never-before-seen photographic representations of the 118 elements in the periodic table. We’re all familiar with aluminum and copper, but what exactly does Copernicium look like? This book will show you. $15.
  • ThinkGeek products. Whether it’s Marvel, Minecraft or the Millennium Falcon, everyone knows geek is the new cool. This website offers items that will surely satisfy any “geek” on your gift list. Various prices.


Ideas provided by Dr. Richard Zhao, lecturer in computer science and software engineering

  • Custom photo jigsaw puzzle. It never hurts to give a gift with a personal touch, and jigsaw puzzles can be a fun, challenging task. $14.
  • LEGO Star Wars. The new movie is right around the corner, so anything Star Wars is guaranteed to be a hot item this holiday season. However, why not inspire a little creativity with a LEGO Star Wars set? There’s one available in every price range. Various prices.
  • Make-Your-Own Robots. Thanks to, you can choose from a number of options and create your own small robot from scratch. $20-$500.


Ideas provided by Melanie Ford, director of Youth Education Outreach

  • Blink Blink DIY kits. These kits are perfect for girls interested in any of the STEAM fields as they integrate art, fashion, simple circuits, and e-textiles into the hands-on building process. Kids can create a number of fun items, including cards, paper lamps, origami, scarves, and light-up leggings. $39-$89.
  • Makey Makey. Dubbed the “Invention Kit for Everyone,” Makey Makey makes it possible to connect a computer to almost any object. It could be a banana, an ice cube or a living person, but basically any material that can conduct at least a tiny bit of electricity can be used. $50.
  • K’Nex. These are similar to LEGOs but a bit more advanced. K’Nex really emphasize engineering and physics principles, allowing the builder to create some pretty awesome things like roller coasters and Ferris wheels. Various prices.


Idea provided by Dr. Mary Ellen Madigan, director of enrollment management

  • Adult Coloring Books. Have someone on your gift list who is always stressed-out? Adult Coloring Books  are an Amazon No. 1 National Bestseller, and provide hours and hours of stress relief, mindful calm, and fun, creative expression. $9.

Makers Engineer Ornaments, Fun


By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

The upcoming holiday season offers the perfect distraction for stressed-out students. In this last week of classes, we found plenty of holiday cramming going on with every area from Housing and Food Services to Student Activities to the School of Engineering fitting in some festive merrymaking before things get serious with Finals Week next week.

Wednesday evening, a dozen students gathered in an electrical lab in Burke 145 to munch holiday treats and craft acrylic LED ornaments with Dr. Chris Coulston, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering.

Students first drew snowflakes on computers using CorelDraw and added any text they wanted before sending their creations to the laser printer to be cut out of acrylic. Then, they used soldering irons, wire, LED lights, and batteries to make their snowflakes glow.

Though the Makers group meets fairly regularly, Coulston refrains from calling it a club.

“It’s more like a gathering of like-minded makers,” he says. “I just invite students to show up and make something. It gives them an opportunity to try some of the tools we have, like the laser cutter and soldering equipment.”

Ultimately, though, it’s about encouraging critical thinking and creativity, which are key concepts for engineering students to grasp.

“We try to come up with things that challenge them or make them look at things in a slightly different way,” Coulston said. “For instance, before Thanksgiving, we made LED hot dogs. Who’d have thought you could light up a hot dog?”


While there may be no practical application for glowing frankfurters, there is certainly a demand for people with the creativity, technological skills, and theoretical knowledge to use ordinary objects in a truly unique way.

While the majority of those who attend Coulston’s Maker gatherings are engineering students, he welcomes all students and faculty members.

“I’d love to have some artists and scientists join us, too,” he said. “The more, the merrier. They’d probably have some really cool ideas.”

Coulston brought a special guest to Wednesday’s gathering, his pug, Shiloh, dressed in her holiday best.

“Anyone can get a picture with Santa, but where else can you get a photo with Santa Pug?” he says with a smile.

Just like an engineer, always looking to improve the original product.

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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

Totzke, Dauber Berlin (32)

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.”