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Bower, Casteel receive Eisenhower Award for Distinguished Teaching

Robin Bower, associate professor of Spanish and comparative literature and culture at Penn State Beaver, and Mark Casteel, associate professor of psychology at Penn State York, are recipients of the 2012 Milton S. Eisenhower Award for Distinguished Teaching.
The award recognizes excellence in teaching and student support among tenured faculty who have been employed full time for at least five years with undergraduate teaching as a major portion of their duties. Milton S. Eisenhower, brother of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, served as president of Penn State from 1950 to 1956.
Since joining the Penn State Beaver faculty in 2000, Bower has immersed her students in the Spanish language, insisting that even those taking their first Spanish class converse in the language. “The beauty of Dr. Bower’s classroom is that she opened the world of Spanish to us through conversation, not mere lists of vocabulary that had to be memorized,” one student said.
Bower has received a Bayer Corporation Award for Excellence in Teaching at Penn State Beaver. She is the campus Honors Program coordinator and chairs the Penn State Beaver Retention Task Force and its subcommittee on pedagogy.
“While most faculty touch the imaginations of many students each semester,” one nominator said, “Dr. Bower’s reach extends more broadly. In her classes, I observed students beginning to wonder, asking their own questions and framing reasoned reflections.”
Casteel came to Penn State York in 1988 as an assistant professor of psychology. “My primary aim is for my students to take ownership of their education,” he said. “For this reason, much of my teaching takes the form of Socratic questioning. I have found the Socratic method to be particularly beneficial because it promotes student engagement with the course material by fostering critical thinking and reflection.”
Every fall, he hosts a research fair with his Introduction to Cognitive Psychology students. “Dr. Casteel has great rapport with students, who feel free to express their ideas and to admit where they are confused,” one nominator said after observing this class. “Dr. Casteel balances explanation with demonstration and application, offering students a variety of methods for comprehending a difficult area of study.”
Casteel has twice received the James H. Burness Award for Excellence in Teaching at Penn State York.


Six faculty members receive Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching

Six Penn State faculty members have received the 2012 George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching. They are Karen Barr, senior instructor of business at Penn State Beaver; Aquila Kikora Franklin, assistant professor of theatre/dance in the College of Arts and Architecture; Christine Masters, associate professor of engineering science and mechanics in the College of Engineering; Katherine Masters, lecturer and lab director in chemistry in the Eberly College of Science; Heather McCoy, senior lecturer in French in the College of the Liberal Arts, and Laura Palmer, associate professor of biology at Penn State Altoona.
The award, named after Penn State's seventh president, honors excellence in teaching at the undergraduate level.
A member of the Penn State Beaver faculty since 2000, Barr receives consistently high Student Ratings of Teaching Effectiveness, particularly with respect to the clarity of her presentations, her interest in teaching the course and her willingness to help students make progress. “I try to make students see it is not only important to get good grades, but it is also important to think of the class as a place to learn about life,” she said. Although her advising load is officially around 65 to 70 students per year, more than 90 students seek her assistance on a routine basis, according to one nominator; in 2005, the Student Government Association named her Outstanding Academic Advisor. A student said, “She is not my school advisor, but has helped me more than anyone appointed to me.”
As an instructor of theatre/dance from 2003 to 2006, Franklin introduced new courses in hip-hop and mojah fusion dance, a technique that blends Horton, Dunham, West African and jazz movements. Now an assistant professor, she continues to develop new courses in mojah fusion, African American dance history and hip hop theatre performance. “Each of these forms requires the individual’s full commitment, one’s willingness to fail and continue trying and the openness to consider approaches to thinking and living that may be different from his/her own,” she said. A former student noted: “Professor Franklin’s hip-hop class is one of those classes people take and when they leave, they are better people for taking it. I think she has a true gift, an amazing power to reach students and have a positive impact on their lives.”
Christine Masters believes that class participation is “vital” to student success, especially in the large lecture classes she teaches. She recently facilitated the introduction of “concept questions,” with students using electronic clickers to indicate their answers so both students and faculty can see the distribution of answers and she can address problems before moving on. “This made it easy to ensure the class understood the material and also helped identify problems that were immediately reviewed and resolved,” a student said. As undergraduate program coordinator, Masters also advises 180 undergraduates in the engineering sciences honors program, helping students customize courses and theses around their individual interests.
Since becoming a Penn State lecturer in 2004, Katherine Masters has “overhauled” most of her courses’ curricula with the intention of making them as challenging and relevant as possible. Currently, she is developing new theme-based modules for Chem 213H, an honors section of organic chemistry lab, so that, for example, in the food science module, students will carry out the oxidation of green tea to black tea, while in the agricultural science module, students will investigate the volatile organics that come from ripening fruits. “I hope that learning lab techniques in context will show students the significance of organic chemistry better than traditional experiments do,” she said. Masters also was the first Penn State lecturer to use group questions in organic chemistry lecture courses. She has received the C.I. Noll Award for Excellence in Teaching and the Priestley Award for Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching in Chemistry.
As coordinator of the French Basic Language program, McCoy extends her influence beyond her own students to facilitate the introduction of new teaching methods and educational technologies, such as the use of the iPad to enhance instruction as well as e-portfolios and podcasts in the classroom. “My aim is for students to leave our class not only with an enhanced knowledge of our object of study but also a heightened sense of literacy and cultural competence,” she said. McCoy has consistently earned high student ratings, and one student praised her pop culture references and humor to facilitate learning: “We loved her exciting, integrative lessons. She successfully implemented humor into her teaching that actually helped us learn.” She has been involved in the development of textbooks and related materials, including a 2012 redesign of the French business textbook Parlons Affaires!
Palmer strives to take advantage of “teaching moments” created by events outside her biology classroom. “Whether it is talking about an article on science from a current newspaper,” she said, “or discussing a recent episode of ‘C.S.I.’ or ‘House,’ not only do these moments show students that the material they learn in class is applicable to the world around them, but they help students learn to think critically, make sound scientific judgments and sometimes even refute claims presented in the popular media.” She learns every student’s name, even in a course with 100 students; one of those students called her a “fantastic, adaptive and quality professor who generates interest in her students, connects with them in various ways and ultimately creates a positive atmosphere where a student can truly learn and realize their potential.” Palmer has received the Athleen Stere Teaching Award and the Grace D. Long Faculty Excellence Award.

Second Student Town Hall Forum to be held April 17

Penn State’s second Student Town Hall Forum, where students can openly discuss with administrators the future of Penn State in light of recent events, will be held from 4:30 to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17, in the HUB-Robeson Center Auditorium and will be live streamed to the campuses at http://wpsu.org/live. The event, sponsored by the Council of Commonwealth Student Governments (CCSG), the Graduate Student Association and the University Park Undergraduate Association, is for students only, and only will be open to coverage by student media.
A panel composed of President Rodney Erickson, vice presidents Damon Sims, Tom Poole, Madlyn Hanes, David Gray and Rod Kirsch, and vice provost Terrell Jones will field questions from the audience; Katie O’Toole from the College of Communications will serve as moderator. Students watching from other Penn State campuses can submit questions at commonwealthtown@psu.edu and members of CCSG will present them to the panelists.


Spam filter to enhance email services at Penn State

Penn State's Information Technology Services is activating a new email filter to prevent the accumulation of unsolicited email (also known as spam) in the inboxes of University faculty, staff and students.
The new email filter, which is set to activate on Tuesday, May 22, will identify suspicious messages such as phishing scams and other email-based fraud. These messages will be identified as junk to separate them from legitimate emails.
The way in which the new filter will direct junk mail will be determined by how users access their Penn State email. Users should visit http://kb.its.psu.edu/spam to learn more about how the new spam quarantine initiative will affect them directly. The filter also will affect users who check their email on handheld devices such as smartphones, tablets, eReaders and PDAs.
As part of the new process, email messages that appear in an individual's junk folder (or, in some cases, on a new spam quarantine page) will be kept for 30 days, after which the messages will automatically be deleted. Users will be able to easily move messages mistakenly identified as junk from their junk folder (or spam quarantine page) to their inbox. Initial deletion of junk mail, older than 30 days, will begin on Saturday, May 19, three days prior to the new email filter being turned on.
Beginning on May 22, Penn State faculty, staff and students should begin checking their junk folder or spam quarantine page at least once a month to ensure that legitimate messages are not mistakenly deleted.
Questions or concerns can be answered through the IT Service Desk at helpdesk@psu.edu.


Probing Question: What causes trees to be diseased?

From the delicate cherry blossoms of Washington, D.C. to the towering redwoods of northern California, many towns and institutions across the nation are known and loved for their iconic trees. Count the majestic elms of Penn State's University Park campus among these beloved arboreal symbols—but if you literally count them, you'll notice there are fewer today than ever.
The culprit is elm yellows, a disease that threatens the health of over 200 majestic American elms on the Penn State campus. Elm yellows is just one of many tree diseases that contribute to the decline and death of trees in the United States.
What are the main causes of American tree diseases and have we made progress in preventing and treating them?
"There are many tree diseases—most of them caused by fungi—that occur year in and year out in the northeast and can damage their appearance, but most of those do not kill the trees," explains Gary Moorman, professor of plant pathology at Penn State. "These diseases include leaf spots, powdery mildews, needle diseases and twig cankers, and they occur to varying extents every year depending upon the weather."
However, Moorman notes, the most damaging diseases that currently threaten trees in the Northeast "are ones that are vectored or moved about by insects," and many of those are fatal.
One such disease is bacterial leaf scorch. The bacteria—spread by leafhoppers, treehoppers, and spittlebugs—clog the tree's water-conducting tissues, causing the leaves to brown and the tree to gradually decline and die.
"Particularly in the southeast part of Pennsylvania, but also as far west as Chambersburg, the bacterium is severely affecting oaks and can also be found in sycamore, elm, maple, and even dogwood," says Moorman.
"There is no cure for an infected tree," he adds. "Arborists licensed to do so can inject trees with tetracycline to suppress the symptoms and prolong the life of the tree. However, injections must be done every year and only very highly valued trees are treated because of the expense and labor required."
Many researchers in the field are working on better detection and treatment methods, as well as the development of disease-resistant tree and plant species. At Penn State, Moorman and his colleagues are studying plant-insect interactions involved in the spread of elm yellows. Leafhoppers—tiny insects that feed on tree sap—are a particular focus. "Although there are many different leafhoppers that feed on elms, not all of them can move the phytoplasma to another elm," explains Moorman.
"At this time, we don't know how many different leafhoppers are involved in the spread of elm yellows. We have trapped over 30 different species of leafhopper and found that a few of each have ingested sap containing elm yellows." Notes Moorman, one of his graduate students, Padmini Herath, has even developed a test that can be used on elm tissue or leafhoppers to detect the presence of elm yellows.
"The problem with that disease," he adds, "is that the phytoplasma moves to the roots of the tree and kills them rather quickly. As a result, elms usually die within a year after being infected. We have lost many elms on the perimeter of the main campus to elm yellows." This spring, the disease also claimed one of two elms that graced the front corners of Penn State's iconic Old Main building for generations.
The other scourge of the elm tree, Dutch elm disease, "has been in Pennsylvania since the 1930s, slowly killing elms," says Moorman. The disease is caused by a fungus, which is spread by bark beetles. "It is known that trees infected by elm yellows are very attractive to elm bark beetles," he explains. "Many elms are being infected by both elm yellows and Dutch elm disease and there has been an explosion in the elm bark beetle population over the last two years."
Penn state entomologist Greg Hoover has been monitoring elm bark beetle populations over several years, adds Moorman. "Based on Hoover's data, the elms can be sprayed at specific times to suppress peak bark beetle activity and thereby lessen the spread of Dutch elm disease."
While there's currently no cure for these diseases, there is something we can do and that is to grow disease-resistant trees, says Moorman. There are several Dutch elm disease-resistant elms but only one hybrid—Homestead—that is resistant to both Dutch elm disease and elm yellows. "The greatest threat to our trees comes from people introducing non-native pathogens, insects, and mites into our ecosystem. Our native trees and shrubs usually have no resistance to these and there are no natural enemies here to suppress introduced pests, such as the Dutch elm disease fungus, emerald ash borer, the Asian long-horned beetle, and viburnum leaf beetle. These are all in the northeast because of human activity."
Great care must be taken, says Moorman, to avoid pests hitchhiking into our country on imported firewood, logs for lumber, and wooden shipping crates, among other products. After all, he concludes, American trees are not only part of our history and legends—from Johnny Appleseed to George Washington's cherry tree—but are a living national treasure to preserve for future generations.


The Medical Minute: Sexual abuse can have long-term effects

April has been designated as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault is, unfortunately, a rampant issue. According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network), someone in the United States is sexually assaulted every two minutes. Approximately two-thirds of these assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. As a community, we need to recognize the devastating effects of sexual abuse. The impact is not just at the time of the event, but also long-term.
Working in the Eating Disorders Clinic at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, I have witnessed how sexual assaults can essentially destroy victims’ lives. Many factors determine the impact. These include how early the abuse (assault) began, how long it continued, whether it was perpetrated by someone the individual knew, and whether others know about the assault and intervened.
Consider if a family member or close friend started abusing a child when she/he was young and this activity continued for years, and a parent was told about the abuse but denied that it was happening: How could this not yield long-term destruction on the individual’s life?
For instance, women struggling with eating disorders who have been victims of abuse often describe that they need to make themselves smaller so that they “won’t attract attention.” Their eating disorder becomes linked with their past trauma. If they can be smaller and smaller, they can disappear and leave the lingering effects of the sexual trauma. Other women use food to numb the residual pain. But having that food inside of themselves feels disgusting. They use their symptoms to get rid of the food and their negative view of themselves. Individuals who have been subject to assaults find it difficult to trust others. They often blame and berate themselves. They shoulder responsibility when they themselves were the victims.
Depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are common long after the abuse. If suffering from PTSD, individuals have nightmares or flashbacks related to the event. These events can be triggered by sensory experiences that rekindle vivid memories of the abuse. Imagine going through your day and perhaps a smell or sound puts you back into the exact moment of your childhood when a parent or another close individual sexually assaulted you. The ongoing insecurity an abuse victim experiences is understandable.
Abuse victims also can experience ongoing, disabling pain, which affects their life. They are at higher risk of suicide and can overdose just by virtue of trying to dull the physical and emotional pain. They are often under-employed based on these ongoing struggles.
Sexual assault and abuse has serious and severe impacts. We as a community need to recognize not only the number of people affected but also the destructive effects on these individuals’ lives. We need to acknowledge the prevalence of abuse in our society, accept victims’ stories and understand the long-term effects as we work to aid those who have been subject to these assaults.
To learn more about sexual abuse or assault, visit http://www.rainn.org/. If you believe you or someone you know has been a victim of sexual abuse or assault, call 800-4ACHILD or visit http://www.rainn.org/get-help/national-sexual-assault-hotline.


April 18: Informational sessions on Penn State homepage redesign

This year, Penn State's website is undergoing large changes for the first time in more than a decade. A team composed of a wide cross-section of the Penn State community is working to create a new, dynamic website for the University, with the broad goals of showcasing Penn State's strengths in research, academics and global impact. The effort is an initiative of the University Marketing Council.
As part of ongoing efforts to keep the University community informed about the team's approach to the redesign process, two Penn State Web project information sessions will be held, from 10-11 a.m. and from 1-2 p.m., on April 18 in Foster Auditorium at Paterno Library on the University Park campus. The sessions are free and open to faculty, staff, students, alumni and the general public, and no registration is required. Several key team members will be on-hand to provide insight into the redesign process and to answer questions. Follow the sessions remotely on Adobe Connect at https://meeting.psu.edu/webtownhall or on Twitter using the hashtag #psusite.
More information about the Web redesign can be found at http://storyboard.psu.edu/. Additional opportunities to learn about the Penn State website redesign process will be offered this spring and summer.