New baccalaureate degree in Health Policy and Administration announced

Representing nearly one-seventh of the entire U.S. economy, the health care industry continues to expand. In the Lehigh Valley, it is the fastest growing sector of the local market, creating demand for qualified professionals who can handle the management, business and policy aspects of the field. Penn State Lehigh Valley’s newest baccalaureate degree program in Health Policy and Administration is designed to prepare students for high-demand health care careers or advanced study. Lehigh Valley is the only Penn State campus other than University Park to offer this four-year degree, which is enrolling students now for courses beginning this summer.

“This major gives students – whether traditional college age or adult learners – a great deal of flexibility to select courses that fit their personal and professional goals,” said Dr. Anita Yuskauskas, coordinator of the program and former technical director at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Baltimore, Md.

The program supports three areas of specialization – business and finance, health information technology, and long-term care – chosen carefully based on national and local demographics, future demand and employment opportunities. Graduates find job prospects in a variety of settings including health systems, long-term care organizations, physician group practices, state and federal agencies, and private trade and research organizations.

While local demand will provide career opportunities for graduates of the major, sophomore Stephanie Bernal of Allentown plans to capitalize on the program’s flexibility to meet her professional goals on a global level. The Dieruff High School graduate was inspired to pursue international development and humanitarian work after a recent church mission trip to the Dominican Republic.

“We volunteered at two orphanages in Santo Domingo where many of the children have HIV. Despite living with this disease in an environment with limited resources, they were just like other kids who want to have fun and enjoy life,” said Bernal. “It made me want to do something. This major allows me to choose courses that will help me understand health from a social, political and economic perspective. It’s a great foundation for my future plans.”

Paul’s Top Five Films of 2014

By Paul Rai

5. “Nightcrawler”

Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, “Nightcrawler” follows what is arguably one of the seediest yet enrapturing characters of 2014. Lou Bloom everything an employer would look for in a worker — he is determined, self-taught, and highly intelligent. As a small-time thief, he yearns for a job or even a trade to advance his life into a full-fledged career. He soon finds himself involved in freelance video journalism that sells footage of crime scenes where he manages to get the first scoop and can sell it to a news station. As he quickly learns the ropes on roaming the sultry streets of L.A., he finds himself not only conquering his version of the American dream, but becoming a pathological, yet charming sociopath. Morals are disposable for him; he is very literal, perceptive, and dastardly cunning. Bloom is the kind of person that can easily persuade someone to fork over their cake, and convince them they don’t deserve to eat it. Yet, what Gilroy shows is that this is the aftermath of a lost generation, now left in shambles at a post-recession United States. Job opportunities are scarce, and people now have to mold and become something even more than just an ideal candidate for a job. Like Bloom, they must sink to levels of pure evil conniving villainy. Jake Gyllenhaal gives what is the best performance of his career — he is the portrait of creepy, slick worm, awaiting to take advantage of any situation. His performance is equally captivating as it is vile. While the film does become a huge satire on the extremities of the media for being dependent on the “What bleeds, leads” headline news segment, it is more of an effect from people like Bloom who have decided to carve their space in the American heartland.

4. “Inherent Vice”

Muddled, foggy, almost incoherent and yet marvelous, Paul Thomas Anderson’s wacky crime noir is another tremendous feet for the director. Based on the infamous book by Thomas Pynchon, “Vice” plays out like a convoluted plot, full of layers upon layers that get bogged down by characters that are each representative to the world of “Vice.” It is the early seventies, on the sandy beaches of Los Angeles, our hero, Private Eye Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) is visited by an old flame — she inquires him to look up the disappearance of her current fling, Mickey Wolfmann, who is believed to have been committed to a “looney bin” by his current wife, and her boyfriend, to embezzle money from his estate. Already Doc is nearing down the rabbit hole of confusion, but soon, he gets caught in a whirlwind of a missing person’s case, an international drug cartel known as “The Golden Fang” importing heroin to Doc’s quaint community, and butting heads with a fascist, authoritative mad-dog known as Detective F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), Doc clearly is one heck-of-a-doozy here. The luscious cinematography by Anderson-favorite Robert Elswit lends to the surreal bright haze that not only perpetuated the daytime beach setting, but gives the feeling of an old, vintage 70s-era film. Johnny Greenwood’s atmospheric score gives off the feeling of the cool-vibe feeling that long permeated the “hippie-loving” culture of the 60s and 70s. Each performance is as everlasting and vibrant as the layered and tangential dialogue that Anderson adapts with impeccable respect and integrity to the mysterious Thomas Pynchon, whose works are among the greatest contemporary works of twentieth century literature. While it may seem aimless and pointless, the where it all might not make sense, rest assured, every move and choice made by Anderson is deliberate and subtle — this comedically wry, crime noir is among one of the best misunderstood films of 2014.

3. “A Most Violent Year”

With J.C. Chandor’s third directorial achievement, he is quickly becoming one of the most exciting, creative voices in cinema right now. Set in a 1981 New York, “Year” follows Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) as an immigrant with his own up-and-coming heating oil company called Standard Oil, and aims to secure financial independence by buying his own fuel oil terminal to beat his competitors. However, competitors see him as a threat and continuously hijack his trucks, severely costing him thousands of losses. As he closes the deal with a down payment that will close in a month, he soon faces a strong storm of forces bent on not only destroying his business, but his aspirations for the American Dream. What Chandor does beautifully is he does not revert to genre conventions and tropes that are riddled with the crime genre. Abel is a man of integrity and respect stuck in a world that is full of mobs and gangsters — the entire film is how in the face of violence, he will not succumb and dismantle his morals for power. He is uncompromising in believing in violence as the only answer, as he tries desperately to be steadfast in the face of insurmountable odds as he also faces Lawrence (David Oyelowo), an Assistant District Attorney who is investigating his company for tax evasion and other illegal activities. Isaac is truly outstanding; with such a calm demeanor with so much conflict, he is both calm and collected as he is scared and tempted to cave into his inner urge to become a caricature of a gangster that his competitors have become. Jessica Chastain plays Abel’s wife, Anna, and she represents a side that Abel isn’t — the ruthless crime figure that is not afraid to fire a gun, something Abel cannot bring himself to do. As both clash over the “right” way to handle the forces pummeling them, the moral question arises on how to truly fight corruption.

2. “Whiplash”

While this may not be my number one favorite film of the year, this is, without a doubt, the best film of 2014. Damien Chazelle has crafted a masterpiece; not a single frame or single note rings false. Equivalent to the intensity of a modern horror thriller, “Whiplash” is not just the most exciting and rousing film of 2014, but is the kind of film that will be studied for decades for its flawless and immaculate execution of how extraordinary direction can elevate a script. Andrew (Miles Teller) is a freshman jazz drummer at a prestigious music conservatory, as he aims to not just be the best, but “one of the greats.” He is quickly picked up by Fletcher (J.K. Simmons) a well-renowned conductor who accepts Andrew to join his band. However, it is revealed the Fletcher is not only abusive to his students (yelling insults and humiliating them is the least he can do), but pushes his students — both physically and mentally — to be the image of perfection. Just a simple note and Fletcher will throw a chair at your head, inconsiderate of the consequences. Andrew realizes that he must get the validation from him if he ever so chooses to advance himself as a drummer. Both Andrew and Fletcher find themselves in the middle of a heated battle — Fletcher tortures Andrew with his unrelenting, unethical practices as Andrew will not give up. What happens next I dare not say, but all I can say is that it culminates into one of the greatest, grand finales I’ve ever seen. To say the film ends on a high-note is an understatement; it is truly unforgettable. Chazelle orchestrates such an intense film that is both an exciting piece of entertainment but also serves as a moral quandary on the idea of how much would one suffer for their obsession and is it all worth the suffering. Teller is truly the breakout star — always being typecast as the obnoxious, snarky character, here, he is emotionally vulnerable, dedicated and powerless. Teller himself performed most of the drumming, as he bleeds and looses his grip on his sanity as he goes to war with both the drum and Fletcher. And Simmons’s performance is the absolute best of 2014. Always been a character actor, Simmons not only excels as this malicious teacher, but is sensational in every aspect. With the precise and pristine editing by Tom Cross and the sweeping camera work by Sharone Meir, we enter the world of this studio band, where each instrument is the students’ weapon, and with drumming, Andrew aims to not only drum till his hands are bare bone, but to sound off the arrival of a new Buddy Rich.

1. “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Hard to believe that such a consciously self-aware, self-referential, cynical film managed to win Best Picture among the so much fluff at this year’s Oscars, but believe it — Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s offbeat, dark comedy is not only my favorite film of 2014, but now among my favorites of all time. In a role that is truly a comeback in every sense of the word, Michael Keaton plays Riggan Thompson, a washed-up Hollywood actor known for playing a superhero character known as Birdman in the early 90s, but as he soon left the franchise, his career plummeted. Now he plans to stage a comeback on Broadway by adapting, starring and directing a play, but is soon coming to terms with his true identity as he is continuously plagued by a deep, ominous voice in his head (it is his alter ego, Birdman) convincing him that he will always be the man in the costume and not a real actor. With days of rehearsals and previews that become disastrous as dealing with a pretentious, self-inflated actor, Mike Shiner, which (Edward Norton), trying to mend the strained relationship with his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), coming out of rehab, and the line between reality art begins to blur, Riggan’s identity crisis escalates into something truly transformative. Did I mention that the entire film is shot to create the allusion that it is one, long continuous tracking shot? Emmanuel Lubezki, the ultimate cinematographer of tracking shots, does his most ambitious work by having the film give the look that it is in all one, seamless shot, as his camera follows various characters in various places, incorporating time-jumps and even special effects to show Riggan’s mind deteriorating to believe he possess superpowers, both Iñárritu and Lubezki stage one of the greatest magic tricks in cinema. This is Keaton’s story — never minding the fact that he did play Batman in his career, and after he left from playing him, his career did suffer, one can almost see this as something of an inside joke of art imitating life, but Keaton pours everything he has into this role — it is almost uncomfortable at how this tale of such a sorrowful character could resemble real life. Almost to the point how the Birdman character comments to Riggan’s age “60’s the new 30,” as Keaton is the same age. He is truly incredible, as he delves into the pits of Riggan’s soul, one can’t help but feel Keaton has truly made a comeback with this film. Both Norton and Stone are fantastic, as is the entire cast. The score by Antonio Sanchez is one of the most original scores I’ve heard for a film since Greenwood’s work on “There Will be Blood.” Composed mostly of just a jazzy drum beat, the score is as striking as it is animated. The real star is Iñárritu — having always been a director of human suffering and making films about characters suffering into miserable ends, to see such a change to make a black comedy, he manages to take that human suffering and put a jester’s hat on it. The dialogue is as hilarious and irreverent; the staging of his scenes is magnificent, in one great scene where Riggan struts in Times Square in his underwear, to another where he imagines being Birdman again with action scenes and explosions, “not this talky, depressing, philosophical expletive” as Birdman emphasizes to Riggan. It truly is one of the most impressive films about Hollywood to ever be made, and with such a verve and wit. It may be unconventional and bizarre, but that only makes it so inspired and sensational.

My favorite films of 2014:

  1. “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
  2. “Whiplash”
  3. “A Most Violent Year”
  4. “Inherent Vice”
  5. “Nightcrawler”
  6. “The Rover”
  7. “The Lego Movie”
  8. “Snowpiercer”
  9. “Under the Skin”
  10. “Frank”
  11. “Foxcatcher”
  12. “Gone Girl”
  13. 13 “Edge of Tomorrow”
  14. “Blue Ruin”
  15. “The Calvary”

THON weekend recap

During the weekend of Feb. 20-22, Penn State Lehigh Valley’s THON organization traveled up to University Park to continue the effort to conquer pediatric cancer. From Friday to Sunday they were devoted to standing for the kids. The positive vibes in the Bryce Jordan Center are what really strike a chord with everyone on why they do this.

The three dancers who represented our campus – Amanda Megee, Austin Boccardi, and Janelle Placencia – danced successfully for 46 hours with no sleep, keeping one mission in mind: FTK!

“Yes my feet were aching and my legs were cramping. But every time I saw a Four Diamonds child having a water gun fight or holding up their diamonds, I remembered what we were there for, and the pain subsided,” said McGee, who says her experience changed her outlook on life.

Austin Boccardi said, “It’s all those hours when you really can see and say this is what I’m doing it for. This is why I am here.”

For Boccardi, THON was an incredible and amazing experience filled with emotions and recommends that everyone should experience it whether they’re dancing or not.

The campus’ final dancer Janelle Placencia said, “I look at pictures and just wish I can go back to watching the kids, the laughter, the epic dancing, and the environment around me.”

Despite challenging canning weather conditions, the hard work these students put in was all worth it at the end because this year Penn State Lehigh Valley’s THON raised $44,449.48, and ranked sixth out of twenty campuses.

Weather forces instructors to get creative

By Elise Yardley

This winter has proved quite contentious for the Lehigh Valley, testing the resolve of snow blowers and residents alike. Frigid temperatures, wind advisories, as well as snow and ice storms have proved problematic for local businesses and schools. Penn State Lehigh Valley has been forced to close campus (through late starts or early closings) nine times already this semester, not counting classes canceled by professors unable to make it to campus. The weather has provided a unique challenge to this academic year, testing students’ abilities to make it to campus and professors’ abilities to stay on track. Even if classes are held, professors often face near empty classes if students cannot make it to class.

In order to cover the required material, adapting has become necessary. Modifications have ranged from simple and successful to creative and productive. Math Instructor Eric Bowman has found a simple fix. When asked about the effects of the weather, Bowman noted the frustration it can add to a math class, as people are creatures of habit. Getting into a routine with continual momentum is key, otherwise the pressure is placed on students to keep up on their own. The more abrupt stops and starts with class cancellations, the harder it is to keep moving forward in a subject that largely builds upon itself.

Bowman’s solution is piggybacking two classes. By starting class early, or extending the length of time of the regularly scheduled class, Bowman is able to cover more material and address any problems as they arise. He explained, “I feel adding class time before or after a regularly scheduled class facilitates the perpetual momentum of the class.”

The weather has also provided a unique struggle to Dr. Todd Retzlaff. Retzlaff is teaching an honors level Philosophy course, that includes an academic trip to Athens, Greece. This course is supposed to meet once a week on Monday night from 6-8:45 p.m. Due to weather and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, there have only been two full classes, and one class where only half the students could make it to campus. In week six of the semester, the class is still working on week three, with the trip occurring over spring break. Retzlaff has had to be creative in order to find ways to cover necessary information before the trip occurs.

Further complicating matter is that this course is discussion based, so it is only fully successful if the majority of the class is there, participating. Retzlaff found the solution lied in introducing outside media.

“I managed to work around it by doing a VoiceThread and allowing an asynchronous discussion.”

This actually ended up increasing the quality of discussions. It allowed people who usually didn’t talk much to have the chance to, in fact it forced them as commenting on VoiceThread was required. It also allowed time for people to think more, and led to deeper, more insightful comments.

“The weather has been very troublesome, but has forced me to adapt. It’s forced me to learn to become more adaptable and a better teacher.”

Men’s basketball ends season with playoff game

By Alyssa Bragg

Penn State Lehigh Valley Men’s basketball team finished their season 9-15 overall, and 8-8 within their conference. With a winning regular season record, the team landed the sixth seed in the Penn State University Athletic Conference (PSUAC), advancing to the playoffs for the first time in the campus program’s short history. January proved to be their most successful month of the season, with three wins. Lehigh Valley continued their stride into early February winning two out of their first three games and solidifying their playoff contention. On Feb. 18, third seed Mont Alto hosted the Lehigh Valley men’s team, outscoring them 73-61. Lehigh Valley finished seventh out of the 13 conference teams, moving down from last year’s sixth place.

Freshman Joe Wiggins led the team with 21.7 points per game landing third in the conference and second overall with a total of 534 points. Wiggins also completed 116 free throws and 24 three pointers. Freshman forward Kenny Leger finished second on the team for three point shots, banking 22 on the season. The team closed the season with an impressive average of 72.3 points per game.

The men’s team, composed of nine freshmen, three sophomores and two juniors, is one of the youngest in the conference. The combination of talented young players under an experienced Head Coach Anthony Ross, Penn State Lehigh Valley men have the foundation to not only have a winning record, but make another playoff appearance next season.

“He said, she said” program aims to prevent sexual assault

By Robert Gallagher

About 75 people attended an interactive program on preventing sexual assault on Feb. 3. The program, “He Said, She Said” featured actors presenting a man’s and woman’s versions of an encounter that led up to a sexual assault case between two college students.

The presenters were Tony DiPasqua from Gannon University in Erie and Amanda Blaugher, assistant director of residence life at Penn State Harrisburg. They represent Campus Outreach Services, a non-profit based in Wayne, Pa., that does education and training in secondary schools, colleges and military bases. The program was introduced by Marissa Ketcham, RN, campus nurse at Penn State Lehigh Valley.

The scenario that DiPasqua and Blaugher presented was the story of Jake and Erica, who met in a calculus class and became study buddies. Later, they went out to dinner and met at an off-campus party where there was heavy drinking. They went to a bedroom where Erica lapsed in and out of consciousness. The next morning, she realized she had been assaulted and called campus police. Erica could not remember any details of the night but Jake said the sex was consensual.

At that point the presenters polled audience members on who was responsible. Opinion was divided between Jake and both of them. The scenario was based on a real case in which the male was suspended from school and the woman was guilty of violating alcohol policy.

Blaugher and DiPasqua explained that under Penn State policy, consent to sexual relations cannot be given if a person is impaired by alcohol or drugs. They also discussed ways for bystanders to intervene if they see a potential assault situation developing.

Booze Traveling not about the Booze

By Elise Yardley

Penn State Lehigh Valley was lucky to be visited by Jack Maxwell, host of the Travel Channel show, “Booze Traveler,” on Tues., Feb. 24. Maxwell is a close friend of Dr. Denise Ogden, who arranged his visit with help from the Business Society. Ogden herself introduced her friend with a wonderful comment, indicative of both their friendship, and the kind of person Maxwell is.

“He is a genuine person who is full of life, and is full of wonder,” said Ogden.

Maxwell talked about his difficult upbringing in the projects in South Boston. At a young age he began shining shoes in bars in South Boston and saw the sometimes positive social effects of drinking, noting that everyone drank for the same reasons. Maxwell was quick to add that he in no way advocated drinking, or drinking excessively. But he noticed how alcohol can be a uniting factor across race, religion, and cultural divides. That has been Maxwell’s experience on “Booze Traveler,” where he travels around the world learning about different cultures and customs, “through the lens of a cocktail glass,” as Maxwell put it.

Maxwell has found himself welcomed into cultures and homes from a nomadic family in the Gobi desert to an indigenous tribe in Peru. Drinks and foods allowed him a way to be invited into cultures and see how they live and what is important to people all around the world. Along the way he realized that people aren’t all that different, regardless of how differently they may live. Once people let go of preconceived notions and prejudgments, it’s clear that people aren’t all that different.

This talk was not just about a television show. Maxwell made that very clear saying, “I’m not here because of the show, but because I’ve learned some things along the way.” He wasn’t afraid to talk about personal feelings in his past, and was open about struggling to get out of the projects, and how lucky he was to have a mother who got him out. He said he promised himself that if he got out he would follow what was in his heart. This is what led him to find success in acting; he didn’t pretend, he felt. After a series of successes in theater, which he got through heart and feeling not through training, Maxwell was offered the role on “Booze Traveler” after auditioning. However Maxwell had a previous commitment and couldn’t be ready to leave the country in time for the start of production. The creators of the show were so certain that he was the right person for the role, that they postponed production a week in order to allow him to take the hosting role.

Maxwell encouraged the audience, “If you can, go somewhere you don’t want to go.”

The most important aspect of the show for him is getting to listen to people and have new experiences. He said at the end of life, people regret what they didn’t do, not what they did do. From his life he’s learned to be himself, and not care what other people think.

“I learned early on, be true to yourself. The best gift you can give anyone in your life is the true essence of who you are. Don’t try to be normal, don’t try to fit in.” He tapped his heart, “This is where you live.”