¡Hola! Reflecting on my Mexico experience

By Rachel Loetzbeier



Having first-hand experience in teaching English as a second language already, I chose to participate in the one credit Education 197A class that was being offered with mandatory travel to Guanajuato, Mexico, so that I could help native Spanish speaking students practice their English speaking skills. Besides, it was a chance to leave the country and do something other than work and sleep during spring break. 

Upon arriving in Guanajuato, we were given an itinerary booklet, which gave us a day-by-day breakdown of what we would be doing in Mexico. Paging through the booklet, I saw that on a few days our Penn State group would go separate ways: the biology students would head to the fields and the education students would head to the schools. In all honesty, I was a little bummed when I saw how diverse and jam packed the biology students’ schedule was. Visiting an agave field one day, strawberry field the next, and a dairy and vegetable factory as well? How cool! The Education student’s schedule was the same…at the Prepa (high school) in the morning and the University in the afternoon. By the end of the trip, however, I was questioning why I was so jealous at the start. 

Being able to compare the English language experience in both a University setting and a high school setting was eye-opening. The Universidad de Guanajuato class was more formal. They had textbook lessons and workbook pages that we helped them complete. The Prepa on the other hand was more upbeat without much structure. Both experiences were similar yet different. My favorite by far was being with the students at the Prepa. 

On the first day that we were headed to the schools I was lollygagging filling up my water bottle and had been left behind at the hotel (accidentally of course). Once the biology students pointed and said “your group went that way,” I finally caught up and my first day at the Prepa ended up being incredible! “Hola” seemed to be the go-to phrase throughout the entire 10 days spent studying abroad in Guanajuato, Mexico. I’ve never really understood what it meant to have the comfort of being the majority and then overnight have that sense of security be torn from you and become the minority- literally overnight. This was one of the most powerful feelings I’ve ever encountered. It was an indescribable feeling. I felt lost. 

Walking into that tenth grade classroom I felt so vulnerable as heads turned and all eyes were on us, the Americans. However, once I broke the ice with “¡Hola! Me llamo Rachel,” I could see the invisible barriers crumble. Their reaction to me speaking Spanish was priceless. Some Mexican students smiled, some laughed, some clapped, some were shocked, and some even let out a “wow.” These reactions put me at ease for the rest of the trip. All it took was that simple introduction and I had gained the confidence I needed to assure myself that I was able to communicate and get around in Mexico by speaking the native language, Spanish (even though I haven’t taken Spanish since junior year of high school). 

We proceeded to get into three groups of one Penn State student, one Penn State faculty member, and a group of about 10 Mexican students. First things first, “¡Hola!¿Cómo te llamas?” I said hello and asked each one of my students what their name was. Once introductions were out of the way, it was time to complete the assignment at hand; read a Guanajuato folk tale in English, discuss it, come up with an alternate ending, and then have the students perform the ending they came up with. This was a great assignment on the teacher’s part because the students were already familiar with the folk tales in Spanish, so their comfort level was high yet their challenge was to speak in English. It was interesting to see how some of the students relied on other students to do most of the English speaking. However, once I told them it was okay to say the word they were looking for in Spanish, suddenly everyone wanted a chance to speak! 

At the end of the fifty-minute class period, everyone was sad to say goodbye. The students would beg their teacher to let us stay longer. We ended each class by taking pictures with our group and exchanging Facebook and Instagram usernames. I couldn’t believe how many friends I had made! I had truly made a deep connection not only with the students, but also with the Mexican culture. I found myself engaging in the custom of saying goodbye by hugging and reciprocating the kiss on the cheek with each of my students, without even thinking twice about it! Here in the United States this would be crossing that unspoken boundary line entering into our personal space since we hate human contact from strangers and everything seems to revolve around “I.” There is no doubt in my mind that I will stay in contact with each one of my students. It’s nice that we help each other with our second languages: they message me in English and I message back in Spanish. I know I will be traveling back to Guanajuato so for me this is not goodbye. It is until next time.

Former students present research at Capital

By Robert Gallagher


Two former Penn State Lehigh Valley students, Paolo Flauta and Matthew Mekolichick, presented their groundbreaking research in medical biology at Harrisburg on March 11.

They were part of eight research groups chosen to represent Penn State at the annual Pennsylvania Undergraduate Research at the Capitol (URC-PA) event. Their poster, titled “Hemoglobin Expression in Ara-C Induced Leukemic K562 Cells,” documented more than a year of intensive inquiry into the effectiveness of cancer-fighting drugs.

 “We exposed the K562 cells to a drug called Ara-C. From there we used antibodies to tag different hemoglobin proteins. Using a modified microscope, we found that a gamma protein normally found in fetal hemoglobin was being produced by our cell line after exposure” said Junior Matthew Mekolichick, a biology major and aspiring dentist. “We also found that Ara-C is anti-leukemic because it managed to disrupt the proliferation of cancer cells.”

The Undergraduate Research at the Capitol event brings together universities from all over the commonwealth, and features student research from Cedar Crest, Juniata College, and many more.

The two students, now at the Penn State Berks campus, began their research last spring with Dr. Jacqueline McLaughlin, associate professor of biology at Penn State Lehigh Valley. Many of their most important findings took place right in the third-floor laboratory of the campus in Center Valley.

“Their research project involving a cell line from a patient with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia is of keen interest, not only for treatment of individuals with various types of leukemia, but also for individuals with abnormalities of hemoglobin structure,” McLaughlin said in a recent interview.

Paolo Flauta, who plans on pursuing neuroscience after graduation, sees practical applications for his research as well.

“This drug (Ara-C) is currently being used to treat patients with CML, but if our findings are substantiated further and we find that it causes the differentiation of blood cells, this drug could potentially find uses fighting other diseases such as sickle-cell anemia and thalassemia,” said Flauta.

The students could not stress enough how important this project has been in assisting their normal class work.

“We get to perform laboratory techniques we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do if we weren’t involved in undergraduate research” said Flauta. “It takes a lot of time and resources to perform, and just couldn’t happen in a classroom setting.” 

The students have not finished presenting their research. They will attend the research symposium at Penn State Lehigh Valley on April 1, and also another event outside Scranton. From their perspective, these events are a valuable part of their own college experience. 

“The opportunity to go to Harrisburg, meet the legislators, and show our work there is all beneficial to us,” Flauta said. 

Pothole Pennsylvania

By Rita DiBenedetto

Nine. That’s the number of times I tell myself my car needs to be realigned on the
way to school. We can all agree the potholes that appeared on local roads this winter
basically give us a replica of the craters on the moon. Even though this is a nice
astronomy lesson, let’s be honest: They need to go. When are these craters being
fixed so we can return to driving on planet earth?!

I may not know when the potholes will be fixed, but I can tell you how they are
formed. When precipitation occurs, the water actually weakens the soil underneath
the pavement. Due to heavy cars and trucks driving on these surfaces during their
weakest times, the stress of the weight forms potholes. These holes then appear all
over the road and worsen as more cars drive over them.

So how can we take action to avoid potholes? Stop driving. Just kidding! Everyone
just needs to be careful and avoid them with caution. Here is some advice:
1.) Do not swerve out of the way unless all surrounding roads are clear of people
and cars. Vicious swerving is an accident waiting to happen.
2.) Don’t speed over the holes. Doing so actually can hurt your car more and
enlarge the pothole.
3.) When you see potholes, act socially responsible and call PennDOT at 1-800-
FIXROADS to report them.

PennDOT will be working on fixing these issues throughout the next few months as
the nicer weather approaches, but promises for smooth driving cannot be made. For
now, all we can say is “Welcome to Pothole Pennsylvania.”

As always, drive with caution and ease, and I hope you’ve enjoyed your astronomy
lesson on our own live replica of the moon’s craters.

Have a holly jolly Hallogivemas!

By Rita DiBenedetto


Maybe that snowstorm in October 2011 was a sign, or Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” has us confused. All I can say is: Merry Hallogivemas, everyone! Nothing says “goodbye summer” more than Christmas décor displayed next to the Freddy Krueger costumes at Kmart. What really is this rush to the holiday season? I know Halloween and Thanksgiving are holidays too, but seriously, Christmas in September? Why do these department stores think focusing on Christmas before other national holidays excites people? Yes, I understand this advertising mechanism stimulates the mind in hopes for a larger return, but look at the bigger picture: Christmas already turned into a more secular holiday than ever before! Although seeing Rudolph lawn ornaments next to giant light-up candy corn humors me, the need to drag out the holiday season serves no purpose other than sales.

There are about three short months until Jolly Old Saint Nick makes his way around the world to deliver gifts galore—well at least I thought so! Maybe the elves follow a different calendar, because it seems to me they made their way to various department stores. I guess with the population of the world growing they need to start their work in advance. Both you and I know nothing says Merry Hallogivemas more than Jason X next to a manger with a turkey on top…right? Well folks, what can I say? The season of fall just started. I haven’t even prepared my Halloween costume, Jaindl turkeys have not been displayed and chocolate advent calendars still include only 25 days. To corporate America: As much as we all love Christmas, you’re making Halloween and Thanksgiving feel bad.

 Merry Hallogivemas, everyone!


Want to share your thoughts? Tweet to us: @PSULV_SOTV. #MerryHallogivemas 

Cash vs. Credits

By: Robert Gallagher

Are you considering working your way through the upcoming semester? Do you need the cash, but don’t know if you can fit a job into your already busy school schedule? Whether continuing with your summer job or setting out on your first, here’s a look at some of the keys to working a college job:

Develop Your Resume

Don’t be afraid to take jobs outside your field of study. Any experience is good experience, and potential employers will value the ability to balance work and personal life. Even something as basic as working Cashier at the local department store can be seen as “developing skills in customer service.”

Keep it Part-time

A recent study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania showed that students who worked 10-15 hours per week were most likely to succeed at college, scoring even better than those who didn’t work at all. But don’t overdo it. A forty hour work week is fine in the summer, but be sure to keep the focus on school in the fall.  All the pros of working while in school can unfortunately be reduced, if not eliminated, by the cons of working too much.


As an alternative to commuting five days a week, there’s the option of taking a few online classes instead. This can help to free up a busy schedule by enabling students to take care of school wherever they want, whenever they want.  In addition, some web courses have optional on-campus meetings where students can talk to instructors face-to-face.    


Many undergraduates qualify for Work/Study programs, which is nothing more than on-campus employment. The positions range from University Relations Assistant to Fitness Center Attendant, and are a great way to fit in a few hours of work between classes. They also provide the opportunity of connecting with other students around campus and making some new friends.

So if you’re a student debating whether you can handle the added challenge that a job offers, go out and try it. There’s a lot more time in a week than you may have thought. The key is making the most of it. 

From LV to UP: Information, Advice, and First-week Life

By: Rita DiBenedetto


 Here at Penn State Lehigh Valley we have the pleasure of seeing some of the familiar faces on campus reach University Park. Similar to losing touch after high school graduation, we might lose touch with our fellow classmates whose college journey started at 2809 Saucon Valley Road. To ensure this does not happen, I decided to contact some of my friends and acquaintances that said “adios” to commuting life and “hello” to State College livin’.

Robyn Barebo, a former member of State of the Valley, responded to my questionnaire first. At University Park, she enrolled in summer session 2013 to help herself adjust to the enormous campus. Robyn found paying for a meal plan both convenient and economical. Also, some restaurants downtown even take meal points. Others did not get a meal plan. They found having to make time to grocery shop and cook their meals a part of the “living away” experience. You can choose whichever you prefer. Maybe if your class schedule has you on campus all day, look at the meal plan options. Or if your classes are scattered, cook to your convenience. The best part is that you have options!

Although majoring in business can be completed at LV, some students like Natalie Podgorska, Maria Ortiz, and Ian Mutch decided to take a different business path. All three former LV-ers decided to concentrate in business management at the Smeal School of Business. Ian found that he misses the student/teacher interaction along with the smaller class sizes. For him it only took a few days to get used to University Park. So try to enjoy the experience and remember there are plenty of other students from commonwealth campuses who are adjusting to the new scene as well.     

In November of last year, these former commuters were looking for their perfect “home away from home.” Yes, I said November! With over 35,000 undergraduate students, finding a place to live needs to happen almost one year in advance. That means roommates, deposits, and contract-signing usually is done between the months of October and December. So, where to search? Well Alyssa Dobosh, who attended Penn State Schuylkill as a resident for one semester and Penn State Lehigh Valley as a commuter for three semesters, searched high and low for a good deal. She is only a short walk to campus, pays around $425 per month, and shares an apartment with three other girls. Alyssa found A.W. & Sons Realty was helpful when searching for her new home at Alexander Court Apartments. On the other hand Natalie and Robyn live in the Old Boalsburg Road Apartments only a few doors down from former LV students like Kelsey Breslin and Karissa Bollinger. They all signed their leases with The Apartment Store.

Over all, the general consensus from my interviewees said, “not to fret.” University Park is a huge place but there are so many students who are finding their way around too. They all talked about how they see people they know involuntarily every single day. Apartment shopping isn’t that hard and classes are just bigger in size.  They recommended downloading the “Campus Map” app on your smartphone to help you navigate University Park.

Still can’t decide if you are ready for University Park? Don’t worry! Robyn said, “Don’t rush to move up here. Lehigh Valley is an amazing tight-knit campus and I know I definitely miss that family feel.”

Wait, I’m Not a Freshman Anymore?

By Jenna Mason

Freshman year at Penn State Lehigh Valley: check.

I’d have to say I can’t believe it’s over already. What runs through my mind? I think about how I was so nervous to come to a new school where I barely knew anyone. Feeling a little pressured, I applied for a work-study job in early August 2012 to ensure that I wouldn’t be completely poor. That’s where I met Kate Morgan, my current boss and Director of University Relations, who taught me many new things about photography. Sooner or later, I attended every event in order to take photos. This is where I met people, built relationships, and even got to know my school a little better.


Man, was I a shy freshman. I recall sitting in the library by myself a lot just to kill time between classes or get homework done. But I was determined to try to get involved. Getting involved is so vital to developing a relationship with your school. I signed up for the spring break trip to Rome, Italy without even thinking too hard about it. I paid the monthly deposits, and soon enough, we were boarding the plane. What an experience that was. Who knew I was going to go to Rome during my freshman year of college? I did not see that coming.

My adviser told me to sign up for the COMM 282 course for spring semester. She said it would be good for my communications major, so I listened. Thank God I did. I met Amy Burkett, the previous station manager for PBS 39 in Bethlehem, who was the COMM 282 professor. She taught us how to live and breathe video—editing, writing, and shooting footage. We created our own TV news magazine show that aired on PBS 39. My classmates and I worked hard, and it paid off. I’ll never forget feeling overwhelmed in the beginning and surprised in the end when it was all finished. Believe me, things get better, things get completed, and friendships develop. I have a close connection with Amy Burkett now. Although she moved to North Carolina, we still stay in contact with each other.

To the Class of 2017, I urge you to not be afraid. We are leaders. We are family. We are infinite. We are Penn State!