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Behind the Scenes and Out of the Limelight at PSU

by on September 10, 2012 6:39 AM

More than 15,000 people in the State College area receive their paychecks from Penn State. Yes, those people include plenty of professors and senior administrators.

Also working hard at the University Park campus, though, are thousands of cooks, landscapers, police officers, medical professionals, computer-support personnel, and oh-so-many-more staff members and volunteers.

Most of them labor far removed from the spotlight to fulfill the university’s mission. To give an idea of all the efforts required to run a major university campus, here are just a few of their stories:

Tom Hesketh

Events Manager Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State

Tom Hesketh literally works behind the scenes. As events manager for the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State, he oversees the technical backstage aspects of CPA performances at Eisenhower and Schwab auditoriums. Lighting, sound, scenery — “I’m sort of the jack-of-all-trades,” he says.

Four to six weeks before a performance, he meets with a show’s representative to discuss technical needs and come up with a working budget. “Every show is different,” he says. “It’s mentally challenging — a lot of problem-solving.”

Although he shoots for 9-to-6ish work hours, a big event day (such as a touring musical like The Addams Family or Hair) might find him on site from 7:30 a.m. until 1 the next morning.

Hesketh was involved with theater in high school in his hometown of Edinboro, both on stage and behind the scenes, but he majored in geography at Penn State, with a side business doing sound for bands in local bars. “One thing led to another,” he recalls, and he started working as a theater-systems engineer for Penn State in 1989.

Show nights often find Hesketh in the wings, coordinating technical aspects with his crew. “On a good performance night, it’s very, very magical,” he says. “Everything just seems to work and you’re riding the waves.”

Heather Luse

Executive Pastry Chef Housing and Food Services Bakery

The numbers: 93,686 loaves of bread, 14,129 cakes, 5,413 pies, and 135,017 dozen cookies. Those are just some of the baked goods that Heather Luse and her coworkers produce each year at the Housing and Food Services Bakery. Luse’s workday starts around 5:30 a.m., just as bakery trucks start rolling to deliver freshly baked treats to residence halls, HUB food-service areas, both university hotels, and 11 commonwealth campuses.

One of three managers at the bakery, Luse develops new recipes for everything — from basic brownies to wedding cakes, petit fours, and truffles.

“The hotels might have someone from a conference who brought in a recipe from a magazine and said, ‘Can you make this?’ ” she explains. It sounds simple — except that the recipe serves 10 and Luse’s recipe needs to serve 1,000.

Originally from Allentown, Luse came here to study liberal arts at Penn State, decided it wasn’t for her, started working in a deli, and then followed a friend’s suggestion to attend culinary school.

“I had never heard of such a thing,” she says. After graduating from what was then the Pennsylvania Institute of Culinary Arts (now Le Cordon Bleu), she worked at Toftrees for a year and then came to Penn State as an assistant pastry chef in 1993.

Luse’s favorite dessert? “I’m pretty boring,” she says. “I’m not a huge dessert person. Isn’t that sad? I like a good chocolate-chip cookie.”

Agatha Glusko

Registered Nurse University Health Services

With more than 44,000 students at the University Park campus, the sore throats, fevers, and sprained ankles add up quickly. Agatha Glusko and the rest of the University Health Services medical staff do more than treat health problems, though. “We want to provide a home away from home for our students,” she says.

For many freshmen, this is the first time they’ve had to deal with a health concern or make an appointment without Mom and Dad’s help, Glusko explains.

“We want them to take ownership of their health care,” she says. “The healthy habits that they foster today will affect them for the rest of their life.”

That’s why, for example, in the allergy clinic that Glusko heads up, nurses don’t just give injections — they also educate patients about how to manage their allergies in a new environment away from home.

One of 11 UHS registered nurses, Glusko handles blood-pressure tests, vision exams, tuberculosis tests, contraceptive counseling, and so much more. Every fall, UHS screens about 5,000 incoming international students for immunizations and health issues, and the team also reviews immunization needs for US students studying abroad.

Glusko and her husband, Ted, have raised two children — a daughter who went to West Virginia University and a son who graduated from Penn State in May. So she speaks from experience when she tells her freshmen patients who really are worried more about fitting in than they are about an upset stomach, “It will get better. You will find your own little niche, and the campus won’t be so big.”

Frances McClellan

Patrol Sergeant University Police

Frances McClellan worked as a student police officer while studying at Penn State for a bachelor’s in criminal justice. When she heard about a full-time officer’s job opening at the Harrisburg campus, she “crammed in” the rest of her classes, finishing a year early so she could apply — and get — the job. Nine years later, she’s a patrol sergeant at the University Park campus, supervising a four-officer patrol shift while working toward a master’s in public administration.

She usually works the evening or midnight shifts, starting work at 6 or 10:30 p.m., patrolling campus on foot, mountain bike, or by car, as well as supervising other officers.

“It’s very rare that you make it through the night without something happening,” she says. “There are nights where most of the students are gone and you think it’s going to be a quiet night, and then you find somebody trying to break into a building.”

Common incidents include calls about alcohol overdose, “heavy odor of marijuana in a dorm room,” driving under the influence, and theft from residence halls or offices.

“We just cannot stress enough not just to lock your dorm rooms but not to let people piggyback in” — allowing someone else to enter a residence hall behind you without using an access card. “You just don’t know who you’re letting in,” she warns.

McClellan also presents community- education programs on topics such as drug and alcohol awareness, sexual-assault awareness, and surviving an active shooter.

Robert Snetsinger

Outreach Volunteer & Professor Emeritus of Entomology

Bob Snetsinger was still a professor of entomology when he helped launch the Great Insect Fair more than 15 years ago, attracting maybe 1,200 visitors to the Agricultural Sciences Building and the Frost Entomological Museum. The popular outreach event has spread its wings into the Bryce Jordan Center, attracting 10 times as many visitors, eager to race cockroaches or eat chocolate-covered crickets, but “Butterfly Bob” will still be there on September 29 with the Friends of the Frost Museum, answering questions about topics such as butterfly gardening.

That’s been Snetsinger’s passion since he retired about a dozen years ago. Through Extension’s Master Gardeners of Centre County and with support from the Tudek Foundation, he has helped develop and maintain the three-acre Snetsinger Butterfly Garden at Tom Tudek Park in Ferguson Township, designed to restore native plantings and the butterflies they attract.

“In 2008 and 2009, the gypsy-moth spray program diminished the butterfly population in this county by about 50 percent,” he notes. The Tudek garden now features about 60 species of native plants and 25 butterfly species.

The butterfly garden has been a labor of love for Snetsinger in more ways than one. He notes that the project has been a tribute to daughter Clare, whom he and his wife, Wendy, lost to cancer at age 17, the same age that Tom Tudek was when he died. Both teenagers were butterfly collectors, leading to a permanent bond between their families in the form of butterfly conservation.

Travis Edwards

Assistant Manager Penn State Dairy Barns

Summer is a rough time of year for Travis Edwards because “it’s time for me to go to bed and it’s still light out.” Edwards leaves his Huntingdon County home at 4:15 a.m., so he can be at the P enn State Dairy Barns, across from Beaver Stadium, in time for the 5 a.m. milking.

Edwards and the other dairy-barn employees milk about 220 cows, or approximately half of the herd, twice a day. Milk production is not the herd’s primary purpose, though. Edwards explains that the herd supports the teaching and research programs of the Animal Science Department.

“The bulk of that research is nutrition related,” he says. “The focus over the last six years or so has been how to feed cows more efficiently — providing more nutrition with less waste, while still producing a significant amount of milk.”

Although Edwards helped on his relatives’ dairy farm during his college days, and he has a bachelor’s degree from Penn State in dairy science, he started his studies intending to become a physical therapist. “But I realized I really looked forward to the summers when I could go back and work on the dairy farm,” he says. So he switched his major, graduated in 1997, and worked for a feed company for four years before returning to his alma mater to work at the Dairy Barns. In 2006, he completed his master’s in ruminant nutrition.

Much of the milk Penn State’s herd produces goes to the Creamery, and Edwards’s team markets the rest through a cooperative. “We function pretty much like any dairy farm,” he says.

Benjy Romig

IT Support Specialist Information Technology Services

Benjy Romig sits at a computer all night and answers other people’s computer questions. He calls himself a computer nerd, but “not your typical nerd,” since he’s never seen a Star Wars movie, he doesn’t drink coffee, and he doesn’t have a Facebook page.

Romig is at the ITS Help Desk in Wagner Building from 11 p.m. until 7 a.m., helping Penn Staters solve problems ranging from signing up for class to submitting a quiz online.

“Anyone at any time can write in and ask anything,” he says. “Usually it’s computer related, but sometimes it’s something kind of random.” The Help Desk is relatively quiet at night, and

Romig likes it that way. That allows him to take complicated questions the day staff didn’t have time to answer, and figure out solutions.

“It’s like you’re given a puzzle and you don’t know if all the pieces go together,” he says. “You’ve just got to make it work.”

Corby Fetterolf

Arborist Office of Physical Plant

With an associate’s degree in horticulture from Penn College, Corby Fetterolf worked in landscaping for a

while but eventually found himself “looking for something different.” A high school friend introduced him to competitive tree climbing, and his new hobby eventually turned into a job as an arborist at Penn State.

For almost 10 years, Fetterolf has handled “pretty much anything that has to do with a tree” on campus, from keeping roots safe during construction projects to pruning and removing hazardous deadwood to protecting majestic campus elm trees from elm yellows and other diseases.

“Trees are no different than people,” he says. “When they get older, they start to deteriorate a little bit, and you have to keep a little closer eye on them.”

The university also turns to Fetterolf and his fellow arborists to solve occasional high-level indoor problems, such as hanging banners in places unreachable by ladder. Both on the ground and high in the air, Fetterolf enjoys working with his colleagues.

“They take their job seriously, but we have fun while we do it,” he says. “Tree guys are different.”

The next generation of tree-climbers may be getting its start at the Rebersburg home that Fetterolf shares with his wife, Natalie, and five young sons, ages 1 to 9. Three of the boys already love to pull themselves up trees using a rope and saddle. “It’s good exercise, too,” their father notes.

Tryphena Miska

Lead Admissions Counselor Undergraduate Admissions Office

Tryphena Miska remembers applying to study animal sciences at Penn State. A soon-to-be State High grad, she stressed over her personal statement and “trying to remember that every ‘t’ was crossed and every ‘i’ was dotted.”

Today, Miska is one of 12 admissions counselors evaluating applications at University Park, supported by a total office of 80 employees. Each year, Miska herself reviews more than 1,400 first-year nursing applications, 600 applications for the accelerated premedical- medical major, 500 transfer applications for

the College of Information Sciences and Technology and Abington College, 600 applications for international students, and “too many first-year applications for other majors to count.” She checks whether each applicant meets criteria such as grade-point average and high school courses taken.

She also answers calls and handles walk-ins. “I really enjoy when they come in and talk to me and I can get more of their personal information” and help them figure out which of 160 majors to declare. “When I was a high school student, I was only thinking about the major I was interested in and never really explored the other offerings,” she recalls.

How did Miska move from animal sciences to admissions? Newly graduated and newly married, she wanted to stay in town and needed a job to begin paying off student loans. More than seven years later, admissions has become her career. She advises each prospective Penn State student to consider different majors, consider different campuses, and write a personal statement for the application. She says, “It’s always better to write more about yourself than to sell yourself short.”



Tracey M. Dooms is a freelance writer in State College and a contributor to Town&Gown.
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