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Take advantage of what Penn State has to offer: Susannah Gal

Posted 8/23/17

“They’re back!!”

That’s what we used to say when we lived in East Lansing, Michigan, and about 40,000 students would return to attend classes at Michigan State University …

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Take advantage of what Penn State has to offer: Susannah Gal

A sign welcoming back students hangs on Main Street in Middletown.
A sign welcoming back students hangs on Main Street in Middletown.

“They’re back!!”

That’s what we used to say when we lived in East Lansing, Michigan, and about 40,000 students would return to attend classes at Michigan State University in August. That was a lot more people driving on the streets, buying groceries in the store, browsing bookstores or sipping coffee in the cafés. This annual influx basically doubled the population of that town. 

While it felt like a pain sometimes to go against so much extra traffic and extra people, it was also why many of us lived in that town. We benefited from jobs in East Lansing, directly or indirectly related to those students, faculty and staff associated with that large university. It also brought a welcome new energy to town, lots of new activities and events that we could take part in and enjoy. At that time, I was a post-doctoral researcher at the Plant Research Laboratory associated with the university and supported by the U.S. Department of Energy. This was a position for someone with their doctoral degree who wanted a bit more training in the field before starting their own research program.

In my case, it was a transition between my research position at the Friedrich Miescher Institut (purposely without the e as it’s the German word) in Basel, Switzerland and my first faculty position at Binghamton University, part of the State University of New York system. 

My time in East Lansing had a great many transitions for me and my family. I gave birth to our first daughter while there, my husband and I started contradancing regularly with a group in nearby Lansing, and we bought our first home. We certainly noticed the different numbers of people in line at our favorite bakery, Great Harvest, when the students came back. 

I don’t remember the transitions between when the students were there and when they were not when I lived for several years in East Lansing as a child. We moved there when I was about 5, and stayed until I turned 13, when we moved to Kalamazoo in the western part of the state in 1972. During my childhood, my father worked at the television station at Michigan State University as the producer of a regular news inquiry show, like “60 Minutes.” My mother taught modern dance and acting to me and my sisters, and organized touring productions to local schools. 

I’m sure my parents noticed the changes in the traffic and people on campus. The increase in energy and opportunities for events on campus was something we enjoyed a lot, both when we were children and when I lived there again almost 20 years later. 

Middletown has some of that feel now with the more than 5,000 students on campus at Penn State Harrisburg where I work. The town of Middletown does feel the impact of that increase in students, faculty and staff as that number of new people is about 50 percent more than those of us here full-time. 

While this increase in traffic and people can be seen as a bad thing, it’s at least part of the reason we have several new restaurants and hotels coming, more shopping spaces at some of the plazas, and a future new train station. The diversity of Penn State Harrisburg students is also amazing with the new arrivals coming from about 43 states and 40 countries.

As I wrote in a previous column, there is a lot going on at the campus which is open to the public. Here are a few of the upcoming events that should draw you onto our beautiful grounds.

On Sept. 12, we will play host to an Innovation Forum and networking event for how to fund a start-up company. There will be a panel of people who have funded start-up companies as well as people who have started companies using that type of support. This event is co-sponsored by my office, the Office of Research and Outreach, along with the Center for Medical Innovation at the College of Medicine in Hershey. The forum is from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., and the networking event is from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Gallery Lounge in the Olmsted Building on campus. You can register for the event at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/innovation-forum-and-innovation-cafe-funding-a-start-up-tickets-36606817978.

On Sept. 21, Dr. P. Karen Murphy will present about her work on “Quality Talk” from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Morrison Gallery at the library. Murphy is a professor of education at Penn State and will discuss a pilot study that showed students participating in Quality Talk had significantly higher scores on individual high-level comprehension. This is a free workshop sponsored by Capital Reading Council, a local affiliate of Keystone State Reading Association, and the Literacy Education program of the School of Behavior Sciences and Education.

There are several events in October in the new theater in the Student Enrichment Center that opened just a year ago. On Oct. 4, you can experience the fiery music and dance of some of Spain’s most well known artists in the “Passion of Flamenco” at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26-28, you can watch the play by Arthur Miller, “Death of a Salesman” presented by the School of Humanities Theatre program. This classic profound work of the American theatre revolves around a failing salesman and his quest for the “American dream” through a series of tragic, soul-searching revelations.

Later in the fall, there will be two music events — a jazz concert on Thursday, Nov. 2 and the free Penn State Harrisburg School of Humanities Music Program Winter concerts, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. Tickets for the Flamenco dancers, play and jazz concert go on sale on Tuesday, Sept. 5.

The cost to park on campus for those without permits is only $1 a day.

This is only a short list of things going on that are open to the public, so watch for other events in the newspaper or at the campus’ calendar. Penn State Harrisburg is a state university after all and your tax dollars are contributing in part to the great things going on campus. Come take part in those activities to get your money’s worth.

Susannah Gal is associate dean of research and outreach and a professor of biology at Penn State Harrisburg. She has lived around the world and made Middletown her home in 2015. She can be reached at susannahgal1000@gmail.com.