I want to write about my college education at Penn State and some of the great relationships and experiences I had during my four years there. If you plan to hear some sordid tale about an unprofessional professor or touchy-feely athletic coach…you will not find that here. In light of all the terrible scandals and law breaking that has been occurring at the university level, I think a dose of positive journalism (might be giving myself too much credit there, but oh well) is well in line.

I spent four years at the Penn State Behrend campus in Erie, PA with a multitude of wonderful people. I would like to highlight some of the events that took place during those four years and how they have impacted my life in such a tremendous way. Because I intend to tell true stories about such great people…I am using their real identities and I hope that if any of them read this they will be proud to have been named accordingly.

If you’ve read my blog before, you may have caught onto my natural ability to freak out and be stressed.  I already told you that I went to a very small high school and knew everyone in all of my classes; however, this never seemed to help the nerves from getting the best of me on the first day of school. It’s arguably accurate to say that I was more worked up over the first day of school than I was Christmas Eve in anticipation of Santa coming. My first day of college was no different.

As I recall, I had an 8 a.m. class in the Kochel building with Dr. Christine Mangone- it was a theater class. I got up on time, found my room and sat smack dab in the front—ready to take college by the tail (the Nittany lion tail to be exact)! I tried to harness in my nervousness as Dr. Mangone reviewed the syllabus and discussed the upcoming semester. The class was only a 55 minute or so class and I was hanging in there pretty well despite the fact my stomach was doing jumping jacks and I was shaking like I was hypothermic (fyi…all of those symptoms have just come back to me right now as I relive this…).

 At about 8:50 I felt IT coming…

Like an idiot I raised my hand to ask to be excused to the restroom only to discover you don’t raise your hand in college, you just leave…which only made me feel even more like an idiot. After Dr. Mangone so delicately explained the restroom policy to me (taking pity on my embarrassing freshman-ness), I dashed out the door looking for the women’s restroom…I had no idea where it was seeing as it was my first day, first class and basically first time in the Kochel building. I turned to a girl sitting on a bench in the hallway and asked her where the restroom was (trying to appear calm and collected but feeling IT surge inside me) and she had no idea because she was a freshman too…go figure. So I ran up and down the hall finally locating the restroom. I burst in the door and ran for a bathroom stall and just as the stall door swung open, IT happened. I puked on the floor right in front of the toilet.

Seriously… I missed by a foot.

Horrified, I looked around for something to clean it up with… I saw the paper towels and grabbed handful. I started wiping up the vomit from the floor and throwing the paper towels into the toilet, fully hoping to get rid of any evidence that I just yakked from nervousness on my first day in college. I got it cleaned up as best I could and then I realized I wasn’t going to be able to flush that toilet, otherwise it would flood. That’s when the world stopped and there I was, standing there in all my ridiculousness, taking in the whole scene: the vomit streaked floor, the paper towel stuffed toilet, the hum of the fluorescent light illuminating the scene, my raging anxiety, and the realization that no matter how much I tried I would have to live with my loser of a self for the rest of my life.  It was a devastating self-revelation for me.

At that point, I realized my only option was to get away from the scene of the crime and look natural… As I exited the bathroom, the 8 a.m. classes were letting out so I walked back into my classroom and grabbed my things to leave. As I was walking out of Kochel, I stopped the one adult person I saw who looked like a professor. Looking very concerned and distressed I said “Some girl just got really sick in the downstairs bathroom, you might want to let someone know.”

This story is not explicitly about blowing chunks…it was on that first day of college I met Dr. Mangone and came to greatly respect her creative and fun-loving approach to both education and life. I later performed in the Penn State Behrend production of Little Shop of Horrors, which Christine directed. You might not think this exceptional but she pulled off a great show in one of the tiniest spaces I’ve ever performed in. If you’ve visited Behernd and had the luxury of touring the Studio Theatre, you know it’s like performing in a closet.   Directing a performance in that space requires innovation and making the most out of what you’ve got; and Dr. Mangone did. Being a part of her cast and having her show such great confidence in me was a wonderful time in my college career and I will always look back on it with tremendous gratitude.

Colleen Kelley. This woman RUINED my life for several semesters at Behrend. She taught, and still teaches, several courses that are required for Communications majors, so there was NO avoiding her. I could very easily sit here and write some elaborate imagery that would depict how awful she was, and I intend to use some personal background, but let’s start with quotes from other students provided by ratemyprofessor.com comments, her overall rating is a 1.7 out of 5:

“Horrible. Learned next to nothing, her classes are torture to sit through”

“Seems to make everything up as she goes along, thinks she is something special”

“Very unfair grading. Very boring. The worst Behrend has to offer.”

“Colleen Kelley is evil. She should not be a professor at Behrend. She is not understanding or helpful. She judges people in a bad way! Her tests are horrible! Mean, nasty lady!”

“Tests were near impossible. Even if you did study, chances are you would only barely pass…unless she liked you. She doesn’t like men, she’s a psycho-feminist and the last day of class I found out she doesn’t care much for Catholics either.”

“Horrible class, but mandatory for comm majors, Wanted to kill myself while in class and after receiving my test grades.. DO NOT take unless you have to. Extremely hard on grading stuff. BAD BAD BAD”

Hahaha, I suppose these comments are more of an inside joke than anything because unless you’ve sat through a Colleen Kelley course, you can’t imagine how accurate these depictions are. I will also add, in Dr. Kelley’s defense, that I had to make several spelling corrections in these college students’ comments…which might add to their troubles in getting good grades………

To recap: Dr. Kelley is the professor that knows you have to take her course in order to graduate (especially if you’re a Communications major) and she refuses to let you leave college behind without getting the shit kicked out of you a little bit.

While under Dr. Kelley’s tutelage I was also taking one of my various news writing classes with Professor Kim Young (I will get to her later…). Kim let her students make up “breaking” news stories on the fly in order to help instruct the pyramid style of news writing and information prioritization. During one particular class she asked me to tell the class about a news story that I imagined was happening on Behrend’s campus…I chose to have Colleen Kelley hung from the upstairs railing in the Reed Student Union Building. Shock! Gasp! Eek! It was a joke of course because the woman tortured us!! Everyone in class shared the sentiment! As I recall, Kim frowned on my choice of story and gallantly defended her colleague and friend but let me write the story anyway. My point is, I detested this woman so much, I openly and freely expressed my hatred not only to all of my classmates, but another professor…and let’s face it… there is a good chance that if that happened today on a college campus, I would probably get hauled into the police for questioning for threatening someone’s life.

All that being said, since having left Behrend Dr. Kelley’s lectures and messages about rhetoric and communication have impacted me tremendously! Rhetoric is a POWERFUL tool. It has allowed me to enter the world of adulthood with a questioning and penetrating perspective on everything. Being able to identify the underlying messages of news broadcasts, advertising campaigns, your co-workers and etc. is a pretty handy discipline to have. It can also be disappointing because you discover quickly how full of shit everyone is, but helpful nonetheless. Let me be clear here… the term rhetoric can be perceived as two things: 1. The art of writing and speaking effectively and 2. The bull crap that politicians (or anyone who tends to think of themselves as extremely important) say at you; I find it useful in both cases. SO, what I’m really trying to say is that despite Colleen Kelley’s persistent torture, I actually learned something and have become ever more grateful of her contributions to my education. Dr. Kelley, if you’re reading this… thank you for kicking the shit out of me.

And for my coup de grace, Professor Kim Young.

Kim was another of my communications professors that had to deal with me in several classes; she mostly taught the news writing and journalism classes I took. She’s a pretty big deal, in case you didn’t know. She was a news anchor for Erie, PA’s WSEE TV, a news director of WQLN and currently hosts WQLN’s Weekend All Things Erie broadcasts. Additionally, to stress the importance of the Colleen Kelley story, Kim is working on her Ph.D. in, you guessed it, RHETORIC!

Kim was one of my FAVORITE professors. If you search her on ratemyprofessor.com her overall rating is a 4.5 out of 5, quite a bit better than Dr. Kelley’s. Because Kim has been a reporter and actively writes news, she’s a great person to teach, develop and mentor you in journalism.

With that being said, she was a pain in my ass.

Kim’s approach to teaching was a practical one. News doesn’t happen in a classroom, it happens in the world, so that’s where you need to be! She sent us on all kinds of stupid assignments throughout Erie; we wrote about homeless people, holidays and my personal favorite—public transportation.

(Backstory: please see Hometown Heritage. Also know that I did not have real public transportation in my hometown…sorry to the “GoBus”)

Kim’s assignment required us to ride the Erie bus, meet someone, interview them and then write a story about them. I had never utilized public transportation before and immediately found this assignment to be annoying and inconvenient; regardless, I set out to write the story. The Erie bus makes a stop on Behrend’s campus, right in front of the Reed Union Building; that’s where I caught it. I took my biology text book with me in case I got bored on the ride (I had no idea where I was going, but I figured the bus would loop back to Behrend). I board the bus and within a few minutes I met a very nice woman who was riding the bus with her baby. We chatted and I interviewed her about using public transportation and then she got off 15 minutes later. I was rather pleased with myself that I got the assignment over with quickly and could spend the rest of my ride studying for bio.

Here is where it becomes relevant that I did not understand public transportation. Many buses run on particular loops and because Erie is far from a metropolis of a city, apparently their buses run on very LARGE loops. PSU Behrend is located on the eastern part of the city, remember that, ok?

Now, as we’re leaving the Harborcreek area on the bus, I’m diving into studying when all the sudden we start picking up quite a few public transport riders. A woman sat down next to me and saw that I was reading a biology text book. Unprompted, she engages me in conversation about her family medical history and all of the weird and strange diseases they have. Not kidding. A stranger, sitting next to me, is telling me about her medical problems. My first thought is “I wonder if any of these diseases are contagious and/or fatal, because if that’s the case I’m doomed!” Followed by “Why on Earth is this woman telling me this? Who does this?” Concluded with, “I’m going to kill Kim for making me do this.”

Thankfully, Ms. Medical History got off the bus somewhere on State Street, which means the bus was now travelling in downtown Erie.

Several stops go by, and quite honestly I don’t know if the next character was already on the bus or boarded in downtown Erie, but this elderly gentleman enters stage right…

This man begins cursing at ALL of the passengers on the bus. At first only a few of us seem to hear it and wonder what his issue is. We all look up at the man, then look around to see who else notices and then proceed to pretend neither of those things just happened. His colorful language continued to grow in both imagery and frequency, accompanied by him turning around and directing the comments to someone behind him. The escalating nature of Mr. Grumpy’s behavior forced the bus driver to threaten him with removal from the bus. The bus driver threatened over and over again actually and even said he was going to call the police.

At this point, my annoyance with Kim for making me do this has hit a new high. There I was trapped on this bus, now somewhere on the WEST side of Erie with an old man who is cursing at something that no one can figure out, all the while freaking out because if this is what public transportation is like I will NEVER do it again.

As the show continued, I started to realize the old man thought someone was popping their gum and he was angry about it. I perused the passengers trying to determine who the culprit was…I was unsuccessful. Nonetheless, the bus driver had had enough. He radioed the police and pulled the bus over in the middle of nowhere and forced this elderly man off the bus and onto the road and left him there. Not at a bus stop, not near a gas station… just somewhere. Apparently, you are not to piss off a bus driver! My only other experience was with my elementary school bus driver who was a sweet man who always had gum and candy for us (not as creepy as it sounds)… not one who calls the cops and drops you off in the middle of nowhere!

To tally the piling emotional issues I was experiencing: annoyance, panic and now add fear to the list. I wanted off that damn bus!

While trying to figure out what the best option was for me now, the bus pulls into the Erie Airport, which is on the opposite side of the city from campus. Lord Almighty, the ride was that long and only half way over!

It’s at the airport that another stranger-man speaks to me. The bus was at a complete stop and the driver had gotten off to stretch his legs or something. Anyway, the man asks to borrow my phone. I was hesitant because I watch Law and Order and I know that he could steal it, beat me to death with it, set off a bomb with it or much worse! So I asked “Are you dialing locally?” He was, so I let him use the phone.

A Map of Erie, PA

Thankfully, the return trip had no stops on it—we returned to Behrend, two and a half hours later. At that point I was frozen in anxiety, anger, fear, and had missed a class, so I returned to my dorm room and wrote my stupid bus story about the woman and her baby.

And to add the final nail to the coffin, so to speak, when I turned in my “mother and baby” story to Kim but told her the whole sordid tale about my bus ride, she insisted that I rewrite the story and talk about all the other “interesting” things that happened. I thought “you’ve got to be kidding me, lady.”

While this was only one experience in the many class hours I spent with Kim, it is by far the most memorable. The ironic thing is that I ride public transportation (metro and bus!!) every day and deal with much stranger people now than I did on that particular bus ride.

The lesson learned was to be open. When writing news, there will be stories that just fall in your lap, but the key to unlocking great journalism is to observe. By being in the world and observing, you can create and tell wonderful stories; the world has lots to share, you just have to look and listen. Ya, it’s true, I got all that from that stupid bus story.

Thank you Kim for being a great educator and mentor and for continually supporting me…and if you ever need someone to support you when you assign something like “go find a chipmunk and ask him what his favorite nut is,” know I’ve got your back….and if I were a chipmunk, YOU would be my favorite NUT!

Sincerely,
 
Jammer