Partnership expands Behrend’s Open Lab model of learning to eastside Erie academy
Forget what you’ve heard about cats and birds being adversaries. The Nittany Lion has landed at Erie’s Eagle’s Nest—forming a partnership that expands the college’s Open Lab model of learning to neighborhoods on Erie’s east side.
Since programming began in January, Behrend faculty members and students have been visiting the school three days a week, working with students in grades 6 through 8 on a wide range of topics—from developing social skills and emotional intelligence to finding a career path to stargazing through telescopes.
The partnership supports the East Side Renaissance effort, which includes investments in real estate and business development along Erie’s Parade Street corridor. Organizers are looking to bring a bank, a grocery store, and a social club to the area, which has not been included in other recent economic-development efforts. Fifty-six percent of the neighborhood’s residents live below the federal poverty guidelines.
Behrend’s presence is based at the Eagle’s Nest, which operates a School of Academic Distinction, employability “boot camps,” and group daycare services.
“This partnership reflects Penn State Behrend’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion in education at all levels,” Behrend Chancellor Ralph Ford said. “Access to education is key to changing people’s lives.”
Over time, Behrend will provide a variety of training courses and services, including: literacy training for students and their families, photojournalism, and digital arts, printing and entrepreneurial support from the James R. Meehl Innovation Commons, and youth-development programming through Susan Hirt Hagen CORE, and programming by the office of Youth Education Outreach.
“When you put all these elements together, you can really begin to change young people’s perceptions of how far they can go in life,” Ford said.
The partnership grew out of talks by Ford and Bishop Dwane Brock, a longtime advocate for the neighborhoods near the Parade Street corridor. Brock is pastor of Victory Christian Center and CEO of the Eagle’s Nest and the East Side Renaissance.
“We’ve been talking for quite a long time about how we can make Erie a better place for everybody,” Brock said. “We want to take the marginalized in our community and methodically give them a sense of worth. This is a way to open doors for them.”
Two school directors—Dr. Greg Filbeck from the Black School of Business (now serving as interim vice chancellor and associate dean for Academic Affairs) and Dr. Melanie D. Hetzel-Riggin from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences—as well as Felicia Presley, associate director of admissions and multicultural recruitment, have teamed up to coordinate Behrend’s efforts at the Eagle’s Nest, scheduling a variety of programming and presentations.
“From my perspective, the project is a perfect example of how Behrend works across the four schools and our outreach centers to make a difference in the greater community,” Filbeck said. “In turn, our faculty, staff, and students have the opportunity to interact with the passionate leaders, teachers, and scholars at the Eagle’s Nest.”
In addition to the topics already mentioned, programming so far this year has also included introductions to computer coding, entrepreneurship, photography, flow painting, animation, and hip-hop math.
“It’s Behrend walking the walk and meeting Penn State’s land-grant institution mission,” Hetzel-Riggin added. “Faculty and staff members have been happy to get involved.”