Partnership expands college’s Open Lab model of learning to Erie school
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 eastside.
Since programming began in January, Behrend faculty members and students have been visiting the school three days a week, working with students in grades six through eight 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.”
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 give them a sense of worth. This is a way to open doors for them.”
Dr. Melanie D. Hetzel-Riggin, director of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, along with Dr. Greg Filbeck, interim vice chancellor and associate dean for Academic Affairs, and Felicia Presley, associate director of admissions and multicultural recruitment, are working together to coordinate Behrend’s efforts at the Eagle’s Nest, scheduling a variety of programming and presentations.
Faculty members and students in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences have embraced the new collaboration. Several have already presented programming at the Eagle’s Nest in their subject area, from photography to flow painting to animation.
“It’s Behrend walking the walk and meeting Penn State’s land-grant institution mission,” Hetzel-Riggin said. “Faculty and staff members have been happy to get involved.”