Chatham University

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All posts by Cara Gillotti

Campus Community Profile: Mary Beth Mannarino

Mannarino blog[2]

Title: Associate Professor of Psychology
Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA
Hobbies: Yoga, bicycling, reading, traveling, spending time with family
Joined Chatham: 2001

What is your main area of research interest?
I focus on connections between environmental health and sustainability and the health and wellbeing of people and communities.

What are some of these connections?
I’d say the connections show up in at least two main ways. The first is that climate change, pollution, and other factors are increasingly affecting mental and physical health. They can cause stress directly, if you’re living in certain areas, such as on a coast, or indirectly, as when air pollution affects health which affects stress. This is becoming such a large issue, yet most health professionals aren’t exposed to information about it unless they actively seek it out. Our program is really on the vanguard with this.

How so?
Since our psychology doctoral program began in 2009, we’ve offered a course in environmental psychology and sustainability. It’s mandatory for the PsyD students, and offered as an elective for master’s students. There’s interest in it across disciplines, too –we’ve had master’s students in Landscape Architecture and Food Studies take the class.

What does the class cover?
We talk about what climate change means globally, where we see effects in the US, and also how it impacts Pittsburgh regionally. For example, in the US, we see how drought affects the economic wellbeing of farmers and their families, and how this trickles down to affect food prices and food availability. So it’s not just “we have a drought,” but what does that mean? In most of our work, we emphasize social justice, because it’s often the people least able, due to limited economic means and education, to bounce back who are affected most seriously. Regionally, we talk about reliance on fossil fuels. Air quality is a concern. We look at how it affects children’s health in different parts of the city. It’s usually poorer kids who miss school, and get even further behind, and parents have to miss work to take them to the doctor, and so forth.

How else can connections between sustainability and psychology be made?
We stress sustainable considerations in clinical practice. For example, we think about mental health in terms of wellbeing, not just pathology. So we teach students to ask clients and patients what gives them pleasure, where they find relaxation in their lives, and how much of that they’re engaging in right now. We focus on change that persists well into the future. And we train students to consider environmental components in the treatment plans that they recommend.

What does that look like?
They might ask a client what their typical day is like, and what their work setting is like. Research has shown that access to nature and pets do a good job of supporting wellbeing, and can often be incorporated into treatment in a way that’s low cost and has no side effects. Community gardening can help with loneliness and depression in older adults. It’s not a cure-all, of course, but it can be quite powerful.

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What are your hopes for the upcoming year’s Global Focus on Climate Change?
Sustainability demands that you think and work across disciplines, and the nature of academia is such that it’s easy to stay in a silo of your own field. We’re hoping that the Year of Climate Change will get people talking to each other about what they’re working on, and about how we can collaborate across disciplines. It’s very exciting.

We’ve also been authorized by the American Psychological Association to offer psychology continuing education programs for credit. For Chatham, this means we can offer continuing education related to climate change and other sustainability issues to psychologists, counselors, and other mental health professionals. This is something we at Chatham really are uniquely positioned to do. We’ll be offering such a program during a conference that’s part of the Year of Climate Change in the spring, and bringing in activists and other people from the community.

Dr. Mannarino served as Director for Chatham’s Graduate Psychology programs from 2009-2014. She blogs about issues related to health, wellness, and sustainability here.

 

 

Undergraduate Student Christina Austin Awarded Research Fellowship

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“My mom is a Chatham alumna,” says Christina Austin ’17, “but that didn’t factor into my decision to come here. Chatham was actually one of the last schools I looked at. But when I came to visit, I saw that I could connect with people and have a close mentorship with professors in a way that I might not be able to do at a larger university.”

Austin, who is majoring in Biology, had hit the nail on the head. It was an email from one of those professors – Dr. Pierette Appasamy – that would lead to Austin pulling in research dollars, a feat that’s not always easy for faculty members to accomplish, let alone an undergraduate.

It started this spring when Dr. Appasamy learned of a research internship with the Allegheny Health Network Lupus Center for Excellence from the Office of Career Development. Dr. Appasamy forwarded the information to Austin, then a student in her Cellular and Molecular Biology class. “I immediately thought of Christina Austin when I heard about the internship opportunity,” says Dr. Appasamy. “It seemed perfect for her interests in hands-on work in biomedical research.”

Once Austin was accepted into the internship, the program director suggested that she might be a good candidate for the Gina M. Finzi Memorial Student Summer Fellowship Program, which funds students to conduct medical research under the guidance of a mentor. She was.

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For eight weeks, Austin worked in the lab, isolating white blood cells from blood samples that had been collected at West Penn Hospital. She stained the cells with substances that, when run through a machine, turn fluorescent where a certain protein is present. The goal of the study was to compare how this protein appeared in patients with lupus, with other autoimmune diseases, and in a control group of healthy individuals. Austin’s work may one day be used to help diagnose lupus, today an arduous process that often takes years.

Austin’s internship primarily focused on research, but she also worked on the clinical side. “I was trained to obtain consent from study participants,” she says. “I went through the IRB (Institutional Review Board) packet with them, and if they consented, we drew their blood that day. I liked that aspect of the internship a lot.”

In fact, Austin – who plans to go to medical school – liked it so much that she is considering seeking out a clinical internship for next summer. “I’d love to travel abroad and work at a clinic of some sort,” she says. “I’ve talked to classmates who worked in hospitals in Belize or Puerto Rico and had really good experiences.”

Outside of the lab, Austin is a Chatham Scholar, Vice President of Communications for the Black Student Union, a R.I.S.E Mentor, and starting this fall, she will also be a resident assistant. She offers this advice for incoming students: “Make sure you go to recitation and go to all the study groups before a test. They can be a lifesaver when it’s a topic you don’t understand. And get to know your professors and let them get to know you. They’re looking out for you, throughout your time here.”

She knows whereof she speaks.

 

Urban Planning and Political Ecology (SUS 606)

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“Urban Planning and Political Ecology” course participants. © Michael Finewood

Last fall, graduate and undergraduate students in Chatham University’s sustainability program participated in Urban Planning and Political Ecology (SUS 606), taught by Dr. Michael Finewood. As part of the course, they worked in teams on a community-based project with the Borough of Millvale, producing proposals for two projects that contribute to Millvale’s goals to become more sustainable.

Project #1 – The Hillside Food Forest
Team: Carmen Adamson MBA ‘15, Cassie Guerin BA ‘15, Julie Morris MSUS ‘16, Kayla Scherr MSUS ‘15, Christopher Seamon MSUS ‘15, Ezra Welsh MSUS ‘16, ILona Weyers BS ’17.

Challenges facing Millvale include unstable hillsides, water contamination, and the fact that it is a food desert. The Hillside Food Forest team addressed these concerns through a proposal to convert a hillside into a food forest. The proposal includes a comprehensive site analysis with design scheme, property acquisition strategies, and listing of potential partners as well as information about soil types, plant orientation, and low cost/ low maintenance management. The project highlights how a food forest—designed by and for community members—can strengthen community resilience and help strengthen Millvale’s local food network. Download the final report.

Project #2 – The Bicycle Park-and-Ride Project
Team: Scott Carter, MSUS ’16; Jared Haidet, MSUS ’16; Joshua Lewis, MSUS ’16; Carla Limon, MSUS ’16; Kimberly Lucke, MSUS ’16; Jessica Tain, MSUS ’15; Joshua Zivkovich, MSUS ‘16

Pittsburgh Port Authority owns a parking lot in Millvale that has largely gone unused since the bus route was shut down. The Park-and-Ride Project team developed a proposal to convert it into a multi-use space. The three main objectives of the project were to establish green infrastructure for stormwater management, develop plans for a bike corridor that connects to the riverfront park (see map below), and create a public space that would help change community perceptions of a nearby creek, Girty’s Run, from a risk to an asset. The proposal includes site analysis with water runoff calculations, comparison of the efficacy of various types of green infrastructure, plans for implementing a bike-and-ride infrastructure, and a list of potential community partners and grant opportunities. The project highlights how green spaces can create multiple community benefits while contributing to the reduction of combined sewer overflows, a requirement of the Clean Water Act. Download the final report.

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This map illustrates the biking distance and time from Millvale to various sections of the city. The Park-and-Ride proposal articulates ways multi-modal transportation can connect Millvale to the broader region in efficient and sustainable ways. © Kim Lucke & Joshua Lewis

Natural Resources Leadership course

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Muddy Creek, part of the Cheat River watershed

Pittsburgh is a city of three rivers, in a county of 263 abandoned mine sites. If you appreciate water as a recreational resource, this is cause for celebration. If you’re savvy about pollution, it’s cause for concern.

This spring, Chatham launched a Maymester course designed to heighten both of these responses and show students ways to act on them. Natural Resource Leadership was taught by the Falk School of Sustainability‘s Michael Finewood and Sean McGreevey, Assistant Dean for Career Development. The course focused on acid mine drainage, with a side of whitewater kayaking on the Cheat River.

Acid mind drainage
An abandoned coalmine eventually fills up with groundwater. This water absorbs minerals from the coal that makes it very harmful to fish and wildlife. When it escapes the mine—and it does—it’s known as acid mine drainage or abandoned mine drainage (AMD).

After two centuries of mining in Southwestern PA and West Virginia, we sit on billions of gallons of this acidic water. The main pollutant of surface water in the Mid-Atlantic region, AMD is an enormous environmental challenge.

The process of treating AMD to make it safe is called remediation. Remediation may be active (e.g., chemical) or passive (constructed wetlands, which use natural functions of vegetation, soil, and organisms to clean the water). Both passive and active remediation are used at the Cheat River watershed.

Cheat River
The Cheat lies about two hours south of Pittsburgh, in West Virginia. In 1994, AMD buildup blew out the side of the mountain, turning the river orange for miles, killing fish as far away as 16 miles downstream.*  In response, an organization called Friends of the Cheat was formed, and has implemented fifteen remediation sites in the area.

Natural Resources Leadership (SUS 407/507)
The course met for three hours per day, four days per week, for three weeks. Here’s what happened.

Week 1:
Each day, class included lecture and discussion about leadership, water challenges including acid mine drainage, and contemporary water policy. Because whitewater kayaking is significantly more challenging than kayaking on still water, classroom time was followed by whitewater kayaking training in the pool at Chatham’s Athletic Fitness Center.

Week 2:
Students practiced their whitewater kayaking skills on Pine Creek, a tributary of the Allegheny, and spent time at two local remediation sites:

  1. Wingfield Pines in Upper St. Clair is a local park designed to filter metals out of water by circulating the drainage (which is fluorescent orange to start) through a series of ponds and into a wetland, where native plants remove the last of the sediment before the (now extremely clean) water flows into the Allegheny River. It’s a nice habitat for ducks, and for dog-walkers.
  1. The group also visited Emerald View Park, an urban park-in-progress in Mt. Washington. Emerald View is being created partly to restore the hillside after 150 years of mining, settling, vacating, and serving as a dumping ground. It’s in the early stages of becoming a site for AMD remediation, which means constant monitoring of water quality. “They need to monitor for about 1 1/2 years before they can develop the appropriate mediation techniques,” says Dr. Finewood.

Week 3:
Equipped with kayaks, sleeping bags, and a newfound understanding of water resource challenges, the group then headed to the Cheat. They met with members of Friends of the Cheat, with whom they spent mornings doing volunteer manual labor, including planting grass, rebuilding a dam, and rolling about 25 tires up a hill and out of the canyon. They also discussed acid mine drainage.

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In the afternoons, the group set societal concerns aside in favor of whitewater kayaking. The Cheat is known for tremendous kayaking, with beautiful scenery and interesting challenges for all levels. And even though each person is in his or her own boat, kayaking is very much a group experience, and requires significant skills in communication and envisioning.

One major goal of the course was to investigate how small non-profit community organizations can affect significant environmental issues. In the future, it may address issues other than water, such as ecosystems, biodiversity, and air quality. Course participants included Master of Sustainability students Josh Zivkovich, Ezra Welsh, and Kurt Lindsey, and undergraduate Chatham seniors Jennae Rekken, Erin Smith, and Nicole Werwie.

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 *Video and commentary about the blowout by bystander Randy Robinson is available here, here, and here.

solar cooking

cooking with hot dogs

Grilling. Each summer, millions of people look forward to rethinking cooking—to stepping out of the kitchen and onto the grass, patio, or beach. Now you’re cooking with gas, as they say. Or with charcoal. With a non-renewable resource, anyway—as we do whenever we cook.

But what if you could cook with a renewable resource? Cook with the world’s first fire, and cut out the middlemen? That is the promise—and increasingly common practice—of solar cooking. Solar cooking works by using curved and reflective surfaces to concentrate the heat of the sun on a small surface area, where the food is placed.

In some places, it’s huge—literally and figuratively. The Solar Bowl in Auroville, India is 45 feet in diameter, and can cook two meals per day for 1,000 people.

Solar Bowl at Auroville
Solar Bowl at Auroville

But most solar cookers are quite portable, and inexpensive. They save cost by requiring no fuel, and reduce environmental damage produced by the use of fuel. And—with the right model—they can do anything from grilling meats and vegetables to making soup to baking bread.

Intrigued? Join us for an overview of all things solar cooking, plus demonstration and food tasting, on Saturday, July 18 from 9:30am – 1:00pm at the Field Lab at our Eden Hall Campus, in the North Hills. The event—which is free and open to the public—will include a tour of the campus, where you’ll see some of our 400+ solar panels. They generate enough energy to power 14 homes for a year, but can cook a hotdog only indirectly. Learn more and sign up today.

Health science students engage in poverty simulation

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Note: This story originally appeared in the Chatham University Spring 2015 Recorder alumni magazine.

Good news: you have only a bank account. Bad news: there’s $200, and you don’t get paid until next week. Good news: you have a bus pass, so you can get to work. Bad news: you also have to take your child to day care, which is not on the way, and requires an additional bus pass, which you do not have. Good news: this is not real.

Well, not for you. Not right now. You’re in class. Welcome to the Community Action Poverty Simulation, a role-playing initiative that Chatham’s Master of Physician Assistant Studies program has begun using with its students.

“We had been seeing that when our students went out on clinical rotations, they often interacted with people with different backgrounds,” said Gabrielle Strong, remote site development manager and simulation facilitator. “There was sometimes a lack of understanding of how to deal with those situations, so we decided to bring poverty awareness under the umbrella of cultural competence.”

IMAG0283When Strong runs the simulation, as she has done four times at Chatham, between forty and sixty participants are randomly assigned the identity of a person living with poverty – family members, young or elderly persons, many of whom may live in a household headed by grandparents or a single parental figure. Each family unit starts with a sheet detailing their circumstances – descriptions of family members and health, behavioral, or major life issues, a breakdown of bills they owe, their housing situation, income, etc. And you have some resources to start with. “Some families start up with a few bus tickets, or some cash, or a bank account. Others do not,” says Strong. “You might have a job, a TV, a young child, someone who can watch that child so she or he doesn’t need to be in day care. Or, again, maybe not.”

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Also in the room are volunteers who represent services in the community – bank, supermarket, pawnshop, school, employer, day care, utilities and mortgage offices, social security office, and social services agency. When possible, Strong likes to involve people from the Pittsburgh area who have had firsthand experience working in a social services office, such as the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank. “They can play their roles from a more authentic standpoint and speak to students afterward about what they saw and how they think it reflected reality,” she says. “One volunteer had experience working in rental properties, and her take was ’You paid your rent, but you never got a receipt. Therefore it didn’t happen.’ These are the realities that unfortunately happen to people,” says Strong. “You have to think of all the ways you have to protect yourself. It’s very eye-opening.”

The challenge is to use what you have at hand – your resources and the community services in the room – to meet your basic needs, for four 15-minute periods, each of which represents one week. As in life, there are rules. Children must not be left alone. If you’re not at work on time, you may be fired. You must feed your family – the supermarket clerk knows how much it costs to feed your family, and will cite you if you don’t spend that amount. There’s a jail, and a juvenile delinquent center. And as in life, things happen: You might be robbed. You might be illegally evicted. You might have a sudden windfall.

Through it all, you must continue to meet the basic needs of you and your family, week after week. “It’s really high energy and exhausting,” Strong says. “Students don’t always know where to get the information they need. But sometimes poverty happens very suddenly, and you have to figure out very quickly what to do. And people in the community may or may not be helpful.”

“Poverty is complex,” she continues. “Some things that we see as simple choices may or may not be actual choices. What we find is that as students are put under more and more stress, it gets harder and harder to meet their basic needs, and they would forget about things. Children would be left at daycare. They’d forget to feed their families.”

After the simulation, Strong has students write a reflection about what they were feeling, how it affected them, and what it made them think as a healthcare provider.

“The poverty simulation taught me a lot about the anxieties that poverty can cause as well as situations poverty can cause. I realized that even in a room of future healthcare providers, once money was enough of an issue we made decisions based on it and not on health,” says one.

“As a future healthcare provider, I need to be aware of the resources in my communities for my patients that may need a helping hand. If I don’t ask what they need help with I won’t know how their life/finances may be affecting their health,” says another.

Strong views the poverty simulation as an important educational tool, and has most recently run the simulation for an inter-professional group of nursing students (including a cohort of nurses from China), counseling psychology students, and faculty. “Students who are going into medicine may find themselves working with people whose situations are complicated. My goal is to expose students to these ideas, to some facts around it, and to be able to see a little bit from an emotional standpoint, which you do when you take on the identity of an individual.”

The Community Action Poverty Simulation was created by the Missouri Association for Community Action.

harvesting rainwater at Eden Hall Campus

ThinkstockPhotos-99234163_v2In January, Governor Jerry Brown called a drought State of Emergency in California. Five months later, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released data showing that May was the wettest month on record in the contiguous U.S. with an average precipitation total 1.45 inches above average. While these are two very different problems, they both point to “two sides of the same coin:” how we must manage water more effectively in our changing climate.

Pittsburgh is rainy: We get an average of 146 days of precipitation compared to a national average of 100 days. On those days, excess water – water that is neither collected nor absorbed by the ground – flows into storm drains. Underground, the stormwater system joins with our sewage system, and sewage and water travel together to be treated at the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority (ALCOSAN) wastewater treatment plant, which processes up to 250 million gallons of wastewater daily.

This system worked fine when it was built at the turn of the century, and it still works in dry weather. But the population has grown, and now whenever it rains more than ¼ inch, the system becomes flooded, and ALCOSAN must close its gates. Sewage flows into our rivers, streams, and creeks, carrying debris, chemicals, bacteria, and animal waste.

At Chatham University’s net zero Eden Hall Campus, we are modeling both innovative and age-old techniques around water management, including rainwater harvesting for collecting and using rainwater. For his thesis project, Master of Sustainability alumnus Tony Miga ’14 designed and implemented a rather large-scale rainwater harvesting system for Eden Hall. On a Friday in May 2015, it was used for the first time.

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Barn and underground cistern tanks

Here’s how it works: Rain falls onto the roof of the storage barn, runs into the gutters, and is piped into three 1500-gallon underground cisterns, where it’s stored for use for irrigation. Overflow from the cisterns waters a nearby rain garden.

“Debris from the rooftops gets mixed in there,” Miga notes, and water is filtered six times, starting with fine mesh screens that fit over the gutters and ending with a UV filter that eliminates pathogens and other contaminants. “It’s probably overkill for our purposes,” he acknowledges. “We’re only using it for irrigation. There’s very little risk. We’re not spraying it, or bringing it into buildings. “

The state of the gutters before being cleaned

When the system is turned on, water runs from the cisterns, underneath a road, and into the moveable high tunnel and hoop house on the other side, where it’s used to water crops. It’s not the only source of water there – a line for municipal water was added for flexibility, back up, and research. Miga says that it allows them to experiment with using different types of water for growing. Harvested rainwater will also be used to irrigate the agriculture field.

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The moveable high tunnel and the hoop house

Miga anticipates that the rainwater harvest system will provide 35,000-40,000 gallons of water annually. He’s also proud that the project makes use of an existing structure, rather than calls for new construction. “We inherited this property, and we’re making an effort to use what is here,” he says.

At Chatham’s Eden Hall Campus,  rainwater harvesting is combined to manage stormwater runoff with permeable surfaces, natural drainage, 22,027 sf of infiltration galleries (small pipes in gravel that collect water when it rains), and almost 30,000 sf of rain gardens. Rain gardens feature deep-rooted native shrubs, perennials, and grasses that receive runoff from roofs, sidewalks, streets and parking lots, and hold the water in a shallow depression as it slowly infiltrates into the ground.

Eden Hall will also treat wastewater on-site, using a six-step system that can handle up to 6,000 gallons per day. Once disinfected, wastewater will be used for toilet flushing and irrigating land. Water quality will meet or exceed all State of Pennsylvania standards.

Learn more at chatham.edu/edenhall.

CHATHAM STUDENTS HONORED WITH SCHWEITZER FELLOWSHIP

Tess Wilson provides writing workshops as a vehicle for building self-esteem and reflection.

In April, the Pittsburgh Schweitzer Fellows Program (PSFP) announced the selection of its 2015-16 Fellows. Twenty-four graduate students will spend the next year addressing health disparities in Western Pennsylvania while developing lifelong leadership skills. Two of these students come from Chatham University.

Nicholas Bender (Food Studies, ’16) has been selected as an Environmental Fellow. Nicholas proposes a project working with seniors to help them improve their nutritional intake to combat chronic disease. He will focus on food labels, the importance of eating local produce and a balanced healthy diet.

Jason Lucarelli (Counseling Psychology, ’16) is a Traditional Fellow who will work with LGBTQ young adults. He will provide mentorship and counseling services to help promote a positive transition to adulthood.

Two Chatham students are graduating from the Fellowship as well. Hana Uman (Food Studies, ’15) and Tess Wilson (M.F.A. in Creative Writing, ’15 ) will graduate from the Pittsburgh Schweitzer Fellowship Sunday, May 3rd. We spoke briefly with them about their work:

What is your Fellowship project?

Hana: The site for my Fellowship is Community Kitchen Pittsburgh and the project is called the “Food Education and Empowerment Program.”  I have created a food education curriculum that I am teaching at Manchester Academic Charter School (MACS) at the Sarah Heinz House with 6-8th grade, and I run a cooking club at both MACS and Environmental Charter School (ECS) Upper School. I also work in the ECS Upper School cafeteria two days a week with the students who work on the cafeteria line (they help prepare and serve food along with the staff), and survey the students about their food preferences and cooking experience.

Tess: My program is a writing workshop for girls in traditionally underserved populations called Inside/Outside, and is hosted by libraries around the city. I began Inside/Outside in October of 2014 at the Millvale Community Library, and have since expanded to the Braddock and East Liberty branches of the Carnegie Library. I teach three classes a week and will continue those until the end of the school year. My hope is to continue at least one of them into the summer and take them up again when school starts in the fall. I’d like to see this class live past the length of the Fellowship.

How did you get the idea for your Fellowship?

Hana: I have a variety of experience working with kids, and when I started interning for Community Kitchen Pittsburgh, who provides culinary training for adults with barriers to employment, I was interested in bringing culinary and food education to a younger population. Community Kitchen Pittsburgh was also interested in having more youth programming, and it was good timing for both parties.

Tess: Being a girl is tough sometimes. There are constant reminders of social standards and expectations, and it can be harmful to keep those concerns bottled up. Each week at Inside/Outside, we read and discuss work that addresses social issues, women’s issues, or issues of the body. We then pick out some image, phrase, idea, or technique from the readings that intrigued us and write our own work. If we feel up for it, we share it with each other. Writing is a very powerful medium, and it can prove to be quite therapeutic.

The graduate students I’ve met through this opportunity are some of the most intelligent, most passionate, most empathetic humans I’ve ever known. We meet formally once a month and the electricity in the room is truly incredible. I always leave those meetings feeling inspired. It’s an honor to be a part of such a forward-thinking group that is so deeply focused on bringing good to the world, and to know that this network will transcend our time as Fellows.  – Tess Wilson

 

M.A. IN FOOD STUDIES STUDENTS PRODUCE NEW GINGER WHISKEY

product lineNote: This story appears in the Chatham University Spring 2015 Recorder alumni magazine. All photos by John Altdorfer.

Elizabeth Overholt was born in 1818. She was the fifth child of Abraham Overholt, owner of a prosperous whiskey distillery in Westmoreland County, PA. Romance did not seem to be in the cards for Elizabeth, but at 28, she fell in love and conceived a child with a man called John who worked in her father’s mill. A biographer writes: “It was a common surmise in the community at the time that Elizabeth’s parents would have preferred a more sedate and better established suitor than the impetuous, red-headed scion of the Celts and Burgundians, but as there was no withstanding her calm inflexibility, the wedding took place at the homestead on October 9th, 1847.”[1] Their second child was the industrialist, financier, and art patron Henry Clay Frick.

Three miles from the Frick Fine Arts Building and almost 200 years after Elizabeth’s birth, five M.A. in Food Studies students from the Falk School of Sustainability are gathered around a table at Wigle Whiskey, a local distillery that also offers on-site retail and tasting. With them is Wigle co-owner and Chatham adjunct faculty member, Meredith Grelli. Grelli teaches an intensive two-semester new product development course, and students have been working since the fall to develop—from ideation to market—a ginger whiskey that they plan to release around Valentine’s Day 2016. Why then? Because marketing will be tied to the love story of red-haired John (“ginger”) and distillery daughter Elizabeth (“whiskey”). The decision to pair whiskey and ginger was made before the team made the John and Elizabeth connection, but savvy marketers tell stories, and these are savvy marketers.

organic grains

The class finishes up a conference call about sourcing ingredients with a food scientist from Beam Suntory, maker of Jim Beam. Meredith asks the group—Maureen Gullen, Sam Mass, Erica Rabbin, Katie Walker, and Emily Gallivan—for their thoughts.

“The quality of ginger’s going to be really important,” says one. They had planned to source ginger from the greenhouse at the Frick Conservatory, but now they plan to grow it at Eden Hall. Grelli asks how they would deal with the lack of consistency given that they don’t know that the ginger will come from the same supplier.

The students have done their research and answer with confidence. “Consumers want consistency, but with an artisanal supplier, they’re willing to accept variation and even see it as a positive,” says Gullen.

“I think it adds to the consumer experience,” agrees Mass. “People who are into it like talking about the different deep cuts. It creates a culture and discourse that would never exist in a large company.”

The new product development course began to take shape when Grelli was approached by Food Studies Program Director Alice Julier, Ph.D, about taking on interns. “The Food Studies program sounded amazing, like a program I would want to be in,” says Grelli. “There are immense opportunities to bring education into the business of food, especially exposing students to new product development. I wanted the students to experience the whole process, starting with creating concepts, testing with focus groups, all the way through promotion,” she says. “We’re taking the path you’d take in a big food company, and jerry-rigging it for a small shop.”

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Take a look at their first assignment, from last September: 1) visit a grocery store, liquor store, restaurant or bar, 2) identify two innovations, 3) think about what makes them “interesting, successful or flops”, and 4) create a 10 minute PowerPoint presentation on their findings. Two things jump out: The course is exceptionally thoughtful on one hand and participatory on the other. In fact, the degree to which it interpolates theory, research, and hands-on practice is extraordinary, especially considering the truncated time frame. Of course, the truncated time frame makes it an even better idea to assign such readings as “Making Group Brainstorming More Effective: Recommendations from an Associative Memory Perspective.” Everything fits together.

“We’re working together in a group in such a way that it functions like a business. Every week at least one of us presented something to the others,” says Walker. She and Gullen are co-leading production and consumer testing. Rabbin leads recipe development. Mass heads design and labeling, Gallivin is in charge of PR and planning the launch. Grelli has arranged an impressive array of speakers and visits, from a tour of the HJ Heinz Innovation Center from the director of research and development to a meeting with a Pennsylvania ginger farmer to a visit with a food journalist about how to build relationships with reporters. She calls it the new product class she wishes she had in business school.

production

The first Food Studies-Wigle new product development course was held last year, when eight students worked with Grelli to develop Pennsylvania’s first apple whiskey. They conducted a rigorous series of consumer research, worked with local grain growers, apple growers, and the Wigle production team to produce one of Wigle’s most successful releases of the year. In a textbook example of merging business and sustainability, the students made the decision that in terms of cost and marketing, it was more important that the apples be local than organic. Wigle Wayward, as the whiskey is called, is made from five kinds of apples from Soergel’s orchards in the North Hills. “The first year we started I thought “these are not business students, so I’m going to go business-lite,” laughs Grelli, who also co-facilitates the MyBusiness Startup program run by Chatham’s Center for Women and Entrepreneurship.“ But they just wanted more! So I was like, ‘all right’! We’re doing it!”

“I think Chatham is the best place to deliver this kind of program,” she continues. “It’s place-based and focused on community and entrepreneurship,” says Grelli.   “We’re thinking about how to further our partnership, perhaps collaborating on a series of seasonals. Next year’s class might do spring or summer whiskey, for example.”

“I feel like no matter what we do after this there will be an aspect of this class that will help us,” says Mass.

[1] “Henry Clay Frick the Man” by George Harvey, published 1928

STARBUCKS CO-FOUNDER ADDRESSES STUDENTS AT BUSINESS MIXER

“Starbucks was not started by a guy in a nice suit with gray hair,” says the man in the nice suit with gray hair. This is Zev Siegl, and, to be fair, it’s been a couple years since he and two friends started Starbucks in 1970. Since then, the success of Starbucks may be best encapsulated in a 1998 headline from the satirical newspaper The Onion: “New Starbucks Opens In Restroom Of Existing Starbucks.” On January 22, Siegl shared some thoughts on entrepreneurship with Chatham students.

A few highlights:

Pick the right type of business
“We had an unfair advantage,” says Siegl. “Caffeine makes for a lot of repeat customers.” Until 1983, Starbucks – which started as a retail shop selling ground coffee, equipment and spices – gave away cups of coffee in the stores. “There were no gourmet coffee stores in Seattle in 1970,” he says. “We wanted to build affection for coffee that’s thoughtfully produced.”

Starbucks gradually expanded into roasting their own beans, then making beverages. The first coffee bar opened in 1983. “Now we were in three businesses,” says Siegl. “Roasting, retailing, and selling beverages.”

Grow slowly.
“The idea is anathema these days, because of the window of opportunity,” Siegl admits. “But we grew slowly. After ten years, we had six stores. Right now, there are 12,000 in the U.S. alone.” Siegl also mentioned that growing slowly allowed them to manage their costs too, citing postponing purchases until the business is profitable as one way to reduce expenses.

Consider alternate sources of funding.
“There’s a tendency for the first-time entrepreneur to get bogged down in the business plan. You need to focus on the Excel spreadsheet – the financial forecast,” says Siegl. “You’ll probably be stunned by how much money you need. But you can take advantage of grants and other government programs, get customers to prepay before opening day, do trades and exchanges of services or equipment, or just do it yourself.”

Find a mentor.
“Find a mentor who really has the keys to the kingdom and say ‘let’s go have dinner,’” says Siegl, who cites Alfred Peet of Peet’s Coffee & Tea as his mentor.

Be strategic about product development.
In the late 80’s, Starbucks introduced Frappucinos to fulfill a marketing need. People who came in for their morning coffee now had a reason to come back in the afternoon.

Add value.
“Get involved with a social good,” Siegel says. “Collect money from customers for organizations doing good in the community. Think of it as an opportunity to give back.”