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ESC celebrates a special Earth Day, 50 years in the making

On the 52nd annual Earth Day, Pennsylvania College of Technology hailed a phenomenon only slightly younger: the Schneebeli Earth Science Center, home to memories, marvels and the makers of a million tomorrows. Observing the milestone golden anniversary of the Allenwood area campus on a beautiful spring afternoon, attendees reveled in “this special place” known as the ESC.

“It is more than a place or a building, though,” said alumnus Justin W. Beishline, assistant dean of diesel technology and natural resources. “This is a place where you were possibly introduced to your career passion. This is a place where you met mentors who fostered your talent and helped you to become a professional. This is a place where, after you left high school, you met people with similar career aspirations and built lifelong friendships. If you came here right from high school, you left a home of 18 years to forge a new life, and the people at the ESC became your new family for two years.”

From left: Sormilic, Gilmour, Beishline and Burger complete the anniversary planting of a fall fiesta sugar maple.
From left: Sormilic, Gilmour, Beishline and Burger complete the anniversary planting of a fall fiesta sugar maple.

Also making remarks were student Michael J. Sormilic, of Southbury, Connecticut; nursery management alumnus Ronald A. Burger; and Davie Jane Gilmour, Penn College president.

Sormilic, who cemented his choice of an electric power generation career during a Caterpillar internship early in his education, handily found a home amid the ESC’s people and atmosphere.

“The friends I’ve made here will be friends for a lifetime. I came to Penn College to learn, and I have certainly learned more than I ever thought I would. The classes have taught me, but more importantly, have guided me, in learning beyond the classroom or laboratory walls,” he said.

“I really found something I enjoy here, and I want to thank Penn College and all who have invested in my experience. Everyone here works so hard to make this place the best they can. The teachers here are dedicated to teaching, and even learning with you. I’ve been here till 9 p.m. working on projects with Mr. (Joseph C.) Straw (assistant professor of diesel equipment technology), and we are the last ones out. As we shut off all the lights, it’s a weird feeling seeing this place so quiet!”

Not so quiet during the day, however, especially on a day for campuswide commemoration.

Looking out onto that crowd, Burger – who retired in October from a family business – said his time is now enjoyably spent gardening with his golden retriever who “digs holes where she shouldn’t.” He also maintains a tight connection to his alma mater as an alumni Tomorrow Maker and a member of the Alumni Task Force, and by annually accompanying students to the National Collegiate Landscape Competition. “One-on-one and as a team, I’ve been able to witness how well the students prepare, pushing beyond imaginary boundaries to consistently finish in the top 10 or higher; one of the best competing teams in the country.”

Following the 1978 grad to the podium, Gilmour thanked Burger for his steadfast mentorship, ongoing support and “welcome and calming presence” for the students in those competitions. She also took the audience down memory lane to the birth of the ESC amid an already-responsive reputation with industry.

“We needed a living laboratory for our 405 forestry, horticulture, agriculture and heavy equipment students – a place for them to test theory, practice their craft and refine their skills,” she said. “Thanks to passionate administrators and faculty, a new facility with expanded earth sciences programming was dedicated in 1971. It was instructors Joseph Sick and James Bressler who collaborated to drive the conversation forward. James connected with U.S. Rep. Herman T. Schneebeli, who was instrumental in transferring excess prison land for educational use. Fifty years later, the Herman T. Schneebeli Earth Science Center, named in the congressman’s honor, stands as a testament to their collective vision.”

Prior to the anniversary event, the president received correspondence from Schneebeli’s daughter (who was unable to attend):

“My father was committed to expanding educational opportunities for the people in his congressional district,” Susan S. Belin wrote. “He would be so impressed and proud of the job Penn College has done over the last 50 years to enhance and expand this living laboratory that provides access to both technical and academic programs for the people of this region.”

– Photos by Larry D. Kauffman, digital publishing specialist/photographer;
Tom Wilson, writer/editor-PCToday; and Ashley E. Day, College Relations’ manager of grants and communication
(unless otherwise noted)

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