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Penn College Extends Resources Through Online Chat Sessions


Pennsylvania College of Technology has teamed with a Williamsport-based Internet service provider to share faculty and staff expertise with residents throughout the commonwealth.

Working with UpLink Internet Services, Penn College is extending information presented on its television shows to the online community. Participants from “Penn College & You” (a public affairs series aired on local cable throughout Pennsylvania and New York) and “You’re the Chef” (a public television cooking show) serve as expert guests for monthly UpLink chats. The hourlong sessions enable UpLink customers to submit questions to Penn College faculty and staff and receive immediate feedback via the computer.

“The chat sessions underscore the role of technology at Penn College and across the public at large,” commented Dr. Davie Jane Gilmour, president of Penn College. “Through this vehicle, more people are exposed to the ideas generated on our television shows. In addition, the chat sessions provide another mechanism for interaction.”

Since September, UpLink customers have interacted with Penn College faculty and staff about the state of Penn College, how to start a small business, Christmas tree selecting and decorating, choosing a career, managing stress, making holiday desserts, and preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Future chat subjects include tax preparation, alternative medicine, Easter candy and general cooking tips.

“I think Penn College has provided a wealth of information through their various instructors and staff members, and we have tried to present this interesting information in a timely manner so that it’s of real use to our customers,” said Donna Peper, UpLink’s marketing manager.

According to UpLink, the decision to use Penn College’s expertise was an easy one.

“Last year, we were having a discussion about who would be good people locally to use for the chat sessions, and most of us had seen the Penn College television shows,” recalled Micah Brown, who moderated the first several chats for UpLink. “We thought those shows would be a good source of information and people.”

Peper believes the ISP and the College make a good team. “Penn College has the information to share,”she noted, “and we have the online means to share that information with our customers. We like to be more than just a connection to the Internet. We want to make the online experience as interactive as possible. The chats are another way we can serve our customers.”

Peper said UpLink’s extensive customer base includes regions throughout the state, such as Altoona, Bloomsburg, East Stroudsburg, Harrisburg, Lewisburg, Milton, Scranton, State College, Wilkes-Barre, Williamsport and York.

During the Penn College chats, which normally are scheduled for the first and final Monday of the month at 8 p.m., UpLink customers can visit the company’s Web site, click on a few options, and type in a question for the Penn College expert. Within moments, the typed response from the guest appears on the computer screen.

“I liked the experience because it allowed me to provide an immediate response,” recalled Chef Monica Lanczak, a baking and pastry arts instructor at Penn College. Lanczak, who chatted about holiday desserts in November and is planning an Easter candy chat for March 22, said “the fact I couldn’t see them (the chat participants)” was the lone difference from a classroom or lab experience. “The enthusiasm and interest seemed to come through even though I couldn’t see them,” she stressed.

The quality of questions has impressed all of the Penn College guests.

“I’ve had questions about what it takes to become a chef, how to bake specific dishes, as well as questions about recipes and various products,” said frequent chat guest Chef Paul Mach, assistant professor of food and hospitality management/culinary arts and co-host of “You’re the Chef.” “One person even asked me what jicama (the fleshy root of a Mexican vine) is.”

Dennis Fink, assistant professor of horticulture, said the quality of questions and participation made his chat session on Christmas tree selecting and decorating fun.

“I thought there might be just a couple of people participating, but there were a lot of people who asked challenging questions,” Fink said. “The fact that so many people would come online that time during the evening and actually learn something that can be of value is a good direction to go. The chat sessions are an example of people learning and improving their knowledge instead of just being entertained. I think it’s great.”

The positive reaction from Penn College participants mirrors the response of UpLink customers. “Each chat session has picked up participants, leading to some of the more successful recent sessions (over 60 participants),” Peper reported. “We expect that interest will continue to grow. People have been receptive to this idea. As long as there is interest, we’ll continue the chat sessions.”

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