Glimpse of Nature

Pictured above from left to right, top to bottom: Mallard Duck, Chipmunk, “Black” Squirrel, Red Squirrel, and a waterfall.

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

– John Muir, 1877

At Penn State Altoona’s (PSUA) campus, visitors can encounter many natural features that makes nature at our campus a memorable treat. I sat down with professor of Biology and Environmental Studies, Carolyn G. Mahan, PhD. She presented comments about the thriving natural setting and the species that inhabit campus. Perhaps, the most unusual-looking animal on campus is the black squirrel.

           Although named “black squirrel”, the black squirrel is just another common gray squirrel in a melanistic form. Black squirrels have a form of a gene that causes them to have the characteristic of black fur.  The black fur color is dominant to gray fur but the black color is still relatively uncommon in gray squirrel populations as a whole. Black squirrels are not common everywhere due to the unfortunate reason that they more visible to predators. Katie Smeltzer, a senior from York, PA studying nursing, stated

“When I showed my family a picture of them (black squirrels), they thought I photoshopped it. They are a unique addition to campus”.

          Dr. Mahan stated that some biologists theorize that their black fur makes them easier prey in the wintertime as they cannot blend in with the snow.

           So, how can such an uncommon color variant survive on PSUA’s campus?  PSUA is a safer environment for them, compared to forest and wild habitats. Here, they have constant food sources, especially since squirrels will eat a wide variety of food. Black squirrels have continued to appear on campus because of these safer conditions. Cooper Wills, a senior studying political science from Mechanicsburg, Pa stated that

“As a senior, I remember when this campus had white ducks.The black squirrels remind me of the white ducks. On the surface, there is nothing special about them compared to the other ducks and squirrels. But when you  see one, you still stop and look at it.” Willis continued, “Most of the time, you will say something like ‘look at the black squirrel’. It is cool to see that diversity as it reminds me of the white ducks that we miss.”

           Another nature favorite of the campus is the ducks, as Wills stated. The most common to our pond is the Mallard duck, with occasional wild species visiting during their migration trips. Dr. Mahan described that ducks are actually less common now than just a mere 10 years ago. She attributes this to campus changing the policy on feeding ducks. She clarifies that this a good improvement because duck waste pollutes the pond, and with fewer ducks there is therefore less pollution due to duck waste. Species of ducks that have been to the pond during migration season include the bufflehead, ring-necked duck and the long-tailed duck. An occasional red tailed hawk can be spotted on campus, as they occasionally eat squirrels and even ducks.

           Dr. Mahan also passed along information that was just released in October 2018. The campus’ Spring Run stream was just listed as a Class A Trout stream by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. This ranking reflects the high water quality of the stream. If visitors look close enough, they may see wild brown trout swimming.

           Although the stream and nature around campus is fairly healthy, the pond has poor water quality. Look out for the next article about the pond’s health through a study done by Dr. Mahan’s students released in 2010.


Opinion: The not-so Reflecting Pond

Pictured above is The Reflecting Pond in the center of Penn State Altoona

By: Sierra Snigier

Although named The Reflecting Pond, students cannot see their reflection in the Penn State Altoona pond. The 2.3-acre pond has been the trademark of this campus since the founding of the campus in 1939. Now, in 2018, the pond in my eyes is the biggest eyesore of campus. The condition of the water indicates issues that faces the pond’s health. These issues are outlined in a Pond Study that was completed by seniors studying Environmental Studies in 2010. Temporary solutions and suggestions were also provided by the students for the issues of cleanliness.

Around 2000, Penn State Altoona purchased koi and carp fish to help combat algae that had been forming. Although it prevented the pond from becoming green, a consequence came. Due to the koi not having enough food sources, they started to dredge the bottom, disturbing the sediment and therefore causing the water to turn brown. This sediment and sludge build up also has a culprit, the ducks on campus.  Dr. Carolyn G. Mahan Ph.D., a professor in Biology & Environmental Studies, commented on this idea of the ducks being worse for the pond.

“With the ducks, you have their waste entering the pond, which releases nitrogen. Nitrogen is what causes algae, and makes the pond have green slime. Since that was unsightly, they introduced carp and koi to eat that algae. But, the carp and koi still produce waste, and they disturb the sediment on the bottom, giving the pond that muddy look.”. Dr. Mahan said that the koi versus duck issue came down to a matter of “muddy versus green water.”

With the overpopulation of ducks on campus also comes the high amount of duck feces that enters the pond. Their feces accumulates at the bottom, with no way of drainage. This sludge sitting at the bottom of the pond with no way of getting it out causes uncleanliness of the pond. Maximilian Gehringer, a part-time student studying German said,

“I love the peacefulness of the pond. I think having the ducks on campus creates a unique atmosphere to the campus. I enjoy the sounds of the ducks eating in the mud. I don’t believe that the pond is dirty. Yes, it is murky but I don’t think a pond that size is going to be clear water like Bermuda. It’s an ecosystem. It is going to get dirty. Ducks poop.”

The most concerning information out of the 2010 study included the levels of fecal coliform that were found. The study explained that the higher levels indicate a higher probability that bacteria, viruses, and parasites could be present. The effects of having too much fecal matter would be infections to the ears and intestines. Furthermore, diseases like dysentery, hepatitis, and typhoid fever. Grace Veltri, a junior studying accounting attests to the health hazard of the pond, “At first, I thought the pond was nice, but then I realized how dirty it was when my friend swam across the pond and got sick.”

The pond contains several types of bacteria and feces that were outlined in the 2010 study. High nitrogen levels can cause health hazards, and duck feces can make the levels increase more. Phosphorus is critical in plant growth, but too much can ruin the aesthetic value and turn green. Phosphorus can lead to the eutrophication, which is a process that turns the water green from algae and makes recreational activities almost impossible. This is also dependent on the movement of the water. The pond is stagnant, not allowing the water to move and break up these algae and sludge.

The students in the Environmental Studies pond study that some measures could be taken to alleviate some of these environmental issues affecting the pond These include an aeration system to help increase the oxygen levels in the pond water and increase water quality. These systems range from $1,000-$4,000. Barley bales can also control algae blooms. This product is healthy for fish and vegetation. These bales cost $5-$16. Lastly, AQUACLEAR pellets can be used to clean up the sludge and clear the water by removing those nitrogen sources. For two bags, it would cost $500. These costs are relatively cheap, compared to the thousands in investments to fully clean the pond. Although these are not permanent solutions, these small investments can slowly start the rehabilitation for the pond to make it a scenic viewpoint of the campus once again.

Dr. Mahan stated, “What they have to do for a total clean out is drain and remove the sludge. Once removed, the pond can be cleaned and re-filled. This process is highly expensive, and often gets put to the side when considering other campus costs— like opportunities for students.” Although this may seem disheartening, Dr. Mahan stated,

“The easy things that PSUA can do have already been done. The pond is still a habitat for some animals, so it is not inhabitable. The resources for this difficult part of this process will have to come from elsewhere– perhaps from central administration at University Park.”


Port Sky: Green2Go

In a world where 1.3 billion tons of waste are generated, Penn State is seeking innovative ways to change that. At Penn State Altoona, they are piloting the new initiative of Green2Go. This program is aimed to eliminate plastic to-go containers with a sustainable option. Green2Go is a reusable container that students can choose to get their food in when they are getting food on the go. When the student checks out, they will pay a $5 deposit for the container. When they return it, they receive a green carabiner to either return for the deposit back, or get another clean container.

Green2Go is replacing the old styrofoam containers that upperclassmen are used to receiving when asking for a to-go box.The initiative passed down from University Park is aimed at completely removing styrofoam and plastic containers for eco-friendly options. Green2Go was implemented at University Park due to students and guests using 495,000 polystyrene containers annually. PSUA is the pilot campus for the addition of the carabiners to evaluate the effectiveness of the system.  

Erin McConnell, Director of Housing and Food Services, stated “We saw a large interest when we started the program, and we are happy to see the students choosing the Green2Go containers”. McConnell said that 165 students have chosen the Green2Go option this year. Although McConnell and her staff can see how many check the containers out, they cannot tell how many are being returned due to the carabineer system. But, she knows that they are being returned due to seeing the returning carabineers. Want to get a Green2Go container next time you go to Port Sky? Read these easy steps from below.

  1. Pay a $5 deposit through your Campus Meal Plan or LionCash+ and get a Green2Go Box from the server.
  2. Fill it up with food and go.
  3. Keep the container until you want carryout again, or exchange the rinsed Green2Go Box for an easy to carry carabiner. The carabiner is your token for a new Green2Go Box when you want carryout in the future.
  4. At the end of the semester, return your carabiner for a refund of $5.


Nicole Watt, a senior from Altoona, PA studying Business has a unique talent. She is a top performer for Penn State Altoona’s bowling program. After three years of talent and dedication, she is approaching her senior year. Collegiate Review Reporter Sierra Snigier had the opportunity to interview Nikki.

Nicole Watt, interviewed by Sierra Snigier

Q: How long have you been bowling?

A: I have been bowling in leagues since I was three years old.

Q: What is one of your favorite memories from your collegiate bowling experience?

A: One of my favorite memories with Penn State Altoona is all of the friendships I have built through the program with my teammates as well as on other teams. From all of the road trips and hotel stays, you really become close friends with everyone. Some of these friends have become my best friends and I couldn’t have asked for more. Being named AMCC Bowler of the Week and named to AMCC Winter All-Sportsmanship team for two years was also pretty cool.

Q: The bowling program for PSUA is fairly new, only being a program since 2009. You have been a main advocate to keep the program. Why do you continue your advocacy for the sport?  

A: I continue my advocacy for bowling so that those who may come after me can have the same opportunity to compete in a sport they love. It’s important to keep the bowling program because it’s a growing sport in the NCAA and AMCC. Bowling isn’t just a hobby but a passion of mine and I hope that the program continues for a very long time.

Q: Are you involved in any other organizations?

A: I’m involved in Sheetz Fellows and an executive board member of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee.

Q:  Have you played any other sports? Is bowling your favorite?

A: I used to play softball at Penn State Altoona. Bowling has always been my favorite sport and has a very special place in my heart.

Q: What is your major? What made you decide to attend PSUA?

A: I majored in Business with a focus in accounting. I wanted to attend PSUA because I wanted to gain a more personalized education with the small class sizes and to join Sheetz Fellows. I also came to Penn State Altoona to join the bowling team because of the former coach Lori Tremmel.

Q: Your senior bowling season is underway. How does it feel?

A: It feels so bittersweet knowing it’s my senior year. I get a little emotional when I think about how far I have come since I was a freshman.

Q: Do you have a bowling icon that has influenced/mentored you?

A: My family is the biggest influence on my bowling career. From having my mom as my coach to then growing up with my sister, bowling has always been a family activity. They have taught me it’s all about having fun and to do it for the right reasons.

Q: Do you plan to continue bowling after college?

A: Most definitely! I plan to keep bowling until I physically cannot anymore.

Q: Any advice to aspiring athletes/bowlers?

A: If it’s something you are passionate about, never give up or settle because your potential is endless. Most importantly, have some fun and smile.


Sheetz Gift Card Winners

The Collegiate Review would like to congratulate (from left): Darren Richner, Andrew Ung, and Michael Yohn on winning a Sheetz gift card from us! They won these for following us on our social media platforms. Follow us on instagram and twitter.

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