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Historical project gives Penn State students real-world experiences|
By Deborah A. Benedetti
Every day, thousands of people drive by a stone structure located along Route 26 near the University Park campus. Most passersby dont know what the structure is or that it played a vital role in the foundation of Penn State. That will change, if four Penn State students have their way.|
Kara Heermans, a communications major; Manish Chalana, a landscape architecture graduate student; Samantha Gregory, a landscape architecture major; and Cyndi Golden, an integrative arts major, worked with Cecilia J. Rusnak, assistant professor of landscape architecture at Penn State, and Eve Stryker Munson, assistant professor of communications at Penn State, on a project at the Centre Furnace Mansion historical site. They designed a plan to increase public awareness of the Centre Furnace Mansion historical site and improve visitors understanding of the charcoal ironmaking industry that flourished in this region in the 18th and 19th centuries. One of the furnaces is located on the eastern edge of University Park campus.
Rusnak is the principal investigator for the project, which is funded by a portion of the $5,000 grant the Centre County Historical Society received from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The historical society, which has its headquarters in the Centre Furnace Mansion, is using the grant to create an outdoor interpretive area around the Centre Furnace stack and adjacent remains of the charcoal ironmaking operation near Centre Furnace Mansion, according to Jackie Melander, member of the historical society, and Sara Kelley, historic site administrator.
The benefits of the ironmaking industry in Centre County go beyond its economic impact on the area. Perhaps the most important legacy of Gen. James Irwin (1800-62) and Moses Thompson (1810-91), who owned and managed Centre Furnace, was their donation of money and land to the Pennsylvania Agricultural Society in 1855 which led to the establishment of the Farmers High School, now Penn State. More than 144 years later, Penn State students are helping to showcase this historic site.
As part of the project, each student chose an area that interested them to research. They used the historical societys archives and the resources of Penn States Pattee Library to develop a plan for communicating the importance of the historical site to visitors. Heermans focused on the social lives of the people who lived in the area and worked at the Centre Furnace in the 1700s and 1800s; Gregory looked at transportation issues, roads and canals; Golden researched the architecture of the original buildings on the site and their locations and functions; and Chalana, who used the project as the basis of his masters thesis, served as the overall project coordinator.
The students presented their report to the Centre County Historical Society at the end of spring semester. They recommended ways to communicate the site to visitors through maps, walking and bike trails, descriptive signs and a publicity campaign. They suggested materials for paths, signs, bike racks and even trash containers in keeping with the 1850s time period.
Heermans said it was a rewarding educational experience for all of the students.
I was introduced to a world I have never seen before, she said. I would sit back and listen to the other students, listening to the things that made them tick and what they thought about when looking at a mound of dirt. For the first time, I worked in very effective teams. This was very beneficial to me, since I will be working with clients in my first job. The historical society was looking to us for advice. As undergraduates, we dont get that opportunity very often.
Heermans graduated from Penn State last spring. Her teammates also have graduated and are working or continuing their education. Chalana is now enrolled in a doctoral program in landscape history at the University of Colorado.
Rusnak said, Outreach projects such as this one are ideal for providing students with opportunities to solve real problems. The experiences they gain will be invaluable to them in the future. In this case, having a group of students from several disciplines sharing their expertise proved to be positive and enlightening.