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From humble beginnings to success

Horatio Alger, a 19th century American author, wrote tales of young men who rose from humble beginnings to find success as adults through a combination of hard work, determination, courage and honesty.

Jamie Phillips could be a personification of one of Alger’s tales. A philosophy professor in his 21st year at Clarion University, Phillips rose from a modest background in west central Missouri to become the first faculty member to ever hold a seat on the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s (PASSHE) Board of Governors.

“Nobody in my family went to college. In fact, my mom only finished 10th grade and my biological father only finished sixth. Going to college was not on anybody’s radar. It wasn’t on mine. I didn’t know anything about anything,” Phillips said.

With limited options, Phillips enlisted in the United States Air Force where he worked in military intelligence for four years. Said Phillips, “The thing about the military is you get to see the world. It changed me. College became possible for lots of different reasons.”

One of those reasons was the GI Bill, which enabled him to matriculate at the University of Missouri following an honorable discharge. Originally a history major, Phillips began taking philosophy courses at that institution and fell under the mentorship of Andrew Melnick, an Oxford-educated British philosopher, who encouraged him to pursue a master’s degree and eventually a doctorate.

“I realized philosophy is deeper than history. Philosophy is a way to understand everything that you experience. Not only does it have the methodology that helps you get to the truth, it’s the only thing that really asks the deeper questions. That’s why I like philosophy. That’s what makes it exciting for me,” he said.

Specializing in epistemology (the theory of knowledge) and the philosophy of science, Phillips found success at the graduate level. “Along the way I just started becoming successful. I was the first person in our program to present at a major conference as a graduate student. I had a paper accepted (for publication) that I wrote in class. It was kind of a cool thing,” Phillips noted.

After completing his doctoral dissertation in August of 1999 Phillips and his wife, then pregnant with their first pair of twins (he is the father of two sets of twins), pulled up stakes in Missouri and moved to Clarion, where a faculty position awaited.

“I’m just a normal human being. I’m a country boy. This (Clarion) is a lot like where I come from. As soon as I saw this area I just loved it. It’s just gorgeous, reminds me of the Ozarks. And everybody is like people I grew up with. We have the same kind of basic sensibilities.”

Shortly after arriving at Clarion, Phillips became involved in university governance, serving on faculty senate and various presidential committees. He also found himself active in the faculty union, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties (APSCUF), rising to the local chapter’s presidency in 2007 and serving in that capacity until 2013.

Though APSCUF negotiates contracts and has a say in the working conditions of PASSHE faculty, it had very limited participation when it came to making decisions that directly impacted Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities. The appointment of new PASSHE chancellor Daniel Greenstein in 2018 set off a system redesign predicated on making fundamental changes, one of which is the inclusion of faculty in a process of shared governance and decision-making. A variety of factors, including his advocacy of shared governance, subsequently saw Phillips elected to represent PASSHE’s more than 4,000 faculty members on the Board of Governors. Phillips attended his first meeting October 16 and will hold his interim position for the next year.

According to PASSHE’s website, “The board establishes broad educational, fiscal, and personnel policies, and oversees the efficient management of the state system.” To this end, the 20-member Board of Governors plans and coordinates the development and operation of all state-owned universities (which regionally includes Clarion, Slippery Rock, Edinboro, Indiana and Lock Haven).

Currently a non-voting member of the board, Phillips see his role as one of providing information and insight from the perspective of the faculty.

“At no point in time have faculty ever been able to provide recommendations to the Board of Governors. My role, as I see it, is to fulfill the role of being the faculty representative on the Board of Governors, to give them good advice about policy, make recommendations,” he said.

Despite taking on this additional role and assuming the added responsibilities that come with it, Phillips is, first and foremost, dedicated to Clarion University and its students, some of whom grew up in similar circumstances.

“I love the students because I see all of them being on a track. College for me was a drastic change in my life; it made everything else happen in terms of the ability to be successful. I feel like for these students this is a chance, a window of opportunity for them. They’re lucky because they’re in an area where there’s actually a university they can go to that can propel them into a better life,” Phillips said.

“Who knows what my life would have been like (without the military and going to college), but it would have been an ugly existence. It would have been more desperate and more difficult. So I absolutely relate to them, every single student. I feel like I have to pay forward all the gifts that were given to me, because I got lucky.”


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Leadership Elk and Cameron County
Leadership Elk and Cameron County students enjoy day at Elkland Search and Rescue

ST MARYS — Leadership Elk and Cameron County 2019 is underway, helping to shape future leaders and support local businesses and organizations.

The leadership program, an initiative of the Community Education Center, was created after the Stackpole-Hall Foundation did a needs assessment in 2005-2006, finding a need for a dedicated leadership program, said CEC Executive Director Kate Brock. The program has more than 180 graduates, and 20 participants this year throughout a 10-month period.

Until two years ago, it was for those 18 years old or older, Brock said. Five high school students are participating this year.

Once a month, the students travel to different locations in Elk County and learn about local businesses and organizations, Brock says. In October for “environment and tourism day,” they visited Advanced Disposal in Kersey, the Elk County Recycling Center in St. Marys and the Cameron County Chamber/Artisan Center. Each day, participants also eat lunch at a local venue like Straub Brewery Visitor Center and Tap Room or the Ridgway Elks Lodge #872.

In December for “history and preservation day,” students will visit the Johnsonburg Community Center and hear from a few historical speakers, as well as take a walking tour of Ridgway.

The leadership program is a great way to show participants the opportunities in the Elk County area, Brock says. A monthly and annual evaluation is done on the students’ experiences, asking them questions such as “How likely are you to run for a political office?” or join a nonprofit organization board.

Wednesday was “communications day,” hosted at Elkland Search and Rescue’s facility on Brusselles Street. Each future leader read their “icebreaker” speech, and received tips and tricks from Elk County Toastmaster Cory Straub and Northern Pennsylvania Regional College Workforce Development specialist Terry Hinton. Students also critiqued one another. Community officials like City of St. Marys Community and Development Economic Coordinator Tina Gradizzi were in attendance as well.

This year’s program features a wide variety of ages, careers and goals. Many participants used humor techniques to start or continue throughout their icebreaker speeches.

St. Marys Parks and Recreation Manager Dani Schneider spoke about her love for natural disasters, the outdoors and state and national parks, adding she is excited to work with the community in her new position.

Kyle Gardner, of Weedville, spoke about how being a DECA Club member has shaped who he is today, including becoming a district representative. St. Marys Area School Board student represetnative Baird Bankovic spoke about a teacher who influenced his life, Mr. Henry, and his heavy interest in math, physics and rockets.

Penn Highlands Healthcare nurse Betsy LaValle spoke about how the experiences in healthcare have helped shape her, while Johnsonburg High School junior Jake Newman talked about how he looks up to his sister, is interested in state politics and hopes to do his Eagle Scout project on veterans. Participant Alex Garner has a passion for traveling and tourism.

Becki Taylor, who has faced much harder battles than her fear of public speaking, had much of the room in tears during her speech about overcoming a rare form of ovarian cancer. Taylor underwent two surgeries and 16 chemotherapy treatments, and talked about losing her hair and the overwhelming support she received from family and friends. She will be five years cancer free next year.

Straub commented on things like students’ vocal level during speeches, ways to combat nervousness, movement and “coming back” after losing composure.

“I’m really impressed with this class,” Gradizzi said. “You’re very well prepared, and each of you used some humor.”

Presentations

Elkland Search and Rescue President Matt Young gave a presentation on the volunteer organization, including its history and duties. Volunteers have been building facilities and vans for the rescue from the very beginning. He also gave a tour of the facility, spoke about memorable rescue experiences, thanked the community for its support and stressed the need to gain and keep reliable volunteers.

St. Marys native, award-winning author and University of Pittsburgh at Bradford professor John Schlimm also presented on social media, encouraging students to use social media resources to promote businesses and organizations they are representing.

Schlimm, who is known for making things enjoyable, took students around the facility for a workshop, having them pose for photos on Elkland Search and Rescue vehicles and giving them examples of what makes a great and engaging post.


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Pheasants Forever veterans' hunt well attended under brisk conditions

NEW BETHLEHEM — Nearly 200 hunters braved brisk temperatures in hopes of bagging their daily limit of game birds during a two-day event last week in Clarion County.

Orchestrated by North Central Pennsylvania Pheasants Forever No. 630, Ridgway, the event played out at Delp’s Hunting Ground in Porter Township near New Bethlehem. It marked the third annual veterans’ hunt, and age and mobility issues did not keep anyone from the brown November fields.

John Delp, owner of the generations-old farmland, donated the pheasants and the use of his fields for two days. The rest of the year, private and corporate groups pay for the same privilege.

His main business is hatching and raising game birds at his Brookville-based Delp’s Gamebird Hatchery, but found that turning the original family farm into a hunting preserve was a good way to keep the land in some kind of agricultural production.

Thanks to Delp and other generous sponsors throughout the region, the veterans’ hunt is totally free. From food to bird dogs, everything was donated. The hunts began at 7 a.m., making free coffee and doughnuts – necessities at sunrise – followed by a complementary catered lunch.

Larry Haag, the Pheasants Forever No. 630 veterans hunt coordinator, said that more than $14,000 in goods and services were donated this year. Fundraising for the conservation-oriented organization takes place year round in the form of gun raffles and similar activities.

“Veterans do not have to pay anything to participate in this hunt,” he said. “It is one way that we can pay back those who served our country.”

Several of this year’s volunteers were veterans of America’s war on terrorism, with a few traveling from other areas and states to attend the event. Joe Richardson and Joshua Nash drove up from West Virginia, while Michael English made his way from Tennessee. Rob Mitchell came down from Bradford.

The consensus among the four veterans standing around a fire ring was that hunting, or just being in the outdoors, was therapeutic for them. Having taken part in a past hunt, the young men wanted to help other vets enjoy the experience.

“I was up here last year to hunt and thought I would come up this year to help out. I still got some hunting in earlier today,” Joe Richardson said.

Among this group of former military guys, the amount of mud on one’s clothing was a badge of honor. Too-clean jackets and pants were met with suspicion and hoots of laughter.

With many hands making light work, the older veterans were well taken care of. It was a long trek from the registration trailer to the farthest reaches of Delp’s fields, and many hunters were more than happy to ride back down the hill inside a side-by-side ATV.

Delp’s fields were subdivided into eight separate areas, well-defined by muddy and rutted tracks through the remaining cornstalks. Participants were extremely cautious when aiming at birds flushed by the dogs, and there was a prevailing sense of discipline and best hunting practices.

By the end of the day, intense and prancing hunting dogs were running out of steam, too. Weary canines were loaded into the vehicles’ beds by guides and handlers. Their time and effort were also donated.

Along with the thrill of the hunt, participants were treated to a rifle giveaway every hour and various hunting-related door prizes throughout the day.

The Veterans Hunt is only one of several regional events that the North Central Pennsylvania Pheasants Forever organization conducts during the year. Its conservation mission dovetails well with outdoor programs for terminally ill children and at-risk youth. Before any of its hunting activities commence, event organizers review hunting safety with both adult and younger hunters, making the outdoors a safer place for everyone.