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Friday, October 30, 2015

How did Youngstown State University get their mascot?

“How did the YSU Penguins get to be penguins? Why not something like cardinals or bears?”

One of our patrons called to ask about the origin of Youngstown State University’s mascot. While Ohio does get cold, the penguin still seems like a strange choice. We checked the YSU sports website and found a whole page about their mascot, including two stories of how it came to be.

Both stories are set on January 30, 1933, the night of a men’s basketball game at West Liberty State, West Virginia. YSU didn’t have any kind of mascot yet, though they were sometimes referred to as the Locals. Students on the men’s varsity basketball team had been tossing around mascot ideas with their friends all season, but hadn’t settled on any that they liked.

According to one story, as the team was driving to West Virginia through snow so deep that they sometimes needed to get out of their cars to push them out of snowdrifts, someone, perhaps inspired by the weather, suggested the penguin. Everyone in the car with them loved the idea, as did the rest of the team, and the penguin was accepted as a mascot by the end of the season without ever having to put it to a vote.

The other story, which has more of a ring of legend to it, tells that a spectator at the Youngstown vs. West Liberty game saw the men on the court stomping their feet and flapping their arms. They thought that the team looked like penguins, and the nickname stuck. While the first story is more likely, this one is also charming.

For more information on Youngstown history, Frederick Blue’s Mahoning Memories and Sherry Lee Linkon’s Steeltown USA are both available for borrowing. The College Basketball Book, published by Sports Illustrated, can be ordered through CLEVNET, and anyone interested in penguins can check out Tui De Roy’s Penguins: The Ultimate Guide.

Friday, October 16, 2015

What kind of snake is this?

A patron brought in a picture of a small snake she encountered. The snake is a tan color with dark brown splotches that seem to be outlined with black. It has no rattle, and its body tapers down to a rounded head.

Using resources such as Carl and Evelyn Ernst’s Snakes of the United States and Canada, Deb Platt’s article “Snakes of Ohio at a Glance” on, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website, and the Ohio Public Library Information Network’s snake ID and information website, we concluded that our patron’s snake is most likely an eastern milk snake.

The eastern milk snake is found all through Ohio in all sorts of habitats. They are secretive and will often hide during the day. Mice and rats are among their preferred prey, so they can be found in and around barns. According to popular folklore, milk snakes got their name from the erroneous assumption that they hung around farms to drink milk from the cows.

The milk snake is not venomous. In fact, there are only three species of venomous snake native to Ohio: the copperhead, the massasauga rattler, and the timber rattler. They all have distinctive features that set them apart from non-venomous snakes, including triangular heads (the non-venomous snakes have rounded heads) and vertical pupils (whereas the non-venomous snakes have round pupils like people do).

Milk snakes are commonly kept as pets, though the eastern milk snake is one of the less popular subspecies. Honduran, Mexican, Pueblan, and Sinaloan milk snakes are favored for their bright red, black, and yellow bands of color. (The colors of these milk snakes mimic the bands of color on the venomous coral snake. Because they look similar, the milk snakes are often mistaken for the coral snake and left alone by predators. The eastern milk snake has more of a rattlesnake coloring, and will even shake the tip of its tail when threatened.)

For more information on snakes, Martin Gaywood’s Snakes and Patricia Pope Bartlett’s Reptiles and Amphibians for Dummies (which is about caring for reptiles and amphibians as pets) are both available at the Newton Falls Public Library.

Friday, October 2, 2015

What is STEM?

“I’ve heard people talking about STEM careers or STEM education. What does it mean?”

STEM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. The term was coined around the early 2000s by Dr. Judith Ramaley, who at the time was working as the assistant director of education and human resources at the National Science Foundation. According to Eleanor Chute’s 2009 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the acronym was originally “SMET.” Dr. Ramaley made the change not only because she found SMET to be an unappealing word but also because she thought putting science and math first in the acronym made it seem as though they were more important.  “STEM” gives a better balance between the four fields.

STEM has come into focus lately because educators are encouraging students to have fun with science, technology, engineering, and math, and not to shy away because they think they’re too challenging. These fields are always developing and will continue to do so in the future, and future STEM professionals could be instrumental in helping to develop new technologies and solve the problems of the world.