Mont Alto teacher back where he started

September 02, 2005|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

MONT ALTO, Pa. - First he was there, then he wasn't and now he's there again. It's been a life of come-around, go-around at Penn State Mont Alto for George Siehl.

Siehl, 69, who lives in Penn National in Fayetteville, Pa., first came to the Penn State campus as a freshman in 1954. A Johnstown, Pa., native, Siehl spent a year in the school's forestry program before transferring to Indiana (Pa.) State Teachers College, now Indiana University.

He graduated in 1959 and taught general science to ninth-graders for three years before taking a job with the National Parks Association, a nonprofit conservation lobbying group in Washington, D.C. He did research, wrote magazine articles and did outreach work for three years before landing a job as a congressional researcher at the Library of Congress in 1967. Later, he earned a master's degree in biology and earth sciences.


Siehl's early studies at Mont Alto might have led him to the outdoors as a career forester, but he chose the confines of an office instead.

"I became more interested in the legislative process of conservation," he said. He was part of a pool of researchers and experts in conservation. His office was in the Library of Congress; his specialty was natural resources.

"It was a great setting, a spectacular building. They let you make all the phone calls you wanted and you could read any book in the library," he said.

It was a time when the environmental movement was moving to the forefront.

"There was a growing concern about the environment and Congress was always trying to respond to whatever was hot on the public's mind," he said.

Congress was asking a lot of questions. Siehl and his colleagues were sent looking for answers.

His research took him to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, in the early 1970s for a course on the development of the Arctic, to such national parks as Yellowstone and Grand Teton, to national forests where he met with staffers or checked out a particular congressional request.

Siehl was living in Gaithersburg when he retired in 1997. He and his wife, Nancy, stayed there while he did some consulting work. They moved into a new home at Penn National to be close to the Penn State campus.

"My first year here had a great impact on me," he said. "I've always held a great admiration for this campus. It was the start of the learning process for me, and it left its mark."

This time it was to study the things "that fill in those many gaps that I missed out on the first time through," he said.

He was enjoying nonscience courses like drawing, jazz, history, literature and an early passion - geography.

"I also needed to be near a library," he said.

He became an adjunct geography teacher because of Donald Gogniat, his predecessor in the classroom. Gogniat retired as chief executive officer of Penn State's York, Pa., campus and came to Mont Alto to teach a geography course.

"He rode here on his motorcycle," Siehl said.

When Gogniat said he was ready to retire, Siehl said he "bugged" him to make sure he would be replaced, "so I could take more geography classes. He turned the tables on me and told me I should teach the course," he said.

Siehl decided to try it.

"I had taught before and I felt I had enough experience to bring to the classroom," he said.

Tuesday, his first day before a class of 26 students, "was a little tense, but we made it through. It was the first time I walked into a classroom as a teacher since the 1960s."

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