Sean Goheen (Host) 00:00:01
Greeting scholars and welcome to Following the Gong, a podcast of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State.
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Following the Gong takes you inside conversations with our Scholar Alumni to hear their story so you can gain career and life advice and expand your professional network. You can hear the true breadth of how Scholar Alumni have gone on to shape the world after they rang the gone and graduated with honors and learn from their experiences so you can use their insights in your own journey. This show is proudly sponsored by the Scholar Alumni Society, a constituent group of the Penn State Alumni Association. I'm your host, Sean Goheen, class of 2011, and college staff member. If this is your first time joining us, welcome. If you're a regular listener, welcome back.
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Sean 00:00:55 This episode features a conversation with Ryan Morris, class of 2019, who serves as both the Director of media and youth at St. Peter Parish, and as a technology teacher at Pope John Paul ii, R C E S in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Our conversation touches on a lot of topics from life as a race tour driver to being a scholar at a Commonwealth campus, the postgraduate fellowship process in faith and service-based careers. You can read Ryan's full bio and get a more detailed breakdown of those topics in the show notes on your podcast app. Now let's get right into our chat with Ryan following the gong.
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Ryan, thank you so much for joining me here on Gollowing The Gone. I'm very excited to have another Twin Valley Raider. Join me on the show, uh, first one that I've had, and also a fellow Penn State Berks affiliate. Very excited to chat with you. Now, you have a really interesting backstory referenced in the episode title here Before you come to Penn State, you had a full career even before coming to Penn State when you were at Twin Valley. Can you walk us through your time on the racetrack?
Ryan 00:02:11 Yeah, Sean, thanks for having me. And it's great to see another Twin Valley grad here, uh, on the show and a Penn Stater at that. But yeah, I, uh, before going to Penn State Berks, um, I was on the path to become a NASCAR driver. That's, that was my entire goal in life was to make it to the top ranks of nascar. Uh, and really it was a 10 year battle right, uh, on the track. So I started off really young in quarter midgets. They're kind of like little, little go-karts. Um, quickly went over into dirt like sprint micro sprints and the windy cars on the dirt of Pennsylvania. Uh, and then stock cars down south in North Carolina. Um, so that was a long time coming. I had a lot of fun. I kind of miss it sometimes <laugh>, but, uh, yeah, that's kind of of like my fun fact. Prior to Penn State,
Sean 00:03:02 Just for somebody who doesn't watch NASCAR or watch any Formula one or, or these kind of things, what is it actually like to be driving a car going that fast?
Ryan 00:03:13 Yeah, lemme tell you, when I, so I started driving race cars prior to getting my license. Um, and when I went to practice to get my license, it was underwhelming. 'cause road cars are completely different than race cars. Uh, race cars have a completely different personality, and each race car, I like to say, has its own personality. Um, basically you're on the edge of wrecking every single second <laugh> while on the road you're there for, which is called defensive driving. I guess people say, uh, trying not to crash <laugh>, but really the competitive nature, whenever I would put the helmet on, I would become a different person, to be honest. And, uh, you're not really thinking about the risk. You're more thinking of, how can I beat the guy in front of me? Or if I'm in front, how can I keep everyone behind me? Um, but really the feeling is it, you almost have to experience it to, to understand the full effect of it, but just think of being on the edge of maybe falling off a cliff all the time. That's kind of what it's like because you're on a line and once you get outta the groove, you're outta control.
Sean 00:04:19 That sounds really exciting, but you decided to hang up the jumpsuit and you decided to head to Penn State Burkes. What drew you to make that decision? Yeah,
Ryan 00:04:32 To kind of give you some context, so it was my senior year of high school at Twin Valley, um, and I really didn't have a plan. Um, going in from my junior year to my senior year, I was talking to my guidance counselor and she was like, Hey, you know, you're kind of, you're, you're not dumb <laugh>, so I mean, look like, what are you gonna do? And I was like, well, I'm trying to get some sponsorship. I was trying to raise $2.1 million at the time to, to go and race for a, a top tier team in North Carolina, and I was trying to make it into the K and N series. So really looking at the, looking back at it, there was no way I was ever gonna raise that, um, in that amount of time. Um, and my guidance counselor and all of her wisdom knew that.
Ryan 00:05:14 So, um, she was like, Hey, why don't you at least apply to one school, one school? I was like, uh, I don't really like, like, like it. I don't, I don't know. It was never part of my vision to, to get higher education. Right. Uh, wasn't part of my plan, but I took her advice and I was like, okay, what's the closest school to me that everyone knows? And it's Penn State Burkes. It happened to be that I looked it up online, Penn State Burkes. Okay. Tuition's not too bad. Uh oh, I can commute there. Cool. I, I, that sounds like a good option. And I only applied to Penn State Parks, no other college. Um, and so I got accepted and I was like, okay, cool. And at the same time, I was getting accepted. I was kind of at a really low point because I realized I am not gonna be racing next year, next year. I'm not gonna have the funding required to race competitively in where I was right in, in that stage of life and in that stage of my racing career. So I was like, you know what? Lemme try this college thing. And I stepped foot on campus and I was like, you know what? This could be for me. It's all right. <laugh> people aren't weird. Uh, the professors are nice. And, uh, I decided to put my feet in and try it out. So
Sean 00:06:26 You get to campus and looking at your answers to the questionnaire I provided you, you were very involved on campus, and for those of you who are listening who are at University Park involvement is a little bit different at a Commonwealth campus, but I'd be curious, how did you choose what you replaced racing with, and how did you balance those demands with your academics? Yeah,
Ryan 00:06:48 I remember vividly, so I've always done things a hundred percent right? In racing, you can't just do it half, you know, you can't put a 50% in, you have to do a hundred percent. Um, you have to be committed. And in as a racer, you're both a business person and a racer, right? You're trying to get the funding, you're doing the business side of racing. And so naturally I thought, okay, well, if I'm gonna go to college, I've already been doing business type things, right? With sponsor relations, donor relations, things like that. So I decided to go to bit for business, and I remember vividly my first class as a freshman in college was Introduction to Economics and Dr. Path, you may have known her from Burkes at your time there, she was teaching the course. And, uh, she really was engaging in things like that.
Ryan 00:07:35 And something that I wasn't really used to before, but I remember vividly the first test I got a hundred percent. And that was sort of a benchmark to me, say, you know what? I can actually do this. I can actually be a college student and I'm not gonna do it 50%. I'm going to be a hundred percent on this. And so that's kind of where it began. And from there, got involvement in many different clubs, and we could talk about that, but that's kind of the, the, the, the pivot point where it's like, okay, I'm not a racer anymore. While it was hard to say, I'm not a racer anymore, um, I was comforted in the fact that now I can put my efforts into something else.
Sean 00:08:13 So what were those something elses?
Ryan 00:08:15 Yeah. So really as a freshman, you're kind of wide-eyed, you're naive and you don't really know what to do, but you have a lot of upperclassmen, a lot of cool people around you, uh, a lot of great professors. So, um, I quickly got into different groups, like DECA Business Clubs, got to talk to different business faculty, um, but eventually, um, found my way as, um, the financial manager of S G A at Berks. And that was kind of the start into networking into other different organizations and and so forth. So, um, I started off as financial manager, then I went into VP role, and then eventually president. And I was a two term president at Berks, uh, for student government, which is really rewarding. Um, but <laugh>, I can remember when I was a freshman, uh, looking up at the upper upperclassmen, and they really took me under their wing, right? They mentored me into, they saw potential. Um, and they say, you know what, you're gonna be the next president. And the president that was president while I was financial manager, um, he mentored me into that position. So it was kind of, it was kind of cool to see that, um, getting mentorship early on in my academic career.
Sean 00:09:28 So, I have to ask then, how did you go a route mentoring, trying of the students that were succeeding you as under division students when you were in that role?
Ryan 00:09:38 Yeah. Yeah. So, um, what's interesting is my, my vp, um, eventually became the president after I left. And, um, a lot of my staff members became sort of, uh, part of his, his cabinet, so to speak, or his board, um, which is really cool to see that, 'cause it was sort of a full circle moment in how Penn Staters can interact with each other and say, you know what, this is only a four year commitment here, but the legacy's gonna last after, right? And we're gonna hang, hang our heads out for each other and mentor each other into different roles. So it was like a full circle moment there. But yeah, it was because I was so welcomed into the Penn State community early on that I then returned the favor, um, which was really cool to see looking back.
Sean 00:10:28 That's awesome. A common theme on the show is obviously mentorship. That's the whole point of this podcast, is providing on-demand mentorship from alumni to students. But if you're a scholar listening, don't hesitate to reach out to students who are a little bit older than you, a year ahead of you. They can be mentors in, in a different way, like Ryan's talking about here to what alumni can provide. And then you can pay that forward when you are in your third, fourth, fifth year, you're a grad student. So, uh, hope you take that from, from what Ryan's saying here. Yeah.
Ryan 00:11:01 And, and really early on, I treated it as like a full-time job, right? Get to campus. 'cause I, again, I was a commuter, so I got to campus around 7 30, 8 o'clock, maybe nine o'clock sometimes. Um, and treat it as a job, right? And when people were there, I would network, right? And when I was in class, I would talk to the professors. And that's cool thing about a Commonwealth campus is that you're sort of like a big fish in a small pond. So you have that access and one-on-one opportunity with the professors, one-on-one opportunity with student leaders. Um, I can walk into the S j A office and talk directly to the president, right? Uh, which is really cool. Or even in campus life, you know, um, when there's different, um, I feel like a lot of times there's this, there's this, uh, thought that, uh, administration at a campus or upperclassmen are sort of far out there. They're un unreachable as a freshman. But I felt like my experience at Penn State, and particularly Penn State Burkes, I was able to kind of reach over and, uh, and extend my hand out when I needed it the most as a freshman and, and underclassmen.
Sean 00:12:08 And those are true sentiments at Penn State. Berks. I can personally attest to that from my own experience. Uh, Ryan and I were chatting beforehand, some of our similar paths, but that's also true whether you're at University Park or any of our other campuses too. Yeah. So reach out, find those folks. Stay, talk to your professors, go to their office hours. Ask if you can meet on Zoom, if that was what works. Now, Ryan, you talked about kind of being a hundred percent in on everything you're doing, whether you're racing, being the student Government Association president, but you also decided to take on the challenges of being a Schreyer scholar. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, can you talk about how you discovered that that was an option for you and how you went about becoming one? Yeah.
Ryan 00:12:45 I have to say Schreyer great at marketing. 'cause they had <laugh> all of their, uh, what is it? The, um, the metals around, like the paper metals on flyers, uh, <laugh> all around campus. People were talking about it. Um, and I was handed a flyer. I was like, what is this? Uh, you know, and, um, after talking, I saw, okay, Dr. Feinstein reach out to Dr. Feinstein, she's the honors coordinator. So I, I met with her, um, and at the time, I didn't know it was an interview, but later she said that she was interviewing me, <laugh>, but I, I was just going in, let me get in more information. But that's really the, the, the doorway, right? Is saying yes, to let me, let me learn more about what this is. Um, and I come to find out, you know, I was able to, to join even though I wasn't in it from freshman year, right?
Ryan 00:13:37 I actually didn't know that, that you can join later. Um, so I joined later, um, in my sophomore year. And, um, with the help of Dr. Feinstein, she kind of set up a path for me to fulfill my honors credits for the rest of my college career, which was nice. Um, and, but the selling point initially was, okay, let me just challenge myself in the classroom more than I already am. Right? If I'm already a hundred percent in, let me see if I can challenge myself to go beyond that and challenge what I'm, what I thought I was capable of doing. Little did I know that decision would shape the entire rest of my college career. And, and then after that, right after college. So I would just say, if you, if you see these things on campus, if you're a student on, on any of the campuses, any Penn State campus, and you see these things, just at least say yes to learning more about it. Right? Don't just shove it off. Don't put it in your bag. Don't throw it in your dorm. Go and follow up with these things because you never know where it's gonna lead.
Sean 00:14:39 That's very true. Whether that is applying for the honors college, a club, an event that looks of interest, definitely listen to what Ryan just said. Now, one of the tenets of our college is building a global perspective. And I know Dr. Feinstein is really big on that tenant, and you were able to travel abroad and help build your own personal global perspective. Can you talk about what your experiences abroad were like and what you learned? Yeah.
Ryan 00:15:06 Prior to Penn State, I never traveled abroad. I never left the US The most I traveled was, you know, for racing in the East coast and, you know, as far west as Indiana, right? So, um, I didn't really get the traveling experience. And when Dr. Feinstein first presented the global perspective sort of narrative, I kind of shrugged it off a little a little bit. 'cause I was like, eh, what, what do I need to leave the country for? Um, but I chose to follow her advice and apply for these, um, embedded honors courses. Now, there, with Schreyer, you have a lot of different opportunities to, um, go overseas for a semester. But if you can't dedicate that time, you can always do embedded honors courses where, you know, most of the course is in Pennsylvania at your campus, but then two weeks, maybe during spring break, you go abroad and do some courses over there.
Ryan 00:15:58 So that's what I decided to do. I I decided to go the embedded course route. 'cause you get honors credit and you also go abroad. Um, so what I did was we were, I joined a trip that was going to China and Dr. Feinstein was actually leading that effort. And so, um, I joined the course and realized she is no joke. She really challenges you to push your mental capacity, how you think critically. And now she's not a business professor, but she was able to connect her curriculum to everyone in the class. 'cause everyone in the class was different majors, different backgrounds, different focuses on their educational career. And she was able to connect the course to all of them. Now, I would say too, what comes with Schreyer is a lot of funding for going overseas. So she was able to, you know, we were able to get some scholarships and schreyer funding to actually fund majority of, of the expenses to go over there. So I would say if you guys are looking to, um, you know, broaden your horizons overseas on a budget, schreyer Honors College is the way to do it, right? Being a college student, everyone's, everyone knows your financial position in college. Everyone wants to help you out. Um, so there's no better time to get these experiences than at in college. And it's particularly through Penn State Schreyer.
Sean 00:17:20 And if you're in the college already, if you're at University Park, come see us in Atherton. If you're at a Commonwealth campus, talk to your honors coordinator. They can help you with all of these different types of resources from travel to research, to internships. Um, and we'll see what we can do to help you. So sometimes you just have to ask, right, Ryan? Oh,
Ryan 00:17:37 Yeah. Sometimes you just gotta reach out and ask. Um, sometimes it'll fall in your lap <laugh>. But the, the key piece is to say yes to that. And, um, I actually was fortunate enough to go on two trips. So one was to China and one was to the Netherlands. Um, the first one in China was, for me, I was studying the, the urban development of China, right? How they became, um, such an herbally, advanced herbal, advanced, uh, country, right? With these cities, um, with smart city technology as well, emerging. Um, but also on the fin uh, the, um, the Netherlands side. I was Dr. I was studying drug policy. Something I never thought I would even go into, but it was a very interesting course. So you may even find that you develop different interests that are outside of your major when you try to go after these, these courses, uh, overseas, which I highly recommend for anyone. Don't say no to something just because you don't think you'll like it. 'cause there's a good chance you might actually like it. You know?
Sean 00:18:38 So you're talking about urban planning, you're talking about drug policy. You had been doing business development and sponsorships when you were a race car driver. What actually did you write your thesis on? I'm curious.
Ryan 00:18:50 Yeah, so I was actually, um, studying different facets of gig economy, particularly in the ride sharing space. So I was studying different perceptions and use cases based on users and non-users. But really the driving factor for me, you would think it would be the race car background <laugh> for that. But it was really because at the same time I was working on a startup through Penn State. Um, that actually came from one of my, uh, courses at Penn State, one of the entrepreneurship courses. And we were trying to develop a platform that gathers all of the freelance interpreters into one platform so that hospitals, legal offices, businesses could access that network at any time, similar to how Uber works or Lyft, right? You have all these, um, uh, you have a ride sharing app, but you have all these freelance drivers coming together. That was really the driving factor for my thesis. 'cause I wanted to study how perceptions of privacy perceptions of use correlates to the actual commitment of the user right on, on adopting these platforms. But yeah, I mean, cool. My background in racing and, and cars, it was cool to connect that <laugh> in a way. But really the driving factor was the freelance market and the gig economy.
Sean 00:20:07 So do you remember what your findings were?
Ryan 00:20:09 Yeah, I mean, there wasn't really much of a, um, significance in terms of negative, uh, negative perceptions to the actual adoption. Um, of course there's always gonna be that pool of people that will never adopt something, right? But, um, there wasn't that much significance into these negative perceptions. Of course, in the news media at the time, there was a lot of, um, negative press in terms of Uber and Lyft not providing adequate benefits for their, for their, um, uh, drivers. So in the network. So that was actually on our mind. And actually it caused us to adjust the startup away from the freelance side of things and actually just tapping into networks of, um, full-time interpreters that sign on to our platform to conduct their services, right at a, at a fee. So it actually, for me personally, and, and in the startup, it changed, it changed our whole focus based on the findings. That's
Sean 00:21:06 Awesome. Your thesis actually right there in action, helping you with your startup. Now going just a quick aside, 'cause I didn't know about that. Did you use the invent Penn State ecosystem for that? Yeah, I
Ryan 00:21:19 Was gonna talk about that. So, yes. So, um, first we reached out to Berk's Launch Box, which is Penn State Berk's, um, sort of local hub of the launch box, but we also reached out to invent Penn State, the University Parks launch box, and also other launch boxes across the Commonwealth, um, to help us develop this. So we got some funding through that. We got mentors, some of the mentors I still talk to today, even though we're not actively pursuing the startup anymore. Um, but yeah, that was a really transformative time that, that really brought a whole team together, right? I mean, we wouldn't have been able to do a lot of our development without the funding that we were, we were able to achieve from the invent Penn State Initiative. So
Sean 00:22:03 You took advantage of that opportunity. You took advantage of applying for and getting into the honors college as a current Penn State student. And then as you're wrapping up your time, you applied for and were accepted into a very prestigious fellowship. Can you talk about what that fellowship is, how you learned about it, how you applied for it, and what you actually did when you went back to China?
Ryan 00:22:26 Yeah. So the fellowship is called the Schwartzman Scholars Program, and it's a fully funded master's program, uh, in China. So it's at Qing W University, which is basically equivalent to China's, Harvard. Um, a lot of people refer it to that way, or m i t. So it's a fully funded program. You live in Beijing for a year. It's actually an accelerated master's. So it's usually masters, takes two years. This program does it in one year. Um, and everything is fully funded. So between living expenses, plane tickets over there, uh, your food, uh, anything you would need for the academic side of things, everything is covered. Uh, and really, I only found out about that opportunity because of Schreyer, because of Dr. Feinstein. She saw on that first trip to China that I loved it so much, and I was so interested in their economy, their culture, how they interact with the world, um, and China.
Ryan 00:23:25 I mean, China, the us, the <laugh>, the way it's developing right now, this is gonna be how it shapes the world, right? People are gonna need to study this. She saw that and recognized that, that I was only there for two weeks and I needed more, right? It was just a taste of what I could be learning about. And so she found this, this fellowship for me. Uh, she said, you know what? This fits you. I recommend that you apply for this. And I was like, are you sure? Are you sure? I didn't really think a fellowship was in my future. Are you sure about this? She's like, yes, I'm a hundred percent sure if anyone on this campus should apply for this. It's you, Ryan. Um, so I did, I I stuck it out there and I applied. Um, the interview process was just interesting because I, um, Penn State really goes above and beyond to help their students succeed if they want it.
Ryan 00:24:18 So Dr. Feinstein, the honors coordinator at, at Berks organized a mock interview for me at campus, and she pulled in all these people that, um, I had no idea walking in who was gonna be on the panel. So she had herself, the dean, uh, a lot of different business faculty professors, uh, from Berks joined this panel. And I walked in really confident and I saw all these people in the room. I was like, oh my gosh, what am I gonna do right now? And I bombed it. I completely butchered the interview, and it was like a week before the actual real interview in New York City. And they drilled me. They, it was hours, actually. It was hours of a mock interview, which mind you, these are tenured faculty members. This is a dean. These are, you know, prestigious people at, at Penn State Berks. And they dedicated hours of their time to help one student, which is amazing, right?
Ryan 00:25:18 That just goes to show how these people care. Um, but honestly, by the end, I felt a lot better because they drilled me. They, they helped me fine tune my interview skills for this purpose for fellowships, which is something I was never prepared for in my life before. And, um, yeah, that, that was really the start. It was a bumpy road, but I went to New York and I walk into the room. It was about the same amount of people on the panel, right? It was like 12 people. And in the middle of the room is General Petraeus and all these other big names, um, the C F O of PillPack, you know, and all these other big names in New York City for the real interview. And I was just so at peace walking in. 'cause I was like, you know what? I got this. I already was drilled for hours, <laugh>, I'm gonna just just be calm and do this.
Ryan 00:26:14 I did it. And one of the panelists afterwards came up to me and he said, you know, you're a really authentic man and you deserve this. No matter what happens, I want you to be in this program. That's what he said. And he gave me his business card that, uh, from that point I was like, wow, okay, this, this could be for me, because mind you, I'm a Beke student, Penn State Berks. I'm in the room with a bunch of Ivy League graduates, uh, people in the professions, um, people all over the world coming to New York for this interview. And I'm a small town kid from HoneyBook that went to Penn State bs, <laugh>. So that was in the back of my mind. However, because I was prepared, because I said yes to this, I felt so at peace and so calm that I was just able to say, you know what, this is what who I am. This is why I want to do this, and here's why you should select me. And I was eventually selected, which is awesome.
Sean 00:27:13 So what were you actually able to do while you were over in Beijing? Yeah, so,
Ryan 00:27:18 Um, a lot of different things. This was, I had the time of my life now. It was 2019 going into 2020. So of course, the pandemic, you always have to talk about the pandemic when you're talking about that time. So I was actually in, uh, China for six months studying. During that time, though, I had the best time of my life. I traveled around China, got to know so many different people, got to talk to so many different people. Um, Steve Schwartzman. So he, I dunno if you, you guys can look him up, um, if you're listening to the podcast, but he knows how to put the, A program together. He knows how to organize people so that they can maximize the opportunity for students. Um, he brought so many people from around the world to talk to us, professors that are world class, um, people that are world class to, to talk to us.
Ryan 00:28:09 And he actually gave us stipends to travel. Like that was part of the program, is to travel and embed yourself into China. And I took advantage of that. So we actually had things called deep dives where school sponsored event, where you actually go to another part of China, you stay there for some time, you get to talk to locals, um, you get to talk to local companies. And, um, that was really rewarding. I actually went to Shaman China, which if you go there, it kind of reminds you of Florida. It's very like, like it gives you a vibe of Florida. But you know, that time there, I got to get to know some of my closest friends today, right from around the world. Um, so you never know where these opportunities are gonna lead. But not only in China, they actually gave us opportunities to travel throughout Asia.
Ryan 00:29:02 So I took that opportunity to travel in many different Southeast Asian countries, um, including, um, not only Southeast Asia, but um, nor, uh, South Korea. So <laugh>. So I got to talk to a lot of people there. But really the program, in addition to the academics, what's more important is finding a program that you can talk to people from around the world and get to know people at a personal level. And that's really what the value of that program, right? Yeah. You get a good fancy degree, you get a, an awesome education from one of the best universities in the world. Um, you get to talk to a lot of great faculty. But the biggest takeaway from a program like that is knowing you have a network of solid people that have your back no matter where you are in your life.
Sean 00:29:46 So obviously, you know, it was 2020 China, you had to come back to the United States at the beginning of the pandemic, and you're now working for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. You have a business degree. Tell me what are the, the connections there? What are you, what are you doing? Yeah.
Ryan 00:30:05 It's something you would never re like think of, right? Well, for that's like, kind of like the, the picture of my life, like race, car driver, academic scholar, now working for the archdiocese, which if for the, those of you who don't know what the archdiocese is, it's just the Catholic church in Philadelphia, right? Basically, um, an area in Pennsylvania where really the archbishop resides and, and has control over. But really, so, yeah. Um, I found my way into the archdiocese because of just networking with my friends. Um, I had no idea that I was gonna do this. And it's kind of a theme of my life where, yeah, I didn't know I was gonna go to Berks, didn't know I was gonna go to college. Now after I get a master's degree from China, out of all places here I am, yeah, so business degree in Archdiocese.
Ryan 00:30:53 So my, my role here is director of media and youth. So with that comes donor relations, comes, you know, marketing and a lot of lot to do with media technology, which kind of overlaps with business in a lot of ways. So taking my skills of fundraising, taking my skills of, of, um, navigating networks. I use that now to fund some of our media programs here at, at, at, at, um, St. Peter under the archdiocese. But I also, um, do something that I was never prepared for, which is teach technology to middle schoolers. Um, so part of my role under, under the archdiocese is yes, serving a church, but also, um, teaching at a, at a, um, middle school, um, that I'll give it to you. I ne business does nothing to do with that <laugh> nothing. But it's one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, being able to encounter kids, being able to work with them. And honestly, I treat them as sort of many college students in a way. I don't treat 'em like middle schoolers. I challenge them to the fullest extent. And it's because I wish someone when I was in middle school would've challenged me like that, right? I wish they would've showed me, Hey, this is what you can become. This is your fullest potential. So that's really what I try to do, um, when I'm working with kids.
Sean 00:32:17 And you mentioned media, multimedia. You mentioned when we were chatting before we hit record, that you actually run a podcast for the church for the di archdiocese. I grew up Catholic, so I was familiar with that term. So thank you for explaining that. For folks who may not be familiar with the, the districting in, in the Catholic church, um, so tell me, what is your podcast about? Any, any critiques you might have for me along the way here to help our scholars?
Ryan 00:32:46 Yeah, honestly, so we're, it's called Real Faith Conversations. You can look it up on any of the platforms. Um, it's on Spotify, it's on Apple Podcasts, all the, all the platforms that this podcast is on. You can watch that. So it's real faith conversations and really, we try to be authentic in talking about faith, culture, um, and really think anything in between from conception to natural death. Um, so with that, there's a long lot of range with the topics. Um, a lot of times we talk about topics people never would've thought the Catholic Church would talk about, uh, which is awesome, right? And then we also leave room for critiquing, right? Like of course there's a lot of things in history that people disagree with, with the Catholic church. That's okay, right? Me and my own faith journey, I didn't like everything the Catholic church did.
Ryan 00:33:32 I grew up Catholic. And it was an understanding later like, what are we here for? Right? We're really here to serve other people, right? Serve under under Christ. That's what we're here for. Um, and so we leave room for people to come in who maybe aren't even Catholic, who maybe, um, are practicing other faiths. Um, maybe they're, maybe they've been Catholic all their life, but have left the Catholic church, right? So we encounter all different types of people on the podcast, and we leave room just to have authentic discussions, to understand their perspectives, but also understand, um, the true meaning behind the Catholic Church, right? The, the whole why we're here. Um, question, which is really nice. But no, honestly, I don't have any critiques of this podcast. I actually have been taking notes on how I can improve this podcast, the Real Faith Conversations podcast. 'cause I like the way that you prep this, this, uh, the podcast. He, he does a good job. Guys, if you're listening, he does a good job. He is a great host.
Sean 00:34:31 Sean Miller, if you heard that, please take notes. Uh, thank you Ryan <laugh>. Um, so I ha you know, you're coming back from China. You have this amazing fellowship, and thank you for the, the comments there, by the way. Um, yeah,
Ryan 00:34:44 No problem.
Sean 00:34:44 If, you know, you're coming back from China, you have a master's degree, you have a degree from Penn State, pretty good combination of educational credentials. You've majored in business, you could do a lot of different things. But what particularly drew you to a religious service-based organization and environment? Was that kind of always in the back of your mind, or was that something that came about after your trip to China?
Ryan 00:35:07 Yeah, I always had the intention that I would be involved in the Catholic Church in some capacity, right? Um, I didn't know what that was. And really, I, I initially thought it would be, I would just be a great volunteer and spiritual director in some way and helping people get closer to Christ. That's what the fullest extent of what my knowledge of that was. And then I would also have my full-time job, right? I would have a full-time job and do that on the side. What quickly developed in my spiritual discernment was I was called to discipleship, right? I was, I was called to something more, um, with my talents, my skills, my knowledge, my background to encounter people on a, on a personal level. And so in talking to different folks that already work in the archdiocese that work in my church, working in the schools school system and the Catholic school system, um, I quickly realized there's, there's gaps that need to be, that need to be filled basically in media, multimedia, um, and also in the youth ministry side of things, right?
Ryan 00:36:09 I mean, so many people when they think of the Catholic Church, they think archaic, outdated, right? Uh, not with the times. These are some, some of the words you associate with the Catholic church, um, which is fine, a lot of times that's true, right? A lot of times that is true. It's a, it's a institution that's been here for a very long time, <laugh>. And so one of the things that I wanted to do is bring, uh, a new breath of fresh air into the church, right? Bring, uh, tools to evangelize digitally, right? Whether that be through YouTube, through podcasts or other digital means. And really at the same time, I was coming back to the us everyone was going virtual. So it was like the perfect timing in terms of, oh, how do I help? How do I serve? How do I answer the call to serve?
Ryan 00:36:59 And that's, that's one of the ways, right? And actually what the pandemic did was interesting. It, it made the church advance technologically 10 years in one year. That's really what it did. It caused everybody and forced everybody to adapt and adopt these technologies that they could have been scared of before, right? They could have not wanted to adopt these technologies, but they had to because it was Covid. Um, so the timing of it was, was particularly interesting. And it benefited my sort of entry into the role, uh, as director of media and youth. Um, and so I thought, okay, now it's not just serve and then do my job. It's my job is to serve, right? It is to serve. Um, which we could talk about some of the opportunities that have have developed with Africa and Zambia. I'm sure we'll talk about those. But it's not only my life.
Ryan 00:37:53 I, I've come to the realization that my life is not about me. It's about service for other people. That that's really what it's about. Um, and all that time, all that preparation, I didn't know it at the time getting, being a hundred percent to school, trying to build my network, trying to achieve something higher than myself. I thought it was for selfish reasons. I thought it was gonna be to build my career, things like that, which it can be, but ultimately it means nothing unless I'm helping other people, right? And so, really, yeah, there's a whole faith side. I'm sure a lot of our audience maybe aren't particularly practicing faith or into a religion, right? And that's a growing trend. That's okay. Right? Um, so there's a faith component of the Catholic church, but then there's also a, a service component. Um, and so I, I'm practicing both, right? I, I'm, I'm Catholic, I'm in it a hundred percent. You may have gotten that theme. Uh, so far when I do something, I'm in a hundred percent, but when I'm servicing other people, right? That's another piece. Um, and that's super rewarding for me, right? If I think about being in an office somewhere, yeah, trying to build profits for a company, that's great. But my why, my transformative purpose is better suited serving other people that are maybe less fortunate. And with the Catholic Church, I can do that.
Sean 00:39:17 So you already answered my question about the pandemic and how that transformed kind of the role and the services that you're offering. So we're gonna skip that. And you've referenced some of the, the service that you're doing on top of your job that you do personally, um, relative to Zambia you mentioned. Can you elaborate on that? Yeah.
Ryan 00:39:37 So honestly, um, I want, one of my goals in life is to travel around the world and help people in different countries, maybe in areas that are less fortunate than a lot of places in the us. Not to say the US doesn't have any problems 'cause we do just look at Kensington, right? There's a lot of homelessness, a lot of poverty, a lot of drug abuse. Um, however, I wanted to try to embed my love for traveling and use that as an opportunity to seek out people in need. Um, and so part of my role at the church, um, is to just reach out to parishioners, right? Really encounter with them and see what they need. Um, and one in particular family in our church is from Zambia. And they were talking about how, um, they, they're from there, there's a huge homelessness population there, particularly with kids that are lost, their parents and in, uh, an elderly population.
Ryan 00:40:30 And sometimes they kind of just get casted out aside, and they said, Hey, one of the things we wanna do is build a home for these folks that are casted away, that are kind of rejects of the society. And we want you to come with me, <laugh> to Zambia. And I was like, wow, this sounds so interesting. Yes. And I said, yes, without even realizing what I was saying yes to, but it was one of the best times of my life. 'cause over last summer, they took me there, I went there, I spent two weeks there. I lived with their family, and we actually scouted out a location to build the orphanage and a place to rent. While we're waiting for the building to be built. We got to talk to some folks that were, um, in need of a place like this. Um, and we settled an area called Asoka Zambia.
Ryan 00:41:21 There is no orphanage there, there is no elderly care facility there. And that's the place where we're building it. So, um, yeah, this family is really dedicated towards, and I told 'em, Hey, I'm in it every step of the way. So that's what I'm doing now. We're actually getting registered in the United States, but also in Zambia as a, as a nonprofit organization. And we'll be accepting donations soon. Um, but yeah, that's sort of, it sort of fell into my lap, but I said yes to it. Right? And that's sort of, if you're a student listening right now and you're like, grinding, trust me, I know how the grind is. If you're a student right now and you're grinding, know that it can be in service of other people one day, right? Your knowledge that you bring. So one thing that I bring in using my business skills is I'm doing all the finance stuff for the orphanage, right? I'm doing all the development stuff. They don't have that background, right? They never studied that at all. But if I didn't pay attention in class and do everything a hundred percent, I wouldn't be able to help them today. You know? So yeah, it's really rewarding, but I'm also able to recognize that my skills are not about me, it's about servicing other people. And that's really the, the, the root of why I chose to help out and build that orphanage in Zambia.
Sean 00:42:37 I think across the last two questions, common thread with Schreyer Scholars is that service element, whether there is a faith component or not. I think most scholars, all scholars are attracted to the college because of that underlying theme of service that trying to undergirds our mission. Now, I want to pivot to kind of the thir the last third of our conversation. And you're a younger alum, and you, you are still very early in your journey, but I want to talk with you on some reflective questions here. So, how do you feel that your experience as a scholar who graduated from a Commonwealth campus were unique and have prepared you for your journey so far? Yeah.
Ryan 00:43:15 I, I honestly think that, that what I said earlier, big fish, small pond. When you're, when you're graduating from a Commonwealth campus or even doing two plus two, right? A lot of people like yourself, you start at a Commonwealth campus and then go up to University Park to finish. And sometimes that's no choice. Like my sister, my youngest sister, she did that because she was a film major. She had no choice but to do that. Uh, for me, I had the choice to stay at Berks or go up to up, and I decided to stay at Berks. Um, I built up a great network. Uh, almost everyone knew my name there, and I felt at home there. So I would say the difference between sort of a bigger campus and then a smaller campus at, at Berks would be just if, if you have a great network built up, my my thinking is why move?
Ryan 00:44:04 Right? Why change? Um, I saved money by not living there, of course. So out of college, I came out with very little debt. So I have two degrees and very little debt, right? So I didn't have any debt for my master's and very little debt off of Penn State Berks because I saved money on the dorm, saved money, commuting, and really berks their tuition isn't that bad relative to other schools, right? So I would say when you're coming out of college, if you're looking at like the cost benefit analysis, try to find, for me at least, I tried to find a way to spend, spend little and get a lot out of it. And when you are that big fish little pond, um, when you create that scenario that it's very, it's very doable to, to come out with little debt and a lot to gain.
Ryan 00:44:54 Also, you know, it's, you're not giving up, in my opinion, any academic, uh, quality. You know, the professors there at Berks and all really, all the Commonwealth campuses are the same tier as up for a lot of scenarios. Sure. I mean, I think University Park for certain, um, majors like engineering, perhaps they may have more equipment, more, you know, hands-on stuff to, to learn for, for me, as a business major, I felt no different. Um, the business faculty were amazing. I was able to get a quality education and not have the debt associated with it, you know, so that, that would be the biggest thing for me. I'm sure everyone's different, but those were the factors for me as to why I chose a Commonwealth campus and why I think I made out really well comparably to, to other folks.
Sean 00:45:44 And I'm sure you had some interesting experiences driving up 1 76 <laugh>
Ryan 00:45:49 Yeah. To campus.
Sean 00:45:50 Like I did, I also commuted from home. Yeah. Uh, Ryan and I seem to have fairly similar experiences, uh, with Berts and with Schreyer. So this has been, uh, I'm envisioning a lot of the things that you're saying along the way and picturing you in, in conference rooms and different things. So, uh, that's been, that's been fun for me.
Ryan 00:46:10 Yeah. And, and for me, for me, I, I drove 40 minutes roughly every day, um, to, to the campus and 40 minutes back. Um, and I drove a beat up car, you know, you don't need anything fancy. Yeah. <laugh>, I think you can relate to me in, in that way, but I wouldn't change a thing. Looking back. I wouldn't change a thing. I love that commute, right? I saved so much money doing it, and I, I got a good time, right? You can listen to podcasts, you can listen to whatever else, you know, n p r, whatever, and just get in the zone. It's sort of like having a full-time job, right? It's preparing you for that. So, yeah. I mean, a lot of people too think they, they lose out on experience, like the college experience, um, commuting to school. Um, but for me, I mean, I don't know. Yeah. That, that could be the truth, right? But for me, I was able to go to football games. I was able to hang out with people, do all the same stuff, um, without the added cost. Right? So just consider that. I mean, a lot of the folks might be already in school, um, but maybe some people are prospective students. Um, listen to this, maybe consider the commuting route if, if you are willing to give up some of the partying time. <laugh>.
Sean 00:47:25 Oh, you heard it from Ryan there. So what would you say is your biggest success to date?
Ryan 00:47:30 Wow. Biggest success, I would say, and I, I kind of already touched on this, but I would say saying yes to service. Um, yeah, I could say some of the lavish stuff that I've been a part of or some of the cool things I've done around the world. Um, but more generally, I think it's saying yes to service in the call. For me, it's a call from God, right? That's how I interpret this. Others may disagree, but for me, my call to service is a call from God, right? I wanna bring the face of Christ to all those I encounter, whether that be on a mission, um, maybe it be on the streets of Kensington. 'cause I go to Kensington a lot to, to service those folks there. Um, and honestly, a lot of times they serve me. You wouldn't think that, but they minister to me by the things they say, by the things they've, they've been through. I learned so much from them, those people. But yeah, saying yes to service and knowing that my, my body is a tool for others to, to benefit. And, um, I think I can die a happy person knowing that that was my mindset and my life. Um, so I would say that was my big biggest success that continues to breed more success for myself and other people around me.
Sean 00:48:46 That's great. And obviously, I wanna ask kind of on the flip side, what would you say has been your biggest transformational learning moment so far in your life and career and what you learned from it? Yeah,
Ryan 00:48:57 Learning moments. Learning moments. I'm a planner. I've always been a planner. So like, when I talk about my analysis of college, I really, I made a, a spreadsheet like saying like, how much was I saving? How much am I spending? Things like that. So I'm a real big planner. My girlfriend, whenever I'm distracted, she's like, are you planning again, <laugh>? Are you planning? Yeah. I'm like, yes, I'm planning. Um, but one of the lessons learned was to loosen up, loosen up your grasp on some of those plans. Everything changes. One of the questions I hate when people ask is like, oh, what's your five year plan? What's your 10 year plan? You know? Yeah, I can give you an answer, but it's probably not gonna be very accurate. Right? I mean, thinking back, uh, the last five years, think anyone, anyone listening, think back the last five years where you are today.
Ryan 00:49:42 Is it anywhere where you anticipate? Like, were you anticipating this? Especially when you're thinking about the pandemic that was thrown in the way? Of course not. Most people would say, no, it's not. But the lesson I learned is, yes, have a plan. It's solid, right? Maybe that's good to go off of, but loosen up on that and be ready to pivot, be ready to adjust. Because a lot of times what comes actually comes is way better than the plan. That's been true in my life. Sometimes, yeah, you have ups and downs, but I wouldn't trade it. I could be racing right now, right? If I, if I had it my way and my plan was fulfilled, I would be racing in NASCAR right Now. On the flip side, I wouldn't have had these opportunities to encounter people, people to go to Zambia, to go to China, to go everywhere.
Ryan 00:50:30 I was in the world to help people and to be part of this great institution called the Catholic Church. I wouldn't have been able to be part of that to this extent. So if I was so firm in that plan, I wouldn't have gone to college. I would've said no to my guidance counselor and said, no, I don't want to go to college. I'm not applying to any school. I'm gonna be a race car driver. Maybe I could have been broke on the street. Who knows how that could've, how that could've gone. But I said yes to an alternative plan, and then an alternative plan and an alternative plan. It led me to today. And I'm gonna continue to do that. I don't know if I'm gonna stay in this role, if I'm gonna move on, if I'm gonna, you know, do other things. I probably will. But what I do know is I have a plan on an Excel spreadsheet, on <laugh>, on Google Docs, and it's able to be changed. So that's a lesson that I've learned. And I, I would say for those listening, consider that. Think about where you are, think about your plans, and be willing to let it change. I'm sure you would agree, Sean. I mean, your plans have probably changed so much in the past, <laugh> Oh, absolutely. In the past. Yep.
Sean 00:51:35 <laugh>. So
Ryan 00:51:37 I, yeah, if I was to give advice that, that would be it, is to let, uh, let your plans change. And that was the biggest lesson I've learned.
Sean 00:51:45 So earlier at the beginning of our conversation, we talked about mentorship, student to student. How would you suggest that students approach mentorship from alumni and professionals? And then also how do you approach it, uh, from both angles? You're probably mentoring your, your students, um, and others in your role, but you're also still young and you need mentorship yourself. What is your approach to that?
Ryan 00:52:07 Yeah, I would say always be open to as many mentors as possible. However, there's a caveat to that. Stick to the ones that you think authentically care about you. There's a lot of mentors out there that kind of do it to see if they can find the, the next, um, person that can make them profit, right? In the business world, you see that a lot. They mentor people for selfish gains, but the best mentors are the people who don't want anything in return. The ones that are willing to spend the time hours, if, if it need be to say, you know what? I'm gonna do this because of your best interest, not my own. Those are the mentors that you need to really find. I, I have a couple of those in my life, right? And the ones that are willing to be there in your emotional time, in your time of despair, if they leave you when you're going through a bad rutt, that's not a good mentor, you know?
Ryan 00:52:57 So I would say find ones like that. And me as a mentor, I try to practice that as well. I mean, I'm mentoring, um, middle schoolers. That's a time, that's a tough time. They're all over the place. I actually have noticed that even <laugh>, there's a lot of them that look like they're not paying attention, but they really are. One kid told me, he's like, um, he's like, I wanna apologize for, uh, how I treat you. How, how, uh, I act. I'm a horrible person. I'm like, no, you're not a horrible person. He's like, yeah, I'm, I, you can say it. And he is like, but you know what? You're a father figure to me, and I am the way I am today because of you looking at you. And I was like, really, you don't seem like you're ever paying attention to what I'm saying.
Ryan 00:53:41 He's like, yeah, but I am, I am. I actually almost came, went to tears because I actually didn't realize that, that that kid, that particular kid, I thought I wrote him off. I was like, I'm not helping him in any way. But he comes back and tells me I am. So I would just say, if you're a mentor out there, be in it for them a hundred percent regardless of how they receive it, regardless of how they're acting, regardless of anything, be in it for their best interest and always look for that. And if you need to cut out mentors that are not in it a hundred percent for you, that that's okay. I've done that in the past. I've cut out some mentors. That's okay. Always extend the line. Leave your hand open. But you know, sometimes mentors aren't, sometimes they're not meant to be a mentor for you, maybe for someone else. Definitely
Sean 00:54:33 A different perspective than I think I've heard from some other folks on this show. And a really good one to hear is, you know, find the ones that are a good fit for you. And speaking of those faults, are there any professors or friends from your days on campus at Berks that you would like to give a shout out to?
Ryan 00:54:49 Well, I've already mentioned her name a lot in the show. Dr. Feinstein, you know her. Um, she's a great mentor. Speaking of mentors, she's an awesome mentor. She, she will tell you how it is. She won't sugarcoat anything and she'll tell you if you're wrong. If she thinks you're wrong, she'll tell you. Um, some people are scared of that. You know, a lot of people at Burke, she has a reputation of being scary and unapproachable. But I thrive in that. I love that. I love when people are honest. Right. So definitely a shout out to her if she's listening. Thank you so much because you have developed me into the person I am. You've helped me and my academic side, um, to grow as a scholar, as a Schreyer scholar and as a Schwarzman scholar. As as well. So thank you. Uh, I also wanna shout out Dr.
Ryan 00:55:33 Paf. Uh, she was, um, my thesis advisor and also she, I actually took many classes with her from freshman year all the way to senior year. So she's been a huge help for me. Personal mentor. She's in it a hundred percent from my best interest, let me just tell you that way. And then all the Berks, uh, faculty on the business side, um, professor Lori, professor Shank, Weiler, all those folks that have been there for me, uh, through my career. So if you're listening, this is the result, right? Someone who's willing to give back and be of service in the world using the talents and the skills I've learned throughout the, throughout the years to give back. And that's what it's all about. So thank you guys so much. And
Sean 00:56:14 I'll echo the comments about Dr. Feinstein. I got into the college because of Sandy, so thank you Dr. Feinstein. Um, and also thank you for connecting us. Uh, I reached out to her a couple months ago and said, Hey, are there any rads that are scholars that you think would be good for this podcast? And Ryan was among a small list that she provided me and we were able to connect and record here. And now you're listening to it on the podcast platform of your choice. So thank you, Sandy. Yeah,
Ryan 00:56:41 She's awesome. <laugh>, I'm honored that, uh, I was one of the names. This is an awesome show.
Sean 00:56:46 Well, thank you for that. Um, I appreciate that. So we're wrapping up. Is there any final advice that you really wanted to share with Schreyer scholars that just didn't come up organically in any of the questions that we've discussed so far?
Ryan 00:56:59 Yeah, I mean, I think a lot of times Schreyer scholars focus on the thesis a lot. Um, for me, I took the practical approach. I didn't want it to be some abstract, um, theory <laugh> like that I'm researching. I wanted it to be practical for my startup right at the time. So I would just say if you're, if you're stressed out about the, the thesis, don't be, um, use it as a tool to help you grow. Um, it's okay if by the end you don't like the topic <laugh>. 'cause by the end, you've looked at it so many hours, so many times, sleepless nights researching stuff. So it's okay if you don't like the topic, but, um, just, just approach it as a way of building yourself, um, maturing yourself and use it as a learning opportunity. Not many undergrads get to do a thesis. So don't say you have to do a thesis, say, I get to do one, right? I have this opportunity to do a thesis. Not many other people can say that as an undergrad. So just keep your head high and lean on your professors, lean on your advisors, um, because they are in it for your best interest, right? So they'll help you through it. It's gonna be okay. And then when you're at graduation and you have that, that little lion on your chest around your neck, uh, it's gonna be well worth it.
Sean 00:58:16 I could not have said that any better. Ryan, we've talked a lot about mentorship. If a scholar wanted to reach out to you and take this conversation further than a prerecorded on-demand podcast that they just listened to, how can they get ahold of you?
Ryan 00:58:29 LinkedIn's probably the best way. Uh, I think it's gonna be in the description of this podcast on whatever platform you're gonna be listening to this on LinkedIn, just shoot me a message. Say, Hey, I heard you on the podcast, the the the Schreyer podcast. And I'll be willing to have a phone call with you. Set up a, a video call. And if you want me to be a mentor, um, let's chat. Um, 'cause I want to be in it for your success as well. If you have any questions about the journey, I mean, think about it. I am not the typical person you would think to be like a, a scholar or a <laugh>, a Schwarzman scholar or a Schreyer scholar at that, or international scholar. You would've never thought that I, no one would've thought that I would be this, right? So if you're in, if you're listening to this and you're like, I don't know if I'm up for it. I don't know if I have enough skills or whatever, don't worry. I've been there too. It just takes practice. It takes talking to people and getting out there and eventually all this stuff will come naturally. I'm learning as well. So if you guys are out there and you're, you know, in certain space that I'm not a part of, I would love to learn about whatever you guys are doing. So reach out on LinkedIn
Sean 00:59:36 And finally, as is tradition here, and Ryan, maybe think back to either a weekend on a football game or perhaps at Tully's if they're providing the ice cream. There
Ryan 00:59:46 They are now actually the,
Sean 00:59:48 I thought I read that somewhere. So they did not do that in my days, but I'm glad to see that they have that. So put yourself at lunchtime at at Tully's. If you were a flavor of Burke Creamery ice cream, which would you be? And as a scholar alumnus most importantly, why would you be that flavor? Hmm.
Ryan 01:00:03 That's a hard question. Um, but yeah, they, I've actually had it at Berks and at up, which is awesome. And I actually took a trip to, um, to Ohio this past summer, and I had to pass by Penn State and get some of the ice cream <laugh> while I was passing through. But I have to say, since I'm so crazy and out there, um, between what I'm doing and doing things that no one would expect, I would say alumni's swirl because it's like a combination of a, like a blend of different flavors. Uh, and I think that encompasses who I am. I'm not just one flavor. I'm kind of a lot of different ones. So yeah, alumni's, and it's pretty good getting a bite of different things. It's nice.
Sean 01:00:42 That is a very popular choice, but for good reason. It's an excellent flavor and a great rationale for it. Ryan fellow Penn State Berks affiliate fellow Twin Valley Raid, thank you so much for joining me here on Following the Gong Today. I really appreciate our conversation.
Ryan 01:00:59 Thank you, Sean. Have a good one.
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