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The hometown connection: Inspiring future engineers

Civil engineering alumni Amy Cofield and Jose Krings from River Consulting discuss their real-life engineering experiences with Hilliard Davidson pre-engineering students.Civil engineering alumni Amy Cofield and Jose Krings from River Consulting discuss their real-life engineering experiences with Hilliard Davidson pre-engineering students during a Hometown Ambassador visit.Ohio State’s campus was closed in honor of Veteran’s Day, but that didn’t stop aeronautical and astronautical engineering major Jillian Yuricich from reporting to school promptly at 6:45 a.m. As a Hometown Ambassador for the College of Engineering, Yuricich spent the day sharing her passion for engineering at her former high school.

Now in its second year, the Hometown Ambassadors program encompasses 200-plus Ohio State junior and senior engineering students who volunteer to spend a day off from class discussing their engineering study and work experiences at 40 middle and high schools across Ohio. More than 100 Buckeye engineering alumni also volunteered to participate in the visits this year and share their experiences as working engineers.

Customized to meet the needs of each school, the visits typically include presentations and demos, a question and answer panel, and breakout sessions on specific engineering disciplines. The ambassadors share their experiences on a variety of topics, including life as an engineering student, how to prepare for a college engineering curriculum and internship and co-op experiences.

“Many of our students have completed internships or co-op assignments with companies, presented undergraduate research at the Denman, or applied their engineering skills on international service learning trips–all of which are authentic and relevant engineering experiences that can serve to encourage and prepare the next generation of STEM professionals,” said Howard Greene, director of K-12 outreach for the college. “Plus, our students love the opportunity to give back to their hometowns and re-connect with teachers and students.”

High school students can really relate to peers who graduated from their own school, said Hilliard Davidson High School Math and Pre-Engineering Teacher Bill Kuch. That connection enables the Buckeye engineers to discuss not just the transition to college, but also the specific high school classes they found beneficial in preparing to study engineering.

At Hilliard Davidson alone more than 230 pre-engineering students participated in the Hometown Ambassadors visit, with each one having the opportunity to learn about three or four different fields of engineering as well as the Ohio State student experience. 

“We had great feedback from the students. They felt like they could ask really personal questions,” said Kuch. “It broadens their scope of how their classes are helping them now, but also, what it looks like to go into those fields.” 

Ambassadors also shared tangible examples of work done in class, during research projects and as part of internships and co-ops.

“I brought in photos from previous internships with the Navy, NASA and Rolls Royce,” explained Yuricich. “When they see that you worked with airplane engines, with F18s and with a wind tunnel, that’s when you see their eyes brighten and they begin to ask you better questions. That’s when things take off.”

In addition to inspiring more future engineers, the Hometown Ambassadors program also helps Ohio State students practice their communication skills gain experience being career ambassadors. But what many of the participants enjoy most is the chance to give back.

“For me it’s a big thank you gesture. I was in Hilliard City Schools for all of my years and they provided so many opportunities for me to excel in math and science,” said Yuricich. “I think it makes a bigger impact to see someone in the flesh who’s actually at Ohio State or in college, so I’m definitely happy to be a part of it.”

Written by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, clevenger.87@osu.edu