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Six 2020 grads to watch

On May 3, 2020, the college welcomed thousands of new alumni into the Buckeye engineering family. Meet a few members of the class of 2020 who combined their passions with Ohio State’s offerings to engineer an extraordinary education.

Though the COVID-19 crisis changed their senior year in unimaginable ways, these resilient Buckeyes not only triumphed over hardship, they also learned positive lessons that will benefit them—and us—in the future.

Courtney Campbell

Courtney Campbell sits at a table outside the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Building.As a College of Engineering ambassador, Courtney Campbell participated in recruiting events, including this one held on the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Building patio.As a student who excelled in math and science and wanted to help people, Courtney Campbell planned to be a doctor. But while taking a programming class during her senior year of high school, she discovered a passion for computer science.

“It was then I knew I could make an impact on the world in different ways, outside of being a doctor,” she said.

The computer science and engineering major was drawn to Ohio State because of its people, support systems and copious opportunities.

Although she didn’t originally plan to join student organizations, being a Morrill Scholar sparked her interest in getting more involved. By graduation, Campbell participated in 11 organizations and programs, and held leadership positions in six of them.

Participating in Ohio State’s Association of Computing Machinery – Women’s Chapter (ACM-W) taught Campbell that anyone could be a leader. During her four years in ACM-W, she served as recruitment coordinator and co-president.

“I met a couple of mentors who got me out of my shell,” she said. “ACM-W really pushed me. I met so many different people who helped me.”

Being president of the College of Engineering Ambassadors, which assists with recruiting and advancement activities, helped Campbell hone her public speaking skills and taught her the importance of sharing her story.

“Being in that organization you have a lot of impact on not only your fellow ambassadors, but you're helping bring in the next class of engineers to Ohio State. That’s a pretty big thing,” she explained. “It pushed me to start talking. You can't get things done unless you're talking, and trying to collaborate and network.”

During her senior year, Campbell was named a Rewriting the Code Fellow. The national organization works to empower the next generation of women in technology.

“Being around that kind of energy was great. It's women from all across the country, all across the world that have this common goal in mind, we want to improve the world with technology,” Campbell said. “That was a really big thing for me and they have a branch for Black women that I thought was so important.”

This summer Campbell will join GE Aviation’s Digital Technology Leadership Program. As a former intern at GE, she’s excited to experience four rotations in different areas of the company and learn where she can best apply her tech skills to help people.

“I want to make sure I'm helping someone through whatever work I'm doing and ensure it’s meaningful,” she said.

Wenjing Deng

Ohio State synchronized swimmers gather around their trophy at the 2019 national championshipWenjing Deng (holding trophy) and some of her fellow gold medal winners celebrate Ohio State Synchronized Swimming’s 32nd national title in 2019.Electrical and computer engineering major Wenjing Deng likes to be challenged. At Ohio State, the student-athlete was driven to excel in both the classroom and the pool.  

Deng helped Ohio State’s Synchronized Swimming team win three straight national championships in 2019, 2018 and 2017. In addition to the overall awards, she was part of the gold medal winners in the team (2017-2019) and trio (2019) categories, plus she was an Academic All-Big Ten Champion and a two-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar.

“You have to put everything you can into the sport and I like that a lot,” said Deng, who began synchronized swimming at age 9. “I was really pushing my boundaries and exercising myself to be at a high level mentally and physically.”

Originally from Whitby, Canada, Deng wasn’t sure if she wanted to pursue swimming as well as a rigorous academic program like engineering in college. But after receiving a scholarship from Ohio State, she decided to go for it.

Deng was also a Texnikoi engineering honorary officer, an Engineering Ambassador, a member of the 2018 Ohio State Homecoming Court, and completed three internships. But she is most proud of are the teamwork, self-improvement and networking skills she gained as a Buckeye.

“Ohio State has such a wide variety of things to do and I get bored easily, so I’m happy that I was able to get involved in a ton of things outside of engineering,” Deng said. “That was really exciting for me.”

As part of the combined BS/MS program, Deng will receive both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical and computer engineering. It’s a program she highly recommends.

“The professors have really been conducive to our learning. They expect a lot from us, but they give us the time to actually learn it,” said Deng, describing the graduate level classes she took. “The classes are small and we can have a discussion. That’s where I feel I’ve learned the most.”

After graduation, Deng will join automated equipment manufacturer R.P. Gatta near Cleveland as an electrical/software engineer. And although the end of her senior year presented another challenge, she has learned from that as well.

“I really like school and I like learning. Knowing that I went to my last lecture and I didn’t even realize it, I wish I enjoyed every moment a little bit more,” Deng said. “It’s important [to be] present and enjoy whatever you’re doing.”

Matthew Klopfenstein

Twelve Quater-Scale Team members stand behind their vehicle.Matthew Klopsfenstein (sixth from left) and the Quarter-Scale Tractor team poses with their vehicle during the 2019 competition.With three older brothers who also graduated from Ohio State, you might say that being a Buckeye runs in Matthew Klopfenstein’s family.

Growing up on a farm in northwest Ohio, the agricultural engineering major was constantly around large machinery and equipment; seeing how they worked sparked his interest in engineering.

“I always was interested in solving problems and building things, so engineering was a good fit for me,” he said.

A member of the Ohio State Quarter-Scale Tractor team since his freshman year, Klopfenstein led the team to a fourth-place finish last year at an international design competition where students designed and built a small-scale tractor.

“Last year’s competition was probably one of my proudest moments because we did a brand new design and we got fourth overall, which is the best we had done in a while,” he explained. “And to do that well with a complete redesign of the tractor was really exciting.”

Klopfenstein has also held numerous leadership positions in the Ohio State Chapter of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, including vice president, as well as in the Farmhouse Fraternity. He highly recommends getting involved in student organizations.

“I would say as a leader and as a person overall, I’ve grown and developed with my involvement,” he said. “I always tell new students that clubs are really where you can turn yourself into a well-rounded student.”

Among his numerous awards, Klopfenstein received the University Outstanding Senior Award from the Office of Student Life and was named a 2020 Distinguished Senior by the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

After graduation, he will join CNH Industrial in Illinois as a hydraulic engineer.

“I’m excited for that, especially because they are a large player for agriculture, especially agricultural machinery,” Klopfenstein said. “Long-term, I would like to go back home to the family farm and help grow that operation at some point.”

The COVID-19 crisis has taught Klopfenstein an important lesson that he will carry with him in the future. “There are some things you can control and some things you can’t. Your life has a lot less stress if you just focus on what you can control and just make the best out of the situation.”

Thomas Porter

Porter and Brown hold a framed Astronaut Scholarship award.Astronaut Curt Brown presents Thomas Porter with the Astronaut Scholarship. [photo by Astronaut Scholarship Foundation/Emily Jourdan]Part of what drew central Ohio native Thomas Porter to Ohio State was the opportunity to get involved in translational research as an undergrad. He considered going to medical school, but decided that working behind the scenes to help patients would be a better fit.

“I wanted to help by developing technologies that could potentially be useful for clinical applications,” Porter explained. “I chose to study chemical engineering because it opens up the most possibilities. You can go into so many different fields depending on how you tailor the degree.”

Intrigued by the potential of nanotechnology for personalized medicine, Porter began working in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Professor Jessica Winter’s lab the summer after his freshman year. He has been developing fluorescent nanoparticles, called quantum dots, for super-resolution biomedical imaging applications.

“He is a remarkable student who represents the best of what it is to be a Buckeye,” Winter said. “He has made tremendous progress on several aspects of the research that have been stymied for years.”

The honors student was named a 2019 Barry M. Goldwater Scholar, the nation’s most prestigious award for undergraduate researchers in science, math and engineering. He is also a 2019-20 Astronaut Scholar, which recognizes the best and brightest minds in STEM.

After applying for the scholarships at the urging of his advisor, Porter felt humbled by the awards.

“I am very thankful for my research mentors. Working in this lab at Ohio State was my first research experience. I’m sure it took a lot of patience from the graduate students as well as Dr. Winter to listen to a barrage of questions every day and help me learn,” Porter explained. “I am especially thankful to past graduate students Dr. Abhilasha Dehankar and Dr. Kil Ho Lee, who served as my primary mentors for two years. Everyone in the lab has always been very generous with their time, advising me on topics ranging from research to life.”

After graduation, Porter will pursue a PhD in chemical engineering at MIT and ultimately hopes to become a professor. He received a 2020 Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation, which supports promising future science and engineering researchers and leaders.

“I enjoy research and as a professor, you get a lot of freedom to explore your own interests,” he said. “I’ve had the pleasure of being mentored by many inspiring professors, both in research and through teaching. I would like to be able to provide that same kind of mentorship for students in the future.”

While the COVID-19 crisis curtailed part of his senior year, Porter is inspired by the community’s response to the pandemic. “It’s really nice to see the community come together and to see people trying to help each other out as we are all affected by this problem.”

Raina Rotondo

Raina Rotondo holds a bouquet of flowers while standing on the sidelines in the 'Shoe after being crowned Homecoming Queen.Raina Rotondo was crowned 2019 Homecoming Queen at the Ohio State Buckeyes game on October 5.Civil engineering major Raina Rotondo always dreamed of being a Buckeye.

“When I decided that I wanted to go to more of an engineering pathway and Ohio State had a great engineering school, it just reaffirmed everything that I had already wanted,” she said.

Rotondo’s time at Ohio State has also been marked by her desire to pay forward. She was a Mount Leadership Society Scholar, one of the university’s 17 scholars programs, which focuses on leadership and community service. Rotondo volunteered during her sophomore year with Ethiopian Tewahedo Social Services in Columbus, teaching English and job skills to adult refugees.

“That transformative, rewarding experience was a communications challenge,” she said. “But I succeeded in creating lifetime bonds and meaningfully improving lives of immigrants facing unimaginable hardships.”

As one of 150 students named a University Sesquicentennial Scholar, Rotondo received a scholarship as well as personal and professional development opportunities.

Another highlight of her undergraduate experience was being named 2019 Homecoming Queen.

“I originally applied to be on the Homecoming Court because I wanted to give back to Ohio State and be an ambassador because they’ve given me so much,” she explained. “It meant a lot to me that my peers saw me as a good ambassador for the university and that they supported me in that.”

Though the COVID-19 crisis has brought hardships, Rotondo has been inspired by how people around the globe have been able to adapt.

“It’s been amazing what Ohio State and the entire world has done to continue to function in these times. Specifically, Ohio State is still being able to provide so many classes and services,” she said. “I am even able to finish up some of my big senior capstone projects through their technological developments and infrastructure to let me remotely go into the computers on campus.”

She is also enjoying the opportunity to apply her problem-solving skills to this new environment.

“We have a whole process for bringing in the 2020 Homecoming Court and we’re discussing how to move that to a virtual format,” Rotondo explained. “It’s cool to be a part of and have input on things that are brand new.”

After graduation Rotondo will move to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where she will be civil design engineer at Thomas and Hutton, focusing on land development projects.

George Valcarcel

George Valcarcel stands with a fellow student and two Nexceris employees at the company's exhibit booth.George Valcarcel (right) and his IBE capstone teammate Nathan Platfoot (second from left) with members of the Nexceris team at the Energy Storage North Americas Conference in San Diego.George Valcarcel decided to study engineering because he wanted to learn how to solve problems in a methodical way. As a graduate of Ohio State’s Integrated Business and Engineering (IBE) Honors Program, he plans to apply his engineering skills to solve business problems.

“IBE is the best of both worlds, the arts and the science,” Valcarcel explained. “It’s something that I think will serve me well in the business world, to break down and structure problems with an engineering mindset.”

When selecting a university, the multidisciplinary IBE program made Ohio State stand out from other institutions, he said, including some Ivy League schools.

The IBE program brings together engineering and business students who work, study and network as a cohort throughout their undergraduate experience. In addition to his engineering courses, Valcarcel also took core business classes.

“IBE surrounded me with some of the best and brightest peers from both business and engineering,” he said. “Being around such a highly motivated group definitely encouraged me to step up my game in college and become the best student and early professional that I could be.”

The driven industrial and systems engineering major from Mason, Ohio, served as president of IBE’s Executive Student Board, which plans social and professional networking and skills development activities. He was also a University Innovation Fellow from 2018 to 2020. The highly selective program includes more than 250 students at 64 schools, and empowers student change-agents to increase campus engagement with innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity and design thinking.

One of his biggest accomplishments was planning the Ohio Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Symposium, a partnership between the university and the Ohio Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center. Held in February, it brought together members of academia, industry and government for a day-long conference focused on unmanned aviation transport of passengers and goods in Ohio’s urban areas.

“We pulled together one of the biggest community-focused urban air mobility events to date with almost 200 people attending,” said Valcarcel. “It was a big success and a great wrap-up to my time at Ohio State.”

After graduation Valcarcel will return to McKinsey & Company, where he was an intern, to work full-time as a business analyst.

“It’s really exciting to go to a place where I have essentially an unparalleled learning opportunity,” Valcarcel said. “They say within consulting you might learn within one year what you would learn in a traditional corporate job in maybe five years. That’s going to build a certain problem-solving muscle and way that I look at the world.”

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

Tags: Students