Investing in the engineering leaders of tomorrow

Posted: January 4, 2021
PREFACE program student
A student engages in a chemistry lab during PREFACE’s 2019 summer program.

Ohio State’s PREFACE program empowers students from diverse backgrounds and perspectives to build a sense of community and thrive as future engineering leaders.

Established in 1977, the Pre First-Year Academic and Career Engagement (PREFACE) Program engages incoming first-year students in a summer-enrichment and engineering-exposure experience that can change the trajectory of their college career.

It did for Grant Brooks, who joined PREFACE in 2017.

“PREFACE was a great way for me to get a chance to adjust to what college would be like before actually starting,” said Brooks, now a fourth-year computer science and engineering major. “Without PREFACE, it would have taken me longer to understand what it takes to be successful in the College of Engineering and I would have missed out on a ton of resources and a great support system that have helped me during my academic journey.”

PREFACE begins with a three-week summer program with classes in applied engineering mathematics, chemistry, engineering problem solving and technical writing, all aimed at showing students the pace and rigor of a college curriculum. Participants also enroll in autumn survey and spring seminar courses, both of which offer an in-depth exploration of engineering majors before students choose a path. Students are taught various learning strategies and professional development skills as well.

“Not only was I able to learn how to make the transition from high school to college, I made great relationships with the Diversity, Outreach and Inclusion team, and other faculty and staff,” said Brooks, who also serves as president of Lambda Psi Minority Engineering Honorary. “Additionally, I made lasting friendships with other PREFACE students that will extend past my college career.”

Those connections are one of the hallmarks of PREFACE, said Ron Parker, assistant director of the Minority Engineering Program.

“Research has shown that engineering students—particularly those from underrepresented minorities—who have peer and professional mentors are more likely to persist and succeed in the field,” he said. “So we want to make sure they build a community, that they learn how to network and connect, and that we help them develop into engineering leaders.”

Corporate Philanthropy: Over 250 companies donated $5M to the college last year

That commitment to developing the next generation of engineering leadership is shared by Marathon Petroleum Corporation (MPC). In 2017 the nation’s third-largest crude oil refinery pledged $150,000 to the College of Engineering to support PREFACE and its diversity and student success initiatives. The company’s gifts have provided students with scholarships and enabled the program to grow by 25% percent, increasing enrollment from 24 to 30 students per year.

“Investing in future engineers is important to us, and we know that mentorship and sharing experiences play critical roles in helping to prepare students for success,” said Jaime De La Cruz, MPC’s director of Human Resources – Organizational Capability. “We appreciate our partnership with The Ohio State University, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to play a small part in developing young Buckeye engineers.”

Equally as generous has been the commitment of MPC’s time. Their employees have made frequent visits to campus and offered numerous tours of their facilities, like the refinery tour in Canton, Ohio, that Brooks remembers fondly.

“The tour was a great chance to see how different majors are represented in the workplace,” he said. “It not only shed light on the opportunities within Marathon, but it also presented new ways for me to consider different career paths and how computer science fits in a wide range of industries.”

Ohio State’s PREFACE program was one of the first in the country and has served as a model for hundreds of other bridge programs across the U.S. Since its inception, PREFACE has graduated more than 500 Buckeye engineers ready to deliver ideas, innovation and inspiration to leading companies like MPC.

“MPC is firmly committed to fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace, where employees can be themselves and thrive in a respectful and welcoming environment. The PREFACE program allows us to build relationships with promising young engineers from all walks of life,” said De La Cruz. “By investing in these students, we’re helping to develop more minority engineers and potential MPC employees who embody the same values we hold at our company.”

by Meggie Biss, College of Engineering Communications | biss.11@osu.edu

This story was originally published in the 2019-2020 issue of Forward, the College of Engineering's giving impact report. Read more giving stories and the full report online.

Categories: GivingStudents