Shaver’s Creek helps facilitate successful Engineering Ambassadors Program at Penn State

On April 1st, Shaver’s Creek Program Director for Team Development Rod Lee facilitated a two-hour networking and corporate challenge program that included high-energy initiatives and a smartphone texting-based scavenger hunt of Penn State’s campus. These activities not only connected the United Technologies Corporation (UTC) ambassadors with each other, but also to the business units of UTC.

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News Archives – Engineering Ambassadors

Leading the Way: Engineering Ambassadors Program Spreads to Other Universities

May 10, 2011

Danielle DaSilva (right) mentors participants
in the crafting of their presentations.

Teambuilding played a large part in the success of the recent United Technologies Corporation Engineering Ambassador Workshop, in which Penn State ambassadors taught advanced presentation techniques to 22 ambassadors-in-training from three other universities.

The mission of the Engineering Ambassadors program is to show high school students the lesser-known truths of engineering—namely, that it’s not all about working on cars or building bridges. The workshop, held at Penn State’s Nittany Lion Inn over the weekend of April 1-3, addressed communication and leadership skills to be used in high school outreach visits. Throughout the weekend, students from the University of Connecticut (UConn), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Worchester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) worked with experienced ambassadors from the Penn State program to create their own unique, creative presentations to take home to their own state’s high schools.

Each day, engineering impacts the health, happiness and safety of others and requires a high level of creativity. According to a National Academy of Engineers study conducted in 2008, this is the message that appeals to today’s high school students, but it’s often not the one they hear in their classrooms. With a growing need in our society for engineers to tackle contemporary challenges, the Engineering Ambassadors are taking the initiative to foster interest in the career within the next generation.

“Our goal is to get others to see the field of engineering like we do, to get others to be excited about that vision,” says faculty adviser Melissa Marshall, who is also a lecturer in Communication Arts and Sciences at Penn State.

Team challenges led by Shaver’s Creek helped the students from the four schools get to know one another to create more open communication and efficient teamwork at what Marshall calls, “a kind of ambassador boot camp.”

Outside of the teambuilding activities, much of the weekend for the workshop participants consisted of presentation critique sessions. Marshall, two seasoned Penn State ambassadors, and engineering communication professor and The Craft of Scientific Presentations author Michael Alley each ran a critique room where students cycled through and were reviewed based on the content and design of their presentations.

“It normally takes students an entire semester to learn these technical presentation skills, but we were able to come together as professors, mentors, mentees, and especially as friends to develop these skills in just one weekend,” says Penn State ambassador Ian Davis, a nuclear engineering senior. “Now that our new ambassador friends from UConn, WPI and RPI have the tools, they will be able to expand the reach of Engineering Ambassadors to uncharted areas.”

By the end of the workshop that Sunday, each school had a set of solid presentations to take back to their home states on topics such as wind power, fluid mechanics, the technology behind clothing insulation and the engineering behind life-changing prosthetic devices.

“The visiting students used their creativity, combined with effective slide designs and speaking techniques, to astound their audience at the culmination of the workshop,” says Penn State ambassador and mechanical engineering senior Katie Kirsch.

The Engineering Ambassadors group started at Penn State two years ago as an outreach program to pique high school students’ interest in the field of engineering. In those two years at Penn State, its ranks have increased from two to almost 40, and a recent grant of support from UTC has allowed the program to expand to burgeoning programs at UConn, WPI and RPI.

“I learned a great deal from the Penn State workshop, and I feel motivated to be that great speaker Melissa Marshall was to me,” says RPI ambassador Anda Lupse. “I am excited to present the research projects I worked on to high school students and inspire them to become engineers.”

But the Engineering Ambassadors program isn’t just about outreach. While bringing the “cool factor” of engineering, as Marshall says, to high school students and proudly representing the University to potential and accepted students, ambassadors are developing skills and confidence in their public speaking ability by using it in real-world situations.

In a career field that emphasizes science and math skills, graduating with six credit hours of advanced communications training as well as real life experience speaking dynamically in front of large crowds make ambassadors the total package for large engineering firms looking to hire.

By expanding the UTC Engineering Ambassadors program to UConn, RPI and WPI, a whole northeastern network of passionate engineering students will be created to spread their passion to the next generation of total-package engineers who will innovate as well as lead.

Penn State ambassador and nuclear engineering major Kim Harrison says, “We’ve got a really special group of people involved with this project—I can’t wait to see how the northeast is impacted.”

Tags: student, group, engineering ambassadors