Workshop gives rise to national engineering ambassadors network

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State Engineering Ambassador program hosted 18 universities in a workshop aimed at creating a national network of ambassador programs.

Engineering Ambassadors is a professional development program for engineering undergraduates with an outreach mission. The ambassadors, through development of their own communication and leadership skills, aim to enhance the messages middle and high school students receive about engineering careers.

Participating institutions in the network will collaborate on training and share teaching resources, best practices for program management and best outreach presentations.

The focus of the Engineering Ambassador National Workshop, held on Penn State's University Park campus Aug. 17-19, was in-depth presentation training with Engineering Ambassadors adviser Melissa Marshall, senior lecturer in communication arts and sciences, and Michael Alley, associate professor of engineering communications.

Participating faculty members and ambassadors were welcomed by Karen Thole, department head of mechanical and nuclear engineering; Rob Pangborn, executive vice president and provost of Penn State; and Renata Engel, associate dean of academic programs in the college of engineering. Then, keynote speaker Al Brockett, vice president of engineering-module centers at Pratt & Whitney, addressed the students on the importance of communication and collaboration skills in engineering.

Over the weekend, students learned about strategies for effective presentations like content, slide design and delivery, and worked in pairs to create a 15-minute presentation of their own. The main goals of these presentations are to widen perceptions of what engineers do and to show that the engineering profession makes a difference in people's lives.

"Through dynamic presentation skills, the ambassadors show middle and high school students that engineers are creative and make a world of difference, hopefully influencing these students to consider engineering careers," said Marshall.

While students spent hours crafting their presentations and perfecting their delivery, faculty and administrators met with one another to discuss the behind-the-scenes aspects of building and sustaining an ambassador program.

"We already had an ambassador program in place, but it's really still in its infancy," explained Christine Valle, director of the Women in Engineering Program at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "So it was very good for us to come and see what Penn State and their partners are doing, to see if we can adapt some of it for Georgia Tech."

On the last day of the workshop, after intensive critiques from attending faculty, mentors and fellow ambassadors, students delivered their final presentations in a workshop-wide showcase. These presentations will be the foundation on which institutions will build the future of their Engineering Ambassador programs.

"What I'm going to do with the presentation I created here is go back to my university and show it to other students in middle and high schools and show them how exciting it is to be an engineering student," said ambassador Chuma Kabaghe, a computer engineering sophomore at the University of Illinois.

The Engineering Ambassadors' national network already includes four institutions — the University of Connecticut (UConn), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and the Simula Research Laboratory’s Prepare Program in Norway — and these partners assisted in leading the August workshop by offering valuable advice, best practices and lessons learned. Each new ambassador was paired with an experienced ambassador from the network who acted as their presentation mentor throughout the weekend.

Originating at Penn State in 2009, the Engineering Ambassador program sends outstanding engineering students to middle and high school math and science classes to communicate engaging messages about engineering careers. In 2010, the Simula Research Laboratory partnered with the ambassadors to bring the program to Norway, then UConn, RPI and WPI joined the network in 2011.

The universities attending this workshop included Arizona State University, Beijing Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Eastern Michigan University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Kansas State University, Michigan Technological University, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Morgan State University, Oregon State University, University of Alabama, University of Delaware, University of Illinois, University of Maine, The University of Texas at Austin, University of Washington, University of Wisconsin-Platteville and Vanderbilt University.

The Engineering Ambassador National Workshop was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the Penn State Electro-Optics Center and the Penn State College of Engineering.

For more information on the Engineering Ambassadors National Network, visit www.engineeringambassadors.org.

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Last Updated September 18, 2012