Penn State hosts largest Engineering Ambassadors Network conference

Stefanie Tomlinson
September 13, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Since 2009, Penn State’s Engineering Ambassadors have connected prospective students, families and alumni to the College of Engineering, and motivated countless aspiring engineers to think differently about how they can make a positive impact in the world.

This past weekend, they had an opportunity to share their successes as they hosted the largest ever Engineering Ambassadors Network Conference.

More than 210 attendees, including 130 ambassadors-in-training representing 15 universities and staff from two additional universities hoping to launch EA programs, participated in the two-and-a-half-day event.

The primary focus of the conference was to provide new engineering ambassadors with presentation skills they will need to be successful in their roles, through a series of class modules, workshops and team challenges. In addition, more than 40 returning ambassadors mentored the incoming cohort by sharing best practices and lessons learned.

Karen Thole, head of Penn State’s mechanical and nuclear engineering department and a co-founder of the University’s Engineering Ambassadors program, delivered opening remarks and provided an update on the Engineering Ambassadors Network.

The conference wrapped up with a showcase, during which new ambassadors delivered presentations they worked on during the course of the conference.

Christine Haas, director of the Engineering Ambassadors Network, said participation at the annual conference has been on the rise since the first event, which included 30 to 40 ambassadors, was held in 2011.

In addition to increased enrollment, said Haas, another change over the past five years is the depth of learning for conference participants.

“Because of the growing interest in the Engineering Ambassadors program and increased numbers of returning ambassadors attending the conference, we have added sessions exclusively tailored for the Engineering Ambassadors program advisers as well as separate tracts of training for the veteran EAs,” she said.

One of those veteran EAs is Penn State chemical engineering senior Shelby Harris, who taught the Delivery and Visual Aids class modules with Michael Alley, associate professor of engineering communications at Penn State.  She said that, to her, being an Engineering Ambassador means never settling for average. 

“My time as an Engineering Ambassador has given me countless incredible opportunities to be better professionally, academically and personally. What started as an extracurricular activity, ended up being an integral part of who I am,” said Harris.

Joe Hacker, another returning Penn State Engineering Ambassador, served in a mentorship role during the conference.

“I became a mentor because I have had such a positive experience as an Engineering Ambassador, and I want to help other students continue to have great experiences. A huge reason for the quality of the EA program at Penn State is the alumni and veterans ambassadors, who are incredibly welcoming and helpful to the new EAs. I benefited directly from veteran ambassadors, and I see this as a great opportunity to continue the trend of developing great EAs,” said the fifth-year architectural engineering student.

Erik Orient, director of Penn State’s Engineering Ambassadors program, said the University is fortunate to have an EA program that is not only well supported by faculty and staff of the College of Engineering but also through 16 corporate partners like United Technologies Corporation, who provided funding to establish Penn State’s Engineering Ambassadors program and continues to support the group.

“It was an honor to host this year’s Engineering Ambassadors Network conference at Penn State,” said Orient. “I was happy to have the visibility for the network and for Penn State’s Engineering Ambassadors. We are doing tremendous things here, and we were happy to share what we’re doing with others.”

Penn State is one of four founding members of the Engineering Ambassadors Network, which now includes more than 30 universities worldwide. The other three founders, which also received support from United Technologies, are Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the University of Connecticut and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  

Anyone who would like more information about Penn State’s EA program can contact Orient at

The Engineering Ambassadors Network is supported through two grants from the National Science Foundation: $600,000 from the TUES program (grant number 1323230) and $50,000 from I-Corps Learning Program. The College of Engineering at Penn State serves as the home for both of these grants with Professor Karen Thole as the PI.

  • Karen Thole

    Karen Thole, co-founder of Penn State's Engineering Ambassadors program, welcomes participants to the Engineering Ambassadors Network Conference on Sept. 9 at the Nittany Lion Inn.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Engineering Ambassadors Network Conference group photo

    Penn State hosted the largest Engineering Ambassadors Network Conference, Sept. 9-11.

    IMAGE: Penn State
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Last Updated September 14, 2016