Engineering Ambassadors learn leadership skills in an uncertain environment

Stefanie Tomlinson
April 26, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Heat. Smoke. Confined spaces. These were just a few of the challenges Penn State Engineering Ambassadors faced during a leadership training workshop April 18 at the Centre County Public Safety Training Center in Pleasant Gap.

Engineering Ambassadors are the student representatives of Penn State's College of Engineering. They connect with middle and high school students, prospective students and their families, alumni, industry partners and the community to inspire others to see the amazing opportunities in the College of Engineering and in the engineering field as a whole.

Thirty ambassadors participated in the Chevron Leadership Challenge, a daylong event featuring various activities that were designed and monitored by professional firefighting and emergency services personnel. Ambassadors were divided into small, mission-oriented teams and placed in situations where they had to rapidly think, make decisions, communicate and act to achieve a desired goal. 

“One of the activities was a multi-story maze filled with obstacles,” said engineering sophomore and Schreyer Scholar Moujhuri Sau. “We had to carry a heavy dummy through the maze to the top of a building and back down. Inside, it was unbelievably hot, dark and very tight; at some parts we were forced to crawl.”

Sau said the exercise taught her how essential communication is between a leader and a team, because it would have been virtually impossible for anyone to carry the dummy alone through the darkness.

Aerospace engineering junior Parth Patel described another exercise: “I went into a house that had a simulated fire with a team of four, and we attempted to find and rescue an injured person inside.”

He said an important leadership lesson he learned is that you can communicate just as effectively with others nonverbally as you can if you were talking. 

“We wore oxygen masks, so it was hard to hear what others were saying,” he explained. “Pair that with having to crawl because of the smoke, and most verbal comments were almost impossible to hear. This meant we had to rely on body and hand gestures to understand each other.”

In addition to general leadership lessons, the ambassadors also made surprising discoveries about their individual leadership potential.

Computer science senior Kaitlyn Heinzmann said, “I realized that I can easily adapt to find where I am needed. While I know that I can be a strong leader, I also found that I enjoy being able to take a step back to analyze the situation at hand in order to find ways to help the team succeed.”

The Engineering Ambassadors agreed that this leadership training was unlike any they had previously completed.

“Crawling through a burning building with firefighting gear is obviously not a normal situation for an Engineering Ambassador or perhaps even an engineering student or professional engineer,” said electrical engineering senior Anthony Soares. “However, the leadership lessons learned through the exercises in the EA firefighter training are universal and can certainly be applied to the engineering realm. As a leader of any team or organization, you will have to prepare yourself and your team members to accomplish a set goal, and effectively communicate the goal and the roles necessary to accomplish that goal.”

Erik Orient, director of Penn State’s Engineering Ambassadors program, said the training was not designed as a pass/fail or measure of success; rather, it provided an opportunity for the ambassadors to figure out whether or not they are confident and comfortable in these types of uncertain situations.

“This is important for the students to learn about themselves at this stage, before they graduate with their engineering degrees and move on in their careers,” he said.

The Penn State Engineering Ambassadors leadership training event was made possible by a generous donation from Chevron, one of the world’s leading integrated energy companies, based in San Ramon, California.

“We are extremely grateful to Chevron for providing funding to offer the ambassadors this opportunity for personal and professional development,” said Orient.

Jeff Hooper, Chevron Program Field Advisor, said, “Chevron is pleased to support unique leadership training experiences for Penn State’s Engineering Ambassadors. These programs teach valuable skills that will help future engineers advance in their careers.”

  • EA Chevron Leadership Challenge

    Engineering Ambassadors listen to instructions for a team-building activity that was part of the Chevron Leadership Challenge, held April 18 at the Centre County Public Safety Training Center in Pleasant Gap.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • EA Chevron Leadership Challenge

    Engineering Ambassadors exit a building after completing a group activity during the Chevron Leadership Challenge, held April 18 at the Centre County Public Safety Training Center in Pleasant Gap, Pennsylvania.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • EA Chevron Leadership Challenge

    Engineering Ambassadors participated in various team-building activities as part of the Chevron Leadership Challenge, held April 18 at the Centre County Public Safety Training Center in Pleasant Gap, Pennsylvania.

    IMAGE: Penn State
  • EA Chevron Leadership Challenge

    Engineering Ambassadors prepare to suit up for an activity during the Chevron Leadership Challenge, held April 18 at the Centre County Public Safety Training Center in Pleasant Gap, Pennsylvania.

    IMAGE: Penn State
(1 of 4)

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 02, 2017