Engineering Ambassadors grows to national network

Erin Cassidy Hendrick
November 28, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Engineering Ambassadors, a homegrown initiative out of Penn State mechanical engineering, has now expanded nationwide, thanks to a partnership with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Led by director Lori Miraldi, the program was created to inspire more students, especially women, to pursue engineering careers.

“We know that a lot of students from underrepresented groups will self-select out of engineering,” Miraldi explained. “But we’re determined to show them through the Engineering Ambassadors that it can be an amazing and productive career path well within their reach.”

“With this program, all of us together can really change the conversation about engineering nationwide."

— Courtney Burkin, Penn State senior majoring in mechanical engineering

Karen Thole, distinguished professor and department head of Penn State mechanical engineering, and Michael Alley, associate teaching professor, launched the pilot program in 2009.

“During my career, I’ve made it my mission to encourage the growing number of women in engineering,” Thole said.

Empowered by her leadership, the initiative encompasses many of the critical virtues of a successful STEM outreach program, particularly fostering personal connections and engaging students at a young age. With an emphasis on recruiting female students, it has the potential to play a key role in inspiring the next generation of outstanding engineers. 

“This truly was a passion project for me, being able to work with our students to help spread the word about engineering,” Thole said.

Bright beginnings

Founded on the core principles posited by the National Academy of Engineering, Miraldi said, “We are promoting the message that to be an engineer, it’s not just being good at math and science. But instead, we’re helping students understand that engineers can change the world when they’re really creative problem-solvers.”

The ambassadors travel primarily to K-12 schools in a two-hour radius from University Park to deliver high-quality, engaging presentations about the incredible opportunities that exist within engineering. A key facet of their presentation is often leading a hands-on activity that illuminates the many ways an engineer makes impacts, like designing courses for the Olympics or building roller coasters.

“That’s the real power, having the ambassadors go into these classrooms and be a near-peer role model,” Miraldi said. “It’s so effective — the students can see themselves in this confident young adult who’s engaged in engineering.”

The ambassadors also regularly conduct tours of the College of Engineering facilities and presentations to prospective students and their families, giving them a personal glimpse into their experience.

“They’re absolutely giving that student a voice that is a lot more approachable. We reach a lot of new students that way,” Miraldi said.

Growing to a national stage

Thanks to the initial support of the United Technologies Corporation, as the outstanding success of the program became noticeable, it soon expanded to a network of four universities.

“But now, the network has grown well beyond that,” Miraldi said.

Together with additional industry partners, the heart of the initiative continues to be fueled by the Penn State College of Engineering.

“What ties all of our ambassadors together is the training,” Miraldi explained. “Here at Penn State, we bring the newest ambassadors from all the over country and show them how to become excellent communicators, sharing what they’re doing in engineering with different audiences in approachable and engaging ways.”

The impact has been profound, quickly finding homes in the regional pack of universities. Now, with a network of about 30 schools, the program is ready to reach new heights. The Engineering Ambassadors program has announced a partnership with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) to bring the initiative to universities around the country.

“ASME is proud to partner with Penn State’s Engineering Ambassadors program,” said Said Jahanmir, ASME president. “This collaboration builds an important bridge between students and the exciting world of engineering. The program supports engineering principles taught in the classroom and contributes to a sustainable future for the engineering profession.” 

Courtney Burkin, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, said that hearing about the expansion was a testament to its strength.

“With this program, all of us together can really change the conversation about engineering nationwide,” she said.

As the program continues its rapid expansion, its supporters, both in Penn State mechanical engineering and beyond, are hopeful it can spur a lasting change in the field.

“These Engineering Ambassadors have diverse academic and extracurricular backgrounds and are highly trained in effective communication and leadership skills,” noted Thomas Costabile, ASME’s executive director. “Their experiences and training will appeal to potential employers and will make them stand out in any program or position they wish to pursue.”

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated November 28, 2018