Engineering virtual summer programs support and connect first-year students

Tessa M. Pick
September 30, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Every summer, the Penn State College of Engineering hosts numerous orientation programs that are designed to support and welcome first-year engineering students as they begin their collegiate career. This year, these summer programs made a shift to an all virtual format. 

The summer orientation programs — Multicultural Engineering Program Orientation (MEPO), Women in Engineering Program Orientation (WEPO) and Engineering Network Orientation (EON) — give engineering students the opportunity to connect with upper-level students, faculty, staff and each other in a multi-day interactive experience. This year, as with most events, the program directors had to make a quick transition from in-person plans to a virtual format. There were complexities — especially when it came to generating the sense of community the orientations foster for students embarking on their college careers, according to Cheryl Knobloch, director of the Women in Engineering Program (WEP). 

“It was a mighty challenge to design a virtual orientation that would engage students so successfully that they would choose to log back on for the next session and the next day,” Knobloch said. “We are thrilled with the outcomes, and the students participated fully, each and every day, despite many other options they had at home and on campus. The program assessments prove that WEPO 2020 exceeded all expectations.”

While there were initial hurdles to overcome, there were also benefits to the virtual format, according to Lauren Griggs, director of the Multicultural Engineering Program (MEP). 

“We were able to have students join us who are starting their fall semester at home, international students, as well as Commonwealth Campus students,” Griggs said. “We were able to have alumni join us, who may not otherwise have been able to make it onto campus physically.”

The virtual format of these summer programs gave engineering students from all over the world the flexibility to join the various activities from the comfort of their current residences and allowed for students to network with numerous career resources.

“We were able to feature over 80 alumnae career professionals from every discipline in our WEPO career networking event,” Knobloch said.

The orientation programs are just the beginning steps of students engaging in the leadership programs led by the college’s Center for Engineering Outreach and Inclusion (CEOI). MEP and WEP promote academic success, career development and a commitment to celebrating diversity, equity and inclusion. 

EON, a student-led initiative, allows past-participating students the chance to become mentors and support future first-year students as they participate in EON and navigate through their first year at Penn State. 

“The mentoring program continues to help connect our new students to upper-level mentors,” said Matt Barone, director of undergraduate student engagement in the College of Engineering and adviser for EON. “We were able to host multiple events during this year’s EON that helped our students get to know the College of Engineering. The Engineering Involvement Fair, held virtually, allowed over 50 student organizations a chance to recruit new members.”

WEPO, MEPO and EON help students build a sense of community and create an environment where students feel welcomed and encouraged to ask questions. The upper-level students who mentor students that currently participate in these leadership programs played a huge part in helping develop the content for this year’s orientations.

“Student leaders on the WEPO leadership team made a seamless pivot to the virtual model,” Knobloch said. “These student leaders are a shining example of the excellence in our student body. The extremely positive outcomes and favorable feedback from our participants is testimony to their talent, creativity, commitment and grit.”

These summer programs served as an introduction to mentorship for first-year students as they prepared to start their first semester at Penn State. This year, more than ever, mentorship for these first-year students became increasingly important through the current mixed mode of learning. Upper-level students continue to serve as mentors for these first-year students as they navigate through the current semester that is already underway and throughout their entire first year at Penn State. 

“Whether it was helping me decide which teachers would be best for a certain class, giving me feedback on my resume or simply telling me where the best food is on campus, my mentors have had my back and wish for my success,” said Summer Walker, first-year engineering student, Clark Scholar and 2020 MEPO participant. “That type of support has made me feel more confident in my abilities to thrive at Penn State.” 

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated September 30, 2020