by Kelsi McKinley Lester
How many engineering students do you know who would willingly wake up at 5:30 a.m. on a Thursday morning, so they can drive two hours and arrive at a middle school by the time class begins—all to teach students about engineering?
Probably not that many. However, I am part of an organization where the members are not only willing to wake up that ridiculously early—but do so with smiles on their faces. We’re Penn State’s Engineering Ambassadors!
Engineering Ambassadors is a “professional development organization with an outreach mission.” I like to consider us the student-face for the College of Engineering. We give College of Engineering tours to prospective students, deliver “My College of Engineering” presentations that show prospective students and parents the ‘human’ side of Penn State’s College of Engineering, and most importantly conduct outreach visits.
The outreach visits are my favorite aspect of Engineering Ambassadors and the reason that I decided to apply. During my sophomore year, I learned that my friends Julia and Jen had just become Engineering Ambassadors. As I researched more about the organization, it seemed ideal for me. As I learned about the outreach visits and that I could share my love of engineering with young students, I knew I needed to apply. Not until I had been accepted into the program did I realize the competitiveness of the process—less than half of the applicants each year get a position.
Luckily, I’ve had several opportunities to go on outreach visits over the past year. Even better, two weeks ago, I made a return visit to James Buchanan Middle School—where I had gone for my first outreach visit!
During the outreach visits, we visit individual classrooms and deliver unique engineering presentations such as ‘Engineering Movie Magic,’ ‘Engineering the Olympics,’ and ‘Engineering a More Sustainable Future’. After the short presentation, the Engineering Ambassadors reveal the hands-on project segment where the students get to apply the engineering principles they just learned to a cool activity. The students learn that engineering is creative, and more importantly, how to work in groups.
During our visit to James Buchanan Middle School, two different groups of Engineering Ambassadors delivered presentations.
I, and two other Engineering Ambassadors, presented ‘Engineering Movie Magic’ and then conducted an activity where the students designed a landing pad for their “stuntman”–an egg. There were some very messy spills along the way, but the students learned a lot about design principles and constrictions such as time, budget, and materials that engineers face in the real world. More importantly, the eighth graders had a complete blast and learned that engineering is definitely fun!
The other group did a presentation on prosthetics which taught the students more about the humanitarian side of engineering. While engineers get to solve fun problems and make lots of money, at the end of the day, the greatest purpose of engineering is to improve the health, happiness, and well-being of the world. In the project section of the class, the students applied the design principles they had learned in the presentation to create their own prosthetic leg using a toilet plunger and a variety of other materials.
Engineering Ambassadors is not only a fun way to express my love for engineering, it has provided some great career opportunities. Engineering Ambassadors has exceptional sponsors that help fund our amazing outreach activities, and some individual Engineering Ambassadors, such as myself, have industry partner companies. As ‘industry designated Engineering Ambassadors,’ we get additional networking opportunities with these companies. Last year, my industry sponsor was Phillips66, and this year I am sponsored by another oil company, Williams. Moreover, all Engineering Ambassadors must take ENGR397A: Advanced Communication for Engineers, and the communication learned in this class proved extremely beneficial when I interned last summer.
Engineering Ambassadors is a huge time commitment and sometimes requires me to wake up at extremely early hours; however, simply knowing that my fellow Ambassadors and I make differences in others’ lives provides a satisfying reward.
Kelsi McKinley Lester is a senior majoring in chemical engineering with a minor in English. The Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, native has served as an Engineering Ambassador for a year and a half. She is also actively involved with the International Engineering Envoys, the Cross Country Club, and the Outing Club. In her limited free time, Kelsi enjoys running, rock climbing, hiking, and reading. After graduation next May, she hopes to pursue a career in industry.