Penn State hosts virtual Engineering Ambassadors Network conference


By Tessa M. Pick

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State College of Engineering recently hosted the Northeast Engineering Ambassadors Network (EAN) conference. Over the course of two weekends, Sept. 11-13 and Sept. 18-20, engineering faculty organized a virtual training for 111 new Engineering Ambassadors (EAs) from across numerous universities and institutes — including 25 new Penn State EAs.

The Engineering Ambassadors Program was originally launched at Penn State in 2009 by Karen Thole, head of mechanical engineering, and Michael Alley, teaching professor in the Leonhard Center, and is currently led by Lori Miraldi, director of the Engineering Ambassadors Program. This program is a national initiative that was created to build the participating students' professional skills and inspire the next generation of engineers. The student representatives in this program look to engage with K-12 students, prospective students and their families, industry partners and their surrounding communities while further advancing their communication, leadership and collaboration skills.

Soon after launching, the program received support from the Raytheon Technologies Corporation — formally known as the United Technologies Corporation — that allowed for an expansion to a network of four schools: Penn State, University of Connecticut, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Worcester Polytechnic Institute. With additional support from the National Science Foundation, the Engineering Ambassadors Network became a nationwide initiative and has since expanded to about 20 schools across the United States.

Each year, a new group of engineering students is inducted into the program. Attending the EAN conference gives these students the opportunity to connect with current EA mentors and learn the ins and outs of becoming an EA. This year, 15 Penn State EAs served as mentors for the conference.

“The main purpose of our conference is to train the new EAs on how to create and give effective K-12 outreach presentations that change the conversation around engineering and inspire young students,” Miraldi said. “The role of the experienced EAs as mentors is vital to the success of the training.”

Traditionally, the EAN conference rotates locations between the four foundational schools. With this year being Penn State’s turn to host, faculty and students made a quick shift to a virtual format for the conference. According to Miraldi, it came with its challenges.

“We certainly missed being together in-person,” Miraldi said. “There is a tangible energy that you can feel when 150-200 EAs from several different schools are all in the same room together. They get a sense that they are part of something bigger than what they do at their individual schools.”

According to Miraldi, even though there were challenges faced with shifting to a virtual format, the individuals involved with EAN made the best of the circumstances.

“I’m always impressed with how the students rise to the occasion,” Miraldi said. “We did our best to foster this energy in our online interactions through the use of interactive tools within Zoom. I was happy to hear the excitement when some of the EAs shared that they had connected with someone from another school via social media or they learned something fun about another school.”

Miraldi and her team are planning a second run of the EAN conference for November in order to give more schools the opportunity to participate. For the November conference, current EAN schools are invited as well as schools who are looking to start Engineering Ambassador Programs. There are 16 schools set to participate in the upcoming conference.

“For the first run of the conference, we limited it to well-established, experienced schools with experienced EAs and advisers to help,” Miraldi said. “We wanted to do a second run so more schools have a chance to participate in training. This second run will provide valuable professional development for the Penn State EAs and experienced EAs from the other foundational schools since many will be serving as mentors to the trainees and helping with the teaching.”


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Megan Lakatos