Helpful guides: MAE’s graduate student ambassadors pave way for the future
Wearing scarlet around The Ohio State University campus isn’t always the best way to stand out. But around Scott Laboratory, the Center for Automotive Research, the Aerospace Research Center and other facilities in the College of Engineering it is often how one group sets themselves apart. Eight students can be found at events, in classes and around campus in scarlet fleece jackets that read “The Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.” These are MAE’s graduate student ambassadors.
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace engineering (MAE) graduate student ambassadors are a group of masters and PhD students who serve as resources for current and prospective members of the department’s mechanical, aerospace and nuclear graduate programs. These students assist in MAE orientation, guide tours, represent the department at events, advise new students and offer support.
The student ambassadors come from a variety of backgrounds. Some of the ambassadors completed undergraduate work at Ohio State, others have joined the department after graduating elsewhere, some are even experienced as international students. But whatever their past, the graduate student ambassadors are all joined in the mission to support new and potential MAE students in their journeys.
“I have been interested in assisting the department in this capacity because I would like to contribute to a welcoming atmosphere for incoming students, especially those coming from overseas where the shift could seem very daunting,” PhD student and Graduate Research Assistant at the Center for Automotive Research, Mithun Goutham said. “Being able to do so as an official ambassador also widens my understanding of how numerous systems work at the university and I get to gain larger perspectives to issues that I may not yet have recognized.”
Goutham and the other student ambassadors have attended numerous graduate panels to help new students find off-campus housing, answer questions from incoming students, help structure qualifying exam preparations and describe their research in MAE.
Along with being representatives for the department, graduate student ambassadors are just that – students. They have been through the processes of visits, applications and decisions on schools and programs. Having lived the experience first-hand, they have found ways to connect with prospective students outside of standard tours and information sessions.
“We understand that a lot of information is coming at you when you’re on a visit to a school, so we’ve rolled out a couple Slack channels that perspective students can use to ask whatever questions about life at Ohio State and in Columbus once they’ve had the time to process everything,” Mia Bridgman, a mechanical engineering Masters student working in the SIMcenter, said. “I’ve really enjoyed being able to answer questions in those Slack channels as well.”
For many of the ambassadors, the experience of being a leader and resource for MAE students is all about paying it forward. Mechanical engineering PhD student Brian Block already knew a couple people when he joined the department, but realized that this is not the case for many others.
“Having some sort support structure is very beneficial and if I can give back to the department and provide that, I would very much like to do so,” Block said.
Being able to support and provide guidance to new and incoming MAE students isn’t just something the ambassadors are doing throughout their time in the program – it is something they will carry with them.
Second year PhD student Katie Blessinger spent some time as a TA for her advisor’s biomechanics class. The experience working with students inspired her to become and MAE ambassador, and the skills learned as representatives of the department are something she believes all of the ambassadors will be able to carry into their futures.
“The general mentoring and working with students we do is great practice for being a good mentor, teacher or professor later in our careers,” Blessinger said.
Gaurang Dharap spent two years in the automotive industry after earning his undergraduate degree. He is now in the second year of his doctoral studies, and works in MAE’s gearlab. He says the lessons he has learned as a graduate student ambassador are ones that will be applied in the future as an engineer and researcher.
“I hope to provide a bridge aiming to connect requirements of students and professors. In the long run, I hope to utilize this preview to attract and lead a group of researchers working on developing realistic validated models,” Dharap said.
Of course, one of the key roles of the graduate student ambassadors is to offer advice. Some of the MAE graduate student ambassadors had some words of wisdom for prospective MAE graduate students, and new students entering the department. Read through those below:
Katie Blessinger: “Learn to say ‘no’ when there is too much on your plate. It’s also important to enjoy life outside of classes and research.”
Brian Block: “Graduate school, especially a PhD, is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a long journey and you’re going to hit a wall at some point, whether it’s a couple semesters in or later, so it’s important that you have some sort of plan and support system to get you through it.”
Mia Bridgman: “Use the resources available to you and don’t be afraid to ask about them. There’s so much that the department and the school do to make sure that you have the best experience possible, but it does require some searching to find what you’re looking for. With that being said, someone will know about the resources you’re interested in – so be sure to ask away!”
Gaurang Dharap: “The professors at the MAE department are welcoming to new ideas. All they seek is dedicated students up for challenges to explore scientific boundaries. Therefore, it is essential to remain true to your area of interest and opportunities will present.”
Mithun Goutham: “It’s okay to come in with a clear sense of the research or studying you want to do, but it’s also important to keep an open mind to new directions you didn’t know about. In the end, so long as the path you choose has you excited and daydreaming about new ideas, keep at it. Basically, have an adventure!”