Ohio State University: Engineering students build bridges to their futures

Students participating in ACCELERATE, a summer bridge program at The Ohio State University’s College of Engineering, gain immediate engineering experience – but the real benefits are more long-term.

“We make new connections,” said Anastasia Anikina, an ACCELERATE participant and aerospace engineering major. “All these people are my future connections.”

Now in its second year, ACCELERATE, or Academic Enrichment and Career Development for Undergraduates, enhances problem-solving skills, exposes students to key concepts necessary for matriculation in their engineering programs and provides them with hands-on experience through team, project-based learning. Students also receive mentoring and career-development support.

It is this type of forward thinking that the program was designed for, said Edwin Lee, assistant director for student academic success in the Office of Diversity, Outreach & Inclusion in the college. This year’s cohort includes 13 rising second-year students. The small group allows for a more intimate, focused program, Lee said.

“This gives us an opportunity to have the students have a safe and accessible, familiar program that will provide some of that knowledge,” he said. “We do work helping students to think about what they want to do career-wise and plan for next summer, the next few semesters, up until, ultimately, what they want to do for their careers.”

All the students in the College of Engineering are high-performing, Lee said. However, this focus on their academic performance and assumptions about what they already know can hinder their career planning and limit their options beyond the classroom. A bridge program like ACCELERATE can shine a light on opportunities that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.

“The idea that undergirds bridge programs is linking one thing to another,” Lee said. “Connecting an otherwise empty space or a gap.”

Lathania Escobar Soto, another participant, said the program’s summer timing made this work easier.

“Having that dedicated time during the summer, when you don’t have a lot of other obligations, is really nice. And we have a lot of additional support that you might not have during the semester. Dr. Lee is walking us through all of this,” the industrial and systems engineering major said.

Students are not the only ones learning during the program’s eight weeks. Lee took feedback he received from the first year of ACCELERATE and immediately made tweaks to help students feel more at ease during the second year.

Several program sessions focus on career planning. In 2021, Lee asked students in ACCELERATE’s initial cohort to identify and develop career goals. Almost uniformly, students felt anxiety about committing to a path so early. This year, Lee has changed his approach.

“This year, I tried to facilitate different behaviors by really breaking down the idea of career planning in terms of things students want: ‘Where do you want to work next summer? Do you want to work in LA? Do you want to work in Atlanta? What technologies are you interested in?’”

This technique gives students more entry points for succesful career planning, Lee said.

“This program, in particular, gave me a new view when it comes to research and graduate school,” said Isaac Wilson, an ACCELERATE participant and aerospace engineering major. “Dr. Lee has had us focus on different paths that we can take – not just industry, but research and graduate school as well.”

Lee views ACCELERATE as a safe space for his students to explore new ideas. A path that seems exciting today may not tomorrow, and that is not only acceptable, it’s a good sign, he said.

“They’re getting opportunities to be empowered to think about their entire engineering careers, or careers outside of engineering, that are specific to their talent, their passion and their ability to dream.”