STEM Students Set Up for Success

An Otterbein faculty member once described the energy and educational experience in the University’s STEM programs as a “sleeping giant ready to be awakened.” Today, that giant is not only awake, but also catching the attention of state and federal agencies.


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In the past year, Otterbein has received major grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship Program, NSF S-STEM Program, Choose Ohio First Scholarship Program, and Howard Hughes Medical Institution. These grants mean far more than just dollars, and recognize Otterbein’s academically strong STEM programs, as well as the University’s purposeful work to diversify STEM fields.

From preparing education majors to teach STEM subjects in under-served schools to creating more opportunities for students from diverse backgrounds to major in STEM areas of study, Otterbein is strengthening STEM professions as a whole with the support of these grants.

“Otterbein STEM includes a dynamic, dedicated community of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians that provide a rigorous, hands-on curriculum for students interested in a wide variety of fields,” said Sarah Bouchard, professor of biology and earth science.

Otterbein has a long history of experiential learning. Educational techniques incorporating hands-on learning and real-world applications can be found in most disciplines across campus. STEM education at Otterbein is taking experiential learning to a whole new level and STEM professors are leading the charge.

“You’ll typically find our STEM students conducting research in the lab or field, presenting at scientific conferences, interning with one of our many university partners, or shadowing medical professionals in local hospitals and clinics,” said Bouchard. “These opportunities, coupled with our challenging coursework, mean that students graduate with the skills and experience needed for whatever comes next.”

STEM education at Otterbein connects teamwork, analytical thinking, and 21st century jobs, equipping Otterbein graduates with valuable skills to become future leaders and innovators. The grants open these opportunities to students who may not otherwise pursue these careers.

“Otterbein should be on the radar as a STEM school,” said Mike Hudoba, assistant professor of engineering. Hudoba is the team lead on the Choose Ohio First grant.

Associate Professor of Chemistry Brigitte Ramos agrees. She is the team lead for one of the two NSF grants, which supports recruitment and retention of students from under-represented populations in STEM fields through Otterbein’s Cardinal Science Scholars (CSS) program.

“The program is much more than the scholarship money,” she said of the CSS. “We offer programmatic support.”

The programmatic support Ramos cites provides opportunities outside of the classroom that will prepare students to enter the workforce. The program includes a seminar course where students will gain interview, communication, and relationship building skills, as well as professional development.

Equipping Otterbein

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“The seminar is one tool,” Ramos said, “but we will also be setting up what we call a mentorship triad, where our students will be linked with an upper-level student in their program as well as a professional.”

Students will also be placed in an internship or a research experience after completing their first year in order to get a leg up in their field of study.

Some goals of the Otterbein STEM programs include building a community of STEM students, creating diversity in the STEM fields, and building connections with alumni, faculty, and industry professionals.

Kayne Kirby ’02 graduated with a mathematics degree and now works as Grange Insurance’s director of personal lines pricing.

“Reflecting back on the importance of my Otterbein experience, I had some influential people who were able to help shape me,” Kirby said. “They put me in touch with alumni that could help me make that transition from Otterbein into my career.”

Hugh Allen ’62, pediatric cardiology professor at Baylor Texas Children’s Hospital, sees a powerful combination in Otterbein’s liberal arts tradition and STEM education.

“Otterbein allowed me to become a well-rounded individual and educator,” Allen said. “A liberal arts education while studying science is better than just a science education.”

Engineering graduate Abby Zerkle ’21, said “I think the Engineering Department is really something special. Yes, I gained important knowledge in the classroom, but I also learned how to become a confident, thoughtful, and ethical engineer. If it weren’t for Otterbein and the experiences I had there I wouldn’t be where I am right now. I am thankful for my time at Otterbein.”

For more information about Otterbein’s STEM offerings visit Choose Ohio First STEM Scholarship.

Follow @OtterbeinSTEM on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to see all the latest updates and awesome work from our students and faculty!

Grace Weidenhamer ’23 is a health communication and public relations major from Westerville, Ohio. She plays on the Otterbein women’s soccer team and is on the executive board of Otterbein’s Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA).

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