Eastern Mennonite Univeristy first-year students in the STEM Scholars Engaging in Local Problems program pose for a photo with lead professors. The scholars are supported by a National Science Foundation grant. Front, from left: Professor Danny King, Nicole Miller, Anna Paetkau, Jake Myers, Duncan Ferency-Viars, Professor Tara Kishbaugh. Back: Ally Mankamyer, Andrew Schunn, Jacob Horsley, Wade Banks. (Photo by Macson McGuigan)

Alumni STEM professionals help NSF-funded scholars explore career paths and dig into local issues

Eastern Mennonite University student Ally Mankamyer knows her future lies in math, but whether she’ll find her important work to be in the classroom or more likely, in a newly affirmed delight in statistics — well, all options are open.

Classmate Andrew Schunn thought mechanical engineering was in his future. Now, though, “I’m really open to new things,” he said during a final exam period for a spring semester STEM 219, a unique grant-funded science and engineering practicum course designed to get students thinking about their futures.

Students explored a stream restoration in Broadway with environmental consultant Jon Roller. (Photo courtesy of Tara Kishbaugh)

Mankamyer and Schunn were among the first cohort of a National Science Foundation-funded scholarship program called STEM Scholars Engaging in Local Problems, or SSELP. The innovative program, created by EMU professors, fosters real-world impact through socially engaged learning. Students are provided with peer and faculty mentorship, funds for conference participation and participation in problem-solving a local issue during their second year of studies. .

Read more about the first SSELP Scholars.

The $600,000 grant funds seven more students for a second cohort starting in fall 2019, as well as support services, including the strong peer-tutoring program,  and activities for students both years. The scholarships may be renewed for up to four years.

The required multidisciplinary STEM 219 course — co-taught by Professor Tara Kishbaugh, chair of the chemistry and biology departments, and Professor Danny King, of the engineering program — focuses on career exploration and skill-building. Readings came from EMU’s Common Read, Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work by StoryCorps founder Dave Isay with Maya Millett (Penguin, 2017).

Students attended Suter Science Seminars presented by a geographer and environmental scientist, and visited local sites to converse with professionals in a variety of fields including:

  • Jon Roller, co-founder of the Charlottesville-based engineering consulting firm EcoSystems Services, who provided a tour of the stream restoration project in Broadway;
  • Myrl Sauder and son Dan, who own Sauder Woodworking Company, a third-generation family-owned business based in Archbold, Ohio;
  • Daryl Myers ‘84, head of product development and implementation teams at the data management company VistaShare;
  • Travis Riesen ‘14, with Afton Scientific, a pharmaceutical manufacturing company; and
  • Megen Dalton, with the Shenandoah Soil and Water Conservation District.

For their final projects, students interviewed alumni who had either graduated within their degree program or were working in the potential field of interest.

Jake Myers, who is interested in sustainable agriculture, talked to Trevor Weiner ‘09, a watershed specialist with the Midland County Conservation District, about faith, creation care, stewardship and ethics. Weiner also talked about how his definition of success has evolved over the years in the workforce. “To me, success is if projects are completed or all parties are pleased,” he told Myers. “I want to enjoy my work, but also make a difference and the best way to do that is through establishing relationships with people.”

Alumni addressed a range of questions, from what was particularly valuable about their EMU education and cross-cultural experience to their post-graduate paths to graduate school and/or current employment. Students were encouraged to learn more about each alum’s important milestones or experiences as undergraduates that had a lasting impact on their current career path.

Other alumni who contributed their time to the interview projects were Dustin Good ‘11, who works in software testing and general IT support; Aaron Miller ‘03, working as an analytical chemist at Eurofins; David Hooley ‘15, who is employed with an insurance company on the actuarial department analytics team after spending time overseas with Mennonite Central Committee; Steven Rittenhouse ‘11, a seventh grade math teacher; David Showalter ‘09, a postdoctoral researcher in plant pathology; and Jared Stoltzfus ‘05, a professor in the Integrated Science and Technology Department at James Madison University.