College is more than classes – get involved, faculty and students advise
“Encouraging students to get involved in activities beyond the classroom is something we emphasize at The University of Akron (UA), beginning with our Admissions information sessions for high school students and their parents,” said Dr. Steven Ash, assistant dean and professor of management in the College of Business.
“We fully understand that not everything can be taught in a classroom. Even though we pride ourselves on incorporating experiential learning into the curriculum, students need to reach out and stretch themselves in new ways in order to grow outside of coursework,” he said. “These are the places where students learn the social skills associated with networking, which will be important throughout every student’s career.”
In keeping with Dean Ash’s advice, here are profiles of seven University of Akron students who did stretch themselves in new ways:
Jose Garcia Barahona
Jose Garcia Barahona is a third-year electrical engineering major in The University of Akron (UA) College of Engineering and Polymer Science (CEPS) who knew no one here when he arrived but is now one of UA’s best ambassadors.
Not shy, he stepped out of his comfort zone and quickly became active in a range of extracurricular activities. He is now president of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, a member of the Society of Sales Engineers (SSE), and a social media ambassador for the college and the university. When he realized that there were a lot of students from outside the U.S. who didn’t really fit into any the existing organizations, he and a friend co-founded the International Student Organization.
“A lot of students ask me, why are you doing so many outside activities, especially these interpersonal, soft-skill, and business-oriented activities, if you are an engineering student?” he said.
“I tell them that you shouldn’t limit yourself to one area but rather try to do as many things as possible. You should explore areas that are not necessarily within your specific field, as it will allow you to build a portfolio with diverse skills. You might even discover some passions that you didn't know you had.”
How did Garcia find his way to Akron from Honduras?
“That is a great question,” he said. “I did a lot of research about college in the U.S. and eventually came across The University of Akron. I learned that the co-op program is one of the oldest in the nation and has an excellent reputation. I always wanted to have a multicultural experience, something that I hadn’t really experienced before, and was convinced that UA would be the perfect place for that. Plus, back home it's 100 degrees all the time, so I wanted a change to cooler weather, and Akron certainly can provide that.”
This semester, Garcia began his first co-op rotation at an engineered products company in Stow that he heard hires a lot of CEPS graduates. Who knows? He might be enjoying the cold weather longer than thought when he decided to come here.
‘Before I knew it, I was hired’
Another engineering student who would echo Garcia’s advice is Lauren Ickes, a biomedical engineering major from Canton in the fourth year of the co-op program. In addition to her co-op internships at Invacare Corporation and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), she is now in her fourth year working as a student research assistant at the Timken Engineered Surface Laboratory (TESL), located on campus.
“I never would have gotten that job if I wasn't active in student organizations,” she said. “My first year I met two people at a Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES) meeting who worked at TESL. They said, ‘You need to work there with us!’ They brought me in and before I knew it, I was hired.
“I love the research I do there. I've had so many amazing opportunities and met the most incredible people. I doubt that I would have gotten the great internship at the FDA last summer if not for TESL,” she said.
“As an engineering student, I don’t have time to be involved in a lot of clubs. But the ones I chose to participate–BMES, the Honors Engineering Club, and the Dean’s Team—have changed my life forever. I can't stress enough how important it is to get involved.”
Lourdres (Lordie) Varvel
Debits and credits and engineering
One might assume there is not much in common between engineering and accounting. Lourdres (Lordie) Varvel, an accounting major from Dayton in her final semester at the College of Business would disagree.
“My first-year residence hall was attached to the Williams Honors College, so I spent a lot of time there and got to know a lot of engineering students,” she said. “I thought as a business student, you should get to know people outside your major and in the different colleges—plus, I found engineering really interesting.”
Two organizations that now take up a good deal of her time are Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) and the Corrosion Squad, whose members are undergrads studying corrosion prevention. She is also active in the Zips Recruiting Club and Pi Sigma Epsilon, the professional fraternity for marketing and sales management students.
“One of my favorite things is when I can have one group help out another group. For example, we had the Pi Sigma Epsilon marketing and sales students help the Zip Recruiting Club come up with some TikTok ideas for campus engagement,” Varvel said.
“The ESW chapter was just in its first or second year when I joined, so I signed on as the social media chair to help raise awareness and recruit new members. It’s open to anyone. Now we have accounting majors, graphic design majors, and some other business majors.”
And she has already seen a practical professional payoff from her engineering connections.
“While I was on my accounting internship with Ernst & Young, we were doing an audit on a polymer company. Our ESW faculty advisor is a professor in the UA School of Polymer Science and Polymer Engineering. We had him in a few times to help my team learn more about polymers. I thought that was really cool.”
Motorcars and marketing
Varvel is far from the only UA business student to get involved with the College of Engineering and Polymer Science. In fact, one project is something of a magnet for non-engineers: Zips Racing, UA’s Formula Combustion team.
“I knew nothing about cars or Zips Racing when I joined in September,” said Caylin Knous, a marketing management and sales management double major on track to graduate in December. “I had a friend in the engineering program who kept talking about it. I thought it was a good opportunity for me to learn more about cars, get involved in a fun activity, and assist with marketing.
“The first day that I was there, I helped take apart and then reassemble a car that we needed to move from our design center up into the [Auburn Science and Engineering Center] for display. I learned a little bit about the cars that day.”
By the beginning of January, Knous had developed a marketing strategy, revamped the Zips Racing website and created a LinkedIn account to help connect the club with potential sponsors.
“I view this like a small business that I’m advertising and creating content for. I get a good understanding of the business because I'm right there with everybody working on the cars.”
Knous is also president of the American Marketing Association (AMA) student chapter and active in the Fisher Sales Institute. Separate from her UA activities she is the social media manager of Choose Joy Productions, a nonprofit business dedicated to changing lives through music.
“I really like working hands-on, so any opportunity I can get, I jump on it,” she said. “I try to be very involved, but I think most of my fellow marketing and sales students are also heavily involved in internships and other activities.”
Zips Racing and Smucker’s
Unlike Knous, senior-year management information systems major Nate Franz brought a strong engineering background to the Zips Racing team when he got involved last spring. He’d started at UA as a mechanical engineering major before switching to the College of Business midway in his second year.
“I was just helping out where I could when I became aware of the team’s need for an administrative lead. The first project I took on was implementing a better purchase request system. The existing system worked well for what it was, but as purchasing regulations changed for our organization this year, we had to adapt what we were doing to meet these new needs,” Franz explained.
“My experience and projects on Zips Racing played a large role in me getting an internship at The J.M. Smucker Company in their information systems department this summer.”
The hands-on experience that Zips Racing affords isn’t just for engineering and business majors.
“We have a couple students from the [Myers] School of Art helping us with tasks that pertain to their major,” Franz said. “One graphic design major designed our sponsor plaques and merchandise such as sweatshirts. A photography class did a photo shoot in our shop that resulted in a calendar.”
Having art and photography and other majors brings a lot of variety to the team and creates a lot of different viewpoints that wouldn’t be heard if it was only engineers and a couple business majors, according to Franz. And isn’t that how it works in the real world?
Tour guide and IDEA supporter
Computer engineering major Tyrone Johnson started getting “super-involved” not long after he arrived on campus in 2019 as an OARS (Office of Academic Retention and Support) Scholar.
“One of my first positions was as a tour guide for the Office of Admissions. When COVID hit, I did virtual tours. I also worked in the Admissions office itself and joined two campus organizations focused on the retention and graduation of African American males—the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) and the Student African American Brotherhood. All those things opened the door to a lot of other opportunities.”
Sophomore year, Johnson joined the Society of Sales Engineers, which, among other things, brings in companies to talk to students about careers in engineering.
“Computer engineering doesn’t really correlate with the sales side of business, but it was good for networking with other engineering students, and the speakers definitely exposed me to some companies that I could potentially work for.”
Johnson also signed on with a new interest group on campus last year—the Collegiate 100—which is supported by the Akron chapter of the national organization 100 Black Men of America, and quickly rose to president of the group. His profile rose further last March when he introduced the keynote speaker at the Black Males Summit hosted by UA President Gary L. Miller.
This academic year, Johnson is devoting a lot of time to the Engineering department’s Increasing Diversity in Engineering Academics (IDEAs) program, which provides support to keep minority students on track with their engineering studies.
“I will say that each and every organization that I've been a part of in my time here has helped me build time management and leadership skills and my overall network,” Johnson said. “I'm proud that I’ve been able to plug a lot of students in with a lot of different organizations. I really just want to make impact.”
Exercise science and leadership
A junior exercise science major from Cincinnati, Elizabeth Booth decided she wanted to pursue a career in physical therapy after her own experience being treated for knee problems stemming from competitive dancing when she was younger.
“My physical therapist is awesome. He helps me with so much. I want to be able to do this for other athletes who are in pain and want to get back to their sport.”
Booth was a leader in clubs in high school and wanted to do that in college as well, she said.
“I've always wanted to better my leadership skills. So, when I got an email at the beginning of last year inviting me to sign up for the Institute for Leadership Advancement in the College of Business, I decided to do it.
“Plus, I realized that in physical therapy, treating people who are in pain or discomfort, you need to convey confidence that you know what you’re doing. And at some point, my job will probably involve managing other people.”
She has absolutely loved being involved in the institute, which is open to UA students of all academic majors and interests.
“I always get excited for the seminars and the different classes I get to take. My favorite has definitely been personal leadership skills. It's taught me a lot. Not just with leadership, but about myself and managing my time and figuring out the kind of the person I am.”
A surprising aspect of the program for her has been interacting with students with different majors.
“It’s been really interesting hearing how a business student or a mechanical engineering major thinks differently about things than I do. It’s opened my mind about things I would have never thought about if I hadn't taken the leadership program.”
Have fun and make friends
“I encourage every student to join at least two organizations,” Dean Ash said. “One should be related to the student’s profession or career interest, and the second should be just for fun. The organization could be related to a hobby, an interest, or an area where the student would like to learn more.
”It’s often in these organizations and activities where students make new friends after their first year. You can’t have too many friends. I hope that all students at UA will gain new lifelong friends.”