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Communications and Penn State

By Alaina G. Levine


Communication, whether formal, informal, verbal, non-verbal, internal or external, is vital for ensuring the realization of any plan. By contributing to their Diversity Action Grant (DAG) project, members of the Pennsylvania State University ASME Student Section had the remarkable opportunity to sharpen an entire suite of communications skills early in their career. They gained experience in public speaking and writing as well as complementary talents in persuasion, negotiation, marketing, and advocacy, all of which will serve them well throughout their careers.

Penn State’s project, It’s All About M.E., aims to diversify the mechanical engineering major and encourage more women to enroll in classes. It is a year-long affair, and includes many events and touchpoints, such as a kick-off orientation, lab tours, a “lunch and learn” with the mechanical engineering department head, and a study session. Peer mentoring also takes place, in which freshmen and sophomore ME majors are assigned to mentors who are upperclassmen. From fostering interaction between the mentors and protégés, to conducting more efficient brainstorming sessions, the DAG project organizers have greatly enhanced their oratory abilities.  In particular, “it takes courage to speak in front of a group of people,” says Lola Buonomo, immediate past chair of the ASME Student Section. “I’ve seen myself grow as a speaker, and I can now speak freely with ease rather than depending on pre-written notes.” She observed the same improvement in both the upperclassmen mentors and the underclassmen protégés: “We see the ladies we mentor quiet at first, and then very soon, they are asking the mentors how they can help advance the program.”

Keeping a team focused can be challenging, especially as group dynamics change as students graduate and new members migrate in. A well thought out communications strategy, in which team members feel safe in presenting innovative notions, is the solution. “It’s important to give the opportunity to provide feedback,” says Buonomo. As members suggest new event ideas for the project, such as a tour of a new lab, the team openly caucuses and carefully reflects on its capacity to add the event to the schedule. The individual contributions are honored and respected, even if the team decides to go in a different direction. Buonomo also encourages her team members to identify the value of each other’s unique proposition and leverage it for the team’s success. 

It’s All About M.E. has been in existence for several years, and the ASME Student Section has implemented numerous feedback mechanisms to measure its success and look for avenues to improve. “We have experimented with different events and have been collecting data on their success,” describes Buonomo. The team designed surveys, which also tested their communications abilities. In examining what has and hasn’t worked the students, “changed the ‘product’ depending on the needs of the protégés,” she says. “For example, we realized it was better to have more events in the spring rather than fall, when it is a busier time.”

As the Student Section looks to plan another year of events, it is also looking for new ways to articulate its goals, and effectively market and promote the events to everyone involved. Sharing information with your team is job number one. “Make the team a part of the mission,” advises Buonomo. “You have to get their buy-in and once you have that you’re really unstoppable.” Of course, there’s also one additional secret of effective team management which involves creative communication: “free food doesn’t hurt!”


Got a Project Idea – Your Student Section Can Apply for a Diversity Action Grant This project was supported by the ASME Diversity Action Grant (DAG) program that offers ASME student sections the opportunity to conduct mechanical engineering focused events/projects that promote STEM education and the inclusion of under-served communities and women. Diversity Action Grant Applicationsmay be submitted from the Beginning of the Fall Semester until the Deadline of November 1st.


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