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Planning and Organization as a Means to Success

Learning Valuable Lessons at Ohio State University

By Alaina G. Levine

Victorious project planning and organization involves an intricate array of knowledge, skills, and thought processes amongst a team. It requires a finite level of detail orientation as well as the ability to see the larger picture. And it necessitates careful documentation of every step. As The Ohio State University (OSU) ASME Student Section planned and organized its Diversity Action Grant (DAG) project, it improved on and expanded these skills in very significant and exciting ways.

The notion of being detail oriented, especially concerning logistics, was not lost on the group since its project involved kids, teachers, and other 'stakeholders' found beyond the walls of the university. For the past three years, OSU ASME visited a local elementary school in the Columbus area and presented hands-on activities for the kids to learn about different aspects of mechanical engineering. The student section wanted to expand the program, and it envisioned that the DAG would allow the team to offer the program at a second school, as well as make a crucial improvement to a fairly new experiment it had presented previously.

The first step in the growing process was an 'ideation session' that the Student Section held for its members. They examined curriculum models at the university and began exploring methods to "incorporate these concepts into fun demos," says Nathan Hankins, community outreach chair of the ASME Student Section, who took the lead on this project. The ideation session encouraged the students to carefully reflect on what would excite kids of a particular age group. "We wanted to make a demo that engages and gets that grade thinking about what they should be learning," Hankins reflects. As they designed the activities, the ASME students also thought about other elements of the event. The program consists of multiple demos taking place at the same time, with groups of kids rotating every 15 minutes to a new station. To expand the program, the ME majors discussed the possibility of having more stations than they had made in the past, as well as how to "tailor the demo for the right age group," he adds. "It was necessary to determine how best to meet the needs of the kids at their current learning level."

An OSU ASME Student Section member demonstrating the physics of roller coasters at a local elementary school (photo credit – Nathan Hankins)

In implementing their program, the team utilized various planning tools. Ohio State's Student Section shared an online project notebook, which ensured the members could trace back any innovation to its origin. As they planned out their event, "we had this document which showed us the original idea," explains Hankins, "so if we decided to go in a different direction, we could always come back to [the original idea] and pick up where we left off," as the team explored other avenues. The group relied on Google Drive, Gmail, and other online scheduling programs. "We used Google Drive for the officers to share information and communicate deadlines in an attempt to keep everyone on the same page," he reviews. The tools also aided the Section in documenting everything, he adds, a crucial step in analyzing the success of the program and reporting back to ASME.

As the team put together its plan to present the activities at the schools, "we had to make sure we fully understood all of the logistics of how the project would go down," says Hankins. These logistics ranged from knowing how, where, and when they could unload their gear at the school to any restrictions the venue might have regarding potentially dangerous materials and understanding in precise detail exactly what was expected of the section while it was on the school's premises.

"Plan as far as you can ahead of time, because things are going to happen that you didn't expect," says Hankins. And yet, despite all its planning, the members of Ohio State University's Section confronted a significant stumbling block. The team had spent a great deal of time planning and organizing exactly how they would execute the event at the second school. "We were all prepared to go to the school," he describes. And then, just a few days before the program was to commence, "we found out at the last minute that the gym was booked for another assembly." It was a learning process for the ASME team. Since it was a new school, the ME students were unfamiliar with the administration's process in reserving the gym and how much time ahead of the event they needed to formally request the space. As a result, they had to cancel the visit.

But looking forward, "I am fully confident that next year the ASME section will be able to put this event on for the kids and successfully expand our program," he says. As Hankins prepares to start a new job as a design engineer, he admits "it was good to learn this lesson now, rather than in a high-stakes environment," like on the factory floor or design lab.


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 Applications may be submitted from the Beginning of the Fall Semester until the Deadline of November 1st.

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