2023 Connection Conference
Ohio Wesleyan Students Spend a Day Exploring the University’s Signature Experience
Ohio Wesleyan students spend a day learning how to make the most of Ohio Wesleyan’s signature experience, the OWU Connection. (Video by Mark Schmitter ’12)
For transformational experiences that help students find their passion, mission, and calling in life, “Ohio Wesleyan University is the best place for you to go to college in the United States of America,” President Matt vandenBerg says.
vandenBerg made the bold statement during his opening remarks Sept. 28 at the University’s second annual OWU Connection Conference. The daylong event featured student and faculty panels, Summer Science Research Program presentations, a Service Learning Fair, a showcase of Black entrepreneurism, and additional sessions to highlight the breadth and depth of Ohio Wesleyan’s signature experience, the OWU Connection.
As he opened the day, vandenBerg recalled his own undergraduate experience, which included earning a grant to travel to Alaska in 2000 to explore the suppression of free speech in connection with the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident that spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound.
vandenBerg called designing and executing his own research project “absolutely epic,” but noted that not all students had such experiences then. “All of you are incredibly fortunate because you have the OWU Connection,” he told the crowd, “and the OWU Connection guarantees you an out-of-classroom experience that is going to change your life.”
The 2023 Connection Conference featured more than 50 events to help students learn how to Think Big, Do Good, Go Global, and Get Real – the four key components of the OWU Connection program. Here is a sampling of event sessions with advice from students who have completed one or more Connection experiences.
OWU Does Entrepreneurship
For this panel, three students talked about their businesses and how they transformed their ideas into action. Landon Kuhn ’25 runs Footy Academy, providing private soccer lessons; Carly Lehman ’26 runs Carty Cash, which buys and resells high-end sneakers and sportswear; and Jacob Lowery ’27 helped to found a coffee shop at his high school and also runs Reflex Baseball, providing private baseball lessons.
Lehman, who has an on-campus office in the Delaware Entrepreneurial Center at Ohio Wesleyan University, said OWU is a good place for student business-owners. “There are people everywhere to help,” she said, including at the center and within the Department of Economics and Business.
Matt Vollrath, D.B.A., associate professor of Business Administration, expanded on Lehman’s comment, noting that entrepreneurship classes are available for students in any major. In addition, OWU has competitions in fall and spring that let students pitch ideas and earn cash.
“There’s a lot of support here on campus for anyone who wants to have a business,” said Vollrath, who also serves as the faculty director of OWU’s Woltemade Center for Economics, Business and Entrepreneurship.
The next competition, Pitch OWU, is scheduled to be held Oct. 25, with a $1,000 grand prize at stake.
Get Real – Career, Internships, and More
During this program, four students explained how recent internships and intensives have influenced their future plans and how they used OWU’s Career Connection office and other resources to find and prepare for these real-world learning experiences.
Callia Barwick ’24 completed coursework at George Mason University and an online internship in Washington, D.C., with the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; Blake Johnson ’24 traveled to Chile to study political economics through The Fund for American Studies (TFAS) Santiago program; Karli Walsh ’24 participated in summer intensives at colleges and universities in Colorado, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania to help her prepare for enrolling in graduate school to study Philosophy; and Andrew Williamson ’25 completed an accounts payable internship at Columbus, Ohio’s NiSource Inc.
Panel moderator Newton Kimberly III ’13, one of the career catalysts in OWU’s Career Connection office, asked the students to share takeaways from their experiences.
Barwick said it’s important for student-interns to speak up to ensure they have the best experiences possible. “Make sure they know what you want, what your goals are,” she said. “Really advocate for yourself. … Marketing yourself is key.”
All noted the importance of networking and of taking advantage of access to experts. “Talking to people is the most important thing you can do,” Williamson said. “People usually respect you for having the courage to come up and talk.”
During this panel, four students shared how they have volunteered and worked to improve the Delaware and central Ohio communities and how others can get involved and “do good.”
Yohanna Gray ’25 spent time volunteering at Delaware’s Unity Community Center, an organization committed to uniting people and serving the underserved, especially in the southern portion of the city; Wes Horton ’25 and Marquel Henry ’24 both mentored boys through the Delaware County Juvenile Court’s T.E.A.M. – Together Everyone Achieves More Program; and Paiton Walker ’24 interned and volunteered to help regional residents to find safe, affordable housing.
Panel moderator William Hayes, associate chaplain and director of Wilderness Ministry, asked the students how they connected their Do Good experiences to their coursework, and most noted taking the Social Inequality class taught by Paul Dean, Ph.D., associate professor of Sociology and Social Justice.
Horton said working with the juvenile court helped him to develop a class conscience and to solidify his long-term career goals. “It really connects with what I want to do in the future,” he said. “I want to help kids with mental health issues.”
Walker said she expanded her research skills beyond an academic realm by calling and surveying landlords about their properties, focusing on accessibility features – a transferable skill that she finds herself using frequently. She also noted, “If you want experience in what you’re looking to do (as a career), nonprofits are a great place to start. ... They need help, and it’s super rewarding.”
New York Arts Program
Students Halima Elmajdoubi ’24 and Johnathan Ellis ’24 both spent a semester living and learning in the Big Apple through the New York Arts Program and answered questions for a full house of students at OWU’s Richard M. Ross Art Museum.
Elmajdoubi completed internships at BOMB magazine and the National Book Critics Circle Inc., while Ellis worked with Judy Casey Inc. (artist agency) and the Video Art & Experimental Film Festival.
The OWU students met – and decided – as freshmen in 2020 that they wanted to spend their 2023 spring semester in New York. Elmajdoubi had read about the Ohio Wesleyan-administered program in high school. “I knew a long time ago that I wanted to do this,” she said.
Stil, Elmajdoubi worried about adjusting to life in the nation’s largest city. “It was scary at first but really liberating. … Within one or two weeks of being there, you really feel at home,” she said. “That was a big shock to me.”
One piece of advice she offers to those planning to enroll in the New York Arts Program is to create a budget that accounts for food and cultural experiences. Elmajdoubi and her roommates often cooked at home, then ventured out for sweet treats. “We’re dessert people,” she said.
Ellis adds, “Do your research of where you want to go, what you want to do.” His budget needed to include money for coffee shop visits and museum admissions. Overall, he said, “The sense of independence was amazing!”
As for their internships, both say it’s important to take full advantage of the opportunities and contacts provided by the New York Arts Program. “You need to be the one to take the initiative,” Elmajdoubi said. “I realized I’m only here for 15 weeks. I wanted to get as much out of this as possible.”
Panelists Sophie Gipson ’24 and Timothy Page ’25 both serve on the executive board of Mock Convention and shared information about the event, held every spring before a November U.S. presidential election. OWU’s Mock Convention is considered one of the oldest political simulations in the country, dating back to 1884 and occurring regularly every four years since 1920.
This event brings together students, professors, guests, and others to write, debate, and adopt a party platform as well as to nominate candidates to run for president and vice president. OWU’s Mock Convention always focuses on the party not currently in the White House, so the university’s 2024 event will be a Republican Party mock nominating convention.
Brianna Mack Ph.D., assistant professor of Politics and Government, shared that the tagline of the upcoming event will be “The Elephant in the Room.”
Mock Convention is set for Feb. 23-24, 2024, in University Hall’s Gray Chapel.
Travel-Learning Course – Biology of East Africa
Students Lindsey Ashcraft ’24, Lily Hambric ’24, and Ryan McKee ’24 discussed their 10-day trip to East Africa, completed through Ohio Wesleyan’s Travel-Learning Course Program. Each Travel-Learning Course includes a semester-long class completed on campus with an optional professor-led travel component to provide expanded, in-the-field learning.
Highlights of the Biology in East Africa course included venturing into the safari in jeeps and seeing wildlife up close and in person. And McKee shared another, and perhaps unexpected, highlight.
“The most special thing about this trip to me that you don't really get to experience otherwise by going to Tanzania is the connections with people with our trip,” he said. The OWU travelers visited the local community and school as part of their experience.
All of the students said taking in the culture and broadening their horizons in East Africa was more than just a memorable experience in their college careers – it has been one of the most memorable experiences of their lives to date.
Studying abroad is another wonderful opportunity to broaden one’s horizons. This Go Global panel of over half a dozen students described their challenges in completing coursework off campus as well as their accomplishments while studying in countries that included Spain, Ireland, Australia, and Japan.
Students attending this informational session learned how to make their money stretch as far as possible in different study-abroad programs.
Panel moderator Lisa Ho, associate director of International and Off-Campus Programs, said the study-abroad experiences have value in many areas of life.
“When you go through those experiences,” Ho said, “you’re building resilience and you’re building skills that you’re going to take with you into all different areas.”
For this panel, recent recipients of OWU Baran Fellowships – Charis Blake ’24, Willow Bryn ’26, Ireland Nowak ’24, and Karli Walsh ’24 – all shared how they are using their Fellowship funds to make themselves more competitive candidates for national graduate school fellowships.
Blake studied comparative literature abroad for a year at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. In addition to achieving a once-in-a-lifetime abroad experience, Blake also looked for an experience that would provide “ambassadorial potential and experience with cross-cultural interactions” to support a planned Marshall Fellowship application for graduate school.
All of the Baran Fellows agreed the competitive OWU program – funded by alumnus Jan Baran ’70 and wife, Kathryn Baran – is opening up more doors and opportunities for them as they plan their futures.
Learn more about Ohio Wesleyan’s OWU Connection Program and the 2023 Connection Conference, including details about the day’s speakers, their topics, and their majors and minors, at owu.edu/connection.