OWU’s Signature Program Lets Students Create Their Own Adventures
The OWU Connection is a distinctive four-year program that offers students a clear connection to the life they want after graduation and helps them find that direction when it isn’t quite clear.
Students can craft a personalized degree plan from more than 90 majors and will leave OWU better prepared to enter the workforce thanks to The OWU Connection’s signature, guided experience: a guaranteed, and often funded, opportunity to gain real-world skills through an internship, service project or original research project, and robust options to study abroad — all of which connect ideas to meaningful actions.
These real-world projects are supported with Theory-to- Practice Grants and other funding opportunities, making the program distinct in its support for students’ unique ideas and skills. The Connect Today, Create Tomorrow campaign seeks to expand student and faculty access to these funding opportunities and experiences. Campaign co-chairs John Milligan ’83 and Kathie Bradford Milligan ’83 made a $5 million gift to support the program when the campaign began three years ago. Their gift, along with those of many other donors, helped create 54 Travel- Learning Courses and other Connection experiences.
The planned development of the OWU Career Connection Center in Slocum Hall (a $10 million campaign goal, see more in the Bringing History into Tomorrow story), will help fully realize OWU’s commitment to a practical liberal arts education with a center dedicated to fostering pathways from the classroom to meaningful employment after graduation.
Turning an Internship into Employment
Trey Olsen ’18 decided to come to Ohio Wesleyan to pursue two very specific interests: soccer and finance. He was impressed by the history of the soccer program under Coach Jay Martin and was quickly interested in the Economic Management Fellows program.
“Financial services fits for me. It’s super fast-paced, super competitive, it’s constantly evolving; that’s something I really enjoy,” Olsen says.
As a benefit of being in the program, in the fall of his junior year, Olsen was invited to apply for an internship at Makena Capital Management LLC in Menlo Park, California, a $19 billion global-endowment-style investment firm whose client base includes five of the world’s largest sovereign wealth pools, high profile family offices, and academic-affiliated endowments. In other words, the big leagues.
The paid internship typically attracts students from top universities, such as Stanford and Yale, and has included a student from Ohio Wesleyan for the past five years, thanks to Kevin McGinty ’70, a member of the OWU Board of Trustees and a co-chair of the Connect Today, Create Tomorrow campaign, who has a relationship with the folks at Makena and urged them to consider OWU students.
Olsen was excited to secure one of the nine intern spots offered and traveled to Menlo Park, about a half-hour south of San Francisco, this past summer.
The 10-week program was intense. “It wasn’t just intern busywork off to the side. You were working directly for the analysts and partners, and that allowed you to get different exposure to different asset classes,” Olsen says.
In between the 12-hour days there was time for a few intern happy hours, a San Francisco Giants game, and a cable-car ride. “I made an effort to meet as many people as possible,” he says. “I was grabbing partners, analysts, anyone I could, for coffee or lunch several times a week to make sure I could pick their brains.”
As much as he loved his time there, Olsen was allowed to cut short his experience, leaving after six weeks to join the soccer team on its once-every-three-years trip to Germany.
He knew that two other OWU students, Mainza Moono ’15 and J. Graham Littlehale ’17, had turned their Makena internships into job offers, but he tried not to get his hopes up. But after returning to campus for his senior year, Olsen got the call and accepted full-time employment after graduation as an analyst for Makena.
So while his friends are reviewing their resumes and working on interview prep, Olsen has been able to focus on other things, like soccer, exactly as he intended when he came to OWU.
“I try not to use the word ‘perfect,’ but it’s a very ideal start for me,” he says.
Crossing New Borders
Chloe Dyer ’18 knew she wanted to study abroad when she was looking at colleges. She knew it would be somewhere Spanishspeaking so she could hone her fluency in the language, and she was interested in Ireland, where her great-grandparents were from, but her direction was vague.
Then she learned about The OWU Connection.
Based on the global and real-world opportunities available through the program, after being accepted to the honors program and receiving the prestigious Schubert Scholarship for exceptional first-year students, Dyer chose to come to Ohio Wesleyan. The freedom, flexibility, and faculty support offered by The OWU Connection allowed Dyer to craft a course of study that linked Ireland to Mexico, with visits to both countries and to Spain, Arizona, and Tanzania in between. Her experiences and related coursework helped her discover and pursue her interest in questions of nationalism and national identity, sociopolitical imagination, migration, diaspora, and how we define, justify, and view ourselves.
Dyer’s OWU Connection experience began as a freshman when she enrolled in the 300-level English Travel-Learning Course “Slouching Toward Empire: The Literary Politics of Ireland,” taught by associate professor of English Nancy Comorau, who says: “Working with students like Chloe is the reason I work at a small liberal arts college.”
Dyer’s class traveled to Ireland and Northern Ireland to explore the places they had studied. “Just to be in Dublin and read James Joyce’s Ulysses and then walk and be literally retracing the steps of the character in the book … It fulfilled everything we learned about in the classroom,” she says.
The Travel-Learning Course also opened her eyes to the possibilities of The OWU Connection. “I think that made me realize that these were really neat opportunities and I had access to them,” she says. Dyer, from Guysville, Ohio, now works as a “Merrick Mentor,” helping students chart their course through the Connection.
In many ways, Dyer represents the potential of the program, which allows for guided, personalized exploration of interests with a global lens. She is double majoring in Spanish and pre-law, with a politics and government minor.
On another trip as a freshman, this one for service to the U.S.-Mexico border, she learned about the San Patricios, a group of Irishmen who deserted the United States and switched sides in the Mexican-American War in the late 1840s. Dyer found connections from Irish literature and history to the effects of undocumented migration and border enforcement policies on border communities. She also explored similar concepts of migration and diaspora and their effects on national identity. She applied for funding through the small grant program and spent the summer after her freshman year back on the border, working with a humanitarian organization that provides water to people attempting the treacherous journey across the Sonoran Desert.
She pursued these themes further with the help of a Theory-to- Practice grant applied for in her sophomore year. She fulfilled her pre-college hopes of studying abroad by spending a semester in Granada, Spain, at the Centro de Lenguas Modernas, with additional grants before and after to continue her study of the San Patricios. She did all this while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
The culmination of her experiences was her Spanish senior honors thesis “A Line in the Sand: Personal Narratives of the U.S.-Mexico Border,” which she presented at the Ohio Latin Americanist Conference in Columbus in October.
Juan Armando Rojas Joo, professor of modern foreign languages, says Dyer’s presentation was very well-received. “Chloe’s keen anecdotes about interviewing different border characters such as immigration agents, advocacy and humanitarian organization members, church volunteers, landowners, and human rights activists were well-accepted by national and international scholars, and graduate students were engaged and enjoyed listening to her research findings,” he says.
Now, Dyer is applying for fellowships to attend graduate school, with hopes of going on to law school in a year or two. She wants to become a human rights lawyer, possibly with an emphasis on immigration issues. She draws a straight line to her future back to her first OWU Connection experience, saying: “Looking back now as a senior, that (Travel-Learning Course) basically informed the entire rest of my college career and what I want to do after college.”