Feature Stories 2023: Meet the UMassD Engineering Ambassadors

Students in the Engineering Ambassadors group standing in a row outside the library
Feature Stories 2023: Meet the UMassD Engineering Ambassadors
Meet the UMassD Engineering Ambassadors

A new group on campus is inspiring the next generation of students to see themselves as engineers.

A new group on campus is inspiring the next generation of students to see themselves as engineers. Established in Fall 2022, the UMassD Engineering Ambassadors are comprised of 28 members, more than half of whom joined as first-year students.   

The Engineering Ambassadors Network is a national organization comprised of universities around the U.S. Engineering Ambassadors engage with K-12 students in the surrounding community to teach them about what engineers do, and to inspire students from historically underrepresented groups to envision themselves as future engineers. They do this through visits to local K-12 schools, community centers and after school programs, and by hosting student visits here on the UMassD campus.  

The group’s faculty advisor, Jonathan Mellor, explains the important role the Ambassadors have on campus: “This is not just a club – these students are representing the university in the community.”  

Members of the Engineering Ambassadors Executive Board Benjamin daCosta, Mason Ferbert, Adam Sles, Isaiah Ortiz, and Jessica Welsh share their thoughts on what it means to be a UMassD Engineering Ambassador.  

Engineering Ambassador students with advisor Jon Mellor
UMassD Engineering Ambassadors (clockwise from left) Harshvardhan Agarwal, Jessica Welsh, Isaiah Ortiz, and Amanda Bellassai with advisor Jon Mellor.

Q&A with the Engineering Ambassadors  

Why did you choose UMassD? 

Benjamin daCosta (BD): “I chose to come to UMass Dartmouth because of the 4+1 program, and because I knew UMassD is one of the best engineering schools in Massachusetts.  I already knew some of the professors from having participated in the summer program here as a high school student, so that connection helped inform my decision too.” 

Mason Ferbert (MF): “I have always been interested in biotechnology since high school. I was a student and then a teaching assistant at my school's rigorous Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC) Biotech program. From there, I had the honor to take part in an internship at the UMassD bioengineering department. I fell in love with it over the summer, from the labs to the professors. The school itself is a top-tier research school and that was attractive to me. I choose UMassD because of the great opportunities in my field it can grant me and the wonderful community that surrounds it.” 

Isaiah Ortiz (IO): “I chose UMass Dartmouth for a few reasons. It’s not as expensive as many other schools. The cost of attendance is very reasonable. I got to keep a lot of my scholarships by attending as well. Furthermore, I’ve always known that UMass Dartmouth has a great engineering program. The education I get from this program is truly unmatched. Also, if I get offered an opportunity at the 4+1 program, I’d receive a master’s degree earlier.”   

How would you describe your experience at UMassD so far? How does the reality of your experience compare with your expectations as an incoming student? 

BD: “When I first came here, I would describe myself as very shy, and very focused on academics alone. My expectation was that my time here would mainly be about schoolwork. But the friends I made here helped bring me out of my shell. They encouraged me to get more involved on campus and take on leadership roles.  UMassD turned out to be much more than academics for me, there’s a really strong community here.” 

Adam Sles (AS): “Honestly, I was pretty closed-minded going into UMassD. To put it bluntly, I was dismissive of anything that didn’t revolve around my specific major. Rude, right? By the end of my freshman year, though, I started to realize that I had been unaware of how interesting my fellow students are. Meeting someone from a field outside of my comfort zone and learning about their passion – it’s infectious. I became interested in things I never considered. To incoming students, I would recommend keeping an open mind and trying out new things. You might find something that really sticks!” 

Jessica Welsh (JW): “The engineering department is truly captivating. From when I entered Admitted Students Day as an incoming freshman, I have been flooded with opportunities. Compared to other schools, UMassD drew me in by teaching me how to hack, while others simply mentioned a language. Then, when I started getting involved in all the events and clubs on campus, I knew this was the place for me.” 

Engineering Ambassadors at Admitted Students Day
UMassD Engineering Ambassadors at Admitted Students Day

Why did you decide to join the Engineering Ambassadors? 

BD: “I knew about the Engineering Ambassadors from social media before I came to UMassD. I saw posts from groups at other schools about the things they were doing. When I came to UMassD, I asked around to see if we had a chapter here and learned that our campus was in the process of starting one. So I was able to help start it from the ground up.” 

AS: “I didn’t have any prior experience or knowledge with Engineering Ambassadors going into Dr. Mellor’s interest meeting. In fact, I only learned about it from a mailing list for engineering students at UMassD. In the end, though, I became a really big fan of the idea driving our organization, that of sharing our passion with others and getting them (at least somewhat) interested in engineering.” 

JW: “One evening I had opened my Outlook to find an email about a new chapter of an organization, open to all engineering students. It really excited me to be part of a club that was being built from the ground up, and upon attending the general interest meeting, our advisor introduced me to a new, fun chance to get involved. Now, here I am! It has been a blast and has expanded my connections in the school, and the engineering department!” 

Students in the Engineering Ambassadors group sitting on the stairs in the Library Living Room

In your view, why is this group important?  

BD: “I believe it is important to reach out to younger students who don’t see themselves as engineers. Many people don’t know what engineering actually is, and all the different things it encompasses. We help to introduce students to the many different kinds of jobs that engineers do.” 

MF: “Engineering is a field that is sometimes misunderstood. The general idea many people have is that it’s a lot of math and a lot of work. While those things aren’t untrue, they're not why I am an engineer. I am an engineer because of the creative ways I can help solve real-world problems. Engineering is as much rooted in creativity as it is in STEM. You can really create anything you want. I want to show young people what engineering really is. Show them the wonders of science and how you can apply them. This program can help give that to the youth in our community. Give them the spark of curiosity and the confidence to chase it.” 

JW: “This club is new for all of us- ambassadors and future engineers alike. We are all learning together through experimenting in something outside of our comfort zones, and that unlocks new passions. On top of this, every individual involved is sharing what they know with others, and that is beautiful.”  

How have you benefited personally from your involvement with EA? 

BD: “I have benefited from making connections with other Engineering Ambassadors here at UMassD, and connections with professors across the college. I also enjoy interacting with the K-12 students. To see the lightbulbs go off for them is unique and rewarding.” 

IO: “Yes, I’ve benefited greatly from my involvement in EA. I’ve met so many new people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I’ve made a ton of new friends. Furthermore, I’ve made more professional connections. Engineering Ambassadors is great to have on my resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile. Without it, I wouldn’t have as much engineering experience to go with my education.” 

What has been challenging about this experience? 

BD: “Being a new group, it’s been a lot of work (and lots of emails!) to help get the group up and running.  It has been a challenge to navigate and prioritize all of the new ideas about how we can achieve our mission. But it’s been a great learning experience as well.” 

AS: “I probably should have expected it, but I was surprised at how much work goes on behind the scenes in an organization like this! Please know that our president has been working very hard on top of his classes. Recently we have started to take on responsibilities beyond simple outreach visits, including giving guided tours around campus and presenting at events for admitted students.” 

Tell us about your recent visit to the Boys and Girls Club in Fall River. 

BD: “This spring, we visited a group of 10- and 11-year-old students at the Boys and Girls Club of Fall River where we presented about engineering and led a hands-on cypher activity.  This was our first public presentation and outreach activity as a group. For me, it was my first time working with students in that age range. So, we had to make sure our activity was something they could understand but also something that would be fun for them. It went well, and the kids were really engaged. It was a great opportunity to introduce the Engineering Ambassadors to the community and to the university deans and leadership who were there as well.” 

Any students interested in joining the Engineering Ambassadors can apply to become a member now through October 9, 2023.