ODI STEM Retreat gives students a formula for success

Man in a blue suit talks to students about STEM opportunities

ODI STEM Retreat gives students a formula for success

By Paige Galperin

Diverse individuals represent about one-third of the STEM workforce in the United States—a figure ODI works to increase by providing students with the resources to be successful in science, math, and related fields. In early March, more than three dozen ODI scholars took advantage of one such opportunity: the ODI STEM Retreat.

Held at the Barrister Club, the day-long event featured workshops and panel discussions with over a dozen guest speakers pursuing careers in STEM, many with personal ties to The Ohio State University and ODI programs.

Speakers represented a wide range of backgrounds, identities, and occupations. Ernest Levert Jr, for instance, is an Ohio State alum with a degree in biomedical engineering who is also the Founding Director of the Royal Oak Initiative, which hosts chess-based community gatherings for communities of color. Other guests included local professors, entrepreneurs, and graduate students who represented various marginalized communities.

Speaker diversity extended beyond just race and gender, however, with some guests also representing neurodivergent populations. “We had two representatives stay with us the entire day, and they were really good about bringing up neurodiversity,” said Patricia Vocal, an ODI staffer who helped plan the retreat. “Neurodiverse students are a significant percentage

Sessions throughout the day focused on topics such as STEM careers, leadership in student organizations, and preparing for graduate school. For Vocal, the day's standout was a networking hour where students connected with industry professionals and practiced their elevator pitches.

“We had some students who were very well-versed, and they were really smooth with their elevator pitches. Then, we had other students who had never put it to paper, so for them, the opportunity different times with different people was really helpful,” Vocal noted. “One student shared with me, ‘My biggest highlight was the elevator pitch workshop. I defined my mission and practiced out loud why I want to pursue the career I want in STEM. That was eye opening.'”

At the event's close, scholars were able to walk away with a better understanding of the options available within STEM spaces, one of ODI's main goals for the retreat, according to Vocal.

Although each student emerged from the retreat with different plans and dreams for their STEM futures, all scholars took back a similar message of inspiration. “Giselle Guanes Melgarejo, our keynote presenter, made one comment that I think really stuck out to students: ‘Success is not linear,'” Vocal said. “I think for a lot of students, it was really important to hear that you have to put yourself out there and explore to figure out what is going to work for you and what's not. It's those kinds of experiences that set you up for success.”