It began with a simple question: “What if a Big Ten university, a school district, and community worked together on healthy youth development?” The answer was a unique initiative called STEMpowerement.

One of the primary missions of The Ohio State University at Mansfield is to impact its local community by providing opportunity through higher education. In 2011-2012, Dr. Stephen Gavazzi, dean and director of the Ohio State Mansfield campus, charged a key group of faculty and staff to begin putting together a plan to provide access to success through science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

Program developers based their pilot program on the findings of Bob Moses, a noted civil rights activist, and founder of the Algebra Project. His book Radical Equations describes the power of youth movements, and necessity of access to STEM knowledge. The model he outlines in the book has been employed in dozens of cities in and around the United States and asserts that the STEM fields are gateways to social and economic success. With decades of economic upheaval in its rearview mirror, the city of Mansfield, Ohio seemed prime for such an initiative.

A few months later, STEMpowerment was born. Its mission was to provide a Learning Community for students who want to engage in opportunities for education and community improvement. Students come together in shared courses, lectures, group discussions, service learning, and study abroad opportunities. Students are also able to become mentors, and join off campus initiatives. Ultimately, students actively address real world issues, and build a better future.

Dr. Terri Bucci, an education professor who oversees much of the academic and outreach portion of the program, explains further: “This is a student-empowered learning community. The faculty provides guidance and instruction in the areas of our expertise and within the frame of empowerment of, by, and for youth. Faculty and community leaders work with STEMpowerment students in areas of leadership development, academic insights, understanding, knowledge creation, and advising for academic, research, and community organizing.”

The program’s pilot year has thrived upon a multi-disciplinary group of individuals from many academic disciplines. The program’s academic portion allows students to schedule the program’s classes alongside their major’s requirements. Such flexibility pools students from Ohio State’s 170+ majors, rather than any one major. The program’s classes brings them together in a dynamic learning atmosphere. Such a model enables the program to reach deeper levels of academic collaboration and individual skill building.

A portion of the program’s academic classes allows students to gain personal and professional development from Strengths Finder, a product of the Gallup, Inc. Strengths Finder is an interactive survey that categories abilities and characteristics of individuals into 32 key strengths areas. After completing the survey, students receive a report that identifies their top strengths. The report provides students with an understanding of their potential and further outlines action items that allow students to succeed in academic, work, and social environments.

“The first year of the STEMpowerment Leadership Gateway is focused on issues of empowerment and social justice for a community purpose,” says Director of Admissions and First Year Experience Shari Petersen, “Our goal is to help students identify their individual strengths, and then provide opportunities where these strengths can be put into action collectively with their classmates’ to make a difference in the local community and on campus.”

With that in mind, STEMpowerment hit the road. During a series of visits to area organizations, students were to take in the mission and work of each organization, and identify how their individual strengths might enhance the work at hand. Following the series of visits, their task was to turn a list of action items to enact and effect change into formal class proposals by the end of the Autumn Semester. The proposals were ultimately presented a University panel who identified the most sustainable and executable proposals.

Upon review, the panel and students identified raising awareness among area youth about how they might become involved themselves as a key next step in the process. That became the program’s work for the beginning of 2013. In conjunction with raising community awareness, the students will be reaching out to students in local high schools to develop sister STEMpowerment groups to empower and amplify those youth voices.

In the coming months, the STEMpowerment program will continue to lay the groundwork of what it hopes will become a larger, even more dynamic agent for sustainable community growth. As students go out and begin to employ their skills, they will be fulfilling a dual role of breaking new ground, and raising awareness for for innovative community driven change. Even as they just begin that journey, it has already taken the program to far away places.

In January, the voice of Ohio State Mansfield reached Ninth Annual Conference on Sustainability in Hiroshima, Japan. The conference is a knowledge community brought together by a common concern for sustainability in a holistic perspective, where environmental, cultural, economic and social concerns intersect. The very nature of the program’s work is at the forefront of sustainable culture and landed them a place for presenting at the conference. STEMpowerment student Dillion Carr, a junior from Ontario, shared an overview of innovative STEMpowerment outreach and revealed early survey results of its effectiveness. For 45 minutes, Dillion found himself presenting the young, promising program to the leading innovators, and educators from around the world.

Even for a research institution of The Ohio State University’s stature, this was a unique opportunity. Dr. Bucci notes, “Most other presenters at this conference were faculty, PhD students and graduate students from around the world. This type of activity, leadership in the academic world and in knowledge creation, is one of goals of the learning community. “

Though it has already graced a world stage, the work of STEMpowerment is just beginning. “Much of this years’ work is on developing identity of our OSU learning community and the youth connection to the Mansfield community through youth/student voices while maintaining a focus on empowerment access, change, and leadership,” notes Bucci. In the closing weeks of the semester, students will continue to go out and build on the bold mission of STEMpowerment.

And that’s exactly what Dillion loves about it: “It all revolves around us. As students and as educators, we just have to figure out what we want to do to better our lives in Mansfield and keep that lifestyle going for generations to come.”


But for Ohio State Mansfield: Mike LaCroix

SONY DSCBy Jake Furr, Stephanie Maneese, Heather Smith, and Terry Taylor

What started out as a journey of uncertainty for Mike LaCroix has turned into something truly special: serving as the Coordinator of Athletics and Recreation at The Ohio State University at Mansfield.

The Plymouth native knew that going to college was a necessity, so he enrolled in classes at OSU Mansfield to pursue a bachelor’s degree. He chose OSU Mansfield because it was close to home and he would have the support of friends and family while adjusting to the demands of college.

Like many incoming students, Mike wondered what there was to do. He soon discovered “games to attend, events to go to,” and numerous organizations and clubs to join. OSU Mansfield is also a prime location for many kinds of recreation, from skiing at Snow Trails to jumping out of airplanes with the skydiving club. Mike immediately joined the Mansfield Mavericks basketball team and helped out with freshmen orientation on behalf of the Campus Recreation Center. Sports are a big part of his life, and OSU Mansfield gave him the opportunity to live his dream of playing college basketball.

When asked about his favorite memory at OSU Mansfield, Mike declared without hesitation, “Playing basketball. Not so much the game, but the van trips to and from games. Fit twelve guys into an eleven-passenger van, and the conversations that come up are off the wall. Win or lose, that is my biggest memory from being a student.” Mike’s basketball team left a lasting impression on him, and he will always be thankful to OSU Mansfield for that.

In addition to extracurricular activities, OSU Mansfield encourages students to earn credit by completing internships. Mike gained real world work experience by interning at Plymouth High School. He dedicated over sixty hours working at numerous athletic events and has exemplified what it means to be an Ohio State Buckeye as a member of the local community.

By attending OSU Mansfield, Mike said he was able to “get a job as a student worker, find a major that suited me, develop the skills necessary to be selected as the new Coordinator, and meet my future wife, all because of the decision I made to play basketball for the Mavericks.”

Mike was unsure what he wanted to major in until his junior year when an OSU Mansfield staff member suggested he look into sports management. Mike took advantage of what OSU Mansfield offers in order to achieve his goals. The Ohio State University not only gave him the tools he needed, but also a professional opportunity to get his career started.

Being employed as the new Coordinator of Athletics and Recreation at OSU Mansfield means a lot to Mike because he has the best of both worlds; he gets to be close to his family while working at a nationally recognized university. Mike enjoys his time working with students and members of the Mansfield community through non-credit programs offered at the campus recreation center. OSU Mansfield not only gave Mike a launching pad for his future; OSU Mansfield employees also gave him advice and guided him in the right direction.

Mike’s advice to anyone who is contemplating getting their education at Ohio State Mansfield would be to absolutely go for it: it’s affordable, and it has a national reputation. OSU Mansfield is less expensive than Columbus, while offering smaller classes and more opportunities for one-on-one teaching. Mike believes the small campus atmosphere provides a better learning environment for students. He explains, “You don’t feel overwhelmed; you don’t feel like a number. At OSU Mansfield, when you have a question, you are not talking to a teaching assistant; you are speaking directly to a professor. You are able to focus more here, and there is much more of a support group.”

But for Ohio State Mansfield, Mike LaCroix would not have received the support, direction, and opportunity that landed him in Sports Management.


Our campus is a unique place. What defines that uniqueness is a set of compelling stories being lived out everyday by our students, faculty, and campus community.

To capture these stories, we grabbed a few whiteboards, some markers, and asked folks on campus and around our community what Ohio State Mansfield meant to them. Here in their own words is what they had to say.

But for Ohio State Mansfield: Jami Kinton

Jami interviews an Ohio State Mansfield student for an article in the News Journal.

Authors: Jason Spoon, Megan Bailey, Mindy McKenzie

Jami Kinton wasn’t ready to leave Mansfield after graduating from high school; ten years later, she still isn’t. As a newspaper reporter, model, actress, performer, and TV host, Jami continues to flourish in her hometown. This dedicated young woman is certain that she “cannot fail here.” Jami credits her drive to succeed to strong support from faculty and staff at the Mansfield campus of the Ohio State University.

Jami never thought she’d be asked to name 100 rocks, and she certainly couldn’t have guessed at the effect it would have. When she signed up for a Geology course at OSU Mansfield, it was with some anxiety. She was convinced that this wouldn’t be a very strong course for her, and was worried about the outcome. She needn’t have been. The “rock test” was given as one of the first class assignments, and she aced it. Encouraged by this early success, Jamie went on to get an A in the class, and ultimately become a teaching assistant in the Geology program.

But it was more than rocks that appealed to Jami about OSU Mansfield. The small class sizes at the Mansfield campus were a perfect fit for her. While getting lost in the freshman crowd at a larger campus may be fine for some, it just seemed overwhelming to Jami. Speaking about the intimate classroom setting at OSU Mansfield, Jami says, “This kind of atmosphere really helped me to do as well as I did.” For Jami, a bigger setting would have just meant being more inhibited; at the Mansfield campus, she was anything but.

Each day, she arrived on campus at 6:30 in the morning and normally stayed until the math lab closed at 8:00 at night. During her time at OSU Mansfield, Jami was involved in Spanish Club, Campus Activities Board (CAB), Buckeye Ambassadors, and was president of the Women’s Club. All of these activities, along with her teaching assistant position, meant that college was Jami’s primary focus. She jokingly admits to going to only one party while in college, but she has no regrets. “I still made a ton of friends, but I made them in school,” Jami says. It was that same kind of determined focus that would pay off later in her professional career.

There is no doubt that Jami has made a name for herself. Her drive and ambition have resulted in many professional opportunities, not just in Mansfield, but in Columbus and Cleveland as well. Whether working with Radio Disney, serving as the in-park host for the Cleveland Indians, hosting Ohio Idol in Columbus, modeling and acting for six different agencies, hosting for the Fashion TV network, acting as a beauty contributor for Nigel Barker’s website, or hosting the Cash Explosion Roadshow for the Ohio Lottery, Jami works tirelessly to advance her career and be an example of what hard work can do. And she is quick to credit OSU Mansfield with a piece of that success.

She attributes this success to being on a campus where professors truly care about the futures of their students, and are willing to do whatever it takes to help them do well. It was this personal attention from staff and faculty at OSU Mansfield that meant so much to Jami. These connections allowed her to form lasting relationships which would lead to employment opportunities. Ultimately, Jami knew that she would have to spend some time in Columbus to finish her degree, and it was with tears in her eyes that she made the initial drive south. Columbus, for all its supposed advantages, just wasn’t Mansfield.

Jami loves the Mansfield community and cherishes her time spent there. Although her many jobs give her opportunity to travel, it is always to Mansfield she returns home. The strong sense of community and purpose that her time at OSU Mansfield helped instill in her are part of what keep her here still. Jami is happiest when helping other people, and within the Mansfield community she has found many people to help and many stories to tell. Among those stories, she may pause long enough to consider her own.

Few people are as driven as she is, and fewer still turn that drive into such success. For Jami, much of that achievement has its roots at the Mansfield Campus of The Ohio State University. And until an offer rolls in to host American Idol, you can expect to continue seeing her successes right here in Mansfield.

But for Ohio State Mansfield, Jami might not have fulfilled her aspirations and launched a great career right here in her hometown.