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Four inspiring grads to watch

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On December 17, 2023, the college will welcome approximately 600 new alumni into the Buckeye Engineering family. Meet four inspiring members of the autumn Class of 2023 who utilized their talents to pay forward while engineering an extraordinary Ohio State education.

Tylah Fortson

Tylah Fortson WE BS degree Dec 2023
Tylah Fortson by the resistance spot welder she uses as a research assistant at Edison Joining Technology Center. 

Detroit native Tylah Fortson chose Ohio State because she wanted to receive a bachelor’s degree from the only ABET-accredited welding engineering program in the U.S.

After a high school class first sparked Fortson’s interest in welding, she went on to study welding technology and was an instructor with the nonprofit Women Who Weld. Once she learned about the opportunities the welding engineering field offers, Fortson decided it was the perfect next step.

“You're able to work in the medical field, aerospace, oil rigs,” she explained. “There's a wide array of directions that you can go into and I was always a person that liked options.”

Receiving scholarships from Ohio State and the American Welding Society were critical to enabling Fortson to achieve her dream of becoming a welding engineer.

“They were everything,” she explained. “I don't think I would have been able to get through my semesters without having that kind of support. I hope to be able to become a donor too moving forward.”

At Ohio State, Fortson has taken full advantage of the range of opportunities offered to enhance students’ academic experience. She has had internships at SpaceX, Path Robotics and GE Aerospace. As a welding engineering research assistant, she helps graduate students with metallography and other research activities.

Fortson is also an active member of the American Welding Society (AWS) chapter at Ohio State. Serving on the board for the past two years as secretary and then treasurer, she has implemented new programs like study tables that enable students from across the Department of Materials Science and Engineering to connect and learn together.

She also launched an engineering outreach program at two Columbus high schools. Fortson recruited volunteers who visited one school per semester to introduce students to the engineering discipline, as well as teach networking and resume-building skills. She enlisted engineers from the local AWS chapter to speak during Professionals Day and arranged for the high schoolers to tour welding engineering facilities on West Campus.

“Teachers at the high school say that it's been impactful for their students because they were able to see how the things they learn in high school come into play in college,“ Fortson explained. “I'm really proud of that.”

In keeping with the welding engineering program’s track record of nearly 100% placement for graduates seeking jobs, Fortson will be a non-destructive evaluation engineer at Tosoh SMD in central Ohio after graduation. She also plans to attend graduate school in the future, after working in industry for a few years.

“Ohio State has resources here for us not only to know the technical aspect, but to also know how to make the connections you need in industry and how to maintain them,” she explained. “They really push us in that way.”

Harry Miller

Harry Miller Ohio State B.S. Mechanical Engineering graduate Dec 2023
Harry Miller outside Scott Laboratory

Star athlete Harry Miller’s decision to attend Ohio State was as much about the strength of its engineering college as it was the football program.

“It was awesome at Ohio State that they encouraged me and allowed me to pursue engineering, which is very rare from other institutions,” Miller explained.

Since publicly sharing the mental health struggles that led Miller to medically retire from Ohio State football in 2022, the three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree has been on a new mission. While finishing his mechanical engineering degree with a 4.0 grade point average, he has also been an active, compassionate advocate for mental wellness.

“People listen to me just because I played football well,” Miller explained. “I think that's why I feel so charged to do something, because I was given a chance to do something and I would hate to waste that chance.”

He launched Don’t Make It Weird, a nonprofit dedicated to breaking the stigma around mental health, has traveled the country speaking on the topic and raised thousands through merchandise sales for the mental health program at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Miller’s numerous recognitions include being a 2022 Architect of Change, keynote speaker at Ohio State’s Faces of Resilience banquet and First Lady Jill Biden’s guest at the State of the Union.

But he’s also a Buckeye engineer who is proud that he and his classmates completed a challenging curriculum together.

“What I'm most proud of is that I made a group of friends and we all saw it through and everybody was able to achieve their goal of graduating with this degree,” Miller said.

Miller’s Ohio State journey included tackling a product design internship at Iridium in Washington, D.C., and being one of 25 students selected to be Buckeye Leadership Fellows (BLF) in 2019-2021.

“A lot of my friends that I'll have leaving Ohio State either came from football, engineering or BLF,” Miller said. “I was able to be a part of some really great programs of high-achieving people. It was great company to be in.”

Miller’s future plans include finalizing a contract to write a book next year and releasing the first short film from Mint Factory Productions, a company he launched with two friends. He also hopes to one day get involved with how policy can be implemented into technology, like social media, to treat public health issues.

“It was not easy, but I'm grateful for a lot of the things I've learned at Ohio State,” Miller said. “The biggest thing that I'm grateful for is the company that I was able to go through this with. It's definitely the people, whether that be football or engineering or whatnot, that have made the experience what it was.”

Maggie Schmidt

Maggie Schmidt Ohio State B.S. city and regional planning graduate Dec 2023
APA Ohio Future Leaders recipient Maggie Schmidt 

First-generation college graduate Maggie Schmidt is passionate about improving Columbus neighborhoods for all residents.

When she was nine, the city and regional planning major tackled her first community project with two friends who decided their neighborhood needed a centrally located park where kids could play together safely. The trio collected petition signatures, sketched design ideas and raised funds to help make their vision a reality.

Despite that early experience, Schmidt didn’t immediately choose the city and regional planning career path. But after meeting a professional planner and learning more about the field, she knew it was what she was meant to do.

A non-traditional student who worked full time while attending school, Schmidt had to step away from her studies for several years due to health and financial challenges.

After deciding to return to Ohio State, the Complete Ohio State program combined with a caring advisor and faculty at the Knowlton School ensured Schmidt had the resources necessary to earn her degree.

She has also worked in the field professionally for the past two years, most recently as an intern for MurphyEpson where she accepted a full-time position as a deputy project manager and planner.

“I didn't follow a traditional path. I'm graduating this semester and I'm 33,” Schmidt shared. “I'm just grateful for a community of people that are supportive, kind and caring, and helped me along the way. Everything that I've learned has been rich knowledge for me to take and be an even better planner.”

A recipient of the Knowlton School’s APA Ohio Future Leaders Award last spring, Schmidt is already using her education to make an impact in central Ohio. She worked with Columbus City Council to have the interpretation of the stormwater drainage manual changed, which she said will reduce blight and enhance development in the Franklinton community where she resides. Schmidt also serves on the East Franklinton Review Board, which oversees neighborhood development applications and architectural review.

“I always dreamed about community work,” Schmidt said. “I was acknowledged by stakeholders for my contribution and my investment in that neighborhood. They recommended me and the mayor appointed me, and that's very rewarding.”

While she is immensely proud of her accomplishment, graduation will be bittersweet for Schmidt, whose father, Kurt Rowedda, passed away earlier this year. He also attended Ohio State, but placed his dream of becoming a history teacher on hold to be a caregiver for his family.

Schmidt created the Kurt Rowedda Second Chance Memorial Scholarship fund in his memory to help inspire other caregivers to finish their degrees.

“In part, it feels like I'm completing the journey he didn't get to,” Schmidt explained. “I'm horribly sad that he's not going to be able to share this experience with me, but it also feels like I'm doing this for both of us.”

Brandi Wooten

Brandi Wooten Ohio State PhD in materials science and engineering graduate Dec 2023
Brandi Wooten in the lab

North Carolina native Brandi Wooten spent six years serving in the National Guard after high school. As an Ohio State materials science and engineering PhD student, she has continued her service by supporting veterans and women engineering graduate students.

Wooten moved to California after boot camp, and served in the California National Guard as a military police officer acting as backup to the Los Angeles Police Department and in Afghanistan where she trained Afghan police. During her time in the National Guard, she also earned a bachelor’s in physics from California State Polytechnic University, where an undergraduate research experience focused on electronic materials inspired her to explore the topic further in graduate school.

But it wasn’t until Wooten met Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Professor Jos Heremans, an expert in thermoelectrics and energy-harvesting devices, during a recruitment event that she decided to become a Buckeye engineer.

“I was sold by the end of that visit,” Wooten said. “He's a great mentor and I'm really thankful that I have him in my corner.”

Wooten’s doctoral research has two main thrusts. The first involves studying materials that can act as heat switches. Earlier this year, a paper published in Science Advances by Wooten and her colleagues identified a new quasiparticle called ferron that can transfer heat under electrical control. The team has filed a patent application to use the quasiparticle to control heat flow in a potential switch.

Ohio State’s interdisciplinary research environment was key to the success of the project, Wooten said.

“Ohio State is very collaborative,” she explained. “[It] showed me what research can be and what it should be, and I think that will really shape my career.”

Her second focus area is topological semiconductors and improving their properties so they can be implemented in quantum devices. A recipient of the Department of Defense’s SMART Scholarship, Wooten has interned at the Army Research Lab in Maryland for the past two summers where she investigates new materials for military applications. She is excited to continue her research there full time after graduation.

Outside of the lab, Wooten has also been busy paying forward on campus. She was president of the Ohio State Graduate Chapter of the Society of Women Engineers for two years and was a member of the Major Lawrence Miller Military Community Advocate Program for three years, serving as an advocate for female veterans.

She’s also proud to be one of 60 veterans and military spouses nationwide named a 2022 Tillman Scholar, which provides financial support for higher education and leadership development.

“The Military Community Advocates Program helped bring into perspective that I can be a researcher and I can be a veteran. These two things can have a place in my life and I can be an advocate for veterans as well as women in STEM,” Wooten shared. “That was like a really nice bow on my life’s service.”

by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, clevenger.87@osu.edu

Categories: StudentsAwards