By Chris Booker
For Rural Life Today
COLUMBUS — The trip begins with a story about Hugh Jackman and some wild animals and ends with a lesson from the unofficial weed king of Ohio. Welcome to The Ohio State University 2017 Roads Scholar Tour.
The Roads Scholars Tour is a two-day trip for faculty, staff and community partners to learn more about Ohio history and the university’s deep connections throughout the state. Associate Vice Provost for Outreach and Engagement Stephen Myers is the tour guide and ringleader for the Roads Scholars.
“It’s a little snapshot of some of the really incredible and interesting things going on in this great state,” Myers said.
The tour has been an annual event since 1997. This year southwest Ohio was the focus of attention, with stops at university offices, Ohio historical sites and organizations doing groundbreaking research.
“You’ll find that a lot of the stops are not things that may relate to your discipline, but I think through the visits you’ll see perspectives and learn things that give you a different look into the way you do your work,” Myers said.
A history of flight and a night in Cincinnati
Beginning at The Ohio State University Airport, Director Doug Hammon spoke to the group of about 45 Roads Scholars, explaining that yes, Ohio State owns an airport.
The airport has been in business since 1942 and is the fourth-busiest airport in the state. Each semester, about 300 students work and learn at the home of Don Scott Field.
“Our mission is to support the university’s teaching, research and engagement,” Hammon said.
He said the airport is also known as a stop for VIPs visiting Columbus. Pro golfers like Tiger Woods and actors such as Harrison Ford have made stops at the airport. Hammon said that actor Hugh Jackman once landed at the airport with Jack Hanna, a penguin and a chimpanzee in tow.
A motor coach filled with the traveling group and a second one filled with students left the airport for the second stop on the tour: Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park.
The park commemorates the lives of aviators Orville and Wilbur Wright as well as poet and author Paul Laurence Dunbar. Students and tour members learned about the birth of modern aviation and Dunbar’s efforts to build a newspaper for Dayton’s African American community.
“The Wright Brothers are not just a part of Ohio history. It’s part of our nation’s history. It’s part of world history. It’s amazing to experience with this group,” said tour member Russell Marzette, assistant professor in the College of Engineering.
A trip to the Cincinnati-based Emery Oleochemicals was the next tour stop. Company managers explained how the 177-year-old company is working to make more natural and sustainable chemicals for everyday uses.
The final stop in Cincinnati for the day was a visit to Plum Street Temple , one of the oldest synagogues in the United States. The historic house of worship was built for the congregation of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise during the Civil War.
The synagogue’s current leader, Rabbi Lewis Kamrass, said the sanctuary serves as a testimony to the openness of the United States. He said it is not a museum but continues to serve as home for Sabbath services, bar mitzvahs and weddings.
“For our members this is not a place of history so much as it’s a place for their personal history,” he said.
The Roads Scholars Tour ended the first day with a reception for the participants and Cincinnati-area alumni. Southwest Ohio native Maggie Griffin spoke at the reception. Griffin is one of two graduating seniors to win the President’s Prize, a $100,000 award to develop a project to do good works in the community. Griffin started the Unity Fridge Program to help provide fresh, locally grown produce in underserved communities.
President Michael V. Drake said programs like the Unity Fridge and the teaching and research at Ohio State connect the university to the rest of the nation. The Roads Scholars Tour is a reflection of those connections.
“As we do things well, people are able to connect with us in a way that makes a difference. People watch what we’re doing, people see how we’re doing it, they watch the way we do it because we are representing an entity that means something to them and is connected to them,” Drake said.
A closer look at weather and weeds
The second day of the tour began with a visit to the Niehoff Urban Studio and the University of Cincinnati Community Design Center, an off-campus classroom helping students and faculty work with the community to solve real-world problems.
After the studio tour, the bus rolled out of Cincinnati and over to Wilmington, the home of the southwest Ohio office of the National Weather Service. Roads Scholars were shown the workings of the weather monitoring balloons, how the weather service broadcasts alerts and how it works with Ohio State to share information with meteorologists around the state.
“I would say of all of the universities we work with, Ohio State provides us the strongest partnership,” said Brandon Peloquin, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
The final stop on the tour was the Western Agricultural Research Station. Located on 428 acres in Clark County, the living agricultural lab was founded in 1958. The station aids the research of the state’s most important crops from corn to soybeans to pigs.
Scott Shearer, chair of the Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, showed how farmers are using drones to maximize their land management and cut down on their use of fertilizers. Department of Horticulture and Corp Science Professor Mark Loux answered questions about the dangerous weeds threatening farms in the country and spoke about how Ohio State is providing the research to stop them.
On an 80 degree summer day, the sights, sounds and smells of a working farm may not be what many from the Columbus campus were used to, but the experience left an imprint.
“I really loved the agricultural stops. I didn’t necessarily anticipate that,” said Ashley Pérez, assistant professor in the Department of Comparative Studies. “I think one of the great things about an interdisciplinary audience is that people are translating their research into broadly accessible language which is something my department does a lot.”
Leaning about others was a goal of the tour. Mei-Wei Chang, associate professor in the College of Nursing, said meeting other faculty and staff on the tour helped her make connections that she said will help her research into weight management for pregnant mothers.
“I thought it was an amazing tour. I met new people and I learned a lot about the community,” she said.
A trip that begins with the university-owned airport and ends with a visit to one of the university’s far-flung research centers highlights the breadth and depth of Ohio State’s connections with the state. But the interaction between the Roads Scholars and all of the groups that welcomed them as visitors shows the real bond between the university and the state.
Drake summed up the connection while speaking at the alumni event in Cincinnati.
“People know who we are and we matter to them.”