The Ohio State University at Mansfield cares as much about future Buckeyes as it does its current students and alumni. The Bitty Buckeye Leadership Project pairs Ohio State Mansfield students with local schoolchildren as pen pals to promote community relationships and plant the seed that they too can attend college.
The project is being coordinated by First Year Experience Coordinator Natasha Stouffer and First Year Experience Junior Coordinator Savanah Osborn. While this isn’t the first year the program has existed, it is the first time that they’ve started expanding the number of students involved.
“The program started with a few Buckeye Ambassadors,” Stouffer said. “When I got here, I found Buckeye Ambassador Kaitlyn Miller’s instruction manual for the program. I saw the potential in the project and thought that we should continue the outreach into local schools. The instruction manual has allowed us to replicate the program in various schools.”
The program has now grown to include Buckeye Ambassadors and First Year Student Leaders.
The university students get a lot of satisfaction out of the program. Michael Morgan, a freshman from Cleveland suburb Shaker Heights, has a pen pal at Sherman Elementary School.
“I think the Bitty Buckeye letters are amazing,” Morgan said. “My participation in the Bitty Buckeye Program has truly helped me in my first year in college, and I hope it helps the children understand the importance of education and hard work.”
Morgan is an example of what Stouffer likes about the program.
“I see The Bitty Buckeye Program as a great way to make students who aren’t from the area feel connected to Mansfield,” Stouffer said. “I think it shows what can happen when a community and the university work together.”
The program has been well received in the community, according to Stouffer.
“The teachers really like it because it gives their kids a way to practice their creative spelling and writing,” she said.
The children really enjoy the program as well. The conversations between students and the children are typically about education.
“They’re really excited about being able to talk to Buckeyes and learn about the college experience,” Osborn said. “We talk about college and what they want to be when they grow up and what they think college is like. Then we explain to them what our experiences are.”
The conversations will continue throughout the school year as letters are exchanged every couple of weeks. The program culminates when the college students meet their pen pals face-to-face at the local schools and spend a half-day talking about college and doing educational activities focusing on college access.
Stouffer and Osborn believe Bitty Buckeyes is a scalable project and expect the program to expand.
“We have more interest in it than we have students to write letters,” Stouffer said. “I expect to see it grow and grow over the next year.”