Community Building 101
By Jill Cheatham
It’s summer 2008. Somewhere in a barren wasteland, a robot slowly traverses across the rocky terrain. The Parallax Quad-Rover, a Mars Rover, is making its way through the landscape. OSU student Ryan Albright looks on as this project — his team’s project — makes history.
Of course, this Mars Rover is actually treading across the San Rafael Swell, a desert landscape in Utah, not Mars. And the geniuses behind this particular robot don’t work for NASA. Not yet at least. This Mars Rover was designed, built, and operated by OSU’s Robotics Club, a group of OSU students, including Albright. The final result of the project was an OSU victory over the other competing teams. Fast forward to today: Albright is the president of the Robotics Club and is involved in countless engineering activities. But it wasn’t always so.
Albright came to OSU all the way from his native … Portland. After high school graduation, he recalls how pumped he was about coming to OSU. “I was excited to get out of high school,” he explains. “I enjoyed high school, but it was always just the next step toward college.” Not only had he found a school that had exactly what he wanted — a brand new state of the art engineering center — it was in-state (close enough to Portland but far enough from Eugene).
Although Ryan was looking forward to campus life, the transition wasn’t exactly what he pictured. “I remember that for the first time, I wasn’t doing better than everyone else in my math classes.” He admits being stressed out over midterms and finals just like everyone else. He was struggling to find his place at OSU. A pivotal moment in his freshman year was at the annual ice cream social for incoming freshmen — that’s where he learned of the OSU Robotics Club. The rest is history.
By the end of his freshman year, Albright had joined and made quite an impact in the robotics club. After winning the Mars Rover competition, the club voted Albright as vice president. While serving as vice president and only his second year in the club, Albright was instrumental in raising the membership from a mere twelve to roughly two hundred! As this year’s president, Albright not only leads the robotics club in their annual activities (which include workshops and competitions, underwater and aerial vehicle projects, and other things you might find in top research labs) he also continues to recruit new members, regardless of their experience into the club. “Projects aren’t limited to people with experience. Mostly what we try to do is snag people who know absolutely nothing, and then teach them how to do it.”
Whether it’s designing robots to tread on other planets or helping incoming students adjust to college life, Albright has already had a pretty interesting ride at OSU. And he still has a year to go before he finishes his degree. (I didn’t have a chance to ask him when he sleeps.) He can often be spotted at the Kelley Engineering Center sporting black and orange from head to toe (literally — even his custom Converse shoes say “Go Beavs”). Ryan is a prime example of what getting involved in OSU Engineering can do. He’s traveled all over the country, met tons of different people, and built mind-blowing things. His words of wisdom for potential Beavers: “Get involved. If there is something that you want to do, just start talking to people. Things are pretty easy to put together. When I came here, I was looking for a community. Then I realized I was helping to create one.”