Purdue Student Success Coach’s Virtual Networking Events Help Online Engineering Students Make Connections

Lezlie Ontiveros

Student success coach Lezlie Ontiveros has a knack for bringing people together. That’s why she sought out a career working with students in higher education. Since 2015, she’s worked in public and private institutions helping college students make valuable connections – first as an academic advisor, then as a success coach. Working with students has taught Ontiveros that each student’s story is unique, and the culmination of those experiences is what makes higher education so special.  

“Every student has a cool story to share and a load of experiences they’re bringing to the table” Ontiveros said. “I’m always learning something new.” 

For the last year and a half, Ontiveros has been a student success coach for Purdue University’s College of Engineering, working with online graduate students from the Interdisciplinary Master of Science in Engineering (MSE) program. In this role, she gets to work with students from many walks of life – some are fresh out of college, some are already building accomplished careers, and some are industry legends with decades of experience. 

“Online graduate students are particularly interesting because they have a wide range of experiences and come from all over the world,” Ontiveros said. “Some of them are extremely accomplished professionals. They come from different industries, and they bring a lot of practical experience to the classroom.” 

Considering the wealth of experience online MSE students have, Ontiveros wanted to find a way for them to connect with each other, regardless of where they lived. So last spring, she started a series of virtual networking events for online MSE students. During these events, the students are paired up in small groups over Zoom and given ice-breaking prompts – the conversations that follow often have a profound impact on a student’s professional journey and their sense of belonging at Purdue.  

“Online students can sometimes feel alienated since they’re not on campus, but learning from your peers is a valuable part of the graduate school experience,” Ontiveros said. “These events bring people together – both for networking opportunities in interdisciplinary engineering, which is a broad field, and for social connections.” 

According to Ontiveros, these networking events also help online students feel more connected to their studies and the Purdue community. Since interdisciplinary engineering is a collaborative field, it’s important that students build working relationships and talk with each other outside of the virtual classroom. 

“Isolation isn’t good for productivity,” Ontiveros said. “Sometimes, students leave these events and they’re planning out their studies together or planning a new research project. It’s energizing.”  

Since Ontiveros works with online graduate students, she is passionate about making sure students who may be hundreds of miles away from campus feel connected to Purdue and can still access student services. Being a part of a huge student body and alumni network is one of the many perks of being a Purdue student, and these online networking events help online students take advantage of that.  

“Without virtual events, online students sometimes struggle to find their peers,” Ontiveros said. “Online students in particular have all of this industry experience, and it’s not difficult to find people who have similar goals or are in similar careers, there just needs to be a way for people to start those conversations.” 

Looking to the future, Ontiveros hopes she can expand her online networking events by offering events focused on specific careers or fields that online engineering students might be interested in. She’d also like to forge more connections between online graduate students and on-campus graduate students, since those groups have a lot to learn from each other.  

“Online students tend to be more industry focused and on-campus students are doing more research and teaching, but there’s a lot of online students interested in research and a lot of on-campus students interested in industry,” Ontiveros said. “These events are a way for them to form meaningful connections that may lead to opportunities.” 

According to Ontiveros, there are numerous opportunities and events at Purdue accessible to online students – one just has to know where to look. She recommends that online students keep their eyes out for campus events with a virtual option and take advantage of the many resources available to all Purdue students, regardless of where they live. 

“Purdue hosts a lot of virtual events, and even events happening on campus often have a virtual option,” Ontiveros said. “Online students should also keep in mind that all the resources available to on-campus students are also available to them. Student success coaches are here to make sure online students can access those resources.”  

Learn more about Purdue's online Interdisciplinary Master of Science in Engineering.

Writer: RM Barton