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University state tour explores history, culture and innovation in the Miami Valley

President Johnson leads two-day tour

Research. Relationships. Reflection.

Those were some of the themes that emerged over the course of two days as students, leaders and staff from The Ohio State University boarded buses to visit the state’s Miami Valley region. The annual State Tour returned to the road for the first time since the COVID pandemic and included stops in Dayton, Springfield and Yellow Springs.

“It’s been incredible. We started out at Huffman Prairie Flying Field, looked at where the Wright brothers flew, and then some of us went to go see the Paul Laurence Dunbar House. Others of us went to visit Wright Patterson [Air Force Base],” President Kristina M. Johnson said to 4-H members and Master Gardener volunteers on the second day of the tour. “You don’t ever get to make the connections until you get out and see people.”

Johnson and members of the tour made connections with history, leaders in higher education, public officials, community leaders, future Buckeyes and dozens of residents of the Miami Valley community. It was a chance to get out beyond the Columbus campus and see the broad impact of Ohio State. For some of the members of the tour, it was a learning experience.

First in flight

It’s almost impossible to visit the Dayton area without noticing the monuments to the city’s favorite sons: Orville and Wilbur Wright. The aviation pioneers developed and tested the world’s first practical airplane at Huffman Prairie Flying Field. The site of more than 100 test flights and countless hours of trial and error was an appropriate place for the tour to begin.

President Johnson joined university leaders and about 20 students at the national landmark early Monday morning. Park Ranger Ryan Qualls explained the important role of partnerships and community involvement.

“Volunteerism, I think, is what made the Wright Brothers’ story happen. It wasn’t like Wilbur and Orville were just these extreme geniuses and they just did everything by themselves,” Qualls said. “Seventeen businesses helped to build the engine on that plane. It wasn’t a one-person deal.”

A celebration of history and an investment in strategic research

Following the history lesson at Huffman Prairie, Johnson, Grace Wang, Ohio State’s executive vice president for research, innovation and knowledge, and other university leaders went to Wright Patterson Air Force Base for a tour and a discussion about the connected strategic research and workforce development partnerships between the two institutions – and the future they could grow together.

Ohio State has a longstanding research connection with the Air Force Research Laboratory. University researchers support the Air Force 711th Human Performance Wing as well as innovations in materials and manufacturing, sensors and aerospace systems.

While the conversation continued at Wright Patterson, students, staff and Brutus Buckeye boarded the Buckeye Bus for a tour of Dayton culture and history. Stops included the Paul Laurence Dunbar House, Carillon Historical Park and the Dayton Art Institute.

Dunbar, a prolific poet and author, was the first African American to support himself financially through his writing. Students visited his home, a national historic landmark, on the sesquicentennial anniversary of Dunbar’s birth. They joined national park staff to celebrate with cupcakes and an enthusiastic rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

The Buckeye Bus also stopped at Carillon Historical Park, a 65-acre open-air history museum
that serves as the main campus for Dayton history and innovation. The park is home to the 1905 Wright Flyer III, a collection of antique NCR cash registers and the original Deeds Barn, the building where Ohio State alumnus Charles Kettering and his team built the automobile self-starter.

After lunch, students toured the Dayton Art Institute to view a Paul Laurence Dunbar tribute and two Van Goghs currently on loan as part of Art for the Ages, an exhibition that takes a close look at how conservation protects art for future generations.

“We were intentional about the learning outcomes for the students who joined us on the tour, and made sure we connected their experiences to President Johnson’s focus on innovation and diversity,” said Tracy Stuck, one of the lead tour organizers with the Office of Student Life. “Hearing about Paul Laurence Dunbar, the Wright brothers and other dynamic innovators on the tour really helped the students understand our land-grant mission. I hope it inspired them to dream big, just like the people did whose stories they encountered on the trip.”

Future Buckeyes

President Johnson rejoined the Buckeye Bus at Bellbrook High School to celebrate future Buckeyes. A pop-up tailgate party helped surprise recent high school graduates who will be entering Ohio State in the fall.

Dakota Davis, a Land Grant Opportunity Scholar, and Ally Lewis, an Eminence Fellow, were honored at the event. Both scholarships are two of Ohio State’s premier merit awards. 

Davis, who plans to major in English and French, said the visit was really special for the Bellbrook community. He said it shows the university cares about the students who will attend in the fall.

Lewis, who plans to major in chemical engineering, said she was excited to meet Johnson at the event. She said her parents are life-long Ohio State fans and it meant a lot to her to get to shake the president’s hand.

“I really didn’t expect to have that much recognition, especially from the president,” she said. “It was really surprising to me.”

A whirlwind first day ended with a reception at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Eugene Brown, a third-year sports industry major, said it was a favorite moment on the tour and connected the past with the present.

“Just seeing all the planes [in the museum] after seeing the Wright brothers, how they created one plane and then ... years later, they got planes that are in World War II,” Brown said. “The innovation is just so amazing.”

Connections in higher education

Day two of the state tour included visits to Wilberforce University, the nation’s oldest, private historically Black university owned and operated by African Americans, and to Central State University, a fellow land-grant institution and a Historically Black College and University.

Johnson joined Wilberforce President Elfred Anthony Pinkard to formalize a partnership in turfgrass education for Wilberforce students. Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences will begin offering online non-credit certificates to Wilberforce students in advanced golf course management, history of golf courses and sports turf management. It’s part of a broader commitment to help bring diversity into these industries.

At Central State, President Jack Thomas helped lead a tour of the McLin Water Resource Management Center. Ohio State collaborates with Central State on research and innovation in water quality and resource management, artificial intelligence, and materials and manufacturing.

Students from Ohio State and Central State participated in a roundtable with Johnson and Thomas to discuss the future of land-grant universities in the modern era.

Industry and community support

The last stops on the state tour featured a visit to a fourth-generation family business and the birthplace of 4-H.

Students and staff joined Johnson on a tour of the Woeber Mustard Company factory floor. The company has been a Springfield institution since it was founded in 1905 and has multi-generational Buckeye connections. The tour included a look at how the company processes mustard and horseradish and how its factory lines package and label the product, and a chance to taste test some of their popular spreads.

The tour also stopped at Snyder Park Gardens and Arboretum to celebrate the birthplace of 4-H and the partnership with Ohio State University Extension and the National Trail Parks and Recreation District. Johnson acknowledged the legacy of 4-H founder A.B. Graham and noted the important early beginnings of what was first known as the “Boys and Girls Agriculture Club.”

“When you think about it, A.B. Graham was ahead of his time because it was for boys and girls, everybody,” she said. “And that’s a little bit like the history of The Ohio State University. You only had to be 14 years or older in order to get in.”

Students from the Buckeye Bus met with 4-H exhibitors to learn more about their experiences.

The state tour came to a satisfying end at Young’s Jersey Dairy for an ice cream social. Fifth-year senior Anna Valerius, a political science major, worked with Student Life to support the tour. She said it was important for Ohio State to continue to interact with communities across Ohio, and the state tour was a way to do just that.

“I think looking at what our relationship is with the space we occupy and how are we interacting with the community in ways that it wants to be interacted with, that’s something that I’m very passionate about personally,” she said. “That’s how can we use the information and the knowledge that we have in Columbus and bring it to the entire state.”

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