Rising Leaders fourth-graders connecting with Fisher students and staff

Going to class, networking with fellow students and professors, participating in a project and running into Brutus Buckeye are all part of typical day at Ohio State. But how would dozens of elementary school students ― potential future Buckeyes ― feel about the experience?

That question, posed by fourth-grade teachers from Liberty Elementary School, sparked the idea behind the Rising Leaders experience ― a unique collaboration between the school and Fisher that welcomed 85 Columbus City Schools students to Ohio State’s campus for a day of learning.

“We thought, wouldn't it be nice if we could get these students to Ohio State,” said Natalie West, who worked with fellow Liberty teachers Molly Selan and Bryan Truttling to propose the idea.

Young girl proudly shows of an elaborately decorated board
A Liberty Elementary School student shares her vision board.

Truttling reached out to Jana Lithgow, executive director of undergraduate programs at Fisher, who collaborated with Tai Johnson, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) academic outreach program specialist from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion Student Services and Corporate and Community Outreach (ODISSCCO), to make it happen.

Johnson expressed the goal of the program was to engage students at an early age, during elementary and middle school, aiming to introduce them to the concept of college while envisioning their path and personal brand development in the process.

For many of the students, the program was their first time on a college campus and proved a pivotal point in their lives.

“We felt that the connection with Fisher really resonated with Columbus City Schools’ ‘Portrait of a Graduate,’ which is invested in centering the students and creating a safe space for them to look within and showcase who they are aspiring to be,” Truttling said.

The day-long experience exposed students to fundamental business concepts such as personal and professional branding, and they had opportunities to interact with professors and students and experience the excitement of a university campus.

In the branding session, students learned about logos, what a brand means for a company and how a brand carries a company or product forward.

The discussion led to an exploration of personal branding and encouraged students to discover how they see themselves and how others see them. Students crafted their personal brands by devising words and themes for a personal pitch slogan and created collaged vision boards representing what they stand for.

Cynthia Turner puts arm around student in front of room to encourage him
Assistant Dean and Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Cynthia Turner encourages a Liberty Elementary School student to share his personal brand with the rest of the participants. 

“(Assistant Dean and Chief Diversity Officer) Dr. Cynthia Turner’s presentation and activity on personal brand was truly insightful and really gave the students a chance to reflect on their presence in terms of who they think the world sees when it looks at them versus their perception of reality,” Truttling said. “In my classroom, I use this activity as a reminder when I want students to think about the impact they have in certain situations be it social or academic.”

Students also interacted with Brutus and several Fisher students to learn about their specializations, their backgrounds, their road to college and life on campus.

One of the questions the fourth graders asked was “Who could go to college?” Unanimously, the Fisher students responded, “Nearly anyone can go to college if they work for it.” They emphasized that with dedication and hard work everyone would benefit from their college experience because they tried their best.

Kunsh Puranik, a second-year logistics management and international business student who participated in the panel, gave the students great advice about starting their college career early.

“Taking classes in a college can begin early in high school, but not a lot of people take advantage of the head start it gives them,” Puranik said. “In Ohio, taking College Credit Plus courses is free for high school students at any public college or university. This opportunity gives you the chance to graduate early.”

As the day progressed, both the Fisher students and the teachers could see the impact the day had.

“After showing them that going to college can be accessible, I could see how excited they were about wanting to attend college,” Puranik said. “It was great to see how much Fisher supports these bright and energetic students early in their education.”

Two young students thrilled to hang out with Brutus
Two Liberty Elementary School students enjoy meeting Brutus Buckeye.

Truttling said the impact of the experience was pronounced, and he saw it carry over into his classroom in big ways ― students said they felt valued and important ― and small ― they raved about their lunch and were “floored” that they were served instead of standing in line. He said the students are constantly reminiscing about the experience and want to come back.

“The big topic of discussion was simply access,” Truttling said. “The students are very entrenched in the tradition and grandeur of The Ohio State University, but to experience it firsthand was life-changing. This great place exists in their backyard, but seldom do they get to step in it. This was a powerful event in just that regard.”

“These students can now see themselves in life beyond K-12 education. The perspective and the interactions with the student panel gave the students opportunities to see, hear and talk to students who they can relate to but also planted the seed in their mind that this is a real possibility for them."



"In building my brand, I learned different ways to be MYSELF, and surprisingly I learned more things about myself!"

Michelle A. 
Fourth-grade student, Liberty Elementary School


"I learned that you can be anything you want if you follow your dream."

Mamadou N. 
Fourth-grade student, Liberty Elementary School


"Making a brand can show people who you are and what you are."

Mayana W. 
Fourth-grade student, Liberty Elementary School