Skip Navigation

University of Oklahoma World Traveler Leaves Mark on Campus

Ty Isom headshot

Bio: OU alumnus Ty Isom

Name: Ty Isom

Graduated: May 2014

Degree: Bachelor’s degree in international studies

Why he’s awesome: Isom bounced back from a rough first year at OU, making a name for himself in the College of International Studies and landing a post-graduation internship with U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn. 

Why he’s super awesome: Isom saved the day on Move-In Day 2014 when he fashioned an adaptor piece for Housing & Food Service’s iPads, used for checking in students. The iPad cases weren’t compatible with the ID-swiping mechanism, but Isom’s 3D-printing piece made it all work together, saving the university about $5,000.

Family: He’s not the only Isom you’ll find here at OU. The son of Sherry and Mark Isom (University of Oklahoma sweethearts) was in good company with his mom as the director of Price Academic Advising Services, his sister Noel Isom currently pursuing her master’s in sociology, and another sister, Nicole Cunningham, employed in OU’s Health Sciences Center.

University of Oklahoma World Traveler Leaves Mark on Campus

Meet Ty Isom: a globetrotter, triathlete and technological innovator who influences the world with his education from OU.


It hadn’t quite clicked for Ty Isom — that whole knowing-what-you-want-to-do-for-the-rest-of your-life thing — until he was actually doing it.

The recent University of Oklahoma grad looked back on the shaky days of doubting his choice in major, of not knowing what career path to take, and said it didn’t become clear until he started traveling the world and exploring OU’s study abroad opportunities. Traveling to places like Lebanon, Tunisia, Turkey and Jordan ignited an interest in diplomacy and international aid and made it evident: This was something he could dedicate his life to.

“When I first started studying abroad, that was one of the aha moments for me,” said Isom, who majored in international studies and graduated in May 2014. He’s now interning in the office of U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, with hopes to work in U.S. Department of State next. 

Read on to learn more about this University of Oklahoma grad — a student who got off to a rocky start, but worked hard to turn it all around and become an alumnus OU’s faculty and staff will always remember.


2014 Move-In Day volunteers gather around an iPad to make sure student check-ins are going smoothly. From left to right: Katie Roberts, senior public relations major; Donovan Session, sophomore theater major; Arlette Rojano, sophomore entrepreneurship venture management major; and Ty Isom, 2014 international studies graduate.


Saving the day

Sure, he’s earned some frequent flier miles, but Isom isn’t just well traveled. He’s athletic, staying active through triathlons. He’s bilingual, having learned Arabic at OU. And he’s also an innovator and problem solver, most recently lending his wits to OU’s Housing & Food Services on move-in day this year.

As a Housing & Food employee in Summer 2014, Isom and his teammates found themselves in a tight spot. The university had purchased iPad cases to protect the devices as workers checked in students that day. One small problem, though: Although the cases did protect the iPads, they prevented the swipe cards from connecting to the iPads.

The bottom line? The university absolutely needed to keep protective cases on the devices. So it looked like it would have to spend about $600 a piece on new scanner/case combos, costing nearly $5,000.

Enter Ty Isom, OU’s own freckled, strawberry-blond problem solver. He approached Jenn Doughty, director of operations at Housing & Food Services, with some ways for the university to save those dollars.

“He said ‘I have my associate’s in engineering and all the tools I need at home,’” Doughty recalled. “He presented us with lots of different solutions. And I said, ‘You know what? Go for it. Run wild. Let me see what you can come up with.’”

And what he came up with blew them away.

Taking the (Digital) Initiative

Isom designed an adaptor using CAD (computer animated design) software, then printed the piece for free using one of OU’s 3D printers inside the Michael F. Price College of Business. OU also has another available to students inside the One University Store in the Oklahoma Memorial Union. (Those printers came to campus through the university’s One University Digital Initiative, which aims to transform the student experience through a series of new technologies and digital tools. More on that here.)

Without the swiping ability, checking in one student would take about 45 seconds. With the card swipes, it takes about 5, Isom said. 

The University of Oklahoma’s WebComm office caught up with Isom on move-in day. Clad in his cowboy boots and hat, Isom was tasked with making sure things ran smoothly as workers checked in students with the iPads. He pointed to a line of about 10 students.

“That long line right there? It’s actually going super fast,” he said. “You take a glance at that line and it’s super long, and you take a glance a couple minutes later and it’s brand new people. So everything’s going really fast. It’s not just because of what I did, but everyone in Housing & Food contributed to this. I was just the one who made this piece right here.”

Isom pointed to the bright orange 3D-printed adaptor he designed using Auto Desk Inventor, a higher-end CAD program available to OU students.


2014 international studies graduate Ty Isom fashioned a small adaptor to ensure Housing & Food Services could use its iPads and swipe mechanisms on Move-In Day 2014. Isom designed the orange piece and printed them with OU's 3D printers.


“It makes the whole system work, that one little tiny piece of orange fabricated enhancement he made with the 3D printer — that’s it,” Doughty said. “And it was entirely his idea. It was entirely his project. Nobody followed him on this. He just did it.” 

One minor issue, though ...

“We did give him some points off for making them orange and not red,” Doughty joked. “No one can be perfect.”

A student’s second chance

Doughty, having supervised Isom as he worked in Housing & Food Services, gave a gleaming review of her worker, stringing together a long list of adjectives that would make anyone blush. As she put it, “This kid was aces from the start.”

“He’s sweet and he’s charming and he’s lovable and driven and determined and smart,” she said. “He took every single thing we asked him to do with the utmost sincerity and ambition and he would, by God, get it done.”

Isom has made some waves in Housing & Food and throughout OU, but his fate at OU wasn’t always that auspicious. In fact, excelling at OU didn’t come easily during his early days here. He pursued an engineering degree before switching gears and focusing instead on international studies, and during his first semester earned a disappointing 1.33 GPA. However, he turned that into a 3.88 GPA upon graduating.

Isom’s mother, Sherry Isom, the director of Price Academic Advising Services, said she was surprised when her son rerouted career paths after his first year. She thought her “LEGO maniac” little boy who competed in bridge-building competitions in high school was bound for a career in engineering. Although he waffled with majors, she knew he’d eventually land on his feet.

“He had some recovery to do,” she said of her son’s first year at OU. “He came in thinking, ‘Is this is what I really want to do?’ and he thought, ‘Huh, maybe not.’ I’m really thrilled that he found his calling, something that he is really interested in, something he’s really excited about.”

And while many students might keep near-failing grades hush-hush, Isom readily offers up the info, hoping other students can learn from his story. He said the people he met at the University of Oklahoma — in particular professor Mariam Mufti, now at the University of Waterloo — shaped and supported him every step of the way.

“Tripping is easy,” he said. “And you’re probably going to trip on your way to graduation — some more than others. … I felt like crap (my first semester) and I didn’t think I was going to amount to anything, but there are hundreds of professors, staff, family and friends that will pick you back up. OU doesn’t give up on you even if you mess up, so you shouldn’t either.”


Interested in studying abroad through OU?
OU is a leader among all American universities in international exchange and study abroad programs. One in four OU students study abroad. OU currently offers programs in over 60 countries and 200 cities in six continents. Students from 120 countries are enrolled at OU. Get more info here!