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Washington State University
CAS Connect September 2014

Student ambassadors sustain WOW factor all year

They look like typical undergraduate representatives of WSU: smiling, smartly dressed in crimson and black uniforms, brochures in hand as they greet incoming freshmen during the Week of Welcome (WOW). They are the CAS Student Ambassadors, and outreach is one of their specialties.

Far from typical, however, this select group of about a dozen mostly juniors and seniors continues to help shape their fellow students’ experiences in meaningful ways long after WOW is over.

Engaged, strong leaders and outstanding students who come from a variety of academic, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, the student ambassadors represent the excellence to be found among CAS undergraduates. They assist faculty and staff with student recruitment, retention, and engagement, and burnish their communication and leadership skills to better prepare themselves and other students for the world after college.

 Arlene Parkay, CAS specialist in recruitment and retention, is also advisor to the college's student ambassadors.

Arlene Parkay, CAS specialist in recruitment and retention, is also advisor to the college’s student ambassadors.

Their goal is to establish “a culture of excellence and engagement” in classrooms, in research, and in connections across CAS disciplines, said Arlene Parkay, college recruitment and retention specialist and advisor to the ambassador program.

Boosting recruitment

As recruiters, the ambassadors are trained to represent both the college and its individual departments and schools.

Throughout the fall semester, each ambassador delves into learning about specific academic areas and presents the information to Parkay and the other ambassadors. This creates a team of highly knowledgeable representatives at the ready to assist faculty and staff with various recruitment and departmental outreach efforts.

Future students easily relate to the ambassadors and appreciate their insider insights and similar experiences and perspectives.

Engaging and retaining students

At the core of the ambassador program is student engagement and retention—helping CAS students make the most of their time at WSU.

The ambassadors coordinate with other student groups and campus organizations to develop programming that highlights the variety of activities and opportunities WSU offers, such as interacting more with international students and their respective cultures, studying abroad, and conducting undergraduate research.

Parkay hopes this culture of engagement will continue to enhance the academic standing of CAS undergraduates and their preparation for life after college.

College is about so much more than receiving the degree at the end, Parkay said, It’s “what you do in the middle” that is essential to developing skills in work and life.

She encourages students to take ownership of their education—whether in connecting with faculty members or looking for opportunities such as research or study abroad. “We want students to challenge themselves,” she said.

Parkay often tells students, “This is your education. Know who’s teaching you, find out who they are and reach out.”

Promoting collaboration across disciplines

Under Parkay’s direction the ambassadors developed an especially popular and effective program to illuminate the breadth of employment opportunities available to CAS graduates. The Career Fair Coaching Event, held each fall two weeks before the WSU Career Expo on the Pullman campus, introduces undergraduates to employers from the Pullman-Moscow area.

Participating students gain invaluable training in translating their majors into skill sets, and acquire useful tools for standing out in today’s job market. Jointly offered by CAS and WSU’s Academic Success and Career Center, the career-coaching event last fall drew more than 30 enthusiastic undergraduates.

In spring 2013, former CAS ambassadors Elizabeth Laws and Devon Seymour spearheaded an initiative called the Undergraduate Multidisciplinary Research Competition (UMRC). The first year’s projects focused on reducing toxins in the Spokane River. Interdisciplinary teams of undergraduates designed proposals whose merits were evaluated by both WSU faculty and the Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force.

Seymour credits Laws for originating the idea to develop an event with projects for students that would bring different disciplines together and help the community in some way. “The impact was really great in that it showed how students from different disciplines can really collaborate—it demonstrates how humanities and sciences can work together to find relevant and necessary solutions to our current global problems,” Seymour said.

Becoming an ambassador

The ambassador program was founded in 2012. Parkay originally envisioned a student advisory board to enhance the CAS undergraduate experience, and college administrators agreed that a strong student voice was important to ensure success. Input from multiple student focus groups resulted in formation of the ambassador program and expansion of the college’s focus on career preparation.

Student Ambassadors WOW

CAS ambassadors are chosen yearly via a rigorous two-step interview process that includes essay writing and demonstrations of scholastic achievement and leadership. Candidates must possess at least a 2.7 GPA and must have completed one full-time year of college by the time they start their program (freshmen are encouraged to apply).

After they pass the initial selection process, prospective ambassadors are evaluated together by faculty and staff volunteers during a day of communication and problem-solving activities designed to illuminate leadership and interpersonal skills. In one game, for example, students must lift and lower a hula hoop, using only four fingers each and without a single finger leaving the hoop—a task that’s more difficult—and more telling—than one might imagine.

Being an ambassador is about being both a leader and a team player while representing the college and its undergraduate student body. Being a CAS ambassador is both an honor and a responsibility for students who are anything but typical.