Last weekend, nearly 60 students sat nervously in padded chairs in a University Hall conference room, overlooking the UC Berkeley campus. Mostly dressed in their best job-interview attire, each of the students clutched a small prop. It was only the first step in the day’s audition process for a coveted campus ambassador position within Visitor and Parent Services.
What began with 85 written applications at the end the fall semester led to 60 student auditions. Separated into two groups, the students were put through a variety of skits and scenarios to assess their ability to present, connect and shine in an unexpected situation.
One by one, the students enthusiastically introduced themselves and creatively explained how they would make use of their props during a campus tour. Holding up purple bouncy balls and micro-megaphones or sidewalk chalk or a red clown nose, each student spoke with resonant campus spirit. It wasn’t long before the room was filled with laughter and cheers of "Go Bears!"
"We really look for those people who really want to be a campus ambassador - not as a job, necessarily, but as that person who is going to be the face of our university,” says Dean Lewis, co-lead in hiring and training ambassadors.
Lewis, a junior majoring in economics and psychology, has been co-leading the hiring and training process this year with Caroline Smith, a Berkeley senior majoring in rhetoric with minors in creative writing and human rights. Smith has been a campus ambassador since her freshman year and has been heading the hiring and training of campus ambassadors for two years.
Visitor and Parent Services is a unit of the UC Berkeley’s Office of Communications and Public Affairs. The distinctive hiring process was developed nearly 10 years ago by Executive Director La Dawn Duvall, who wanted to enlist potential ambassadors in a fun and instructive way.
Since the start of the fall semester, Smith and Lewis have been hard at work preparing application processes and doing outreach to ensure as many diverse students as possible have the opportunity to apply for the positions. Applications were opened by mid-October and students were given until the end of the semester to complete their submissions. Between Smith, Lewis and the rest of the campus ambassador leadership team, all of winter break is spent poring over student applications and selecting the right students to move to the next round, group auditions.
The process to become a campus ambassador may seem daunting to some, but it can also be an opportunity for fun and personal growth, according to the team. And most importantly, they say, it’s a chance for students to tell their own Berkeley story.
When Savannah Ignont, a second-year student majoring in molecular and cell biology, first came to UC Berkeley for a campus tour, she didn’t see the diversity she knew needed to be there.
"I want to be involved in campus ambassadors because I want other girls that are like me to see a familiar face and know that they belong here," Ignont says.
For prospective students and their families, campus ambassadors are the welcoming gateway to the Berkeley experience. Nervous and timid, these new students are going to look for familiarity - and diversity is key, she adds.
Aldo Garcia, a second-year student majoring in political science with minors in education and public policy, echoes a similar sentiment. Coming from Corcoran, a small town in the Central Valley, Garcia says that only a small percentage of students from his town go to college.
Those who do go on to four-year universities are often on the fence between whether or not it’s really the right place for them. Garcia was no different when he first toured Berkeley’s campus during high school. Feeling overwhelmed, he questioned whether Berkeley was the best place for him and whether he could afford it. Now in his second year, he hopes that working as a campus ambassador will help encourage other students with similar backgrounds.
"I think that my story is one of those that when somebody sees me they’re gonna think, ’You know maybe it is for me,’" Garcia says.
For Morgan Filgras, a first-year student planning to major in history, she wouldn’t be attending Berkeley if it hadn’t been for her campus ambassador. Filgras was initially a wait-listed student and had already accepted admission to another college. But thanks to her campus ambassador, that all changed.
"The tour guide was so inspirational and so involved. They were just everything that I aspired to be in my college academic life," Filgras says. "I thought if that person can be like that, then so can I and this is the place to do it."
Filgras hopes to become a campus ambassador so that she can share that experience with future students and help them find their place at Berkeley as well.
"You don’t need to be a great public speaker to become a campus ambassador. You don’t need the perfect Berkeley story," Lewis says. "What we want are people that are passionate, enthusiastic and willing to learn and adapt to those situations."