Student to student outreach helps Rutgers University in Newark stay true to its roots

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Any parent already knows this: Tell your teen something, you’ll be tuned out.  Get another young person to relay your message, and the teen is all ears.
This concept is working well for both Rutgers University in Newark and Newark high school students. Over the last four years, Rutgers-Newark’s Student Ambassador program has been sending teams of its students into the city’s high schools with a two-fold mission: Emphasize the importance of getting a college degree and remind them that Rutgers is right in their backyard, is affordable and has a lot to offer.
Based on admission statistics, the student-to-student message is being heard.  “Before the Ambassador Program, less than 50 Newark students applied here; this year we admitted 179,” says Marcia Brown, vice chancellor for student and community affairs.  “It’s the best type of motivation: motivation by example,” she explains. Because the Ambassadors themselves are products of urban high schools who are now successful college students at Rutgers, their example encourages the current high school students to try to follow in their steps, and does so more effectively than a pep talk by an adult, notes Brown.
That is exemplified by ambassadors such as Sharkirah E. Foote-Hayes. “I identify with these students because there was a time in my life when I did not believe that I was good enough for a Rutgers education.  It is imperative that each student in Newark recognize that they not only have the potential to succeed, but can have an impact within the local or Rutgers community.”  Sharkirah, who shared that message with more than 180 students during high school visits, also considered her service as an ambassador as “my way of giving back to my community.”
The message spread by the ambassadors has a special meaning this year as Rutgers University celebrates 100 years of higher education in Newark.  “Since our earliest days in Newark a century ago, our mission has been to provide a first-rate education to students of modest means, to first-generation college attendees, and to students of diverse religious backgrounds,” notes Chancellor Steven Diner.  “This program serves that mission well by striving to make higher education a reality for students from our home city, students who might not think college is important or think that it is out of reach.”
Brown said the overarching goal of the program is to help the campus connect more deeply with its home community.  The program evolved from discussions  with the Newark School District “about ways to reach out to their students, to mentor them and talk to them about Rutgers–Newark as a choice for college,” she says. Two-person student ambassador teams visit area high schools, sometimes giving talks in auditoriums to scores of students, at other times meeting with small groups to talk about college in general and Rutgers-Newark in particular.
During his year as an ambassador, social work major Sondy Cadeau met with some 70 students.  His goal: “I wanted to enlighten and encourage fellow Newark high school students to consider Rutgers Newark and the amazing experiences it has to offer to Newark students.” During his term as ambassador, he saw many high school students alter their views of Rutgers-Newark after learning first-hand about the school and what it has to offer. “I think many of those changes were a result of ambassadors who were proud and passionate about Rutgers Newark and who did not mind sharing such passion and pride. Pride and passion are two things that I think I gave back as an ambassador,” notes Cadeau, who graduated this May from the Rutgers-Newark College of Arts and Sciences.
Foote-Hayes, a 2008 honors graduate of the Rutgers Business School, described serving as an ambassador as “my way of giving back to my community.”
The Ambassadors program is a collaboration between the Rutgers Office of the Chancellor, the Rutgers-Newark Admissions office, and the Office of Campus and Community Relations. Students selected to be Campus Ambassadors must be recommended by their deans, come from urban environments, have strong communications skills and display leadership abilities. Annual membership in the Campus Ambassador program is limited to approximately 10-15 students; the ambassadors are selected annually by the Vice Chancellor of Student and Community Affairs.  Over the past year, the ambassadors came from several schools and disciplines within the Newark campus:
•    Dion Bailey, political science, Newark College of Arts and Sciences (NCAS)
•    Sharkirah Foote-Hayes, management, Rutgers Business School-Newark and New Brunswick (RBS)
•    Elizabeth Abitano, political science, NCAS
•    Sondy Cadeau, social work, NCAS
•    Erica Roberson, accounting and finance, RBS
•    Samantha Welsh, psychology, NCAS
•    Damaris Watlington, political science, NCAS
•    Nyha Haywood, finance and criminal justice, RBS and School of Criminal Justice

Whatever their academic discipline, the ambassadors have one characteristic in common.  “All of the student participants this year have done an excellent job in telling their stories and encouraging local high school students to not just consider attending Rutgers, but to consider that they are worthy of having the dream of a college education,” explains Foote-Hayes.