Mentoring is a two-way street: College persistence and the Dell Scholar Ambassadors Program

Imagine you’re a new college student. Maybe you’re the first in your family to ever attend college. Maybe your family is low-income, and the odds of staying in school and graduating are stacked against you. Maybe you’re not quite sure who to turn to for advice about college persistence.

If you’re like most people, you have a few options: College counselors, parents, peers. And if you’re like most 18-year-olds, your peers will be stop number one – which may or may not be a good idea, depending on the advice they dispense. But what if you had a friend, a peer with a background like yours, who was an expert in the area you needed help with? Or who knew who to call to help you resolve almost any issue? Suddenly, you’d have an ally who understood what it took to beat the odds and make it to your goal of graduation.

Dell Scholar Ambassadors: The power of peers

Dell Scholar Ambassadors play exactly that role. Ambassadors are either current Dell Scholars or recent graduates who provide direct peer-to-peer support to other Dell Scholars. To help others manage through issues related to campus life and academics, financial crunches and simple “life happens” conundrums, they both draw from their own personal experiences and from comprehensive training provided by the foundation. Dell Scholar Ambassadors help students navigate straightforward challenges like  how the online class scheduling systems works and where to park on campus as well as more complex issues like how to maximize financial aid and avoid unnecessary loans or what to do if you need to drop or withdraw from a class.

Since 2008, the ambassador program has been a critical component of our scholars’ college completion success. Hundreds of Dell Scholars have received support from a peer ambassador.  While the impact of the ambassador program is not easily quantifiable, it is clear that our Dell Scholars have greatly benefited from the support they receive as evidenced the many emails and Facebook posts of gratitude from the help they received.  What’s has also become clear is that all of our Dell Scholar Ambassadors are excelling in their own college experience.

As a college student, I volunteered to mentor a young boy through a big brother mentoring program. During two weeks of intensive training, we spent a lot of time on the impact our relationship would have on the students we mentored. As we neared the end of the training, everyone in my group felt pretty good about  how we were going to help our respective little brothers. Little did we realize that the most important part of training was yet to come.

College persistence: What ambassadors give; what they get

The last day focused on the impact our mentees would make in our own lives. We were told that we would receive as much benefit from our mentees as we provided to them.  In the two years I spent as a mentor, I learned exactly how true that was. Mentoring is a two way street. Both parties learn. Both parties grow.

Our Dell Scholar Ambassadors get as much benefit as they give their fellow Dell Scholars. The relationships they build with scholars helps them reflect on their own college journeys. They are forced to continually reflect on their own ability to balance school with family and personal responsibilities.  The work helps them evaluate their own success in taking advantage of the resources and opportunities available at their universities.  As they help their peers overcome and navigate obstacles, they themselves become more resilient and adept at navigating challenges.

Ambassadors serve up to two years, taking on higher levels of responsibility over time, helping to manage scholar support initiatives, and helping to develop and evolve our scholar persistence strategies. By the time they complete college, these ambassadors will have accrued significant professional experience and evolved new skills that will serve them throughout their lives. We’re grateful to have the ambassadors on our team, and we’re excited to have you meet them.