As all of us who work in the college success space know, a lot of what goes into supporting students to college graduation is about creating and fostering relationships. From the start, the Dell Scholars program was designed to offer more than just financial support, helping students navigate the personal and academic challenges that can mean the difference between graduating from college or dropping out for students from low-income families. With an approach that’s tailored to supporting individual student needs, this is work that’s truly powered by hearts and minds. And a few extra sets of hands.
When the program was entering its fifth year, with a small but mighty staff of two people, we knew we needed some additional resources to help us reach all our students – more than 2,000 thousand Dell Scholars at colleges nationwide. To help us meet the individual needs of each of our students, we decided to bring on additional support, and our Dell Scholars Ambassadors program was born.
Dell Scholars Ambassadors are current Dell Scholars who take on an active role supporting their peers. These are students who jumped at the opportunity to give back, serving as core members of the Dell Scholars team all while balancing their own college coursework and other responsibilities.
We quickly saw that their impact would be far greater than we could have imagined. After more than a decade at the heart of our program, let’s take a closer look at the role of our Dell Scholars Ambassadors.
Bringing a new perspective
What does this look like in action? Let me take you back to the program’s early years, when we first started hearing about some new social network spreading across college campuses – a website called Facebook. With Dell Scholars attending hundreds of colleges across the country, we knew an online community could be a great way to bring our students together, but we weren’t sure how to get started. Nearly 15 years ago, businesses and organizations hadn’t yet figured out how to harness this new technology, and we put it off for months.
Then along came Angelica, our first Ambassador who set up our Facebook group during her first week on the job, an effort that took under 10 minutes.
It’s an early example among countless others where Ambassadors have directly improved the Dell Scholars experience. The Facebook group is still active today, and with some oversight from the advising team, the Ambassadors run our private Instagram handle (as evidenced by all the popular memes found there) and engage with scholars through our chatbot as well. The fact is, our Ambassadors help us bridge a generational divide, helping us meet students where they are and communicate with them in meaningful ways.
Serving as peer support
At Dell Scholars, many of the students we serve have faced significant obstacles to a college degree or may be the first in their family to attend college. For those without a strong support system, it can make all the difference to know someone has your back and can relate to your experience. With the Ambassadors, our students can see themselves reflected in Dell Scholars just like them facing the same challenges day-to-day.
Oftentimes, this level of trust and understanding is what makes it possible to support Dell Scholars through personal struggles. When speaking with a peer, they may be more comfortable mentioning financial concerns we could help them navigate, or even opening up about feelings of insecurity or anxiety – it’s like talking to a friend. The Ambassadors can also share wisdom from firsthand experience, from study tips to overcoming homesickness to dealing with financial aid.
The better we can get to know our students, the better we can support them. The Dell Scholars Ambassadors help us create those real relationships that can serve as an anchor through times of struggle.
Living out the mission
At Dell Scholars, we believe that every student who wants the opportunity to go to college and earn a degree should have that opportunity. The Dell Scholars Ambassadors help us bring this mission to life, through their own perseverance and triumphs along with the thousands of students that they have helped us support along the college journey.
We’re honored to celebrate these students who have given back to the Dell Scholars program and their communities in such meaningful ways. Serving as an Ambassador has even shaped the career paths of several students (in fact, a couple have come back to work for the program full-time)!
No matter where life takes our Dell Scholars Ambassadors after college, it’s no surprise to see them go on to do great things – because we see them doing great things here on a daily basis.
One of our biggest learnings over the years? At the end of the day, it’s all about building relationships. Students sometimes feel like they are all alone in the struggles they’re facing, but when Dell Scholars connect with our Ambassadors, they’re starting on common ground. With a foundation of shared experiences, this is someone like them who can relate to their struggles and frustrations and share in their victories.
Knowledge of financial aid, degree plans, and college transfers can all be imparted, with the right foundation in place. The Dell Scholars Ambassadors work every day to help build the strong relationships upon which our Dell Scholars’ success is built.
To learn more about Dell Scholars, visit www.dellscholars.org.