For over 25 years, student volunteers known as the Ag Ambassadors in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) have served as the face of the college, leading tours and answering questions from prospective students and their families and representing the college at special events.
The group is now 65 strong and has grown from its beginnings in the early 1990s when Karen Aniunas, now assistant vice president of communications and constituent relations in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations at UD, started the program with around 10 or 12 volunteers.
Aniunas began work at CANR as a recruiter — eventually becoming an assistant dean — and was looking for something that would set the college apart from other agricultural institutions when prospective students and their families visited.
One of the strategies she used was to have visiting families meet with faculty members, and then she would lead tours of the college’s farm, greenhouses and gardens.
Working closely with undergraduates for a number of years, Aniunas knew one of the best ways to deliver information was through peer to peer interaction, and she began asking students if they would like to tag along on some of the tours.
“Students are looking for somebody who is mirroring themselves in some way. If I’m a high school junior or senior, I don’t know the first thing about what college is going to be like and so to see somebody sitting across the table from me or taking me around the farm who gets me and is thriving in this place I’m considering, it really helps them to see, ‘I could do this. I could be this,’” said Aniunas.
With the support of John Nye, dean of the college at the time, Aniunas formalized the group of volunteers and decided to call them Ag Ambassadors.
“My philosophy was always that I wanted volunteers. I didn’t want people to do this because it was a way to make money. I wanted them to do it because they were really committed to the college and they wanted to engage with prospective students,” said Aniunas.
Aniunas said she is thrilled to see the program thriving and said it is as much a benefit for the college as it is for the students.
“The students got such a great opportunity for building their communication skills and their leadership skills. They had a lot of exposure to skills that you need as a professional in the real world. It was a symbiotic benefit with regards to them helping us build our numbers and giving the prospective students somebody to connect with but also at the same time building professional skills within the Ag Ambassadors themselves,” said Aniunas.
Current Ag Ambassadors
Now under the guidance of Kim Yackoski, senior assistant dean in CANR, and Katie Daly, academic program manager at CANR, the program is still being run in the way it was originally envisioned, and both said that one of the favorite parts of their job is working with some of the most fun and engaged students in the college.
“We are the undergraduate student services office who supports current students with advisement, but we’re also charged with recruiting students. We welcome prospective families to visit us, to take a tour of our facilities and to meet with faculty members,” said Yackoski.
The undergraduate student services office has over 150 tour requests each year, which are organized by Theresa Cometa, administrative assistant in CANR, and led by the Ag Ambassadors.
Students can apply to be Ag Ambassadors as early as their freshman year, and they are drawn from each of the college’s four departments and agriculture and natural resources majors. Having a diverse group of Ag Ambassadors allows prospective students to get customized tours based on their area of interest, such as touring the farm to see animals or the greenhouse to focus on plants.
In addition to giving tours, the Ag Ambassadors mentor new CANR students and also represent the college at the Presidential Tailgate during Homecoming, college-wide events and award ceremonies.
The current Ag Ambassadors have monthly meetings with Yackoski and Daly where there are training sessions on a broad array of professional development topics as well as updates on the college’s course offerings.
“There is always something new to learn about the programs we offer and these trainings provide us an opportunity to engage with our ambassadors so that they are the best they can be in the role that they play,” said Yackoski.
Daly said that there is a mentoring process built into the program where seasoned Ag Ambassadors will go on tours with newer ambassadors and give them feedback.
“After the tour, in a nice peer mentor kind of way, the seasoned Ag Ambassador can give some feedback to them about what they thought they did really well or what they could improve upon in the future,” said Daly.
Many current Ag Ambassadors are students who met or interacted with members of the program before they came to UD.
Joseph Rea, a senior honors student majoring in pre-veterinary medicine and animal biosciences with minors in exercise science and medical diagnostics, said that he originally decided to come to UD after he was given a tour by an Ag Ambassador.
“I loved how students represented the college so well and were able to tell so many personal stories about how the college and faculty positively shaped their college career. Now it’s come full circle, and I am the Ag Ambassador, hoping to inspire the next round of high school students to choose CANR at UD. This college has done so much for me and I am proud to represent it as an Ag Ambassador. It’s my way of giving back a small token to a program that has given so much to me,” said Rea.
Jessica Beatty, a junior majoring in wildlife conservation, is currently an Ag Ambassador and said the enthusiasm she saw from the Ag Ambassadors when she visited UD as a prospective high school student is what drew her to the program.
“How much they loved the program was one thing that influenced me when I visited. I try to give high school students that same enthusiasm and an honest love for what I’m doing. I’m proud to be here so I love sharing that with people and I love talking about the school,” said Beatty.
Beatty said she can still remember when she first heard Ag Ambassadors speak about their experiences at CANR during Decision Days and decided at that moment that she wanted to be one.
“After I was in the room with all the Ag Ambassadors, I told my parents, ‘I want to be one of those people,’ and here I am. I still talk to Katie and Kim about it to this day. It’s just one of those things that has stuck with me,” said Beatty.
For more information on the program, visit the Ag Ambassadors website.
Article by Adam Thomas
This article can also be viewed on UDaily.