Elizabeth Thompson, Trinity Communications
When first-year students arrive on campus, they encounter over 30 departments in the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, not to mention Duke’s other schools, like the Nicholas School of the Environment, Sanford School of Public Policy and the Pratt School of Engineering. With so many options for pathways and majors, how do you decide what to study? How do you get an insider’s view of real students’ experiences?
You ask a Trinity Ambassador.
Since it was launched in Fall 2022, over 60 volunteer Trinity Ambassadors have represented their departments at campus-wide events such as Majors Fair and Blue Devil Days, met with high school students and responded to emails about classes and majors.
Created to leverage the knowledge of Duke juniors and seniors, who are uniquely positioned to share their experiences with younger students, Trinity Ambassadors also advise their departments and Trinity administration on topics ranging from undergraduate advising to what’s the best swag to distribute at Majors Fair (it’s t-shirts and metal water bottles).
Departments that had thriving majors unions before the COVID-19 pandemic found themselves regrouping last year. Face-to-face interactions were back, but many student leaders had graduated. Ambassadors in Evolutionary Anthropology, Economics and other departments provided needed support for activities like hosting panels and socials.
They also provided a framework for connecting departments with undergraduate voices. The Department of Biology even had Ambassadors meet with candidates for new faculty positions, said Jill Foster, the department’s assistant to the director of undergraduate studies.
“Undergraduates represent a unique viewpoint that faculty candidates don’t always have access to, so it was valuable for our Ambassadors to share their experience as Duke Biology majors as well as have the opportunity to learn about the candidate, ask questions and weigh in with any comments afterwards,” Foster said.
Nominated by their departments, which oversee their day-to-day work, Ambassadors from across Trinity also meet twice yearly for deeper discussions with Trinity Communications, faculty and staff. The spring meeting took place on a sunny afternoon at the end of March and focused on Blue Devil Days, where some Ambassadors served on panels with faculty and admissions staff, as well as undergraduate advising.
Arranged in circles of 8-10 participants, munching on cookies and drinking cold brew coffee, the Ambassadors offered essential insights into who they actually get career advice from, the transition from college (pre-major) advising to major advising and more.
“It’s interesting to learn how other departments operate in terms of advisor assignment,” said Mian Wu, assistant to the director of undergraduate studies in the Department of African & African American Studies.
The students learned from each other, too — one endorsed the Directors of Academic Engagement for information about internships and extracurricular activities — ensuring they can offer the best advice to high school seniors at Blue Devil Days.
For many Ambassadors, the experience has been just as valuable to them as to the departments they’ve served.
“I like being able to provide advice to younger students about making friends, having work-life balance, picking a schedule that meets Trinity requirements, etc., so that they can successfully navigate a college environment,” she said.
Warren also acknowledges that serving as an Ambassador has helped her develop skills that will be useful in pursuing her postgraduate goal of obtaining a dual degree in law and social work. “I've grown in my people-skills — more specifically my interpersonal skills (through having one-on-one conversations and email exchanges) and my public speaking skills,” she said.
As Trinity Ambassadors enters its second year, the goal is to deepen interactions, finding additional ways Ambassadors can support their peers and build community. And the Ambassadors themselves have no shortage of ideas about how to do it. After all, that’s what they’re here for.
Interested in learning more or bringing your Trinity department into Trinity Ambassadors? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.