Instill Community in Online Courses with Student Ambassadors

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Instill Community in Online Courses with Student Ambassadors

Online Courses Student Ambassadors

Published in Edcetera

“To me the only disadvantage to being in an online program is you don’t get the one on one contact,” explains Lori Johnson, a student ambassador at Penn Foster.

Different students will have different views of the benefits and disadvantages of an online program versus a more traditional on-campus student experience, but that lack of a campus community is likely a concern for any student considering the online option.

Penn Foster recognized this as a potential hurdle for students, and developed the student ambassador program in response. The program encourages students to “serve as mentors to others, act as a voice for the student body, and help guide strategy,” according to Dara Warn, Chief Marketing Officer.

The program gives the student ambassadors a lot of flexibility in what their ambassadorship looks like. The administration provides certain guidelines regarding basic etiquette and makes certain tools available to enable communication, then lets the students take it from there.

For Lori, her role as a mentor or guide to current and prospective students is the most important part of working as a student ambassador. For other students, representing the school on social networks or as spokespeople to the media plays a larger role.

In the same way that technology makes the very possibility of online classes a reality, it can be used to develop and maintain an engaged community of students online as well.  The college has a Jive online community and forum designed to enable more interaction between students. Students also often use Google+ Hangouts to hold study groups or meetings, and many interact with each other on various social media platforms as well.

The administration can make the tools for engagement available and urge students to use them, but by recruiting students to take the lead they give the community an extra boost. Students can relate more easily to other students than to administrators and faculty. For students that are struggling or shy, knowing there are students with more experience and a direct line to the administration can make it easier to seek out guidance than having to go straight to a staff member.

While not its primary intention, the ambassador program is a useful tool for helping drive new applications. Students unsure of whether or not a program’s a good fit have access to current students via social channels and can ask them questions directly.

Lori currently mentors a girl who found her on the school’s Facebook page before applying and asked questions about the program they’re now both enrolled in.  What a current student has to say about the school is a much stronger deciding factor for a prospective student than what the school says about itself.

The idea of a student ambassador program sends a strong message to the student body that the school’s programs and community don’t depend on the administration. Instead, they trust the students to thrive amongst themselves without the need of constant guidance.

Mediaplanet: What was the biggest obstacle you faced when transitioning back into civilian life?

Ashley Parker-Roman: My biggest obstacles were time management and adjusting to college life. Coming to Drexel as an older, nontraditional student was intimidating, but with the flexible modality options and support I received they helped me succeed. I used it as an opportunity to challenge myself and to disprove some common misconceptions about the post 9-11 veteran.

Lissette Matos Minehart: You deploy. You come back. Suddenly you’re not with your unit, your family. You can feel isolated. The biggest obstacle was re-integrating into society. For example, I’m not quite as outgoing, and don’t put myself or my children into crowded situations. You have to learn to mentally adapt.

Rachel Kennedy: I was unable to get a job right away, and it was hard to convert my military skills to civilian skills applicable in a work setting. Without an advanced education, my employment options were limited. I realized I needed a college education, but I did not know where to start.

MP: What role did your education institution play in helping to improve your transition back home?

APR: Drexel played a significant role in my re-transitioning. Drexel is truly establishing itself as a veteran friendly institution and I’m deeply honored to be a student here. It’s wonderful having the backing of a university that cares about veterans, our success and our ability to enrich its community.

LMM: At first, I was overwhelmed. Then I found JU’s Student Veterans of America chapter and connected with other veterans. Our shooting team also helped me find a new “family” and not just be a face in the crowd. And the VA reps and faculty here also gave me one-on-one time.

RK: Penn Foster offered an affordable way to graduate quickly and receive a quality education. I earned my Legal Secretary Career Diploma and sent off dozens of applications for entry-level legal assistant positions. I got a job as a legal coordinator for the State of Georgia.

MP: Why do you believe it is important for our veterans to receive an education after the military?

APR: I came to college with a degree of life experience, but during college I learned lessons and acquired skills that can only come from obtaining a college education. The Post 9-11 GI Bill gives veterans the opportunity to earn a degree and is a benefit every veteran should use.

LMM: The military gives you a lot of know-how, but sometimes those skills – say you were a tank driver – don’t translate to the real world. Education sharpens and expands those talents so that a business understands your potential. They may have the next Steve Jobs sitting there and not even realize it.

RK: The job market is so slim, and everyone seems to be fighting for the same type of work. In a military town, you are also competing with civilians and other military veterans. Employers are looking for people that have training, as well as documented education pertaining to the job position.

MP: What kind of skills did you learn in the military that you’ve been able to utilize and/or apply to your life now?

APR: The military is great for learning discipline and structure. In the Navy, I learned time management, how to perform under tremendous amounts of pressure and team work. I think these are wonderful skills that I have been able to apply to both my academic and professional life.

LMM: I learned tolerance. It’s natural—humans don’t like everyone we meet—but you must get along and see all perspectives to accomplish a common goal. I also learned patience. The real world stops spinning on deployment. Back home, the music changes. Shows and gas prices change. You have to readjust.

RK: I learned that integrity is important, and when you make your resume, you want to show potential bosses that you are honest from the beginning. No one is going to better your life. You have to take the initiative and become the person that you were destined to become.

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