UAB Ambassadors Serve with Style
By Meghan C. Davis
They’re the Blazers in blazers. With their signature green jackets, it’s easy to spot the UAB Ambassadors around campus—greeting patrons at the Alys Stephens Center, sharing statistics with the press at basketball games, ushering visitors into the UAB Alumni House, and performing dozens of other intriguing assignments.
The UAB Ambassadors, founded in 1978, are one of the oldest and most prestigious student groups on campus. They serve as the university’s official hosts, working more than 5,000 hours of events each year, with assignments that range from leading campus tours for prospective faculty to toting Blazer statues through the crowd at the annual athletics scholarship luncheon.
“I learned about the UAB Ambassadors the first moment I walked onto campus,” says Jit Patel, the group’s current president. A senior business administration major and a member of the Business Honors Society and Global and Community Leadership Honors Program, Patel is in his second year as an ambassador. Even if he wasn’t a senior, this would be his last chance to be an ambassador. Students are only able to stay for a maximum of two years. But it wasn’t the exclusivity, or the unique networking opportunities, that first attracted Patel to the job; it was the jacket.
“I saw two guys in suits at the Alys Stephens Center and said, ‘Whoa, who are those guys?’” Patel recalls. “They immediately had my respect, and once I saw how helpful they were and how they serve our school, I wanted to get involved.”
Staying Positive Under Pressure
Patel and his fellow ambassadors each work about 90 hours per semester, on top of classes and homework, for which they receive a stipend. “The students we attract are very involved,” says Kelli Thompson, assistant director of student activities, who has served as a staff advisor to the UAB Ambassadors for the past three years.
Students go through a rigorous application process and two interviews with a panel of faculty, staff, and current ambassadors. From nearly 200 applicants, 20 men and women are chosen to be the face of UAB’s student body. Ambassadors must reapply each year to stay in the program.
Patel says his interviews for medical school have been easy compared to the grilling he got from the UAB Ambassadors panel. Beforehand, he crammed on campus trivia such as key dates and administrators’ titles.
“I was expecting questions such as ‘What is the day we became an autonomous institution?’” Patel says. “But I found that there were more questions about my personality and what I did in my downtime, as well as questions about why I was willing to sacrifice so much time for my university.”
The questions are designed to reveal whether a candidate has a “visible passion for UAB,” Patel says. “When you’re on your 100th event of the year, can you still be professional?”
Building a New Network
“The interviews have become notorious,” says Thompson. “We want to know if they’re personable. Can they be put into a situation with administrators? Are they open and willing?”
Members of the group volunteer for events at a weekly meeting. The leadership ensures that the right number of ambassadors staffs each event and keeps the group’s workload balanced.
Raj Vachhani, the group’s vice president, is a student in the Science and Technology Honors Program majoring in molecular biology. The opportunity to interact with UAB faculty and administrators has given him an appreciation of the inner workings of a large organization, Vachhani says. Thompson notes that the UAB Ambassadors’ direct interaction with administrators and alumni often leads to further opportunities for the students.
“It’s been easy to give this group a lot of freedom,” says Thompson, who explains that allowing the students to lead themselves benefits both them and the program. “They have a lot of experience, and they’re extremely focused. I just give them the information they need. They know how to conduct themselves.” (For their part, Patel and Vachhani credit the group’s smooth functioning to Thompson’s leadership. “Kelli does a lot behind the scenes,” Patel says.)
Suited for Service
Even though they spend a great deal of time together during “work” hours, the members tend to form close bonds. Being an ambassador strengthens relationships they might not form with students outside their area of study, students say. “It brings the diversity of campus into perspective,” Vachhani says.
And beyond the resumé-building opportunities and camaraderie, there is that attention-grabbing uniform that members say adds to the fun of being an ambassador. “I like to suit up,” Vachhani says.