Meet the ambassadors who helped students through the pandemic

10 May 2021
By Unite Students, Staff writer at The Common Room

Student ambassadors are a real benefit for students living with Unite Students: as well as helping with move-in and running events around the property, they also offer reassurance and peer support. But how have they adapted to the social and wellbeing challenges posed by Covid-19, and what have they learned?

To kick off Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16 May), we introduce you to Alex and Brian, two of our student ambassadors.

Research tells us that students find current and former students to be the most accurate source of information about student life, which makes sense - who better to advise on charting a course through unfamiliar waters than those who’ve just navigated it?

Alex Fiore, a postgraduate computer game engineering student at Newcastle University, and Brian Maitland, a postgrad musical theatre (performance) student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, are just two of the students who offer peer support at Unite Students in their role as student ambassadors.

Both students are enthusiastic about their student ambassador experiences, for which they have total flexibility over their hours and are paid a Living Wage - although there’s another perk that clearly brings them a lot of joy.

‘There’s free pizza - so much pizza!’ laughs Alex.

Bringing people together through events

A significant proportion of the student ambassador role involves organising events for fellow students - a daunting task with so many social restrictions in place. However, with a bit of creativity, Brian has pulled off a virtual Q&A session with Momma Cherri from Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, a gaming competition for the gamers in his property, and online karaoke and dance classes.

Most ambitious was the ‘Merchant City House’s Got Talent’ online event he put together for his property in November. Edited like a real Britain’s Got Talent episode, this pre-recorded video was broadcast over Zoom and featured about a dozen acts, who performed from their rooms.

‘I kept my door open during the broadcast, and you could hear laughter and applause across the block - I’ve never heard my accommodation so electrified by one event,’ he says. ‘One student described it as ‘the best Zoom event I’ve ever been in’ - if you make something creative, people will want to come.’

But success isn’t just measured by the number of students who tune into an event, or positive feedback - it’s also about bringing people together.

‘Being a student ambassador, you have the opportunity to build bonds between students that can last a lifetime. I’ve helped people who have felt very lonely and getting them in touch with more people has made such an impact and made their entire university experience a little bit better,’ Brian says. ‘No-one’s allowed to go out and see each other, so these events can be a lifeline for these people: it’s something to do and something to be happy about.’

A point of contact for new students

Student ambassadors are there for our residents from the day they move in, with move-in weekends being arguably the biggest day of their tenure.

‘Building rapport with students starts from day one - we’re the first person a student meets in their accommodation, apart from the receptionist and security guard’ shares Brian. This provides a useful point of contact for students when they have questions, but also a friendly face to whom they can go to with stress, anxiety and mental health concerns.

‘First years might be lonely or have difficulty making friends - so we talk to them and introduce them to new people. A conversation can do a lot for someone’s confidence in a new city and new living environment,’ says Alex. ‘You’re never responsible for people, but it’s surprising how often offering a hand can help someone in need. It’s not your job to be a therapist - but you can point people where to go and let them know it’s going to be alright.’

‘The best job I’ve ever had’

While our student ambassadors are paid for their time, the role comes with the additional bonus of looking good on your CV: it’s a great way to hone interpersonal, organisational and problem-solving skills, and offers experience of leadership and teamwork. Alex says that in his job hunt, the role has been a real conversation starter, showing an initiative to develop his networking and career skills beyond his studies.

As both students near the end of their courses, they reflect on their time as student ambassadors. Alex recalls a time when - prior to Covid - a party night in the common room didn’t go to plan: the DJ was an hour late and had forgotten to bring any cables when he did arrive. ‘He asked if he could use my phone, and downloaded a DJ app onto it - then spent two hours on my phone scratching records!’ he laughs, ‘It was actually really good.’

‘I absolutely will miss it when I graduate - it’s the best job I’ve ever had. People know who you are and ask how your day is - I’m going to miss that,’ says Brian.

How do you feel about helping other students navigate their time at university? Keep checking The Common Room as student ambassador recruitment starts this summer!

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Staff writer at The Common Room