Welcome Center Transition Leaves Ambassadors Confused

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Student ambassadors work in a new space closer to to admissions counselors, but some are still confused about exactly what their job responsibilities are. WILLIAM WIN/FOGHORN

Sitting in the undercaf, you’ll likely hear a passing tour led by a green-clad USF student ambassador. These ambassadors represent the University to prospective students and parents by greeting them in the Welcome Center and giving tours. Meanwhile, interns in the Office of Admissions have served as aides to the admissions counselors, traveling with them and conducting interviews with students.

Over the summer, the lines between these positions blurred, according to student employees of the Welcome Center. Student ambassadors have expressed confusion and concern about what exactly their job responsibilities are and about the lack of communication during the transition this summer.

Senior Brandon Do said he is the only intern who remains this fall, and he now considers himself a student ambassador. He has been giving tours — the key role of the student ambassador position — but continues to help admissions counselors. This is because he knows the office, having worked alongside the admissions counselors for three years.

He said his understanding is that he is going to “show [the ambassadors] my ways in order for them to understand what my role is so that we get a better understanding and also optimize their position… I feel like now it’s just a bigger duty for me to hand over or teach whatever I knew as an intern to these new upcoming ambassadors.”

He talked about the admissions internship, which consisted of data input, conducting interviews, and sometimes traveling with counselors, as having been “eliminated,” as did multiple other student ambassadors. Student ambassadors also described being trained to do work that the interns did, a new development as of this fall.

“We got in [this fall] and we were just in a new place trying to figure out what our new job is,” one experienced ambassador said on the condition of anonymity because they were concerned about their employment. “Every day we’re just getting new responsibilities… These jobs can be anything from calling counselors to mailing letters — doing anything that the counselors need.”

Sophomore Samira Salame said, “The increase of work is confusing to navigate because now I’m hearing from people that have worked here for a long time that ‘this isn’t up to us, we shouldn’t be doing this, this isn’t in our job description,’ but at the same time, I can’t gauge that boundary because I don’t know what the old office workload was like. I’m just being presented with this new office workload.”

Despite this, April Crabtree, assistant vice provost for undergraduate admission, said the student ambassador position will remain “pretty much the same.” She described the change as moving “all of the student workers under who would then be the new senior associate director of the Welcome Center to provide a little more cohesion, and then to open up some of those key responsibilities [of the interns], interviews, some of the travel… to ambassadors, as well. Because there was really no reason not to.”

This new senior associate director of the Welcome Center is Tabitha Hurdle, who is also an admissions counselor for students from Hawaii and San Francisco. “The Ambassador position remains the same, just within the context of a new, larger space,” Hurdle said. When asked to clarify the status of the internship position, she said, “The intern position was not eliminated; we still have interns in the office currently, and I am considering hiring more. I think the confusion is a semantics issue. Their position has changed where they now have added responsibility in helping with Welcome Center tasks.”

Some student ambassadors are newer, such as Salame. She said learning new things wasn’t so much of an issue as being in the dark. “It’s not uncommon for people to be handed jobs outside of their job description, it’s not really the end of the world,” Salame said. “But at the same time, when this kind of miscommunication happens along with the workload increase, people are going to get frustrated and demand a revision of the job description.”

Some student ambassadors feel like the transition has been made harder with the elimination of the position held by former lead receptionist Mary Jane Kober over the summer.

While Crabtree said Kober’s official title was lead receptionist, student workers referred to her as a coordinator. She was described by ambassadors as “the soul of the Welcome Center,” a key actor in the organization of students’ responsibilities and a bridge between the student employees and the administration.

With the elimination of Kober’s position, “All of the organizational tasks are up to us,” Salame said. “Which honestly isn’t that big of a deal. But when it comes to that communication bridge, we don’t have that anymore.”

Crabtree called the elimination of the lead receptionist position “strategic but difficult.” “It was about looking at the needs of SEM [Strategic Enrollment Management] as a whole,” she said. “We created almost a parallel position in financial services, to be able to kind of cultivate some of those same things she did for [the Welcome Center].”

Elizabeth Johnson, a lead ambassador, said she hopes the Welcome Center will be able to work through the change. “It has been a little difficult trying to teach people how to run the office with the elimination of the Welcome Center coordinator position, but we’re all trying to do the best we can,” she said. “As a leader, it has been a matter of delegating to veteran ambassadors to help newer people in the office, and they have been doing a phenomenal job over the last few weeks… we are trying to make the most of it and keep the office running in the way that it should, that we’ve been accustomed to.”

As a business major, Do said he understands the changes the office had to make. “If it’s practical and it works and it makes the school better, then I’m all in,” he said.

Hurdle said the office is working to keep operations in the office as stable as they can. “There is no such thing as a perfect transition and change management is tough, but the entire SEM office has been very mindful in helping me and the students learn the ropes,” she said. “I do my best to remind the students that their uncertainty is valid; there is a lot of change. It’s a great lesson for all of us in what it truly means to trust the process.”

Crabtree explained the reasons behind the overlap of the positions’ responsibilities. She said when the Office of Admissions internship was first developed, it was before Vice Provost of Strategic Enrollment Management Michael Beseda brought the Welcome Center under the umbrella of Undergraduate Admissions. The internship was intended to fill a gap where student ambassadors, who worked in the Welcome Center, could not help because they technically did not work for undergraduate admissions.

Intended to be a “true internship experience,” the interns were originally going to be divided into specific jobs, but the need from admissions counselors was such that the distinctions became unnecessary. “A lot of the work they wound up doing was to assist the admissions counselors in ways that they really needed,” Crabtree said.

Then, last spring, the admissions office acquired a software called Slate, which eliminated a large amount of work in the admissions process. As the need for interns decreased, so did their numbers, and their primary roles outside of general office paperwork became interviewing prospective students on campus and attending college fairs.

According to Crabtree and Do, some student ambassadors expressed interest in doing some of the tasks that interns were doing.

“We weren’t really using [the student ambassadors] to their full potential,” Crabtree said. “Their jobs used to be limited to giving tours, helping with information sessions and answering phone calls. They primarily were doing the interaction with the prospective students and parents as representatives of the Welcome Center. This is the best resource we have… our best asset is current students. They’re hired because they’re enthusiastic, capable, interesting, lovely people… so we wanted to kind of improve the professional development experience for them, as well.”

Crabtree was also excited about the new physical space that the ambassadors are in because it is much closer to the admissions counselors and administration.

“I think one of the really exciting things is actually going out and talking to the student ambassadors now,” Crabtree said. “Where [their office] is now, we naturally move in and out of that area all the time. You know, I’ve probably gotten to talk to the ambassadors more in the last three weeks than I did in the entire three years I was here… So we’re really looking forward to also bringing some of their insights and their ideas and their visions as well into the larger vision of what the Welcome Center could be.”  

Salame said she also appreciates being physically closer to the admission counselors. “Now I know them, know their names, and they know me, which is really nice,” she said.

But the uncertainty surrounding the new situation in the Welcome Center continues to be felt by the student ambassadors. Another student ambassador who spoke on the condition of anonymity said they worried about consequences for prospective students, as well. “The first encounter [between a USF representative and a prospective student] has a higher chance of being mishandled because of the lack of formal structure and experience [in the office],” they said. The student ambassador chose to remain anonymous because they are afraid of being let go for “having a bad attitude.”

They also said, “While the people who give the tours and direct the phone calls and emails for the Welcome Center are hard workers who are passionate about our school and know way too much information about it, we are first and foremost students.”

Salame agreed. “With this new model and everything, not once have I heard that I am a student first,” she said. “Not once have I been treated like a student first, and a worker second.”

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