To kick off the spring semester, several students donned bright blue and yellow scarves to signal to new students that they were welcome ambassadors for USM.
These 50 volunteers, primarily from the Board of Student Organizations and Student Senate, wore the scarves as an indicator that they were available to answer questions about the school.
Chris O’Connor, the director of Portland student life, and Bryn Gallagher, a junior sociology major and president of the sociology student association, felt that it was important to welcome the approximately 220 new transfer students to USM this semester. In particular, O’Connor wanted to “engage current students in the welcome week experience” with this brand new program that involved current students helping new students acclimate to the school.
“I think it’s important to relate student to student. To have that peer-ambassador relation, I think it can add a great sense of comfort, and it can open the door to new friendships,” Gallagher said.
On the Portland campus, a table was set up Monday through Thursday with free coffee and informational pamphlets. The table moved to a different part of the school each day, starting in Abromson and ending in the library. A table was also set up on the Gorham campus on Monday and Tuesday. Current students were also free to help themselves to coffee and information.
“Our major goal is to have welcome week each year. [To have] a warm atmosphere when people come to campus. It’s nice to start the year on a positive tone,” said O’Connor.
The volunteers have committed to wearing the scarves and buttons that say, “Ask Me” for up to two weeks. They are there to answer questions such as, “Where is my classroom?” or “How do I access my schedule?” or “What is the bus schedule?”
“Even if there aren’t a huge number of people asking for help, it is still nice to have a visible reminder that there are students there, standing ready to help,” said Will Gattis, a senior economics major and Vice-Chair of the Student Senate.
“Having there be a friendly face and a warm welcome is essential to having people feel welcome on their own campus,” said Gallagher.
O’Connor made it his goal to show the scarves to new students at orientation so that they would know who to approach if they should need help. “Whether or not they’ve used it, they knew it was there,” he said.
Gattis explained his interest in becoming a welcome ambassador, “I have been trying to volunteer more with the university. Even though I’m paid to do what I can to help make USM better as the Vice-Chair of the Student Senate, volunteering to do what I can with a school I care about has been rewarding even if I haven’t had many people approach me for help.”
Another welcome ambassador, Stephanie Brown, a junior elementary education major, explained that she wanted to give back to the USM community. “I feel really great about it. I’m so glad people are willing to help each other out here,” she said.
O’Connor hopes to continue using the scarves as a way to welcome and assist new students in coming years. He also plans to follow up with the welcome ambassadors about their experience. “It will be interesting to see if they’ve been approached. We don’t know if new students are actually using the scarves.”
In setting up the program, O’Connor felt that it was important to have a welcoming presence on campus. Overall, he felt overwhelmed by the amount of support the program received from the student volunteers. “It was kind of a phenomenon of the scarves,” he said.