Our peer mentors (Ambassadores) are the backbone of Next Steps at Vanderbilt, as they provide the majority of the individualized support our students receive on a daily basis. These peer mentors are undergraduate and graduate students who establish one-on-one relationships with the Next Steps students. Their commitment to the Next Steps students is apparent when it is estimated that 8,400 hours were spent together during the 2015-16 academic year. These friendships facilitate the natural inclusion of our students in the campus community and help provide a typical college social experience. There are four Ambassadore roles that define their interactions with our students:
- Lunch partners – focus on social skills and healthy eating goals
- Workout partners – help to increase stamina, and establish safe exercise habits
- Academic tutors – assist students with academic work and encourage good study habits
- Daily planners – focus on organizational skills and completion of NS program requirements (journal, food log, etc.)
Ambassadores attend an Ambassadore training that serves as orientation for new Ambassadores and provides the mentors with information about the students, the program, and strategies to support the students most effectively. Ongoing support from NS staff is available to problem-solve any issues or challenges that may arise.
Ambassadore Program Structure
Circles of Support: Each student has 8-12 Ambassadores who make up their circle of support, and has at least ten Ambassadore sessions each week. The circle member’s work together to promote all around student growth throughout the semester. Each circle has a Lead Ambassadore who facilitates communication among the circle, collaborates with Next Steps staff, and works with the Next Steps student to organize at least one circle social event during the semester.
Social Events: The Ambassadore social committee plans several program-wide social events for all students, Ambassadores, and graduates each semester. These activities foster deeper friendships and further increase our students’ involvement in campus life. Past events include pizza parties, tailgates, Halloween parties, and attending Vanderbilt sporting events.
Vanderbilt Student Organization: With the growth of the Ambassadore program, the Ambassadores were established as an official student organization in 2013. They have an executive board of student leaders, as well as fundraising, social, and recruitment committees. The passion and enthusiasm of the Ambassadores and its student leaders has helped increase awareness and acceptance of the Next Steps program throughout the university.
“Next Steps has had a tremendous impact on me personally and in the Vanderbilt community. Being able to interact daily with the Next Steps students is something I cherish. They have made me a better person, and I think everyone would benefit greatly from becoming an "ambassadore" for Next Steps.” – Newton Adkins
“Being an ambassadore has been so much more than a weekly act of community service. I've gained a friend who's always there to tell me a story, cheer me up, and remind me that my upcoming paper really isn't as important as it seems. When the academic stress of Vanderbilt overwhelms me, my next step student is there as a friend and as a respite.” – Taylor Dickinson
"Next Steps has become such a huge part of my life. I was excited to volunteer in the first place, but it's amazing how much it changed me. It is much more than just helping out our peers. These students really enhanced my Vanderbilt experience and have become my friends. All along I thought I'd be making a difference in their lives when in reality, they're making a difference in mine." – Rebecca Moody