Next Steps peer mentors, known as Ambassadores, are the backbone of Next Steps at Vanderbilt; 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; Ambassadores collectively spend roughly 8,000-9,000 hours together each academic year!
These friendships facilitate the natural inclusion of our students in the campus community and help provide a typical college social experience. Several Ambassadore roles define their interactions with students in Next Steps:
- 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 Next Steps program requirements (e.g. scheduling, journal).
- Campus Life Ambassadores (CLA) – plan alongside students and then participate in campus life opportunities together (e.g. football game, service project).
Ambassadores attend a training that serves as an orientation for new members and provides them with information about the students, the program, and strategies to support the students most effectively. Ongoing support from Next Steps staff is available to problem-solve any issues or challenges that may arise.
Ambassadore Program Structure
Circles of Support: Each student has an individualized number of Ambassadores who make up their circle of support. First-year students tend to have 7-10 Ambassadores. All Ambassadore sessions last for one hour, so 7 Ambassadores equals 7 hours of time together each week! Circle members 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 Executive Board coordinates several program-wide social events for all students and Ambassadores each semester, often collaborating with upperclassmen in Next Steps to make plans. These activities foster deeper friendships, a broader sense of community, and further increase our students’ involvement in campus life offered to all Vanderbilt students. Examples include Halloween parties, attending Vanderbilt sporting events, and many other inclusive campus offerings.
Vanderbilt Student Organization: The Ambassadores were established as an official student organization in 2013. They have an executive board of student leaders along with the aforementioned Lead Ambassadores for each student. 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