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At Home Off Campus

Ambassadors Help Fellow Students Navigate Living in the Community

Seniors Joe Zimmerman and Ashleigh Roche say serving as off-campus ambassadors has taught them valuable planning and people skills. (Photo by Mark Schmidt)

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 11, 2017) — For the roughly 9,000 students who live off campus, apartment dwelling can be an exciting new experience or one that’s a little intimidating. For many it’s the first time living on their own, the first time handling their own shopping and cooking, and the first time dealing with a landlord and neighbors.

Cue the Off Campus Ambassadors.

Two years ago the Office of Community Standards began training student “ambassadors” to help their colleagues manage the transition from dorm to apartment, and to promote positive relations between students and the Albany community.

The Off Campus Ambassador (OCA) program started in the spring of 2015 and there are now 10 OCAs who act as liaisons between students and neighbors. Working in two-person teams, the OCAs have assigned territories in Albany’s Pine Hills neighborhood.

Their responsibilities include planning and hosting a monthly program regarding personal safety, off-campus education or community engagement. All OCAs make bi-weekly, door-to-door walks in their assigned areas, checking in on residents, both students and non-students, in their zone and sharing literature from the Office of Community Standards on programs and community updates.

OCAs also attend community meetings, including neighborhood association or committee meetings, in order to stay up-to-date on neighborhood issues.

For senior Ashleigh L. Roche, a Communication major now in her second year as an OCA, the experience helped with her own transition to living downtown. Roche, a Delta Phi Epsilon member, said she’s learned planning skills and how to interact with all kinds of people.

“Being able to make a program, map it all out, plan it all out and being that I am concentrating on marketing, specifically public relations, it’s helped me strengthen my planning and time management skills,” she said.

The OCAs are paid for their work, and attend monthly meetings. The program begins with a week-long training with an extensive list of outside speakers, including Albany codes and zoning officials, members of the Albany Police Department, and tenants’ rights advocates.

Being an OCA is much more than a job, though, according to Luke Rumsey, Assistant Director of Neighborhood Life.

“OCAs learn time management and organization skills via the programs they plan and implement,” he said. “But most importantly, the Ambassadors have the ability to make a difference in the community. They provide a critical role with respect to the community members that live near our students.

“By giving neighbors an outlet to voice concerns, it provides our students with an opportunity to address these issues that might otherwise become complaints to the police.”

OCAs say the experience helps them become more confident, more connected to the community, more knowledgeable about living off campus and better at public speaking. And some report that being an ambassador has put them in a better position to obtain work after college.

Senior Joe Zimmerman, a Public Health major, said he became an ambassador to help develop relationships between UAlbany students and community members.

“I came into this job already have been living downtown for a year, so I already saw the all the issues that came with living downtown,” said Zimmerman, a member of Zeta Beta Tau. Being an OCA also gave him a chance to challenge himself personally and professionally. “It helped me with my communication skills because it forced me to go outside of my comfort zone. You’re not always going to be comfortable in the professional world.”

That’s one of the main points of the program, said Nancy Lauricella, executive director of the Office of Community Standards.

“The Off-Campus Ambassador program plays an important role in the development of our student population as well as serving as a critical resource to them,” Lauricella she said. “This program provides tangible ways to help our students be positive contributors in their off-campus community and at the same time fosters an environment that will contribute to their own personal and academic success.”

For more information on how to become an Off Campus Ambassador, visit the webpage or email Rumsey at lrumsey@albany.edu.

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