Bishop O’Dowd Catholic College-Preparatory High School, in Oakland, CA, attracts students from a wide range of racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and is currently leading the pack with its ambassador program, strategy, and execution.
With 1,250 students currently enrolled at the private high school, it’s clear the team is doing something right. The team is dedicated to providing opportunities for students and giving them a chance to create positive change. But how exactly did they build one of the most successful ambassador programs in the country?
We had the privilege of speaking with Moiré Bruin, Associate Director of Admissions and head of the student ambassador program at Bishop O’Dowd, to get an in-depth look at their program. If you’re looking to use an ambassador program as part of your toolkit for growing enrollment or to further strengthen your next class, but aren’t sure where to start or how to develop it, look no further.
Keep reading to get the inside scoop on creating an ambassador program that benefits everyone involved.
Setting Up Your Program
How many student ambassadors do you have?
Moiré: I have 400 dragon ambassadors, or what we call our student ambassadors.
How long have you been running this program?
Moiré: This is my fourth year now.
How did you start the ambassador program at Bishop O’Dowd?
Moiré: When I initially began I actually took over an existing program. There was an ambassador program already in place, but it was really defunct. There was some student participation, but it just wasn’t what I knew it could be.
What did you feel needed to change about the program?
Moiré: I approached it from the context of creating a new culture and a shift in thinking surrounding the ambassador program on campus. I wanted to infuse the idea of the program throughout campus and get students excited. That would also give me a direct resource to recruit ambassadors. I wanted students to see the position as something they wanted to do. And that meant it needed to be something of value. I know not just students, all of us, are motivated by what’s good for us. And so I wanted to make this good for students. I wanted it to be something popular, not something seen as just an “ambassador ploy.”
What did you do to make those changes?
Moiré: I really had to just sit down and think strategically about how to do it. I realized it was not just that I needed students to embrace being an ambassador, but it was the rest of the campus too. I wanted to get administrators, faculty, and staff involved. So I really needed to redefine the position.
Changing the Mindset and Getting More People Involved
How did you go about changing the mindset towards the ambassador program at your school?
Moiré: Quite honestly it was about how it was talked about, and the language used to describe it. I emailed people and chose to change the language I used and breathed new life into it. That was the groundwork. I also went about it with a new approach. I felt like if I was going to have student ambassadors, I needed to also get faculty involved.
What did you do to get faculty involved in the ambassador program? What were the results?
Moiré: I think the faculty ambassador piece is a vital connection point with students because they feed off of each other. I found a way to connect the faculty ambassador program with the student ambassador program. So student ambassadors meet faculty they don’t know and are able to check out faculty ambassador classes ahead of time so they can get perspective on how great the teachers are, and even see which classes they might want to take. It’s a really beautiful bridge to help develop relationships on both ends. Faculty get more exposure to Dragon Ambassadors and see it as something of value to support.
Choosing and Training Your Ambassadors
How do you choose your student ambassadors?
Moiré: I want students to be interested, and I didn’t want to close doors or make it difficult for students to achieve or get in. In the past, there was an application process to be an ambassador, and I struggled with that. I wanted to be careful with who was representing our school and the ambassador title. But at the same time, I wanted a strong number of students involved. I decided to do away with the application, knowing I can always be selective with who I choose to work certain events. I opened the training up and said all were welcome.
How do you get students interested in the program?
Moiré: Of course I use all the normal tricks and techniques to get students into the training, like food and candy and service hours. Pretty standard. But in the training, I talk about what this program can do for them. I highlight how being in a leadership position on campus, talking about where you go to school, and being positive about what you are doing; sharing your story, also helps you have a more positive outlook on life. Chances are you will be a happier, more involved student who is aware of what your school has to offer and more likely to take advantage of those opportunities.
What do students learn in your ambassador training?
Moiré: Actually, I think a lot of students are surprised when they come to my training. Because I don’t give them a script, and that’s what they expect. I don’t tell them they have to say things a certain way or communicate certain things, and I don’t want to give them one story to tell because when they’re able to craft their own story and share with people what they’re doing, it speaks to a wider audience. I also use the training as a chance to collect information on individual student’s experiences at the school and what they enjoy doing.
What kind of students do you select for the program?
Moiré: They’re not all the same. They’re not just our top academic students. Instead, they are a cross-section of the entire student body. Each student gets to create and tell his or her own unique story about the AP classes he or she is taking, or traditional classes. Or maybe we have a quieter student, but they’re involved in a lot of things on campus. We welcome students with all kinds of experiences and personalities.
What do you feel is the greatest value in your approach to selecting students?
Moiré: If I have different people telling their stories I feel like that gives a real, authentic, genuine sense of what our community is really like. It also speaks to so many more prospective students. I feel like this is the way I am able to capture the genuine O’Dowd. And I can attract students that are genuinely interested in our type of community.
Executing Your Ambassador Program
How do you execute the program once the students are selected?
Moiré: For me, the biggest thing is setting expectations and making it clear that I have high standards. And then forming communication channels that work for students. So, for example, we know students don’t read emails, but most of them will read a text. So I found a user-friendly text program because I knew I wanted to be able to communicate with them directly through a channel they prefer. I’ll text them specific details on where they need to be when, and then they’ll get reminders.
Do all of your ambassadors have the same role?
Moiré: Since the initial program, I’ve created a subset group of advanced student leaders, which I call my captains. They help me a lot with the communication piece. They’ll send texts to remind other ambassadors about events, help them get the word out, and do other tasks I assign to them.
What would you say is the biggest benefit of your student ambassador program?
Moiré: I quite honestly think our Ambassador Program has been transformative for the campus culture itself. When a hundred ambassadors are telling their own story and really thinking about what their story is, it engages them more within the community. And I think they’re looking at things from a positive perspective and with the thought of “I want to be able to capture this” or “I want to be able to share this with people visiting.” So I think it has made a huge shift in our campus and created a culture of positivity and a willingness in students to truly engage.
Bringing Positive Change
By creating an ambassador program that benefits both the students involved and the school, Bishop O’Dowd has opened up the possibilities for how an ambassador program can bring about a positive change. Not only are they able to continue to grow enrollment and enhance the admissions process, but they also have the opportunity to change students’ lives. To keep track of the most important parts of a student ambassador program,
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