The first thing a Clarke County student sees when they begin their field trip at the University of Georgia is the smiling face of an Experience UGA Ambassador.
Every year, thousands of Clarke County School District students visit the University of Georgia through the Office of Service-Learning’s Experience UGA program. In 2023, the Office of Service-Learning is expecting nearly 7,400 K-12 students to visit UGA. Hosting these students is made possible by the Experience UGA Ambassadors, a team of UGA students trained to support the program and the students visiting from our community.
“Each year I realize the impact I’m making on students,” said Leslie Oroyemi, from Lawrenceville, who is beginning her third year as an Experience UGA ambassador. “I love reaching younger populations and engaging with them. It’s nice to see them grow and getting to see them discover different interests.”
Experience UGA, now in its 11th year, was created through a partnership between the Office of Service-Learning and CCSD to guarantee an annual UGA field trip for every student in the school district. Experience UGA ambassadors help create and support the field trips and introduce school children to college with interactive and educational visits that are grade-level specific. For example, every second grade group tours the Ramsey Student Center to learn about health-related topics, and all seventh graders explore UGArden to learn about nutrition and agriculture.
This was the first year Oroyemi has been an ambassador for second grade trips, and she said it has become her favorite. Her favorite part of the day is teaching second graders how easily germs spread through a game of tag—those with “germs” have chalk on their hands and go around trying to tag and “infect” their peers. The kids then learn how important hand washing is to prevent the spread of germs.
“The program has made me want to give back to the community even more,” Oroyemi said. “It’s nice to show the kids what college is like and what college can be like for them.”
Camille Holcomb, from Gainesville, is returning for her second year as an ambassador. She previously was involved in organizations with UGA students, but her time with Experience UGA has motivated her to continue working with youth in the Athens-Clarke County community.
“I love being around children,” Holcomb said. “I want to show them that they can do anything they put their minds to. I’m looking forward to a new year and becoming more confident in my leadership skills. I want to apply what I learned last year and really grow this year.”
Holcomb said working with different ages means connecting with them differently. The second graders are excited about everything, while the seventh graders are more reserved. Holcomb learned that connecting with the older students works best in between the activities—being personable and asking questions while walking around campus. Holcomb also learned that some friendly competition helps engage the more reserved students.
In addition to the 25 ambassadors, hundreds of UGA students volunteer each year to help with the trips. Mia Bazelais, from Marietta, was a volunteer last year, and this year will be her first year as an Experience UGA Ambassador.
“The first time I volunteered, I was intimidated because I was not sure what it was going to be like,” Bazelais said, “but as soon as I saw how much the kids and other ambassadors were having fun, I became more comfortable. I am looking forward to facilitating the trips and having more of a leadership role this year.”
In high school, Bazelais became more active in her community through a friend’s mother, who was a social worker. Seeing how some members in her community were unable to afford essential items during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bazelais and her friends started a drive to collect items for toiletry kits and donated them to the local food bank. Like many of the students who get involved in Experience UGA, the transition was an easy one for Bazelais because of her commitment to community service.
“Each ambassador is very passionate about giving back to the community and holds a special skill that contributes to creating a wonderful experience for students during each grade level trip,” said Aiyana Egins, coordinator of Experience UGA. “I look forward to seeing the impact they will have on students this year, while also getting to see them grow their leaderships skills overall.”
Experience UGA Ambassador applications are due in the fall, and students selected will receive experiential learning credit necessary to graduate after completion of the yearlong program. However, being an ambassador is more about building relationships and developing career and lifelong skills, including self-efficacy, creative thinking, problem solving and interpersonal communication.
Follow Experience UGA on Instagram (@experienceuga) to learn more.