FHSU's student VIP Ambassadors take on special duties

VIP Ambassadors

By Diane Gasper-O'Brien
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. -- It's not hard for Dr. Mirta M. Martin to tell her students about the benefits of being a member of a university Ambassador program.

Martin, president of Fort Hays State University, was an ambassador during her college days at Duke University in the early 1980s.

Closer to home, Lisa Karlin is even more familiar with FHSU's VIP Student Ambassadors. Karlin, assistant to the president and director of marketing, was a student ambassador at Fort Hays State in the 1990s.

Students go through an application and interview process before they are chosen for the current ambassador program, begun in the late 1980s. Those chosen are responsible for working at official university functions.

"This is a great program," Karlin said. "These students have opportunities to meet people they would never meet."

Last year's ambassadors got the privilege of working the inauguration of Martin, who was named FHSU's ninth president in May 2014.

"That's definitely not a common thing we would do," said Shelbi Wiles, a Beloit senior majoring in organizational leadership. "We got to meet so many important people there."

Breanna Bezona, a senior health and human performance major from Johnson, a small town in southwest Kansas, agreed.

"Getting to spend time with President Martin and important people and not just feeling like a number is great," said Bezona, who, like Wiles, is in her second year as an ambassador. "Being an ambassador has really helped with my networking skills and making connections with people outside of the university."

Ambassadors work from nine to 10 total events, or about one a month, throughout the school year, ranging from athletic events to formal dinners. The university provides formal suits and a polo shirt to each ambassador.

"Being an ambassador is being the face of the university," Martin told the group at a meeting during the first week of school. "When parents come to visit, they want to talk to you. They want to hear why Fort Hays State University was your destination of choice."

Martin was quick to say that "it's important for every student to understand they are an ambassador of the university, 24/7. This group just has more opportunities to represent the university."

In the spirit of every student being an ambassador, three students in the same family -- and born on the same day -- are all ambassadors for FHSU in one way or another.

Kenneth Iheme, a Wichita junior and part of a set of triplets in their fourth year at Fort Hays State, is a member of the Tiger football team. And one of his sisters, Chelsea, is a familiar face at the Student Service Center in the Memorial Union on campus.

But Krystal likes to tell her siblings she has one up on them, as a VIP Student Ambassador. "This is so nice because you get to see people you don't get to interact with on a day-to-day basis," Krystal said.

Krystal Iheme and Hays senior Alexyss Leiker, both biology majors, were among the group of ambassadors helping out in the president's box of Hubbard Press Box at Lewis Field Stadium during FHSU's football home opener Thursday.

Athletic events are some of the most popular, Karlin said, and Iheme and Leiker -- both second-year ambassadors -- got in some extra time Thursday because the start of the game was delayed nearly two hours because of lightning. Both said it was more fun than work, though.

"President Martin and Lisa Karlin are so supportive and great to work with," Leiker said as she handed out a name tag to a guest. "It's so much fun."

This year's new members could hardly wait to get started. They were bubbling with enthusiasm while breaking into small groups during their first meeting in August. The 25 ambassadors were asked to give their name, hometown, major and something exciting they did during the summer.

Majors ranged from health to agriculture and everything in between, and the list of summer activities was just as broad. There were the usual activities like teaching swim lessons and helping with harvest, and the unusual - hiking cliffs in Ireland.

While the ambassadors know being a part of an organization always looks good on a resume, most said they joined for other reasons.

Hays senior Jenna Ball has been accepted into medical school at the University of Kansas and is headed to Lawrence after graduating next spring. But she wants to make the most of her final year on the FHSU campus, and part of that includes being a VIP Ambassador.

"I'm so excited," Ball said, "hearing about all the events we get to attend."

Andrew Flax, a senior agricultural business major from Brownell, usually goes home every weekend to help farm and thinks being a VIP Ambassador will give him the chance to be a little more connected to campus life.

"I was intrigued about getting the chance to work with dignitaries," Flax said. "I think the networking could open some doors for me."

In all, eight students are returning this year.

"That really speaks well of the program," Karlin said. "They enjoyed it so much they came back."

The ambassadors have an official recruiting period at the start of the second semester for the following school year. More information can be found online at www.fhsu.edu/vip.

Two other biology majors besides Iheme and Leiker are returning ambassadors this year -- Brian Fisher, Bucklin junior, and Brooke Ostmeyer, Grinnell junior. Also back for their second years as ambassadors are Morgan Soldan, Salina junior, an elementary education major, and Madi McKeone, a Lexington, Neb., senior majoring in nursing.

Newcomers to the program this year besides Flax and Ball, listed with their majors:
Misael Banderas, Garden City sophomore, technology studies.
Macy Becker, Cheney junior, communication.
Drew Clarke, Ness City senior, accounting.
Kylee Davis, Haven sophomore, health and human performance.
Shelby Dinkel, Hays junior, accounting.
Matthew Kaiser, Winfield senior, biology.
Gabby Makatura, Lakewood, Colo., senior, international business.
Hallie McCall, Smith Center senior, biology.
Kade Megaffin, Hays junior, political science.
Shelby Stewart, Hill City junior, organizational leadership.
Grace Suter, Hutchinson junior, psychology.
Shannon Toll, Morland junior, social work.
Jenna Witteman, LeRoy junior, art.
Sophia Young, Lenexa senior, communication.
Maggie Zody, Ellis senior, nursing.

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