Being An Alumni Ambassador

8 06 2011

Since joining the ranks of sketchy alumni, I decided a while back that it wouldn’t hurt to do some volunteering through the Alumni Ambassadors program. One of the first things I discovered was that  meeting with prospective students poses an interesting juxtaposition. On my end (as well as any other alum), it’s a “been there, done that” frame of mind. For the prospective student, everything is new, and sometimes they have questions that we alumni assume everyone else knows the answer already, but it actually might not be so obvious.

I met with several students during the late winter in four different school districts near where I live. I was assigned students who were interested in majors similar to mine, and set up the meetings for either their local high school or a coffee shop nearby (and I don’t even like coffee, I just wanted a quiet and suitable location). Some took a more laid back approach, while others were dressed up as if they were a possible hire and I was the interviewer for a Fortune 500 company. For those over-prepared kids, it seemed that there was no way they were going to believe that I wasn’t there to reject them from Cornell. Even if I said I wasn’t there to judge their application. Repeatedly.

On one of my meetings, the student was running about twenty minutes late. Giving the benefit of the doubt, I decided to look around outside before I left. He had driven into another car while trying to pull into a diagonal parking space.

On another occasion, I was meeting with a student and I asked what interested her about CALS. Without missing a beat, she replied, “it’s easier to get into”. I think my jaw might’ve dropped a little bit before I stumbled out an “I’m sorry, what?” I think at that point, she must’ve realized she hit a sour note, and she gave a very measured reply of “it’s easier to get into the various research opportunities they have to offer.” Still soaking in the previous comment, I took a deep breath, and said that “there are indeed plenty of research opportunities. But for the record, the difference between acceptance rates is slight, and the average SAT scores only differ by a few points”. Which I learned from Metaezra. In retrospect, she probably didn’t know that that wasn’t the best response, and maybe I hold some resentment about those kinds of comments, so there was a real disconnect in that exchange.

One of the other awkward discussions that happened in over half of the meetings was about the party scene and Greek Life. I would ask if they had any questions about student life, and some chose to ask what the parties are like. One even asked about the availability of drugs. When I did the contact meetings, I always tried to answer in ways that I wouldn’t mind being quoted on. The last thing I wanted to do was make an ass of myself. So I gave the overly P.C. response of “Cornell’s size gives a wide variety of options for establishing a social environment. Greek Life is there for those who are interested.” The drug question was a bit uncomfortable; I gave an awkward, formal reply along the lines of “Cornell is large university, and you can make your own assumptions. But I’m disinclined to discuss it.” It was uncomfortable because it definitely straddles the perceived line of what is appropriate for discussion, but I still wanted to give a halfway-decent answer their question.

When I received the email notifying me of the final status of the students I met with, I was…uh, underwhelmed. All but one were rejected. That one was a guaranteed transfer. My office-mates started jokingly calling me the “Kiss of Death”. It was actually a little disheartening because some of those high schoolers were really quite accomplished and left me with a very good impression. But, after checking with a few other friends of mine who did the Alumni Ambassadors volunteering, I guess I was running par for the course. I never realized the kinds of students Cornell rejected, which was something that I think I had taken for granted and just written off while I was in Ithaca.

It had its ups and downs. I liked talking about Cornell (as if this blog wasn’t a clue). I got some satisfaction out of it, and I was able to do a little volunteering outside my grad school bubble. I think I’ll keep doing it, with some hope that maybe one of the future students I meet with will be accepted outright next spring.



Being an Alum

4 12 2010

So, letting go of undergrad is hard. But being an alumni doesn’t mean that everything simply ends.

While visiting a friend up in Vermont this past summer, she mentioned over lunch how she volunteered in the local alumni network there, of meeting with accepted students and going to alumni events and so on. Feeling a bit nostalgic (and realizing that I don’t want grad school to complete dominate my life, although it’s coming real close), I found myself signing up to be a part of the local chapter of CAAAN. CAAAN is the “Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network”, which is divided up into about 300 chapters and 8000 volunteers who take on the opportunity of evaluating applied prospective students.  I figured that I could spare enough time to meet with high schoolers and answer questions they might have about CU, as well as pose a few queries to them for their “evaluation”. To be honest, I remember my meeting being uncomfortable because I was meeting them at the restaurant I worked at in high school, and since they arrived twenty minutes early, I seated them without realizing it was the alum I was supposed to meet with. When they looked at my nametag and asked me if I would be ready to talk about Cornell with them in a few minutes, I promptly excused myself and proceeded to have a royal flip out in the dishroom.  Luckily for me, I told my boss ahead of time about the planned meeting, so she took over the register and let me off a few minutes early.

It’s probably a bit peculiar since if someone asked me what I thought of Cornell while I was there, I would have had some lovely comments worth sharing (though not in front of children). Yet here I am, volunteering to meet with fresh and enthusiastic high schoolers and to try and promote a good image of Cornell. Hopefully.

Being new to the whole thing, I attended a meeting at a local hotel that the local alumni association was doing as an orientation for CAAAN.  The first thing that struck me when I walked into the room was the realization that I was easily the youngest person there. There were about 15 people, almost all of whom were middle-aged (40 and up) professionals, and as I sorta stopped in the doorway, the local chapter head looked at me and said “[Y]ou must be the new guy. I recognize everyone else here.”

What followed was a passing out of “current facts of Cornell” and some admissions and evaluation guidelines. It became quickly apparent that being the young guy had an advantage. They spent several minutes asking me to describe recent changes on campus and how the new financial aid plan was working and random questions about if some aspect of Cornell has changed in the past 10/20/30 years. For once, this blog proved to be useful on a personal level. I also managed to make several of them feel extremely old when describing the new West Campus houses.

It was different. It felt a little strange, but it felt right at the same time. I may be getting older, but I’m still quite young as alumni go.