From consideration to commitment: Baskin student ambassadors provide insight, support to prospective students

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Baskin Engineering student ambassadors (from left to right): Sabrina Yone, Brian Govers, Ira Shirdhankar, Ricardo Gonzalez, Rishita Wairagade

Baskin Engineering student ambassadors (from left to right): Sabrina Yone, Brian Govers, Ira Shirdhankar, Ricardo Gonzalez, Rishita Wairagade

Melissa Weckerle

Applying, enrolling, and then beginning a college journey is daunting, especially for students who are first in their family—or are moving states or countries—to attend college. But what if the usual anxiety and uncertainty could be eased? That’s where the five students from the Baskin Engineering Student Ambassador (BESA) program step in.

The Baskin School of Engineering is the only academic division on campus that offers a division-specific tour for prospective and newly admitted students. Distinct from the UC Santa Cruz campus wide tour, BESA tours provide a more in-depth overview of the programs at the school of engineering from an engineering student’s perspective. 

Prospective and newly admitted engineering students can sign up for a tour of Baskin Engineering with one of the five 2021–22 student ambassadors: Ira Shirdhankar, Sabrina Yone, Ricardo Gonzalez, Brian Govers, and Rishita Wairagade. Their personalized tours provide prospective and incoming students—and their family members—an invaluable experience to meet face-to-face with current students; explore the buildings, labs, classrooms, and surrounding areas of the school of engineering; and learn more about specific majors, student organizations, and support programs. 

For ambassadors Gonzalez, Wairagade, and Shirdhankar, it’s an opportunity to pay it forward, a way to be a resource for incoming students, something they wished they had when they began their college journeys.

“It’s scary navigating college life; it’s all new and takes a while to get used to. Being able to be that person that I wish I had as I was figuring everything out is what drove me to become an ambassador,” said Shirdhankar, a biomolecular engineering and bioinformatics major.

Tours are, on average, an hour long and include one to two families. With the smaller group sizes, ambassadors often personalize the tours to the major that the student is interested in, spending time discussing the program, curriculum plans, and relevant student organizations and support resources.

“It’s nice to have that smaller group setting; we can connect with the students more and give them the information and confidence they need to make informed decisions,” said Gonzalez, a computer science major. 

The ambassadors note there is often a pattern to their tours: at the start, prospective students are shy and nervous, but by the time the tour concludes, they are relaxed, engaged, and often ask to stay in touch with the ambassadors for future support and guidance. 

The tours are especially meaningful to ambassadors when they have students who have similar academic interests or have shared personal experiences. 

“As a woman in STEM, I’m always excited to see other women on tours. One student asked about belonging, having imposter syndrome, and what my experience has been like. It was nice to be able to give her my insight and assure her of the welcoming space the school provides,” explained Yone, an international computer science student.

Many of the ambassadors have prior experience mentoring and supporting new students, enhancing the welcoming and friendly tour experience. Yone worked as a mentor with UC Santa Cruz Global Engagement, helping acclimate international students. Gonzalez worked as an outreach and welcome leader for Stevenson College, supporting new students as they adjusted to college life at UC Santa Cruz, and Shirdhankar helped run new student programs in high school.

Govers, an electrical engineering major, was particularly interested in becoming an ambassador in order to forge new connections and meet people, something he missed over the past two years. He also finds it gratifying to provide advice to incoming students.

“I like being able to share tips that I've learned during my time as an undergrad. One such tip that I like to share is the importance for incoming students to know that it is okay to ask for help. There’s no point in suffering for days trying to figure out something on your own when there are plenty of support programs and tutoring options available,” Govers stated.

Wairagade, a computer science major, added the importance of “focusing on one class at a time and not getting too caught up thinking about the future,” a piece of advice she often shares with her tour attendees. 

The number of BESA tours has greatly increased over the winter and spring quarters. Student ambassadors have also been busy conducting tours for high school students, including a  recent tour of 50 students and their teachers. From a single family to an entire class, BESA tours provide memorable experiences for attendees and ambassadors alike. 

“There was a newly admitted student on a recent tour of mine who wasn’t sure if he wanted to go to UC Santa Cruz. I spent an hour with him, fielding questions and showing him around. When our tour concluded, he joined up with the UC Santa Cruz campus wide tour,” Gonzalez explained. “Afterward, he excitedly walked back to us at Baskin and decided to sign a statement of intent to register right then and there. It’s so rewarding to be able to represent this university and this school and help students along their journey.”

BESA tours are strongly encouraged for prospective and newly admitted engineering students as they provide an opportunity to hear from current students, explore what it’s like to be a student at Baskin Engineering, and learn more about individual programs. For more information on the BESA program and to book a tour, visit besa.soe.ucsc.edu.