At Zayed University, students are selected and trained to represent the university both on and off campus

When a group of students from Austria visited Zayed University at their Abu Dhabi campus recently, Khansa Al Blouki was there to welcome them.

The third-year student of social and behavioural sciences gave the visitors a guided tour of the facilities and had answers to any questions they asked about the university and its programmes.

The schedule Khansa had drawn up for the visitors was highly appreciated. “They were our age,” says Khansa, “but since they were from a different culture there was a lot to learn from them.”

Khansa is among 36 student ambassadors at ZU Abu Dhabi. Under the Student Ambassador Programme launched last year, students are chosen and trained to represent the university both on and off campus.

It is not a unique programme, says Charles Hewitt, Acting Dean of Student Services. “It’s there in many colleges in the US. Being a student ambassador means students have to unselfishly give of their time and effort and represent the university.”

ZU averages about three VIP visits a week at its campuses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Dr Hanif Hassan, Vice-president of Zayed University, and Larry Wilson, Deputy Vice-president, Academic Affairs Provost, would often ask the faculty to involve students to represent the student community during such visits.

Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Education, and President of Zayed University, Dr Hanif Hassan and Larry Wilson realised the need for such a programme, says Hewitt. “That pretty much drove the idea.”

The programme is being introduced on the Dubai campus this year. “The response has been very good,” said Shaima Khoury, Activities Coordinator of Student Affairs, Zayed University, Dubai campus.

Those chosen are put through 34 hours of training. Assistant deans of all departments brief the students. Sessions are also held with library staff, IT supervisors and protocol officers. The student ambassadors have to be knowledgeable about all aspects of the university, its history, policies and programmes.

Communication skills

The emphasis is on developing good communication skills and how to “meet, greet and treat important people”, says Hewitt.

Their duties as student ambassadors does not mean they can skip classes. “Our classes come first,” says Sara Al Ganem, a second-year student doing her bachelors in international relations.

“We receive emails informing us about delegations visiting the campus, and are asked to come and meet the visitors if we are free.”

Says Hewitt, “We take students who have widely varied class schedules, because most of the guest visits are between 10am and 2pm - prime time study hours. So we need students with flexible time schedules.”

The student ambassadors also assist at exhibitions and lectures. Off campus, they have helped out at Abu Dhabi Music Foundation programmes at the Abu Dhabi Cultural Foundation.

The training and exposure these students receive should do them good when they graduate and join the workforce. “We are training our students to be leaders in society,” said Shaima. “This programme will help them face any situation in the workplace.”

For Khansa, being a student ambassador is already proving beneficial. “I won’t say it’s easy,” she says. “But I enjoy it very much. It helps me in my studies too, since I am a student of behavioural sciences and we meet so many people from various cultures.”

Sara agrees. “It’s an amazing experience. We meet new people from all over the world all the time. We have to learn to be flexible. At the same time we have fun. I tell all the other girls who are not student ambassadors to come and join us.”

The emphasis is on service with a smile. As Hewitt says about the student ambassadors, “They are a wonderful group of students rendering eloquent service to the campus.”