The Student Experience
It’s 7:00 on an April morning in 2004, and Ryan Renz is out of bed early to help with a new event being held by the IUP Ambassadors, the Student Alumni Association. The sand in the Tri-halls volleyball court has been replaced with dirt. Now, Renz and a few other students are spraying water on it to prepare for MessFest, IUP’s first mud volleyball tournament.
One of last year’s award-winning teams poses while trying to keep its plaque clean.
“It takes longer than you think to turn dirt into mud,” said Renz, who is the president of the Ambassadors, a student service organization oriented toward alumni activities.
Along with building spirit with mud volleyball, Renz and his fellow Ambassadors help with tours for prospective students, phone IUP’s top thousand candidates for admission to the university, act as hosts to alumni returning to campus for reunions or awards, offer a scholarship, hold a Kidz Karnival at Homecoming, organize the freshman yearbook, and hold activities to recognize seniors. “There are so many different experiences a student can have at IUP,” said Renz, a senior accounting major. “Students who get involved get so much more out of their years here.”
Each year, the Ambassadors donate thousands of dollars to the university from their fund-raiser, the annual tuition raffle, which offers tickets for chances at a free semester of tuition. “Last year, we had the most successful tuition raffle yet,” said Renz, who was in charge of the project as the group’s vice president of finance. “We were really happy with that.”
Alicia Menne, front, a Sociology major from Williamsport, Pa., won this year’s annual tuition raffle, sponsored by the Student Ambassadors. Behind her are Ryan Renz, president of the Ambassadors, and Stephanie Shankle, the Ambassador’s vice president for Finance. Both Renz and Shankle are from Indiana.
The Ambassadors raised more than $26,000 last year, said Mary Morgan ’91, the group’s advisor. From that amount, expenses, such as mailing costs and the cost of the first and second prizes, were subtracted. The winner received a tuition prize of about $2,400, while the second-prize winner received a $175 gift certificate to the Co-op store.
The group then donated about $9,000 to the university for three projects—the Regional Development Center building fund, Stapleton Library, and the Allegheny Arboretum at IUP, a project which is transforming the Oak Grove into a learning environment. “We try to give to things that will benefit all students,” Morgan said.
The group was founded in 1993 by the IUP Alumni Association but is student run and self-funded. Since the group was formed, the membership has raised more than $88,000 foro the university through a variety of projects and has awarded financial assistance to students in the form of tuition and prizes.
Morgan became the group’s advisor about nine years ago as part of her job of as assistant director of Alumni Relations. “It’s really exciting to be around them,” she said. “They’re students who want to volunteer. They’re bright and gung-ho.”
To become an Ambassador, a student must be recommended by a faculty member and complete an application. After interviews with the current Ambassadors, a few lucky students are invited to join. The organization has grown from about twelve students in 1993 to thirty-eight students this year. Over the years, the group has won numerous district and international awards.
As a freshman, Holly Holt was shy and apprehensive about joining the IUP Ambassadors and was sick with nerves at the thought of attending the first get-together. Over the next few years, she gained confidence and took on leadership positions. She attended conferences with students from other universities, polished her writing skills by producing the organization’s newsletter, and enjoyed talking with the alumni returning for reunions.
Her senior year, a more confident Holt ran for president of the Ambassadors and won, ending her term in December, when Renz was elected.
“I loved it. It was the very best thing I did in college,” said Holt, a Journalism major who graduated in December and is now working in Indiana, Pa., for a broadcasting company. “The IUP Ambassadors is a great organization,” she said. “I’m glad I was in it. It completely changed me as a person.”