Natural Sciences, let students help students

Isabelle Costello

When I was applying to UT as a high school senior, I was thinking about medical school. I came in as a neuroscience major, and in my mind my degree was going to be people-focused. 

After a conversation with my First-Year Interest Group peer mentor, who was also a neuroscience major, I realized that the degree plan didn’t have the same appeal as it did when I chose the major. I was able to make an internal switch into the School of Human Ecology. I was offered a meeting with a student ambassador of my major, who was able to give candid insight into the program I’d be entering.

I’m lucky that I happened to make a connection with someone who could give me insight into content that was only broadly advertised to me, but high school applicants and current students struggling to meet older peers while learning online don’t have the same luxury.

The College of Natural Sciences needs to implement an upperclassmen ambassador program that encompasses all majors to provide guidance and personal insight for incoming and current UT students.

Bunsri Patel, a public health and neuroscience sophomore, came into UT as a biology major. After taking the first two biology classes, she said she realized the way biology had been advertised was very different from the upper-level courses she was going to be taking. 

“I think a lot of freshmen come into UT not really knowing what these science majors entail,” Patel said. “Without ambassadors, you’re really only talking to your friends if you have them in that major or your adviser, and advisers know a lot about the courses you need to take but not much about the content.” 

Susan Harkins, the College of Natural Sciences’ assistant dean for diversity and student programs, said in an email that the college houses various focus ambassador groups, such as the School of Human Ecology, Computer Science and Women in Natural Sciences.

“Students and staff have had recent discussions about creating additional ambassadors programs, and CNS is open to hearing ideas,” Harkins said in an email. “The college welcomes input about what would be most helpful.” 

Though the College of Natural Sciences does well at providing student ambassadors for many of the specific groups within the college, the college lacks the holistic, major-based ambassador model that almost every other department houses. 

Beyond just serving as a resource for students looking to learn more about prospective majors, an ambassador program has the potential to cultivate leadership opportunities, volunteer events and an overall sense of community that a college as expansive as Natural Sciences could use.

 An ideal model for an ambassador program can be seen in the UT School of Human Ecology Ambassadors. Not only are the school’s ambassadors available to talk to prospective students about potential majors and get candid about course logistics and experiences, they also host social events to foster a sense of community among the school’s majors.

“It’s been really fun to see the students that are ambassadors grow and take on more leadership responsibilities and learn different things that are really great for postgraduate plans,” said Megan Rovang, the senior administrative program coordinator for the School of Human Ecology. 

While the School of Human Ecology model thrives on student initiative, the responsibility shouldn’t fall on students alone to shoulder facilitating insight into the largest college at UT. The College of Natural Sciences needs to create an ambassador program for the college at large. The culture of competition is ingrained in science, but allowing students to help students may very well be the first step out.

Costello is a human development and family sciences freshman from Boerne, Texas.