You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

Five students pose next to the California State University Chico sign on a sunny day

The North State Student Ambassadors at California State University, Chico, serve as liaisons between their peers and the administration.

Karen Schreder/Chico State

A new student-led program at California State University, Chico, highlights rural voices, creating community for an underrepresented group in higher education.

North State Student Ambassadors launched in January 2023 and provides rural students with the opportunity to be advocates for their peers by sharing insights into their lives and offering guidance on how to transition into college at a large campus like Chico State.

The need: Coming to college was a culture shock for ambassador Brynna Garcia, a second-year student from Tehama County in California’s Central Valley, because she was used to small-town living, where everyone knew each other. “I didn’t know anyone; I didn’t know anything,” Garcia says.

Rural Students in Focus   

Fewer than one-third (29 percent) of young adults in rural areas enroll in higher education, according to U.S. Department of Education data.

Some of the challenges for rural students’ enrollment and degree attainment include applying for college, basic needs insecurity, lack of reliable transportation and limited access to high-speed internet.

Rural communities are also racially and ethnically diverse, with 15 to 20 percent of rural students identifying as people of color, according to 2019 data.

Making friends and connecting with peers was also a challenge for the ambassadors. “When you know all 30 people that were in my class since I was 5 and I graduated with them, I didn’t realize that I didn’t know how to make friends,” says Sophia Dutton, a third-year student from Plumas County.

The ambassador program was the brainchild of Ann Schulte, former director of civic engagement at Chico State, and is advised by Karen Schreder, assistant professor and education specialist program coordinator.

“People see Northern California differently—they see L.A., they see San Francisco, but we are completely different than that,” Schreder says. “We are a diverse and rich group of very regional and rural communities.”

How it works: While Schulte had the initial idea, much of the program has been built off student ideas. Student ambassadors were first hired in winter 2023, and the cohort has grown over the past year.

The program is funded through several sources, including a LAEP grant from the Office of Civic Engagement at Chico State, Schreder says. That covers activities, wages for the ambassadors and conference travel, among other expenses. Schreder is also pursuing grants to keep the program sustainable.

Four students stand behind a table with a black table cloth that says "California State University Chico North State Student Ambassadors." The students are outside on a sunny day and there are pizza boxes on and around the table.

Student ambassadors hosted a Meet the Ambassadors event in November to introduce themselves to their peers.

Karen Schreder / Chico State

The half dozen ambassadors offer regular events for their peers and serve as representatives to their university and those outside of it. Most programs take place in the rural affinity space, the ambassador-designated area on the first floor of the Meriam Library, but there are also online opportunities for students to participate.

The North State Student Ambassadors’ signature offering is a Power Hour, a one-hour event every couple of weeks that invites a campus partner to speak about different services. “Essentially we just want to bring light to different resources that students from rural areas or even at Chico State wouldn’t know,” says Cyanna Iniguez, a sixth-year student from Shasta County.

The ambassadors have hosted staff from the food pantry and the Office of Study Abroad as well as Chico State’s president. Power Hours are hosted live in the library and on Instagram, giving students the option to attend virtually or in person.

Their role extends to recruitment and outreach, too. Some ambassadors participated in a panel alongside the Office of Admissions and spoke with parents during Choose Chico events in spring 2023.

Students also hosted an open house, providing pizza and games, to introduce themselves to their peers and highlight how they can support other rural students.

“When you’re rural, you’re connected to everybody. Once you go to college you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I know nothing,’” says Veronica Ulloa, a first-year student from Tehama County. “This is a little extra step into helping you get connections within the college community.”  

The impact: Since launching, the program has served dozens of students through its Power Hours, reached future Chico State students and their families, and amassed a 170-plus following on Instagram.

“When we started meeting at first, I was like, ‘I have no idea where this is gonna go,’” Garcia says. “It’s becoming a much bigger thing than I thought, and I’m just, like, really proud of it.”

One important role the ambassadors have stepped into is serving as a liaison between the administration and their rural peers. Following President Stephen Perez’s Power Hour, he’s kept in contact with students to solicit their ideas and see how he can support them.

“We represent not just our hometowns but also Chico State in rurality,” says second-year student Bethany Regnani, who is from Colusa County. “For other students that are rural, we put a face to that.”

The North State Student Ambassadors smile for a selfie in the library

North State Student Ambassadors, in addition to connecting their fellow rural peers, provide civic engagement information to nonrural learners.

Karen Schreder / Chico State

The program also provides education to nonrural students on the lived experiences of their peers. “You don’t actually know how many students come from rural areas until you start asking,” Iniguez says. “It allows you to put a light to the students that don’t think they’re seen.”

Leading the program has helped students become more comfortable in talking about their roots and acknowledge that their differences make them distinct.

“Before I joined the ambassadors, [my hometown] was kind of embarrassing to talk about,” Ulloa says. “I learned to embrace my rurality … I’m proud of where I’m from now. I’ve learned to love it.”

The North State Student Ambassadors hope to see rural student groups grow across the nation, because they see the value not only for current students but for rural communities in general. Three of the ambassadors and Schreder presented at the National Rural Education Association Conference in Chattanooga to share research and highlight their work.

“I don’t want rural areas to be overlooked, because that’s how it felt when I was in high school; I felt like no one really cared about us at all,” says Servando Melendrez, a second-year student from Lassen County. “I’d like our program to inspire other universities to do the same thing we’re doing.”

If your student success program has a unique feature or twist, we’d like to know about it. Click here to submit.

Next Story

Found In

More from The College Experience