George Mason University

News at Mason

Passionate about peace studies, student ambassadors give, get even more back

March 27, 2019   /   by Mariam Aburdeineh

They learn communication, public relations and diplomatic skills by speaking to others about Mason's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

S-CAR students John Casey and Gracie Billingsley flank S-CAR Ambassdors program coordinator Leslie Durham. Photo by Mariam Aburdeineh.

George Mason University has a large student body—more than 37,000 people—but that doesn’t mean it’s hard to find community. And that’s especially true for the S-CAR Ambassadors.

The student group represents Mason’s No. 1-rated School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR) by helping put on events and activities for the school and speaking to prospective students and families about S-CAR. They’re involved because they’re passionate about the major, and being ambassadors allows them to make the most of their undergraduate education.

“When I would go to events or go around campus, I realized the way to reach more people was to be able to have students talk to students, and students talk to families,” said Leslie Durham, program coordinator, recruiter and academic advisor for S-CAR. “The secondary effect is that I saw that as a way to build community, and that’s trumped the original reason [for creating the group] for me.”

“It becomes like a family,” said Durham, who oversees the group of nearly a dozen ambassadors.

Gracie Billingsley, a junior majoring in conflict analysis and resolution, said the ambassador program has really made a difference in her life at Mason.

“You give a little bit of time, but you get a lot more back in terms of relationships, in learning, and in so many good networking opportunities,” she said. “It makes you feel more connected.”

It’s also been a way for some ambassadors to give back.

When John Casey, an S-CAR junior who’s been an ambassador since the group began in fall 2017, first chose his major, he struggled to communicate what the degree was in a simplified way to his parents and curious peers. A chief reason Casey is an ambassador is to help others who are struggling with that now.

“Not very many people know about this major or peace studies in general,” Casey said. “I explain the intricacies of this major and what it can be applied to [including positions in the U.S. government].”

“Not only am I able to explain my major, but I can change people’s mind about peace studies in general,” he said.

“It’s really powerful to see,” said Durham, who’s seen the transformation firsthand at career fairs. “[The group has] allowed students to find their voice—everybody’s learning and being a part of it.”

Communication, public relations, and diplomatic skills are part of what they learn by talking to others about the program. The students feel those skills will help them in their current studies and future careers.

“There are so many resources at Mason,” said Billingsley. “This is another resource you can belong to—it’s a win-win for everyone.”

Though volunteering at campus events may seem challenging with a college student’s typically packed schedule, being an ambassador “doesn’t feel like work,” Casey said. “It’s always fun—there’s laughter, there’s food, and I get to hang out with a lot of cool people.”

The impact is impressive.

“People ask me all over the university, ‘How do you get your students to come out to all these events?’” said Durham. “It goes back to the students’ enthusiasm and love of major, and that each ambassador has a service heart.”