May 2017

2016-17 Featured Students

    The Cultural Ambassador Program (May 2017)

    More than 300 ISU students embark on a new adventure each semester without leaving the grounds of campus.

    These students participate in the International Students and Scholars Office's (ISSO) Cultural Ambassador Program. The program pairs an international student with a domestic student, allowing the domestic student to help the international student become more immersed in the Iowa State adventure.

    "American students are there to have conversations in English with international students," said Shelby Smith, senior in public relations and student assistant for the Cultural Ambassador Program. "They will answer any questions about U.S. culture, academic experience and rules and regulations of school. The international Cultural Ambassador is able to share their home culture and traditions with the American Cultural Ambassador, as well."

    Two ISU students who participated this spring in the program are Maggie Jennett, senior in criminal justice from Ames, Iowa, and Yu-Wen Chen, a graduate student pursuing her doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from Taichung, Taiwan (map below).

    Chen has been in the United States for five years now, but joined the program in 2015 because she wanted to create more friendships.

    "For international students, it’s a little hard for us to immerse ourselves into American culture," she said. "As a grad student, you’re busy with your research and do not have many friends outside of work, so I didn't really have a chance to meet American students and hang out with them."

    Jennett, who had started her college adventure at the University of Northern Iowa, experienced a similar immersion activity in one of her freshman classes.

    "At UNI, I was in a class that one day decided to pair us up with an English-learning person," Jennett said.

    "They had this sort of conversations partner program going, and I loved it."

    After her younger sister enrolled at Iowa State, Jennett soon transferred to ISU. When she received the ISSO email about the Cultural Ambassador Program, she wanted to get involved.

    For Jennett, the Cultural Ambassador Program offered the perfect opportunity to learn about social sustainability — specifically about interactions with the many diverse cultures around the world.

    "In college, it's unique to be put in one spot with a ton of different people," she said. "Now, especially, being open-minded to other types of people is really important, especially in a university setting to prepare for the rest of your life. This is the perfect place to learn that, practice it and work to understand other people better."

    Both Chen and Jennett decided to apply to become Ambassadors when they received an email from the ISSO, leading them to their current friendship.

    Because the program is composed of volunteer Ambassadors and leaves the level of participation completely up to the students involved, they get to make their own schedules and decide how to spend time together.

    "It was a little awkward because they're completely random pairings," Jennet said.

    Jennett studied abroad, giving her a similar understanding of what Chen went through when she first arrived in Ames.

    "When I studied abroad, there was no program like this in Ireland where I was," Jennett said. "It was kind of lonely, and you’re on your own trying to figure things out. For the students coming here [to ISU] and just getting here, it would be nice to have somebody say, 'This is where the good food is,' and other things like that."

    Despite the initial awkwardness, the pair has been together for two semesters while most pairs are only together for one semester.

    Together, Jennett and Chen grab lunch and dinner, go watch movies and generally just hang out as two students about to start their own adventures outside of college. Chen is finishing her Ph.D., and Jennett is applying to become a police officer after graduating this semester.

    "This program helps you make friends, and it's just so cool," Chen said.

    One of Jennett's and Chen's most memorable moments was when Chen took them out for dinner to an authentic Chinese restaurant. The menus were all in Chinese, and Chen translated their orders.

    A second memorable moment for the pair was when they first met at the beginning of fall semester. Chen was carving her first pumpkin for Halloween at one of the program's sporadic large group events (pictured top of Page 10).

    Both Chen and Jennett believe the program benefited their experience at Iowa State.

    "Programs like this one are really helpful in creating lasting relationships and making connections, especially because we are sharing one campus together," Jennett said.

    Chen echoed those thoughts.

    "It provides the opportunity to open up to other friends in other cultures, and helps broaden students' viewpoints," she said.

    With the Cultural Ambassador Program, these often-differing viewpoints come together to do positive things for each pair of students, but also for the community they live in.

    Some of the recent service projects where the program invited all Cultural Ambassador pairings to participate include making blankets for Project Linus and crafting cards for Cards for Hospitalized Kids (pictured left).

    Students interested in participating next year should watch for an email at the beginning of the fall semester containing the online registration instructions to take part in the program.

    Additional information about the Cultural Ambassador Program and other ISSO activities can be found at or by emailing

    "The program allows students to take the experiences they've gained during their time with the program at Iowa State with them for the rest of their adult lives," Smith said. "Ultimately, by creating this environment of appreciation for the cultures of the world, we are able to move toward not only a more inclusive campus climate, but a united community."