What I Learned at the College Ambassadors Summit

College Ambassadors aim to connect KIPP alumni on campus with one another, resources & campus supports. The College Ambassador program is a part of KIPP’s larger effort to connect all KIPP alumni on the same college campus or geographic area—known as College Connections—to ensure they persist through college. On campuses with significant numbers of KIPP alumni, a College Ambassador is selected to lead the cohort, assess student needs, and help their peers persist and graduate.


By Lizette Valenzuela, UC Berkeley Student and KIPP Heartwood Academy Alumna
(Lizette is pictured third from the left in the back row.)

KIPP schools have the dream of ensuring alumni receive the support they need not only to get to college, but through college. I’m one of the lucky few that get to help execute how this happens.

This summer, I attended the KIPP Through College (KTC) College Ambassador Leadership Summit hosted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where I met dozens of KIPP students from other KIPP schools (or “KIPP cousins”), and developed a strategy to connect with the current KIPP alumni at my college campus as the ambassador at UC Berkeley.

The conference itself was loaded with sessions that taught us outreach strategies, networking skills, and cohort building exercises. We also had sessions where we learned about the graduation rates of low-income students of color and why the work that KIPP does is essential in the communities in which they have schools. But what truly made the conference stand out was what we were able to accomplish as a group.

Our group of 38 KIPP College Ambassadors did not have any trouble getting to know each other. The term “KIPP cousin” felt honest and we all connected in a manner akin to being around family. We had jokesters cousins, loudmouth cousins, quiet forces of nature cousins, and eccentric cousins (or, as I lovingly referred to them, the “are you sure you aren’t adopted cousins”), but we were all still one family. Our various personalities clashed at points, but they also directed us into exploring our capabilities as leaders. The jokesters were great at creating interpersonal connections. The loudmouths directed the groups. The quiet forces of nature completed their tasks expertly and with precision. The eccentric cousins provided the group with creativity and ingenuity. By the end of the week, we grew as individual leaders and created something amazing as a group.

What was our something amazing? It was a music video with original rap lyrics and a choreographed dance to “Statistics Can’t Hold Us,” a song we wrote using the instrumental skeleton of Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us.” It even featured a cameo from KIPP CEO Richard Barth.

To be honest, before the conference, I never saw myself as a leader. In my mind, a leader was bold, assertive, and decisive. Meanwhile, I’m skittish and the idea of talking to a large crowd frightens me. At one point, I fear I’ll make a joke no one will laugh at and those years I spent honing my skills to become a Saturday Night Live cast member will go down the drain. However, I learned that leadership is more than what I had envisioned. Leadership is becoming vulnerable in order to create something greater than you with a group of uniquely talented individuals.

As the new school year rolls out, high school seniors should take a look at schools with KIPP College Ambassadors on campus. At these schools, you already have a support network in place, a network that could be incredibly daunting to build on your own. You can work with the Ambassadors and other KIPP cousins at your school and create a memorable college experience. Ambassadors are familiar with aspects of your struggle and they’ll find the resources available to help you. They’ve probably had the same problem happen to them or they know someone who has been there before. Either way, they’ll find some way to help you because we’re here to help. You’ll hear various people offer you help multiple times in your life. Don’t take them for granted. If someone is offering assistance, be open to it. Just know that they’re people who want to see you succeed because they believe in you. It’s wonderful to have someone like that in your life, especially so early on.

There was an introductory remark at the conference that resonated with me: the importance of the three P’s. Not Pokémon, punk rock, and pizza as I originally had thought, but how imperative it is to have passion, purpose, and a plan. Being in the room with KIPP cousins and KIPP staff reminded me that there are amazing people out there who are passionate about making KIPP’s dream a reality through the College Ambassador program. And, I’m going to be honest; it’s nice to be part of a dream, especially one as meaningful as this one.


To learn more about KIPP Through College and the KIPP College Ambassador Program, click here >