My first year as a Teaching Assistant

by Nikki Wall, I Want to be an Ambassador!, Teaching Assistant

In June 2017, my career aspirations were about to reach an important crossroads. As a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh, I was extremely eager to gain real-work experience as a teaching assistant for Luminari’s summer program, I Want to be an Ambassador!, a seven-day camp designed to help teenagers master the skills of a successful ambassador, especially the vital art of diplomacy. This exciting position would more than exceed my expectations. As a teaching assistant, I had a front-row seat to presentations on a variety of interesting topics including amazing discussions titled “Conflict Resolution” and “The Art of Negotiation.” Additionally, there were many simulation activities regarding the lives of Syrian Refugees and other victims of international conflict. 

My personal favorite activity of the week was called the Business Round Table. We were joined by leading business and non-profit professionals including Georgia Berner of Berner International Corp., Rebecca Harris from the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Chatham University, Louis Schwartz of China Strategies LLC, and Paul Brahim of BPU Investment Management. Listening to their stories and advice was both refreshing and informative. I was also given the opportunity to help the teen campers by sharing my experiences and speaking out about the importance of being safe and smart when using social media, a topic that is near and dear to my heart. As a marketing major, I am constantly reminded of how important it is to manage your brand image, and I tried to stress to the students how things can sometimes be misconstrued online and reputations ruined due to misinformation.

During the last few days of the camp, we traveled as a group to Washington D.C., where we had the opportunity to tour the Embassy of Japan and the Embassy of the Russian Federation. These tours included meetings with assistants to the Ambassadors to learn about what it is like to be both an Ambassador and Diplomat. Exposure to these different perspectives was fascinating and fostered my interest in increasing global competence and awareness. We also visited the Newseum, the Museum of Journalism, where we saw amazing exhibits about the Berlin Wall, newspaper headlines from 9/11, and learned about the significance of the First Amendment.

This experience was profoundly unique, well-organized and valuable to my teaching experience. Not many college sophomores can say they have had exposure to this type of knowledge or professionalism. I grew professionally throughout the camp, more than I could have expected, and I am excited to see what is on tap for this summer’s program. More importantly, I am eager to meet the new students. Not only will I be there to try to help them learn new skills, but they will also teach me. Last year, I met 14 intelligent and talented students because of this program, some I keep in touch with today. A few of them have reached out to me for advice about their resumes, asked questions about college, or inquired about job interview experiences. The young people in the Luminari programs are great students, and I am encouraged by their conversations and questions with each other and the respect and civility with which they showed toward adults. I cannot wait for summer 2018 to listen to the workshop leaders and learn and grow along with the students. Hope to see you there!