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    Ambassadors Serve Symbiotic Relationship With SEC Symposium

    By: Sean Cartell
    SECU (Twitter: @TheSECU)

    ATLANTA – The heart of the mission of each Southeastern Conference university is to equip its students for the challenges of the future.

    At the inaugural SEC Symposium, entitled Impact of the Southeast by the World's Renewable Energy Future, students are playing a critical role in the event as participants and in a number of support roles as University Ambassadors. Each SEC school was asked to send two students to Atlanta for a one-of-a-kind opportunity to assist with the Conference’s first event.

    “One of the things we discussed when we first started planning the Symposium was how we would manage on-site support,” said Torie Johnson, Executive Director of SECU. “Immediately, we thought about volunteers from each of our 14 campuses because we knew they would be energetic, focused and would have an interest in the subject matter.”

    Students were drawn to the role of University Ambassador by the unique occasion it provided them to interact with students, faculty and staff from the other Conference institutions.

    “I thought the SEC Symposium would be a good way to go out and meet people in similar fields in the area of renewable energy,” said Kerry O’Connell, a graduate student at the University of South Carolina who is serving as a University Ambassador. “It is a good way to network, meet people and see what others are doing in the field or where there might be an opportunity for collaboration.”

    The cross-disciplinary nature of the SEC Symposium has allowed students to meet and share ideas with fellow students in a broad range of academic areas.

    “My research focus is on biofuels, but I also thought it was good to get to know people from the other universities and what their research is really about,” said Sara Shields, a University Ambassador from Mississippi State University. “To accomplish the huge task of renewable fuels really takes a team. We all have the same goal, we just have different ways to go about it. It is a good way to see other perspectives.”

    O’Connell agrees, saying the SEC Symposium has given students a wide range of ideas that allow them to look at the big picture when it comes to renewable energy.

    “It’s been really positive because I can now see the whole cradle to grave perspective of it all,” he said. “The whole spectrum is here; it’s nice not to be super narrow in an area, but to have a broad spectrum of knowledge for the entire process.”

    The camaraderie among the SEC Symposium University Ambassadors has been evident at the inaugural event as the representatives of each institution have enjoyed interacting with one another and sharing their own experiences.

    “It’s been great,” Shields said. “The ambassadors are kind of like a little family. It’s a good networking opportunity and it’s been fun. It’s been good to put faces with names of researchers that we look up to.”

    University Ambassadors at the SEC Symposium, in addition to their support roles, have the opportunity to attend sessions, view the poster exhibition and visit the SEC University Showcase.

    “There is a lot the Ambassadors can glean from the SEC Symposium,” Johnson said. “It’s a time for undergraduate students to interact with the graduate students that they maybe aspire to become and for all students to interact with presenters, some of whom they know and others they have read about. Ultimately, it is up to them to decide how much they want or need to draw from an experience like this.”

    For updates throughout the week at the SEC Symposium, be sure to follow SECU on Twitter at @TheSECU.