Student Alumni Ambassadors

Student Alumni Ambassadors

Lara Andree ’20, ’21W (MS): A Student Alumni Ambassador

As part of a student team that works with alumni and friends, a senior hopes to inspire others as they have inspired her.

As part of a student team that works Lara Andree ’22 has a full plate. As a political science major with a minor in studio arts, the Dallas, Texas, native fills her days with classes, painting, being an active member of several student organizations, and working in the Admissions office and at the Warner School of Education.

She also is a member of the Student Alumni Ambassador program, a select group of undergraduates who serve as liaisons within the University’s alumni community. The ambassadors offer insights into current student life and share their personal Rochester experience. On the River Campus, the ambassadors are easy to spot, too, in their University-blue cardigans marked with a big yellow “R.”

“I love being an SAA,” says Andree, a first-generation student who has been an ambassador since she arrived on campus. “I get to interact with alumni, update them on what’s happening on campus, and give them a glimpse into what life is like here now.”

Accepted into the University’s GRADE program, which grants her admission to both the College and the Warner School of Education, Andree will start a graduate program at Warner after she earns her bachelor’s degree. Under the program, she will earn both a baccalaureate and master’s degree in five years. She also has been awarded a Fifth Year in Teaching Scholarship, which covers the full cost of her graduate program. “I’m incredibly grateful,” she says. “My hope is to teach in the same under resourced school districts that I’ve grown up in, and to eventually reform the US public education system to benefit both students and teachers.”

Lauren Bradley, the director of student and young alumni engagement, says Andree and her fellow ambassadors are an impressive group of students, noting that the Eastman School of Music and the School of Medicine and Dentistry offer similar programs. “These are highly motivated, friendly, and hard-working students who give alumni and everyone they meet a lot of hope for the future.”

What is the best thing about being an SAA?
I get to meet people that I never would have met otherwise. I stay in touch with many of them, too. Especially as a senior, it’s comforting to see that life after graduation doesn’t have to be as intimidating as I’ve made it out to be in my mind. I especially enjoy interacting with alumni who have had similar experiences, backgrounds, and interests as me. It’s inspiring to talk with people who have been in my shoes.

What is the greatest benefit of being an SAA?
I especially love giving tours to alumni and their families. It’s fun to listen to stories about when they were students and to watch them take in how much the campus has changed over the years. It helps me realize how lucky I am to be a current student making memories that I’ll eventually share as an alumnus. It’s a great way to gain perspective.

When you interact with alumni, what do you want them to know about your experience?
I am grateful to have had so many mentors and advisors as a student. My undergraduate experience wouldn’t have been the same if it weren’t for the resources that have kept me afloat like the Kearns Center and the University Counseling Center. I’ve felt intensely supported as a student, especially going abroad for a semester to Rome, Italy. I look forward to the day I’m able to pay the same level of generosity and compassion forward to future students, especially those who come from a first-generation, low-income, or minority background.

Lara Andree ’20, ’21W (MS)
Major: Political science
Minor: Studio arts

Campus Involvement
• Secretary of Community Engagement, Students’ Association Government
• Meridian (tour guide), Office of Undergraduate Admissions
• Student Alumni Ambassador, Office of Alumni Relations
• Public Relations Office, University of Rochester Christian Fellowship
• First Generation Kearns Scholar

• Fifth Year in Teaching Scholarship (Warner)
• James A. Chin, Jr. Memorial Award and Scholarship
• Young Women’s Preparatory Network Alumnae Scholarship
• Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship
• Continuing Student Scholarship

Career Interests
Teach in an urban school, help reform the U.S. public education system

Meet Alexander Milliken: A School of Medicine and Dentistry Ambassador

Third year PhD student thrives on pushing boundaries

Alexander Milliken thrives on being challenged, pushing boundaries, and building community. He’s a third year graduate student at the School of Medicine and Dentistry (SMD), where he is pursuing a PhD in pharmacology.

Milliken is also part of SMD’s Ambassador Program, which connects current medical students, trainees, and PhD candidates with alumni through events, programs, tours, and other activities. Milliken and the other 27 SMD Ambassadors provide alumni a glimpse into the experience of current students and, in turn, alumni provide insights into their medical careers.

“Being an ambassador gives me valuable volunteer experience,” Milliken says. “It helps me sharpen my leadership skills and make personal and professional contacts.”

Milliken has met like-minded peers through the program, too—people he wouldn’t have met otherwise. And, he’s taken the concept of a multidisciplinary approach to a new level. For instance, he rock climbs with colleagues from immunology, microbiology, and virology. He works out at the River Campus fitness center with friends from neuroscience, pharmacology and toxicology. He plays in a softball league with biomedical engineering students, and he’s on a volleyball team with peers from biochemistry and biophysics.

When did you know you wanted a career in medicine?
I always knew I wanted to pursue a career in medicine but after losing both my grandfather and one of my best friends to cardiac-related deaths, the decision was clear to start my career in research, pushing the boundaries of what we think we know.

Why cellular and molecular pharmacology?
I was drawn to cellular and molecular pharmacology physiology because of the strong mitochondria research group. I can study the underlying molecular mechanisms of a pathology such as heart attack and then can begin to develop/screen novel therapeutics that could one day potentially make their way into the clinic. Mitochondria are the source of energy production in the cell and are starting to gain a significant amount of attention for their implications in many other diseases, pathologies, and syndromes.

Why did you want to go to the School of Medicine and Dentistry?
I grew up in Rochester. I love it here and although I left the area for my undergraduate studies, SMD was my number one choice throughout the graduate school application process. The school is focused on answering rigorous scientific questions and sets the standard for how research should be done. The hospital, medical school, and graduate school are all under one roof, which allows for extensive collaboration among a vast array of research fields.

Why did you want to be an SMD Ambassador?
Being an ambassador means that I am part of the group that helps connect generations of people associated with the University. We are all so lucky to be a part of the community here.

What do you enjoy most about being an Ambassador?
A lot of the alumni I’ve met are MDs, not PhDs like me. What’s clear to me is that although our paths have been very different, there are a lot of similarities, including the rigorous training and the tremendous rewards of such hard work. We all share one thing in common: the University of Rochester experience. I particular enjoy how much the MDs are genuinely interested in PhD research when I have had the opportunity to talk with them at various networking events.

What’s a typical day like for you?
Each day usually starts with responding to emails, checking for any new publications on PubMed, and finishing up calculations. Then, I will start an experiment, for instance, something related to surgery or mitochondria or cardiac cell isolation. After that, I analyze data from the experiment to see which direction the day has pushed me toward and where I need to focus my work tomorrow.

Alexander Milliken
PhD program: Cellular and molecular pharmacology and physiology

SMD Achievements: Recently appointed to the Cellular, Biochemical, and Molecular Sciences Training Grant T32, which provides funding for Milliken’s graduate education

Career interests: Research related to mitochondria biology, metabolism, and exercise

Meet Raffi Wright ’22E: An Eastman School of Music Student Alumni Ambassador

Sophomore offers his voice to the Eastman alumni community

The alarm rings around 6 a.m. and then Raffi Wright ’22E is off and running—or singing, as the case may be. Wright is all about music, and singing is his passion. It has been that way for as long as he can remember. He fell in love with music at an early age when he saw how it could bring people together and make them happy.

“Nothing is more powerful to me than witnessing a performance or being part of one,” he says. “I’ve devoted my life to music because it puts humanity’s best attributes on display—perseverance, connection, passion, and love.”

Wright brings all of this and more to his music and academic pursuits, as well as to his role as an Eastman School of Music (ESM) Student Alumni Ambassador (SAA). It’s a new program at the school that’s built off of a successful River Campus initiative—Raffi is one of its first SAAs.

SAAs are a select group of undergraduate students who serve as liaisons within the University alumni community, offer insights into current student culture, and share their personal Rochester experience.

“Raffi is a great representative for Eastman—he is a stellar student, a talented vocalist, and a caring, energetic person,” adds Laura Souza, assistant director of engagement for Eastman. “He and his fellow SAAs will make a big difference in the world after they graduate—they already are.”

Why did you want to be an SAA?
First, I wanted to be an SAA because I love people! Also, I wanted to be an ESM SAA because it is an honor and a privilege to represent this prestigious school. I know I’ll be able to serve the school well in this role and I’m looking forward to interacting and networking with the broad Eastman community.

What other leadership roles have you had at Eastman?
This year and last, I volunteered in a clean-up-the-parks program during Eastman’s Orientation Week. I’ve also had the privilege of performing in nursing homes. Additionally, I’m a student worker in Eastman’s Advancement office, which has provided me with some great opportunities, including behind-the-scenes roles during Meliora Weekend.

What do you want alumni to know about your Eastman experience?
I want them to know that we are continuing to uphold the longstanding tradition of excellence at this school—and that we embrace perseverance in our art and kindness in our community.

Why did you want to go to Eastman?
The day I auditioned at Eastman was the day I realized I wanted to be a part of the school. I was drawn to the dedication of Eastman’s students, faculty, and staff. And, I trusted that studying at Eastman would inspire me to be an artist for life. So far, I can say this is true!

How does the school nurture your passion for music?
Eastman has nurtured me tremendously. I am grateful to study with Dr. Robert Swensen. He has given my voice a great deal of attention, and this has completely changed my singing for the better. I’ve discovered new freedom in my voice. The more I learn here, the more I realize that I will never be done learning. It’s truly an “Ever Better” experience.

What’s a typical day like for you?
Depending on the day, I’ll go to music theory, music history, aural skills, German, or English classes. In between and after classes, I attend rehearsals or I have voice or piano lessons. From morning until night, my days are certainly full, but every minute is thrilling, even the challenging moments. Everyone at Eastman is always supportive—every step of the way

Raffi Wright ’22E
Major: Dual major in vocal performance and musical arts (secondary piano)

Campus involvement: Student Alumni Ambassador, Residential Fellow, Student Worker for Advancement and Alumni Relations, Head Usher for the Eastman Theatre, Office Assistant for Residential Life, InterVarsity Music Leader, American Choral Directors Association, Eastman Experience Social Media

Eastman Honors: Eastman Artist Scholarship

Career interests: Opera performance, musical theatre performance, teaching, writing, arts administration

For more on Eastman School of Music’s SAA program, contact Laura Souza.

— Kristine Thompson, January 2020

Photos by J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester