Deftly walking backward while giving tours, organizing the famed S-Zone in Beaver Stadium, teaching cheers to incoming first-year students and re-enacting events of Penn State’s past are just part of what the Lion Ambassadors do in support of Penn State. This student group, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, works year round to promote the history and traditions of Penn State.
The Lion Ambassadors were established in 1982 for a variety of reasons beyond admissions tours. A group of Penn State leaders at the time were looking for ways to involve students more effectively as the “public face” of the University. The idea was to have alumni feel more in touch with the University by actually being able to interact with informed students. These same administrators also sought to engage students with the Alumni Association and other University offices and thus groom them for post-graduation roles as volunteer leaders for Penn State.
To get the ball rolling, the University hired Larry Atwell Jr., a 1981 business logistics graduate, to establish Penn State’s student-alumni corps. He and a group of eight students worked throughout the fall, researching similar organizations at other universities, drafting a constitution and creating bylaws. They held a membership drive, accepted applications and held their first meeting at Stone Valley on Jan. 9, 1982.
Thirty years later, the Lion Ambassadors are one of the University’s great success stories. Every year about 140 select students at University Park serve Penn State with excellence and fulfill the Lion Ambassador mission of communicating Penn State’s history and personality; strengthening Penn State traditions; instilling Penn State pride in current and future students, alumni and friends; inculcating students with the idea that their involvement with the University should be a lifelong commitment; and aiding and promoting the Penn State Alumni Association.
Post graduation, Lion Ambassadors can join the Lion Ambassadors Alumni Interest Group (AIG), one of the Alumni Association’s more than 270 affiliated groups. The Lion Ambassadors AIG keeps former Lion Ambassadors connected and is running a weekend of events during Blue-White Weekend to celebrate the group’s 30th anniversary. There will be a Friday night get together downtown, a tailgate prior to the game, a dinner and Old Main Bell Tower tours. For more info, visit the reunion’s special website.
The Lion Ambassadors are, as they like to say, ordinary students with extraordinary pride. Here’s a glimpse of what the Lion Ambassadors do for Penn Staters:
Lion Ambassadors are most visible giving campus admissions tours on the University Park campus and at 19 campuses across the Commonwealth, walking backwards with great agility and speaking with élan as they lead groups of prospective students and their families down campus walkways. Last year, in fact, the Lion Ambassadors helped provide admissions tours to more than 46,000 people. Thus, Lion Ambassadors are part and parcel of Penn State’s extraordinary success on the student recruitment front—with Penn State receiving more than 120,000 admission applications last year, making Penn State the most popular university in America.
“Be a Part from the Start”
“Be a Part from the Start” is an event the first Sunday before the beginning of fall classes that welcomes approximately 6,000 first-year students to Penn State. The Penn State cheerleaders, Nittany Lion, Blue Band and the Dance Team help the Lion Ambassadors in teaching the new Penn Staters such blue-and-white traditions as the words to the Alma Mater, fight songs and athletic cheers.
During every home football game, Lion Ambassadors lead a cheering section of 800 students. Students in this area wear blue-and-white T-shirts that create an enormous blue “S” on a white background (or vice versa)—an image that can be seen clearly from any vantage point in the stadium and is highly visible on television during broadcasted games.
Guard the Lion Shrine
Lion Ambassadors are all over Penn State’s Homecoming. They ride aboard a blue-and-white fire truck or on a bale-covered flatbed for the Homecoming Parade. Then that evening, Lion Ambassadors Guard the Lion Shrine, an event that features guest speakers, food and drinks, music and more.
During the fall, Lion Ambassadors provide historical nighttime tours of the campus by the light of lanterns. At points along the way, Lion Ambassador actors don costumes and the personas of people important in Penn State’s history—from an early 20th century headmistress to George Atherton to Evan Pugh—and re-enact Penn State stories.
Happy Birthday, Penn State!
Founder's Day is Penn State's birthday party every Feb. 22, and the Lion Ambassadors are the ones who throw the party. This year, there was thousands of cupcakes, some handed out by new football Coach Bill O’Brien; games and balloons in the HUB-Robeson Center during a lunchtime event. At night, there was a free concert for students.
Old Main Open House
During the spring semester, the Lion Ambassadors invite students, faculty/staff and community members to tour Old Main and the Bell Tower. During the tour, visitors encounter special guides like past presidents who help describe the history of the magnificent building, while Lion Ambassadors explain what the building and offices are used for now.
A Taste of Penn State
Since 2006, the Lion Ambassadors have organized and hosted “A Taste of Penn State,” which brings together numerous diverse student organizations at a brunch and sessions to share ideas and network.
Held every spring at the Hintz Family Alumni Center, the University-wide Senior Sendoff celebrates graduating seniors. It’s an afternoon of free food, music, games and prizes that is both fun as well as informative as many Penn State alumni groups are on hand to meet the soon-to-be alumni.
Lion Ambassadors also have a deeply vested interest in community service on campus. Each year, they participate extensively in THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. For many years they coordinated the Melissa Heydenreich 5K Moxie-thon: A Race Against Leukemia. The annual 5K run/walk honored Melissa Heydenreich, a former Lion Ambassador and avid runner. Lion Ambassadors organized all aspects of the event, which raised funds for leukemia research at Penn State.
For more information and additional photos, visit the Lion Ambassadors’ website.