Florida native ‘sees himself’ when working with prospective students

Nov. 10, 2020

By David Miller

a male university student poses for a photo in front of a brick building
Devon Longstreet aspires to work with male youths in a clinical or school setting.

Being an ambassador requires keen knowledge of a brand, enthusiasm, and an anecdote to connect with target audiences.

In many instances, the anecdote is the strongest part of a pitch. Higher education is one of those settings, and student ambassadors are a vital cog in promoting the student experience, both at a broad level, such as mass orientations, or at a granular level for specific programs in colleges and schools.

Devon Longstreet has served as an ambassador at both levels. A former nursing major, Longstreet leveraged an orientation contact to meet with Mary Sella, coordinator of student services for the University of Alabama School of Social Work, and eventually change his major to social work.

Longstreet is currently in his second year as a BSW ambassador, a role that carries the additional weight of advocating for the entire field of social work, he said.

“When working an orientation event, the parents see that social work tag and scoff at it,” he said. “There’s a bad rap, for several reasons, like media influence, or perhaps a bad experience with DHR; so being an ambassador is not just showing UA’s brand, but being an advocate for the field and giving them the information on how broad the spectrum of social work really is.”

Through on-campus affiliations and career aspirations, Longstreet is learning at both ends of that spectrum. He’s motivated to work with children in a clinical or therapeutic setting, or possibly in schools. Longstreet also works to empower young men to develop “healthy traits” and is currently a group facilitator in a UA Women’s and Gender Resource Center leadership program for undergraduate males at UA, and for fourth and fifth-grade students in the Tuscaloosa area.

“We help undergraduate men with talking about toxic masculinity and providing mentorship to our boys in the Tuscaloosa community,” Longstreet said. “Our goal is to create a society of males who can display more healthy masculine traits.

“This experience has been influential on what I want to, such as working for a non-profit with this same focus, or working in a school system, where increased male stability in just a few key faculty or administrators can help male students grow.”

Matriculating to the University of Alabama “changed” Longstreet’s perception of equity and diversity. He’d previously lived across very diverse areas of Florida, but living in Alabama and seeing cases of “poverty and injustice at the social level” that he didn’t witness as a child has motivated him.

Further analyzing his own circumstances and recognizing where his privilege lay, Longstreet says he’s become a better active listener and a better advocate.

“I was raised by a single parent for first five years of my life,” Longstreet said, “and seeing that struggle within my family, especially with my mom, definitely inspired me to understand that I’m privileged in some ways, but not in a lot of ways.

“It’s hard – you don’t understand parenting when you’re five, but looking back, I know my mom worked two jobs and took on both roles of mother and father. That’s the deepest of roots, as far as my motivation and the empathy I have for people.”

Despite the COVID-19 limiting orientation events and campus tours that BSW ambassadors usually lead, Longstreet is just as keen to share his story of growth an inspiration with the next cohort of UA BSW students. This unwavering motivation is rooted in empathy and the shared experience of entering college, he says.

“It’s like looking in the past,” Longstreet said. “You see these young adults trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives. Everyone has different motives, but most of the time, people really do, at that age, want to help people.

“So, it’s interesting looking back and see yourself in their shoes; it gives ambassadors that drive to motivate prospective students to do what they really want to do, even if it isn’t social work. We should aim to be mentors that are always going to be here, especially if they want to change their major.”