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High school students, seated, from left, Anirudh Bhardwa, Isabella Fleury and Eibhlinn White represented their schools in a pilot student ambassador program for the West of the River Chamber of Commerce during 2023-24. Behind them, from left, are Robin Wozniak, executive director of the chamber; Lisa Sheehan, Career Center coordinator at Agawam High School; and Colin Moge, school counselor at West Springfield High School.

Reminder Publishing photo by Mike Lydick

Three Agawam and West Springfield high school students recently had a unique opportunity to spread the word among their peers about potential jobs in the area while also working to educate the business community about what young adults need from them.

The students, Anirudh Bhardwa, Eibhlinn White and Isabella Fleury, represented their schools in a pilot student ambassador program for the West of the River Chamber of Commerce during the 2023-24 school year.

“Students are changing, ever changing, so we wanted to bring in student ambassadors to kind of bridge that gap and help us and educate us as to what students need,” said Robin Wozniak, the chamber’s executive director.

Bhardwa, a West Springfield High School junior, represented the Career Technical Education Center at the Lower Pioneer Valley Educational Collaborative. White was also a junior at WSHS and Fleury was a senior at Agawam High School. In May, they received certificates from the Chamber of Commerce at their respective school committee meetings to recognize their work as the chamber’s first student ambassadors.

“We wanted the committees to know what valuable assets they were to us,” said Wozniak.

Students met monthly with the chamber’s education committee, participated in the the chamber’s mayoral breakfasts and participated in the organization’s fall and spring job fairs for high school students.

Bhardwa said that during the monthly meetings, ambassadors focused on planning ways to help the chamber of commerce become more known by the community.

“We did things such as creating our own social media page for the organization, made posters and assisted in setup and preparation for local job fairs or community-related events,” he said.

“As ambassadors, we collected a list of agencies and local businesses that were hiring high school-aged students so the chamber could reach out to them to make sure that they had a presence at future job fairs,” said White.

Fleury said that as an ambassador, she got a better understanding of how the chamber helps local businesses.

“I got to see, behind the scenes, all the planning and all the hard work that goes into every single event they host,” she said. “It really was an eye-opener to see obstacles in planning overcome and be successful in the end because of all the effort they put into events and the pride they take in their jobs.”

Wozniak said the chamber not only wanted to be sure it was getting what it needed from the ambassador program, but also that students benefited.

“We wanted to sure they were gaining knowledge, as well as some valuable skills and lessons throughout this process, as well. They not only helped us in spreading the word about our job fairs, but they also worked with students in their schools to give them information about these job fairs and potential careers in our area,” Wozniak said.

Wozniak said an important skill that the students learned through the ambassador program was networking.

“When they went to these events, they didn’t just sit at a table on their phones. They took notes, they would meet with people at job fairs and they introduced themselves to all the vendors or companies that were there. I think that was invaluable to them.”

One event that was particularly valuable to the ambassadors was attending the chamber’s mayoral breakfasts, as “That’s where they could meet the business community to learn more about the businesses in our areas and what we’re all about. They had to make speeches and also had the chance to meet and talk with the mayors,” she added.

Fleury said that throughout her ambassadorship she valued making connections with new people through chamber meetings and group projects.

“I really enjoyed getting more involved in what’s going on in my community, as well as actually having an effect on what is going on in my school. I made a lot of new connections and learned a lot of useful information,” Fleury said.

When Bhardwa became an ambassador, he thought the ambassadors would be working just on reaching out to local businesses to help with student internships.

“But over time, WRCC proved to be focused towards helping the local community and not just businesses. It’s a very community-oriented organization.”

White said what she appreciated most about her experience in the program was that members of the chamber’s education committee “truly listened” to the students.

“At every meeting, they would ask us for our input and how we felt about what was happening in the coming week,” she said.

After the first job fair, White said the committee immediately asked how they thought it could be better for students in their communities at the next job fair.

“They took our input and implemented it into the next job fair. And when we had something that we felt was a concern within a school, like students being able to get jobs or being able to have formal business attire to wear for job interviews, they asked us how we wanted to fix that problem,” White said.

Wozniak said the first year of the ambassador program was “extremely successful” and equally beneficial to the students and the West of the River Chamber of Commerce.

“We learned a lot about the vision and the path that we’re hoping this ambassadorship program takes,” Wozniak said. “We’ve tweaked a few things along the way, but I think it needs to continue.”

She said adults in the business community don’t necessarily know what kids need from them.

“Hearing it directly from students will guide us in transitioning these students into either careers right out of high school or college,” she said.