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There are many ways for an Alumni Ambassador to get involved. They can attend ICO events, attend career fairs, become a shadowing site for prospective students, and more. Our newest effort is to connect incoming students with alumni ambassadors even before they arrive on campus. Below are three perspectives from three representatives who have been part of the program.
This is the first time we matched alumni with accepted students. And I think these initiatives bring our recruitment strategy to the next level.
Senior Director of Admissions
Building this new ambassador program has been a shift from previous years. Previously, applicants would have to do the work of tracking down and engaging with ICO alums themselves. Of course, we connected students to shadowing opportunities whenever possible, but this is the first time we matched alumni with accepted students. And I think these initiatives bring our recruitment strategy to the next level.
The applicant pool these days requires a concerted effort to provide as many touchpoints as possible. We’ve always known that alumni have been essential to recruiting high-quality students. Students who have interacted with alumni are much more likely to deposit, and they have a better understanding of what makes the ICO experience so unique.
Alumni provide an outside voice that still understands the experience of being a student at ICO. Alumni can share unique stories from their own experience at ICO. Ultimately, it’s the patient experience that will make you a great OD. No one can better clarify this to incoming students than current ODs.
We have included this program within a larger outreach initiative, and while your call is one of many, I think it can be the most important. You provide information on how the ICO curriculum prepared you to be an OD, but you also help students understand what paths they can take after their optometry degree. Not all applicants will pick up that phone call or respond to the messages you send, but I think that even that voice message you leave matters. To you it may just be a voicemail, but for an incoming student it’s another indication that we’re an institution that is thinking about their wellbeing.
We need as much support as possible to continue exposing students to ICO, especially different voices and different perspectives. It would be great to have more people from underrepresented backgrounds join as well.
We thank our alums for taking the time to share their experiences. They really do have a profound impact.
Savannah Skidmore '26
ICO First-year Student
It was easy for me to tell that ICO worked hard to build a strong community. Honestly, that was one of the biggest things that convinced me to come to ICO. I distinctly remember asking questions from different admissions schools, and the answers from ICO were almost immediate, while others took longer to reply. It made a big impact.
Adding an alumni contact to the already great communication was icing on the cake. ICO purports to do a good job of connecting ICO to alumni. I was convinced that this was the case when I was connected to my alumni ambassador mentor. I remember saying to my parents, "Wow. They really care and the alumni care as well." It helped provide clarity for which optometry school was the best fit for me.
It was wonderful to be paired up with someone who had similar interests to my own.
A lot of the onus of networking falls on the individual. Building a network from day one made me feel even more secure in my decision. It was wonderful to be paired up with someone who had similar interests to my own. I’m definitely interested in private practice and pursuing a residency. I was very happy to hear about my alumni connect’s private practice experience and to learn about his residency. I haven’t asked him a ton of questions yet, but I know that down the line I will get in touch. He'll be a good person to have in my corner.
It’s nice to see the sense of community they instill during the admissions process is an actual reality once you arrive at ICO.
When we contact incoming students, we show that we are truly invested in their future and success.
Steven C. Quan, OD, ’16, FAAO
Clinical Associate of Ophthalmology and Visual Science
University of Chicago Medicine & Biological Sciences
When I think about this program, I think back to when I chose ICO. I’m from California, but decided to leave home because I wanted to explore something different. For me, Chicago had it all: a large city, with a strong sense of community that made it easy to feel like you belong.
I love mentorship and appreciate how my mentors helped guide me to where I am today. Now, I am lucky to be a mentor for others every day. It gives me a meaningful way to give back to the ICO community and to optometry as a profession. This program is special because it has a personal touch. Optometrists work in so many types of specialties, and this gives incoming students an opportunity to better understand their options. Through this program, I can share my story and how I found my way. And if there is anything that I can do to inspire those entering the profession, I’m happy to. These students are at the very beginning of their journey. The world is their oyster. Anything I can do to help them achieve their goals is well worth my time.
We’ve also been through ICO's program. Through this, there's a shared sense of camaraderie. In other words, I get it. I get the struggle. I've also experienced it. Alumni can speak to how ICO got them to where they are. They can give the program color and depth because they’re on the other side of this intense program.
We're living proof of how strong the alumni network is. When we contact incoming students, we show that we are truly invested in their future and success.
In the end I stayed in Chicago. I really came to love it. I’m excited to tell students about this wonderful city too.