Presidential Ambassadors

Franco Jin

Lead Ambassador

Franco was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and has lived in ChangChun, China and Buenos Aires, Argentina for six years each. He has also lived in Los Angeles for two years and attended high school in Sandy, Utah. He is currently a Junior at the University of Utah studying Biology. Franco graduated from Hillcrest High School in Midvale, Utah.

During the summer of 2015, Franco attended two hospital internships, one in Mongolia and one in China. During these internships, he accompanied doctors and nurses every day and saw patients gradually recover and leave the hospital. While Franco did not participate in any hands-on medical interactions, the hospital’s positive and earnest environment strengthened his resolve to reach towards medical school. Abroad, Franco also has strong ties to the organization FUNTEPOD in the Dominican Republic. FUNTEPOD is an NPO that provides traditional dancing lessons for impoverished children. Franco first came across the organization by chance while visiting his father in Santo Domingo. He was walking by the organization’s building and heard loud drumming coming from the building. This was one of his luckiest moments. That summer, he helped FUNTEPOD establish business relations with shops around Santo Domingo’s Chinatown. These relationships earn FUNTEPOD around 200USD every year, which may not seem like much to us, but is more than the average monthly wage of a middle income worker in Santo Domingo. He has maintained this relationship by visiting them once again during the Muestra de Ensayos, an end of year celebration for the organization, in 2016 and staying in contact with some of the shops around Santo Domingo who donate to FUNTEPOD. This experience, in addition to his experiences shadowing physicians and nurses, strengthened his enthusiasm and commitment towards service, as he owes many of his personal values to them.

Franco is currently involved with ASUU, participates in cancer research at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, volunteers as a Spanish interpreter at the University Hospital and the Huntsman Cancer Hospital’s terminal inpatient unit, and is active in the Blue Coat Program at Primary Children’s Hospital. When there is free time, Franco likes to relax by cleaning his room, drinking grape juice, and enjoying the sunshine from the indoors, where the sun’s harmful UV rays cannot reach him.

Stepping into his third year, he hopes to serve as a connection for younger students to opportunities around campus. Franco’s current academic plan involves taking the MCAT in May of 2018, graduating with a biology degree by Spring of 2020, and hopefully getting accepted into Medical School. This is especially important as he wants to expand his involvements abroad, but acknowledges the difference between skilled aid and an unskilled presence. His most ambitious long term goal is to serve a mission with Doctors without Borders in an area of the world that needs the skills he develops throughout his higher education experiences.


SAMIRA GHOLAMI

Lead Ambassador

Samira Gholami is a third-year pre-medical student at the University of Utah pursuing an Honors degree in Health, Society, and Policy with minors in Nutrition and Persian. Samira was raised in Ogden, Utah in an Iranian family and, in 2015, graduated from Bonneville High School as Student Body Vice President. It was in this position that her interests in student leadership and community engagement flourished and led to her leading projects such as directing the fundraising efforts for the Shop with a Hero Charity Foundation to give upwards of $7,000 to families during the holiday season in Weber County that fall below the poverty line, and raising awareness on the prescription pain medication abuse deaths in her hometown—Ogden city having the 3rd highest rates of overdose in the state of Utah—to properly dispose of people’s harmful expired medications to the Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force.

Her interest in leadership and activism continued upon her move to Salt Lake City to study at the U. In her first year, Samira co-lead a dialogue on Animal Rights in the Food Industry at her residence in the Bennion Service House where students, professors, and community members could learn about the effects of industrial farming on the environment and the quality of life for farm animals. Through the Bennion Center, Samira discovered the Camp Kostopulos Dream Foundation and served as a volunteer in the Equestrian program which is a recreational therapy camp designed for people with mental disabilities.

In 2017, Samira had the privilege to work in conjunction with the Presidential Ambassador cohort, Dr. Sandi Pershing, and the University's food pantry to host an event highlighting the issues of food insecurity that many college students are facing today. In the coming months, she will aid Professor Shannon Jones in conducting a research study to gather data on the extent to which students are affected by hunger to present at a statewide conference.

Samira currently serves as an undergraduate researcher within the Department of Nutrition and Integrative Physiology in Dr. Velayutham’s lab, the Project Coordinator for the PathMaker research program at Huntsman Cancer Institute, a volunteer with the International Rescue Committee, a student leader for the Bennion Center’s Student Board and Service House Living Learning Community, and a co-lead for the Presidential Ambassador cohort. Samira’s academic pursuits hope to lead her into medical school subsequently after her undergraduate degree in 2020 to pursue a career serving as a humanitarian aid physician focusing on undernourished populations to continue her lifelong passions of leadership and activism.


CHANDLER DEAN

Chandler Dean is currently completing his third year here at the University of Utah. He is majoring in Honors Business Management with minors in Philosophy and Leadership Studies. He is also preparing to apply to law school. He is incredibly excited to serve as a Presidential Ambassador for the 2017-2018 academic year.

Chandler was born in El Paso, Texas. Since that time he has lived in Gilbert, Arizona and Aledo, Texas. He is the oldest of three children. Chandler’s sister is a freshman at Utah State and his brother is a freshman in high school. Chandler loves sports and played any and all throughout his childhood. In high school he played basketball, was a member of FBLA, and more. He applied to the University of Utah because he had spent most of his summers up here with family, and his uncle works in the Office of the General Council here at the university. After touring the campus, he knew he wanted to attend. It has been the best decision he has ever made.

Chandler has tried to stay as involved as possible on campus since he enrolled. He was fortunate enough to become a University Ambassador during his freshman year and has served in many capacities in this program. The past two years he has been the Selections and Training Chair and this next year he will be the President of Marketing and Recruitment. He has also worked for the Student Media office as a host of their sports talk show and a sports opinion writer. He was a representative in ASUU’s Assembly for the College of Business this past year. This next year he will be the College of Business’s Senate representative as well as the Student Senate Chair. This summer he is interning with the Eisenhower Memorial Commission in Washington D.C. through the Hinckley Institute of Politics. He is also preparing to begin his Honors College thesis. Three other students and him are researching virtual reality and its effect on empathy.

In his spare time, Chandler loves to read (especially books on history), play piano, guitar, and a few other instruments, and watch and play sports. He looks forward to his final year as an undergrad and knows the Presidential Ambassadors will help make it his best year yet!


JAMES KAULI

James Kauli was born in Salt Lake City Utah by a single mother with five, very fast growing boys. In high school, he was very involved with sports and work. During his senior year, James juggled three jobs and led the basketball team for the third year while maintaining a 3.6 GPA with AP and IB courses. James’ efforts in high school led him to the Larry H. Miller Enrichment Scholarship. James was also fortunate to get accepted into the University of Utah’s Honors College. He is very grateful for this opportunity, as being able to achieve this is not very common in many students of similar lower socioeconomic conditions. This year, being a Presidential Ambassador, James hopes to bring more kids from similar socioeconomic backgrounds into the college setting.

Academically, James is still searching for his field of study. He has bounced around from major to major trying to get a little taste of what his options are before his picks and settles. His first factors is picking something that can make him a lot of money and change his family's financial status for the first time ever, which is a lot of pressure for him. If there was one job James could do without having money be an influence at all, he would become a high school teacher and do the best he could to give kids who grew up like him hope and faith. That is what he believes many kids from his background are missing. He has no idea where life will take him, however, he does know that he will make a difference in someone’s life; the beginning of it starts here at the University of Utah as a Presidential ambassador.


MELANIE STOKES

Melanie Stokes is a third year pre-dental student from Layton, Utah. Melanie is pursuing a degree in Biology and hopes to attend dental school upon graduation in 2019. She is thrilled for the opportunity to participate in the Presidential Ambassadorship for the 2017-2018 academic year.

Melanie lives by the mantra of "To whom much is given, much is expected”. Thus, she stays passionately involved in community service. Her search for diverse service experiences has led her to involvements such as the equestrian program at Camp Kostopoulos, coordinating charity projects for Salt Lake’s House of Hope during the Christmas season, and working as a volunteer firefighter in Garden City. Perhaps her most valuable service experience has been her involvement in the Kenya Keys program, a program that sponsors prospective students in Kenya to receive an education.This experience has been integral in shaping Melanie’s character. Through this program,  Melanie is able to sponsor Julius, the oldest of 11 children in his family, to receive an education and obtain some food security. Melanie was touched by Julius’ ability to endure scholastically regardless of his circumstances. Julius decided to prioritize his education, thus aiming for a more sustainable and comfortable lifestyle for him and his family. It is his determination that has framed much of Melanie's personal character. Melanie has faced financial struggles growing up, and looks up to Julius as an inspiration to persevere through downfalls to move forward in her own career.  She hopes to sponsor other students in the future to pursue an education, as education was the ticket out of her own adverse circumstances.

Despite her heavy extracurricular involvements, Melanie continues to hold her academics as a top priority. She has maintained a 4.0 G.P.A. for the past six semesters at the University of Utah in addition to a 3.9 GPA from high school. She completes monthly service projects within the Salt Lake community as a Bennion Center student leader by sewing reusable sanitary products for schoolgirls in the Kenya Keys program, and leads volunteers in environmental restoration of Glendale Park for Earth day.

Currently, Melanie works as a Certified Nursing Assistant at the Veterans Nursing Home, where she cares for veterans with a wide range of disabilities. Furthermore, she actively serves as a Teaching Assistant for the special needs students in religious institute courses. In the future, Melanie hopes to use her career in dentistry as both a way to fund students like Julius to achieve an education, as well as further cultivate her love for civic engagement in her role as a dentist. She hopes to one day serve populations affected by cleft palate birth defects through the humanitarian organization Operation Smile.


Mitchel Kenney

Mitchel Kenney is a second year student at the University of Utah studying Accounting with an Italian minor. After high school, he completed a two year voluntary mission for his church in Milan, Italy. As an Eccles Ambassador in the Business Scholars Program, he has participated in local, national, and international experiences. He also represented the first year class in the First Year Council in ASUU, attending seminars, holding events, and participating in meaningful community service. Both his father and grandfather graduated from the U, impacting his decision to attend the university.


NICHOLAS OLSEN

Nick is delighted to participate in the Presidential Ambassador program. He will be serving as an ambassador during his sophomore year at the University of Utah. He is currently studying Chemistry, and commends the University of Utah’s admirable dedication to research.

Nick was born in Salt Lake City, and raised in Sugarhouse. He has fond memories of romping around his neighborhood and exploring the city.  Nick has lovingly endured two younger siblings, and gratefully learned from his parents.  He enjoys returning home from his life on campus to pester his family and see his dogs.

While growing up, Nick acquired a love for science and science education. Countless trips to the museum and zoo inspired him to try and achieve in school. Nick graduated from East High School in 2016, with many academic honors. While in high school he captained the speech and debate team, swam competitively, and was the publicity secretary for the drama department. During his summers, he has enjoyed working at Liberty Park, coaching the Liberty Lighting Swim Team, and volunteering at the Natural History Museum of Utah.

When Nick is not studying, he enjoys travel, the outdoors, and spending time with his family. He has had the great privilege of visiting many places in the United States as well as several Central American countries; he hopes that he can continue to travel throughout his life. Nick will sneak away and go backpacking whenever he can. Bryce Canyon and Uinta mountains are some of his favorite places in Utah.  He’s quite a romantic (in the literary sense), and gets distracted by the breathtaking views his surroundings afford him. The relationship Nick has built with his environment motivate him to in his position as an Urban Ecology and Sustainability Scholar. Through this group and the Presidential Ambassadors, Nick hopes to make a positive impact on the campus that has given him so much. He firmly believes that Universities are the hearth that the nurture innovative that light the rest of world.

The Presidential Ambassador program has given Nick the opportunity to share his love for his University and to make it a better place. He gratefully accepts the responsibilities of the position and is excited to play a more active role in his University. After finishing his degree at the University of Utah, Nick plans on applying to a graduate program. He hopes to get a career in academia, a research lab, or a world-renowned museum. However, Nick doesn’t plan on getting lost in research. He plans on remaining a politically active citizen throughout his life.


NICOLE PUERTAS

In early 1997, Nicole’s parents immigrated to Salt Lake City from Lima, Peru. At the time, Peru was a dangerous place to be. There were many bombings in the city due to the internal conflict between the government and terrorist organizations. With their child’s future in mind, they decided to immigrate to Utah. She was born in Salt Lake City in October of 1997. At the age of two, her parents and she moved to Tooele, Utah and lived there for the next 4 years. When Nicole was six-years-old, her family moved to West Jordan and she started 1st grade in Copper Canyon Elementary. A year and a half later, her parents decided to relocate to South Jordan, Utah where she would remain for the next 10 years of her life.

Nicole was raised in a Spanish-speaking household with parents that retained their Peruvian culture. She was taught to be proud of her heritage and her ancestors, but to love and appreciate America for all the opportunities it offered her and her family. With that in mind, her parents wanted her to seize every opportunity given to her and placed her in a charter school that was more academically challenging. Nicole attended North Star Academy from 5th to 9th grade and learned many great things in that school. Because of the preparation this charter school gave her, she was able to achieve success in high school. Nicole attended Bingham High School for all the years and graduated from there as well. During her first year of high school, she decided to try something new and joined the Girls Lacrosse team. She enjoyed the sport so much that she continued playing until she graduated. Nicole joined the Yearbook Staff her senior year of high school. She was assigned to be the student life photographer and took her camera everywhere she went. It was through this that she developed new passions.

One of her favorite hobbies is photography. She enjoys taking pictures of people and nature. Her passion for photography eventually led her to pursue videography. Filming events on her camera and editing them into videos on her computer eventually became her favorite thing to do. Another large passion and hobby of Nicole’s is travel. She tries to save up any money she makes from videography to go somewhere new. She is passionate about learning about new cultures and their traditions.

Nicole maintained these passions and interests throughout high school and even into college. She graduated high school with honors in social studies, visual arts and college and career readiness. She decided to attend the University of Utah because of the Social Work program here and because it was in Salt Lake City. Now, She is extremely glad she chose this school because of all the opportunities she has had here. Nicole also loves living in the city and being able to experience new things.


SHEVA MOZAFARI

Sheva Mozafari (pronouns are she/her/hers) is an Iranian-American from Boise, Idaho currently in her second year at the U! Throughout high school she was a student council member and also the Senior Class President. She loves to serve in her communities, thus she was in National Honor Society where she volunteered about seventy-five hours a year for four years to anyone who needed it, she loves to be involved, so along with that she was in a city-wide leadership program called the Leadership Boise Academy, she was one of fifty Juniors in all of Boise to be chosen. She was the president representative of Drug Free Idaho for her high school in which she spoke in front of almost 1500 elementary aged students at the Boise Capitol Building about the importance of staying drug free. She loves sports, she played soccer for 14 years along with basketball and running track. She ended her competitive soccer career with back to back state championships her junior and senior year.

Currently, she is a student in the Honors College at the U and is planning on majoring in honors biology with a chemistry minor. Sheva has been involved around campus since the day she arrived to campus. For her first year at the U Sheva was a member on HSAC (Honors Student Advisory Committee) which is basically the student government of the Honors College. She was also in the Next Generation Scholars group which is a cohort that advocates for higher education by tackling issues in our area. Last year they teamed up with the Granite School District and went to their schools to help the teachers out with their classes and more importantly they were trying to be an example of what an average college student looks like to those kids. She believes her participation in Next Generation last year helped her realized her desire to become a Presidential Ambassador this year as both groups promote higher education. Sheva is also a Residential Advisor for Housing and Residential Education mothering a floor of about seventy first year students at the U. She absolutely loves this job, she has the privilege of showing her residents the beauty of our university and helps them get connected to new opportunities on campus every day!

She is resolutely passionate about education, her parents instilled the importance of it in her at a very young age. Her father immigrated across the globe to come to the United States in order to get an education and since then has expressed the importance of receiving a higher education. Women in Iran aren’t encouraged to go to school, so Sheva values the opportunity of being at the University of Utah tremendously and wants to be in school for a long time. Her plan is to take the MCAT next year and apply to medical schools shortly after that. She will be graduating from U of U in the spring of 2020. Her ultimate goal is to work as an MD for some time before eventually trying to teach within a medical school.


TAYSHA TIATIA

Taysha Tiatia is currently a first-year, first-generation student at the University of Utah. Although originally a Utah native, Taysha moved to California with her mom in 2011. However, Taysha decided to return to Utah and follow in her older sister’s footsteps by attending the U. She is currently pursuing a major in Computer Science (CS). Starting off her fall semester as undeclared, Taysha came into college unsure of what she wanted to do. It wasn’t until late fall of her first semester where she had an experience that inspired her to pursue CS. While participating in an event hosted by her dorms, the Lassonde Studios, she discovered an interesting industry that she wanted to learn more about. The event was a 24 hour Hack-a-thon competition. Taysha and some fellow residents decided to team up to participate in the event. She became incredibly inspired by the coders, programming, technology, and environment itself. This has motivated her to learn how to code. In the future, she aspires to work as a web developer for one of her favorite online magazine companies.

During the course of her first year, Taysha has explored many opportunities the university has to offer. Her fall semester, she joined Her Campus, Students for Choice, and First Year Council. These clubs and programs truly allowed her to get connected and involved on-campus, as well as discover even more resources the university provided. Continuing her spring semester, Taysha continued her involvement in Her Campus and First Year Council while also seeking out other leadership opportunities. She soon gained the position as a 2017 Orientation Leader, Lassonde Studios Resident Advisor for the 2017-2018 academic year, and a current Presidential Ambassador! Taysha is very grateful for all of these amazing opportunities, and hopes to continue her journey of progressing and improving with the university.


TYLER ROBINSON

Tyler was born here in Salt Lake and grew up attending University of Utah basketball and football games with his grandpa, which is where he gained his love for this school. He attended Highland High school where he graduated with an Honors Diploma in 2012. Upon graduation, he came to the University of Utah to start his college career. That fall he pledged the Sigma Chi Fraternity, where he currently is still an active member and serving on the executive board.

After his freshman year, he left on an LDS mission to London, England where he served for two years. This was a life changing experience for him as he came into his own as a person and became fully comfortable with who he is. This is where he learned what course of study he wanted to purse, where he wanted to go in his career, and what he wanted from his life. He owes everything he is and everything he will become to those two years living in England.

He returned in the Fall of 2015 with a vigor for success. The following spring he was accepted into the Business Scholars program, and later became an intern for the Dean of the Business School, Taylor Randall. Through this program, he gained a belief in himself that he can compete with anyone for any program. This was a major turning point in his academic and extracurricular college career. With this, he immersed himself within the clubs and programs offered to students; he even started one of his own.

Most recently he has been involved with establishing an honor society for Greek row students, where he has been serving as President. His aim for this society is to reward Greek row students for academic excellence and service in the community through recognition on their official university transcripts. This is an endeavor he is still in the process of seeing through and one that he hopes can be on campus long after his time here is up. This experience has been extremely rewarding and has molded him as a leader.

He is a Finance and Economics double major hoping to get a job in finance upon graduation. This past semester he has been working as an intern at a venture capitalist firm downtown called EPIC Ventures. This has been a phenomenal experience for him to see the operations and mindset of a prestigious local firm. He has gained immense experience through this internship that he will look to build on as he grows in his own professional career.

He is extremely grateful for this opportunity to serve as an ambassador to President Pershing and the President’s office. He looks forward to the upcoming year and working alongside such talented, capable individuals.


WHITNEY BITNER

Whitney Bitner was born in Holladay, Utah and is the youngest of six children, all of which have attended the University of Utah.  She’s worn Utes apparel for as long as she can remember and it was never a question of which college she wanted to attend, the U was always the answer.  Her father graduated from the U as an Industrial Engineer, but after years of working he pursued a different career path.  There is a history of sheep ranching in her family, and so Whitney’s father decided to take over the family sheep business when she was young.  This became a family affair and most summers she spent working with her family at their ranch in Park City, riding horses, four wheelers and helping take care of the sheep.  There is a lot of devotion needed to take care of 5,000 sheep, and although she might seem like a city girl, she has a bit of a secret life being a rancher’s daughter.

Throughout her time in grade school she found a passion for mathematics and the insights into the world that it could give her.  She was in a Calculus class her senior year of high school that she especially enjoyed, and she believes that class allowed her to find her passion.  Despite this newly found passion, she chose a different path for her first years in college.  She participated in the Business Scholars program and was planning on majoring in Operations Management in the Eccles School of Business.  She loved being part of such a great organization and the experiences it gave her while traveling internationally in Europe and Asia, but this path never felt quite right.  She never felt she was challenging herself in the things that she excelled at, or that her abilities were fully being put to the test.

Whitney was registering for her fall semester of her junior year and realized she wasn’t excited for any of her classes and this is when she really contemplated making the switch to mathematics.  She relied on the experience she had in her high school Calculus class, and knew that the quantitative, critical thinking, problem solving aspect was what she loved.  So, she made the switch to the Mathematics-Statistics Emphasis major and there hasn’t been a moment that she’s regretted it since.  She feels like she’s finally found her niche at the university and has hit the ground running since she joined.  She plans on pursuing a career in data analytics and getting a Master’s Degree in Information Systems.

Besides education she is involved with the Student Alumni Board, is a TA for a Microeconomics course in the Business School, and works at the front desk at the Park Building.  She enjoys rock climbing, yoga, skiing, wakeboarding, traveling, and basically anything else you can do outdoors or with friends and family.  Oh, and if you want to see her the happiest, just bring her a puppy.  Go Utes!


 The Presidential Ambassadorship in Higher Education program is looking for a small, diverse group of individuals who will represent the University of Utah and President Pershing well.  Ambassadors will work on campus projects that are aligned with the goals the President has outlined for the University.The ambassadorship is a paid position requiring:
  • An interest in higher education and the University of Utah
  • A commitment to University-related, service-oriented work
  • Experience working as a member of a group to meet specified goals
  • At least sophomore standing by the end of Spring Semester 2017
  • Completion of at least one academic year at the University of Utah
  • Minimum 3.25 cumulative GPA
  • Academic-year-long commitment: August 2017 to May 2018
  • Time commitment of a maximum of 10 hours per week
  • Submit two letters of recommendation with your application

Presidential Ambassadors receive a $500 Experiential Learning Award each semester for the full academic year (August 2017 - May 2018)