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SafeU Ambassador program aims to hire students to work on campus projects


On the "U Rising" podcast, President Ruth V. Watkins engages in insightful conversations with students, staff, faculty, alumni and community stakeholders who are at the center of the state's flagship research university. President Watkins also connects with other leaders to give listeners a fresh take on top issues and innovations in higher education in Utah and across the country. You can subscribe to U Rising via iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and other podcast streaming services.


The Chief Safety Office at the University of Utah is a launching a new initiative — one designed by students for students — called the SafeU Ambassador program. Students can apply now to join the first cohort of ambassadors, who will begin work next fall on campus safety projects. This is a great program for students who care about campus safety and want to make a difference. In this episode of U Rising, you’ll hear from Annalisa Purser, director of administration in the Office of the Chief Safety Officer. You'll also hear from Sabah Sial and Alvin Tsang, presidential interns who've spent the past year working in the office and who, among other projects, designed the SafeU Ambassador program. Recorded on Tuesday, March 9, 2021.Thanks to Brooke Adams, Emily Black and Dave White for technical assistance. Original music by Taylor Hartley. Read the full transcript.


President Ruth Watkins: Welcome to the U Rising podcast. I'm Ruth Watkins, president of the University of Utah, and on this podcast, you get the chance to meet new people who are making fabulous things happen at the U and also learn about some great programs. So, today I get the opportunity to do both — tell you about some wonderful people and the new program that they have created with the Office of the Chief Safety Officer. This new initiative is really about students, for students and by students. It's about improving campus safety and the initiative has been shaped by our own students. So, my guests today are Annalisa Purser and two students — Sabah Sial and Alvin Tsang. Annalisa is the director of administration in the Office of the Chief Safety Officer. Welcome, Annalisa!

Annalisa Purser: Hi. Thank you for having me.

President Watkins: Thank you. Sabah and Alvin are presidential interns. They are working in the Office of the Chief Safety Officer this year. They have played a major role in shaping this initiative. Sabah is completing an honors finance degree and she's also the chief justice of the Supreme Court of ASUU. Sabah, it's great to have you with us today.

Sabah Sial: Thank you for having me.

President Watkins: Alvin is completing an honors degree in quantitative analysis of markets and organizations and has interned at the Sorenson Impact Center, among other things. Alvin, warmest welcome to you.

Alvin Tsang: Hi, President Watkins, happy to be here.

President Watkins: Thanks. So, Annalisa, I know that a big part of what's happened over the past year is really the development of our new Chief Safety Office. Tell listeners about the mission of this office and a little bit of the description about what you do in this office.

Annalisa Purser: Yes, thank you. Well, a lot has changed with university safety over the last year. With the creation of the Chief Safety Officer position, a whole new infrastructure was developed. Previously the public safety divisions of the University of Utah reported up through the chief of police and now those units have been elevated and separated to report directly to the Chief Safety Officer. This includes, of course, the university police, but also emergency management, campus security and U health security in our university hospital, and a new community services division was created last year. This area works with university police and campus partners to support victims of any crime.

Additionally, a centralized administrative office was created to support the entire department and the efforts and initiatives of the Chief Safety Officer. This area oversees strategic initiatives, marketing and communication, relationships with external public safety agencies, public safety committees, community engagement and security and law enforcement technology. That's a really important area. That's things like body-worn cameras, law enforcement databases, 911 technologies, and things like that.

As part of our restructure, we spent a lot of time reimagining the department's vision and mission and developing a strategic plan. And our new vision — uniting for a safe and empowered campus community — really focuses on partnering with the campus and making sure that we're creating an environment where everyone feels equipped to succeed and feels welcomed and respected and safe on our campus.

President Watkins: Thanks very much, Annalisa. And I think I would just take a minute as a leader at a university to say the development of a Chief Safety Office and a chief safety officer, I personally think, is one of the most important things that's happened at the University of Utah in the past few years. As an academic and a leader, there are just a whole lot of things about public safety that I don't know and many other academics don't know. And having a Chief Safety Office that brings together those functions and provides that leadership, can sit on the President's Cabinet and be part of those dialogues has been such an advance for the University of Utah. We're a leader nationally in having such an office and, boy, would I recommend it to many of my peers, that they think about this for their institutions.

I want to shift just a little bit and talk about our presidential interns. In a typical year you would see presidential interns at events, at the president's house, at football games, at donor events, at arts events. This year, in the year of not having big public events, we've had two fabulous interns working in the Chief Safety Office. So, Sabah and Alvin, I would love for you to tell listeners a little bit about what you've been doing in this office, what projects you've been involved in and maybe hold off on talking about the SafeU Ambassadors for a minute and tell us about other things that you've been doing. And I think Sabah is going to go first.

Sabah Sial: Definitely. So, I think the experience has been really unique. It's really been two way and two-fold in that I've been able to absorb the information from the program itself. As Annalisa mentioned there are lots of aspects to university safety. And so, one of the things that Alvin and I got to do early on is take a tour of the University Hospital of U Health and kind of see how university safety operates in different parts of campus. And the second part is being able to contribute a student voice for it. And so, in addition to the SafeU Ambassadors I've been working on integrating safety within an executive board of ASUU, so that's our student government, as well as kind of rebranding I guess, or going through the SafeU website again, and so ensuring that we're streamlining the website itself and staying true to the original intent of the website, but also making sure that we're keeping up with shifting campus and safety needs.

President Watkins: Very helpful. And thank you for that work on the website. It's one of the hardest things to do, to keep a website current. Your voice on that's really helpful, Sabah. Alvin, how about you?

Alvin Tsang: I'd definitely like to echo the sentiment that Sabah has mentioned. Just being students in this realm is surreal. Students typically don't have this experience and being able to kind of witness these things firsthand is really amazing and be a part of it has been very invigorating. In regard to some of the projects I've been involved in, I've helped with the accreditation process. And what that kind of means is I've been helping in the development of policies and making sure that they're compliant to standards, both federal and IACLEA standards, as well as co-chair of the Public Safety Advisory Committee, where we have a committee full of campus leaders and student representatives around campus to discuss safety issues. And so, these have been great experiences that I've had through the Chief Safety Office.

President Watkins: Thank you, Alvin, for such thoughtful work. Those are new initiatives and really important ones. So, let's pick up on that thread. The SafeU Ambassadors, a great big new initiative. Annalisa, give us a little bit of the story. What are we trying to do here and why does it matter?

Annalisa Purser: Thank you. I'm really excited about the SafeU Ambassador program. One of the most important things for university safety is focusing on rebuilding trust with the campus community. And like Alvin mentioned, we've created a couple of public safety committees, the Public Safety Advisory Committee and the Independent Review Committee, which Sabah is also a part of. And both of those committees incorporate students as well as faculty and staff voices and perspectives. But another way that we wanted to ensure that students are a part of safety efforts and initiatives into the future is creating a SafeU Student Ambassador program. This would be a paid, year-long internship where students can work with the office and be involved with programming, special projects, kind of a variety of different things shaped by their interests and also with the department needs.

And we were especially fortunate to have students be able to help us create that program. And so, Alvin and Sabah helped us identify what that was going to look like, put together a program proposal in the fall, and we're now moving into the recruitment stage. And so ultimately, the long-term goal is to make sure that we have a built-in process and way to have students being part of university safety's efforts.

And I also want to mention that it's really important, not only to have student voices involved in the department through the program, but also there are students on campus who may feel more comfortable sharing their feedback and thoughts with other students rather than with our full-time staff in the department. And so, having a program like this also creates a way for other students to talk with their peers and then they can bring that feedback back to the department.

President Watkins: Very good. Tell us a little bit more detail about the SafeU Ambassadors. How many? And I believe I just heard you say this will be a paid position.

Annalisa Purser: Yes. This will be a paid position and we're paying $11 an hour and anticipating about 10 hours a week. So, it should fit into students' schedules pretty well. There will be multiple students, so we're looking at creating a cohort-style program, similar to the presidential interns and other cohort programs on campus, where the students will have that opportunity to meet with each other regularly and build that relationship and problem solve together as they develop a project or a program that has a safety focus that they want to work on together throughout the year. And so, it's really important that we have that group of students who is excited to work together to shape the future of public safety.

President Watkins: Well, I think SafeU Ambassadors, by students, for students. Alvin, tell us a little bit about the homework you did to participate in really shaping this program and giving us ideas about how to make it work.

Alvin Tsang: Yeah. So early on I was able to help Sabah organize student groups, some student groups that we met up with to discuss their priorities and bounced off the early ideas of what we wanted this project to look like. But I got to give it to you, Sabah, this was mainly her baby. So, I think that she could talk a lot about her impact and her great work into this project.

President Watkins: All right, Sabah, to you.

Sabah Sial: I think Alvin's being really modest here. He definitely helped in reaching out to a lot of student groups and making sure that we're communicating with HRE, we're communicating with people outside of the University of Utah. We met with a student who started a similar program. It was a volunteer program but geared towards campus safety at the University of Dayton. And so, we met with different student groups from different communities, such as the LGBT Resource Center, the American Indian Resource Center. And so, ensuring that all of those different communities and voices are being heard at the beginning of the process rather than, I think, sometimes we tend to look back and come back to those communities and ask for feedback. But I think we all agreed that moving forward we wanted to integrate them into the actual proposal of the program. And so, Alvin and I definitely wanted to ensure that those voices were valued as we moved forward.

President Watkins: Sabah, that is such a wise principle of leadership, that if you really want partners, you have to have partners from the beginning not late in the day. So well done on that. All right, Alvin and Sabah. I'm going to give you each just a brief minute to give your pitch. We're going to have a lot of student listeners out there today thinking, "Hmm, SafeU Ambassador, is that a program for me? Should I think about it? Should I consider being a SafeU Ambassador?" So why should a student be part of this? Give us your best brief pitch. And why don't we let Sabah go first on this one?

Sabah Sial: So, I think that if you're interested in campus safety and you're interested in higher education, this is the program for you, as well as if you're interested in how large organizations work, how a university of this size operates. It really provides an inside look that a lot of students don't get. In addition to that, if you enjoy creative problem solving and if you like identifying problems on campus and within society and finding ways to solve those problems in a way that you feel better improve the campus community and making connections with leaders on campus, then this is definitely a program for you and I encourage you to apply.

President Watkins: So, calling all problem solvers, SafeU Ambassadors is for you. All right Alvin. What's your pitch?

Alvin Tsang: I think that if you're passionate about the university and you love this university, safety is a big concern and issue for you, and I think that if you want to make a change and want to be involved with other collaborative leaders who also really care a lot about these safety initiatives and making campus feel like home, I think that being a part of the SafeU Ambassador Program really exposes you to the processes of higher education, the safety initiatives that are being brought out, and you can really bring your voice into the mold. And I think that being able to do that is a great opportunity. So, if any of those kind of apply to you, definitely apply.

President Watkins: It's a great pitch. Be the change you want to see on your campus. Be a part of it, let your voice be heard. Pretty great. All right, Annalisa, we're going to ask you to bring it home. What are the details? I bet this podcast raises a lot of interest among our students. How can they become SafeU Ambassadors and how do they do this? What do they need to know, what do they need to do, and when do they need to do it?

Annalisa Purser: I certainly hope that it does. We're really excited about launching this program in the fall and having some more students work with us. To apply, students can find the job posting in Handshake or just Google “SafeU Ambassador Program” and it will bring you up to a story about it and a link directly to the job application site. Applications are due by March 22 and the program begins in the fall and goes through spring semester next year.

President Watkins: So, presidential interns change the world and they certainly start by changing our campus for the better. I am so grateful to you, Sabah and Alvin, for all of your hard work this year and I'm grateful to you, Annalisa, for the vision and energy that you've put into connecting with our students and working with them to make the SafeU Ambassador program a reality for our future. So, let me just give you each a great shout out of appreciation. Sabah, Alvin, Annalisa, thank you!

Listeners, thank you for joining us for this edition of the U Rising podcast and I hope you'll tune in for the next edition.