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Right: George Kahingo outside the Student Commons. He was born and raised in Kenya and the bracelet on his wrist is adorned with the colors of his native country's flag. (Kevin Morley, University Marketing)
During George Kahingo’s first semester at Virginia Commonwealth University, he was close to taking a job on campus when he learned of the leadership involvement ambassador position in the Division of Student Affairs that required dealing with students on a regular basis. He knew he had found a match for his personality.
“I am a people person,” said Kahingo, a transfer student from Northern Virginia Community College who will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in biology from the College of Humanities and Sciences. “I thrive where I have to interact with people, especially on a face-to-face level. I just really like people. I like talking and I like making connections. And so when I saw that was one of the main things in the job description, I thought, great! That's awesome for me.”
Staff who interviewed Kahingo for the job spoke about how demanding and vital the position is, especially in terms of forming a connection with students. The ambassadors are paid student employees who support VCU’s student organizations by working with their leaders to create programs and events and helping those leaders strengthen their own skills. The intensity of the job did not deter Kahingo, who loved the idea of growing his leadership and networking skills.
Kahingo is one of nine leadership involvement ambassadors. Staff at Student Organization Support said his welcoming personality serves VCU’s student organization leaders, helping them increase student involvement. Over his two years in the role — answering emails and approving new student organization registrations, as well as dealing with student organization funding, reimbursements and fundraising events — Kahingo has been instrumental in the success of student organizations. He has served during student organization fairs, both in person and virtually, and been instrumental with newer initiatives like Third Thursdays, which creates a platform for student leaders to present in front of their peers.
“It was wild to me that students will come [into The Commons] and ask: ‘Can you join student organizations here? How do you do that?’ And I'm like: ‘Absolutely. Do you know what Rams Connect is?’ They're like: ‘No, what is that?’ I'm like: ‘Well, sit down, let me talk to you,’” Kahingo said.
His biggest takeaway as a student employee is learning about the resources available at VCU that he suspects many students might be unaware of.
“If you just don't know and sit in your cave and do your thing — go to the library, go home and study [you miss out on a lot],” Kahingo said. “I know it's definitely hard, especially with COVID now. And even before I worked here, I never knew there was anything such as Rams Connect, which is like a Facebook for VCU. It’s crazy the amount of people that just don't know things that are available to them.”
He wants students to know the impact being part of a student organization can have.
“I've seen how they can transcend further than just being a student organization,” Kahingo said. “People think of student organizations as clubs. You have a little event at The Commons or the park, you raise some money for your student org, have some fun, but they can transcend a lot. I didn't realize a lot of student organizations help people find jobs after they graduate. It's something that translates further than just a club at a school. It changes lives.”
Kahingo, who was born and raised in the Gitaru area of Nairobi, Kenya and came to the U.S. when he was 10, belongs to numerous student organizations, including the African Student Union and Transfer Student Leadership organization. As he pursues his degree in biology, the Manassas, Virginia, resident is also minoring in chemistry and business.
Kahingo said growing as a leadership involvement ambassador confirmed his ideal work environment.
“I didn't realize how much more capable I am when somebody fosters me being able to have a voice,” he said. “I think Donté [Sharpe, coordinator for leadership and student organizations] has done a great job of that. He's fostered an environment where he reminds me that my voice and my opinion matter. Even if I am just a student employee, I can go to him and be like, ‘Yo, I don't like how we were running this. Can we change this? Can we do that?’
“Usually I would do that anyway, but when I didn't, I didn't realize how much more room there was when somebody was like, ‘Hey, this is an open space.’ And I think that really opened up a lot of things for me, because there's a lot of things that I was saying and thinking just because Donté said that I can and I should.”
Kahingo hopes to mesh his management interests with his science degree. A class taught by instructor Tricia Smith, Ph.D., “Advances in Drug Biology,” turned out to be his favorite and led him to consider working in the business side of the pharmaceutical industry with an eye toward entrepreneurship down the road.
“I really connected with a lot of people. I networked even when I didn't need to,” Kahingo said. “I'm facilitating programs. There's been so many things that I've had to be at the forefront on. It's fostered that leadership sense in me. Now I'm more inclined to go ahead and just take the initiative because I know I'm capable of it.”