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The Illinois Community Ambassador Program 

cropped-Untitled-design-22.pngBy Mark Eric Benson, Shanshan Thompson and Ragu Raman (with assistance from our Illinois Community Ambassador Team).

1. Introduction

We would like to celebrate the Illinois Community Ambassadors program and encourage qualified learners who have taken courses or completed Specializations with the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Business School, now known as the Larry and Beth Gies College of Business, to be part of our future.    

Since its inception, the Illinois Community Ambassadors program has promoted positive attributes of Digital Marketing courses and Specializations–opportunities to develop knowledge and skills in analog and digital advertising, a cooperative learning environment, and a chance to apply marketing strategy to the creation of a marketing campaign to address a real-world problem.  We as Ambassadors love communicating these benefits to prospective and current lifelong learners who would like to be associated with our program.  

UIUC Gies is now moving to an all online Master of Business Administration program, called the iMBA, and the Illinois Community ambassadors will promote existing digital marketing courses and Specializations available via Coursera that can be the initial steps in qualifying for admission into the iMBA program.  

We would like to take a look back at the History of the Illinois Community Ambassadors program so that we might encourage past Ambassadors and those considering becoming an Ambassadors to be part of our future.


2. History of the Illinois Community Ambassador Program

A few years ago, the Illinois Community Ambassador program was created to emphasize the strengths of the online offerings of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign via Coursera. A Brazilian marketer-lawyer named Mariana Pinto Veiga became the first Ambassador, and she worked with initial Team Project Manager Natalie Papazian and longtime Team Leader Manuel Feldmann to help the program grow.

“We began with a Twitter Chat three years ago, we also had an interview with Professor Aric Rindfleisch that we titled, “Ask Me Anything,” Feldmann said. He continued this tradition by hosting a Twitter Chat and opening the Illinois Community Ambassador Book Club ( together with the ambassadors team), now renamed the Digital Marketing Scholars Club, a cooperative endeavor with important contributions by Vishal Sachdev, currently the Illinois Clinical Assistant Professor of Business Administration and Director of the Illinois Maker Lab, as well as Papazian.  

Ambassador cards

Current Team Leader Mark Eric Benson, MBA

Feldmann spoke on behalf of the Ambassadors by expressing how satisfying it is that people from different cultures can participate.  “This international character—I love It,” said Feldmann, who also noted that he and several other Ambassadors have been encouraged to collaborate on authoring Ambassador Profiles to encourage participation.  “People from India, people from the US, I am from Germany, people from Brazil, Pakistan are all communicating our support for online education.”

Our most recent Illinois Community Ambassador profile is on Luis Chavez, who is a 3D Printing Specialization Course Mentor and an important part of our Team.  Luis is the founder of a non governmental organization called Subsistence Marketplace Initiative in his native Honduras, inspired by his work with Professor Sachdev, who is also the Illinois Community Ambassador Team Adviser and guiding spirit.  

We Ambassadors generate ideas for blog articles to promote positive attributes of Illinois Digital Marketing courses, programs and people. A recent blog celebrated John M. Jones Professor of Marketing Aric Rindfleisch, who created one of the most popular Massive Online Open Courses of all time, “Marketing in a Digital World.” 

Feldmann related a story about how international communications offer fun but interesting challenges.

“There is an amazing time gap between Illinois and Germany (but we have made it work),” Feldmann said.  “Natalie and I had a meeting at 6am Germany time, when it was 10 or 11pm in Illinois.” Feldmann added that there are opportunities for Ambassadors to build strong friendships.

Ambassador cards (3)

Senior Ambassador, former Team Leader and Social Media Manager, Manuel Feldmann, M.A. 

“We (the Ambassadors) have become good friends,” Feldmann said.  “I know Mark Benson, Shanshan Thompson and we have talked about some things, shared some positive things about each other.  It is really cool to have found some friends.”

Benson, the new Team Leader, is enthusiastic about the Ambassadors who recently joined the team, including India’s Ragu Raman.

“Ragu is an enthusiastic new team member and a new friend,” Benson, the current Team Leader, said.  “I am so grateful that he is willing to help us with Search Engine Optimization results. He has already contributed to strategic planning about the future of the Ambassador program.  I am so glad that Natalie Papazian and Professor Vishal Sachdev gave him the opportunity to join us.”

3. Improvements to the Program to Now Take Effect

The Illinois Community Ambassadors program has made improvements to its organizational structure so that existing Ambassadors can grow and new and returning Ambassadors can take on meaningful roles.   Typically, Ambassadors are current or former students in Illinois Digital Marketing courses and programs available online via Coursera.

DM learner of the week

Senior Ambassador and Scholars Club Manager, Shanshan Thompson 

Our program hopes to see the program flourish by including existing Ambassadors, not currently active Ambassadors who would like to return, and new Ambassadors prepared to help continue our program’s growth. We have completed an assessment of the program and have identified the roles and responsibilities that we would like to emphasize now and into the future.

4.Senior Ambassadors / Junior Ambassadors

The program will now have two member designations – Senior Ambassador and Junior Ambassador.

Senior Ambassadors

Senior Ambassadors are elected every six months. Selection of new Senior Ambassadors will be based on the following criteria.

  1.   Demonstrates active participation in Ambassador activities.
  2.   Willing to take up initiatives and assign roles to new Ambassadors.
  3.   Actively participates in efforts to improve audience awareness and increase brand awareness.
  1.   Exhibits an effective and collaborative nature.
  2.   Desirous of helping a worldwide community of learners.

A Senior Ambassador can take on various roles and responsibilities, including: Faculty Advisor; Team Leader; Project Manager; and Public Relations Manager.


Professor Vishal Sachdev, Clinical Assistant Professor of Business Administration and Director of the Illinois MakerLab

Our current Faculty Advisor is Professor Sachdev.  As noted previously, Professor Sachdev is the chaired Clinical Assistant Professor of Business Administration and Director of the Illinois MakerLab, the first of its kind at a business school. Professor Sachdev is an inspirational person who successfully reveals his love for the topics of marketing and 3D printing.  He consistently encourages the Ambassadors to work together collaboratively and exhibit international camaraderie.

For several years, Feldmann has successfully fulfilled the role of Club or Team Leader.  Feldmann, a public relations consultant and a political scientist in Germany, is an engaging, talented and insightful individual and tremendous team player.  Feldmann’s many responsibilities include brand awareness building. He also championed the Forum know known as the Digital Marketing Scholars Club and willingly takes up discussions of new ideas with Ambassadors and the Members of the Illinois online community. 

Benson is our Project Manager and new Team Leader. He is a person who tries to put his positive thinking into practice, particularly in working with others to promote the lifelong learning possibilities available via Coursera. He is also an active mentor who loves to share his professional and deepened on various topics discussed either in the Coursera course forum or the Digital Marketing Scholars Club on Facebook. The role of project manager as in any organization is collaborating with his colleagues to successfully transform ideas into completed assignments that educate our audience.  

Thompson is our current Public Relations Manager. She is a talented and multilingual—she speaks and writes both Chinese and English.  As our PR Manager, Thompson handles the important responsibility of connecting and engaging with the prospective students and site visitors. She facilitates meaningful online discussions on the Digital Marketing Scholars Club on Facebook. She also collaborates with other community ambassadors to write blog entries on a regular basis.  

Junior Ambassadors

Junior Ambassadors are an important part of the team and can make immediate contributions to the betterment of the program.  Junior Ambassadors may want to consider some of these possible roles–Search Engine Optimization Analyst, Social Media Executive, Content Writer and Graphic Designer.  Junior Ambassadors given one of these roles will hold it for six months, then moving on to another position in the hopes that each Junior Ambassador can develop knowledge and skills in various areas of digital marketing.


Raman, the newest Ambassador, has already has taken on significant responsibilities.  As our SEO Analyst, he is responsible for optimizing the website to search engines such as Google. He also manages various Linkedin handles and moderates traffic and engagement in social profiles.  


5.Invitation – Be Part of the Fun

The current Illinois Community Ambassadors are hoping to add new members to the team.  You are welcome to review our application guidelines at the following link:


We would like to consider applications from recipients of a UIUC Gies Specialization via Coursera who actively contribute social media content on one of the UIUC Gies discussion boards noted in the guidelines.  If you can also volunteer approximately three or four hours of time every month to Ambassador activities, and attend a monthly one-hour meeting, we encourage you to send us your completed application to the account noted in the guidelines: uiuccommunityambassador @ gmail.com.


We Illinois Community Ambassadors celebrate lifelong learning and opportunities in the Digital Marketing Specialization courses to acquire knowledge and skills that can be applied to daily living or real-world marketing challenges like the one presented in the Capstone Course.  Marketers who have completed these programs are also welcome to promote the positive, collaborative international environment that exists in these courses and the Digital Marketing Specialization. That type of feeling is essential for marketing roles in outward-looking organizations that wish to work collaboratively and cooperatively in developing strategies for future advertising campaigns.  It might be a way for some learners to test whether they might want to obtain an iMBA from the Larry and Beth Gies College of Business. We invite all of these types of learners and more to explore courses specializations, and the possibility of becoming an Illinois Community Ambassador. 


A link to Manuel’s 2017 Illinois Community Ambassador profile is available: http://digitalmarketingprofs.com/blog/brand-ambassadors/meet-illinois-community-ambassador-manuel-feldmann/.

Here is a link to Benson’s Illinois Community Ambassador profile: http://digitalmarketingprofs.com/blog/brand-ambassadors/illinois-community-ambassador-showcase-mark/

Shanshan Thompson’s Illinois Community Ambassador profile may be found at this link:http://digitalmarketingprofs.com/uncategorized/meet-illinois-community-ambassador-shanshan-thompson/

Senior Ambassador Shanshan Thompson now moderates that Club’s online Forum, accessible via this link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/920373154773482/

A link to our Marketing In A Digital World blog is available here: http://digitalmarketingprofs.com/blog/a-conversation-with-professor-aric-rindfleisch-upon-reaching-the-milestone-of-200-000-learners-in-his-course/