As part of an ongoing series on student employment, we speak to a campus tour guide. All Wesleyan tours are given by students, and the Office of Admission employs up to 50 student tour guides at a time.
According to Ashleigh Corvi ’13, assistant dean of admission and coordinator of the tour guide program, “The goal of our tours is to highlight the unique characteristics of Wesleyan, and interweave these ideas into a personal narrative. We want our tours to be a mix of facts and personal anecdotes and experiences. The stories our students recall are what resonate with visitors, especially the prospective students. This tour model, which we believe is effective, would not be possible without this student perspective.”
Tour guides are selected from a group interview setting in order to ensure they are comfortable presenting and answering questions in front of a group. According to Corvi, the Office of Admission looks for individuals who are engaged in the Wesleyan community both academically and in extracurriculars, and seeks out students with a diverse range of interests. The students go through an extensive training process, which includes shadowing experienced tour guides, reviewing talking points, and practicing answering questions. The new guides co-lead tours with more experienced guides before heading out on their own.
“For many visitors, the tour guide is the only person they meet and interact with when they visit Wesleyan, and for that, tour guides are invaluable,” said Corvi. “Our guides are charged with the task of conveying the breadth and depth of academic and extracurricular opportunities here at Wesleyan—in 75 minutes. And they do so marvelously. They are such an important part of our overall admission efforts.”
Campus tour guide Greg Tavarez ’16 comes from West New York, N.J. He is an economics major, who runs on the Men’s Track and Field team, and is a member of the Invisible Men Collective.
Q: Greg, how and when did you become a tour guide?
A: I first applied my freshman year, but didn’t get the job. Back then, I really didn’t know campus that well. But I remained persistent, and the following year, I gave a lot of thought to areas in which I had grown as a Wesleyan student, and how I could convey that to prospective students and families. I reapplied and was accepted to begin working as a tour guide in the spring semester of my sophomore year.
Q: What was the training process like?
A: The training process started toward the end of winter break. All the new tour guides returned to campus early, and spent two or three entire days learning about talking points, reviewing all the information about Wesleyan, and discussing how to answer difficult questions. Of course, we had a little fun too! We played a Jeopardy-style Wesleyan trivia game. Training gave us a perfect opportunity to get to know some of the other tour guides in our “generation.”
Going in, I thought I knew a lot about Wesleyan, but there was a lot more I needed to learn. And while I’ve always been comfortable speaking to large groups, while training, I worried about forgetting a certain fact or talking point. But it turns out that once you’re out giving a tour, campus itself provides a lot of visual clues to trigger your memory.
Q: How many tours do you give each week?
A: I give one or two tours a week. Some other guides give more frequent tours, but I’m also busy working on the event-planning side of things as an admission intern. The interns help plan open houses and the Sons and Daughters event in the fall, and WesFest/ SOC (Students of Color) pre-frosh admitted students program in the spring. We start planning the spring events in January!
Q: How do you view your role and responsibilities as a tour guide in the overall admissions process?
A: Tour guides are on the front lines of the Admission Office. They’re probably the only opportunity a prospective student has to speak to an actual Wesleyan student and ask any questions. As tour guides, it’s really emphasized that we put our own personal touch on the tours, so families don’t feel like we’re just reading off a fact sheet, but instead giving our own take on Wesleyan. This approach gives me a personal connection to the families I meet.
Q: What would you say are some key components to being an effective tour guide?
A: Good public speaking—getting your point across quickly and clearly. Tours are only 75 minutes, and you want to make sure you’re not taking up too much time, unless families are asking lots of questions. It’s definitely important to be enthusiastic, and show your appreciation and passion for the school. A great attitude goes a long way for a family. Recently, I gave a tour in the pouring rain, and a family was surprised that I had such a positive attitude about it, and they wanted to revisit the school on a sunny day. My own personal spin is to make tours a little more theatrical. I use a lot of gestures when I talk, and I walk in a goofy fashion, just to keep the families entertained. It’s an informative, but also an entertaining, performance that I like to give to families.
Q: How many people are typically on the tours?
A: It varies. I’ve given personal tours to just one family. Sometimes it’s up to 30 people.
Q: What’s your favorite spot on campus to show families?
A: I love showing them Foss Hill. It’s usually our second-to-last stop on the tour (we end at Usdan), and standing up on the hill, I give a final recap, pointing to all the spots on campus that we’ve just seen.
Q: What’s your favorite little-known fact about Wesleyan?
A: There are a lot of good ones! I never knew before that the calorie was first quantified in the basement of Judd Hall. That always shocks families. I tell the story about Professor Olin Atwater, who wanted to find out if beer had any nutritional value. I also find it cool that Henry Bacon, who designed the Lincoln Memorial, also designed Olin and Eclectic. Also, I love the fact that the music buildings on campus can serve as a tuning fork.
Q: What’s your favorite part about your job?
A: I’m a very social person, so I love talking to people for my job. With a lot of other jobs on campus, you have to sit at a desk, but the hour just flies by for me when I’m out talking to families. It’s just me, the families, and the campus together in this one conversation. It feels really cool to lead a big group through campus—like you’re leading an army.
Q: What’s the most challenging part of your job?
A: Time is tight on tours, and we have to be careful to pace them correctly so we don’t spend too long in any one spot. We’ve been prepared to answer tough or uncomfortable questions from families, but sometimes we have to admit if we just don’t know the answer to a question.
Q: What’s the strangest question you’ve ever been asked on a tour?
A: I had a student ask me, “How are the girls here?” It was actually charming. One of my fellow tour guides was once asked by a parent if he could date their daughter if she attended Wesleyan.
Q: How did you master walking backwards?
A: Actually, it is emphasized that we do not walk backwards. The joke that we use in order to explain this to families is that Wesleyan is a forward-thinking university. But really, it’s a safety issue.