A small cluster of nervous high school seniors sat with their parents, the latter armed with most of the questions.
Soon, these students will decide which university they’ll call home for the next chapter of their lives. The teenagers will weigh all the options, everything from affordability to proximity of the closest Insomnia Cookies.
This group, beginning its October 4 afternoon tour of Illinois State on the third floor of the Bone Student Center, just finished up a video presentation when the black drapes opened to a view of the bridge leading toward the Quad.
In came senior theater major Bobby Voss, dressed in a red shirt and boisterously singing the fight song, “Go, You Redbirds.” He encouraged the high schoolers to join him in chorus before guiding them on a 90-minute tour of campus. It was his mission to sway the prospects’ choice of university in favor of Illinois State.
Working out of the Office of Admissions, Voss is in his second year as a campus tour guide. He is one of hundreds of students who have served in the role over the last 15 years.
“I hope that I can convey how at home I feel at ISU for every tour,” Voss said.
The campus tour program, as it is known today, started in August 2004 under the guidance of current Associate Director of Enrollment Management Stacy Ramsey ’92, M.S. 94. Around 50 former student-workers returned to campus the weekend of November 1–3 to commemorate the program’s 15th anniversary.
Theresa Wiese, program assistant in the Office of Admissions, began a month after the tour program’s conception.
She said 18 student-workers were on board at the beginning. Next spring, about 50 students will work as tour guides.
“It’s crazy to think how much it has grown and how much we rely on the student tour guides,” Wiese said. “They are an integral part of our visit experience and our recruiting.”
President Larry Dietz recognized the impact of the tour guides September 17 in his annual State of the University Address, while discussing the University welcoming its largest freshmen class in 33 years.
“These are the terrific students who act as ambassadors, tour guides, and housing tour guides, and who meet every week to add to their already vast knowledge of Illinois State,” Dietz said. “Along with our move-in volunteers, they are the front line providers of individualized attention.”
Wiese said guides have to go beyond providing the nuts and bolts information in order to make the tour stand out to visitors.
“We can throw out all of the data and all of the statistics, which is important,” she said. “But I always tell the students when we are training them is that what they are going to remember how they felt, and you made them feel. That’s what we really want to latch on to.”
Each prospective guide goes through a four-week training to learn about campus and what it’s like to be a Redbird.
Student tour guides, Wiese said, have to think quickly on their feet and be personable.
Illinois State welcomes high school groups from across the region and that vary in size, personalities, and demographics. It’s up to the guides to read the temperature of the students and respond accordingly.
Illinois State alumna and former guide Kara Nottelmann Foster ’10 remembers giving her first tour. She had a group from the Chicago Public Schools.
While nervous at the group’s size, she could also sense the excitement from the visitors. She answered all their questions with great pride knowing she might be persuading a young person to pursue an opportunity that could open doors for their future.
“I knew I was making a difference, and it wasn’t just a job anymore to me,” she said.
Simply put, the red-shirted students leading big groups around campus love being Redbirds and dedicate a good amount of their time persuading others to feel the same.