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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

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Feven Getachew
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Tour guides connect to prospective students

With the new wave of admitted students in Grinnell, our tour guides are yet again busy showing Grinnell to new, curious eyes. Presenting Grinnell in the best possible light can prove to be a complex task, and tour guides must have enough experience and wit to deal even with the trickiest questions.

Jessica Vaverka '11 leads a campus tour along Park Street for prospective students and their families on Wednesday. Photograph taken by Cait De Mott Grady.

Any student who is a second-year or older can become a tour guide. They are supervised by the Admissions Office, which both selects and trains new tour guides for the College.

“There is a quick application process and after applications are reviewed some students are invited back for an interview with members of the Admissions Department,” said Alexa Reynolds ’13, a tour guide for the College.
Student preparation and training is done under the watchful eye of the Admissions Office. All new guides have to acquire practice and experience before they are assigned their first group of students.

“After being selected, students go through training, which includes going on tours with current guides and giving practice tours with current guides and prospective students,” said Doug Badger, Director of Admission.

Although there is no assigned route, there are certain places on campus that tour guides are required to show to prospective students, such as Noyce, Bucksbaum, Burling, the JRC, the Bear Center, and at least one dorm and one academic building. However, they have their own additions to the required schedule, especially when it comes to stories and fun facts about Grinnell.

“The most important things on the tour are generally about residential life and academics—in particular, highlighting what makes Grinnell unique such as self-governance. I usually tie in the swing set and student initiatives as well, and SAs instead of RAs,” said Morgan Bober ’12, a member of the tour guide team.

“I always talk about the printing and computer facilities on campus while I am taking families through Burling,” Reynolds said. “I also like to point out fun features on campus like the swing set, people tabling in front of the dining hall, or people playing sports on Mac Field.”

The basic obligation of the tour guide is, naturally, to give tours to prospective students, but guides also give tours to other visiting groups on campus.

“The main duty is to give tours, typically two or three times a week,” Bober said. “We are also required to give special tours, when important people (trustees or alumni) come to campus, during admitted students weekends or other group tours. Other than that, I believe that the duties really consist of being open and honest while also remaining appropriate, and going out of your way to ensure that a prospective student has a tour that is geared for his or her particular interests.”

No matter how tailored the tour, no visit can pass without questions from curious prospective students and, especially, their parents.

“Questions most commonly come from parents, asking things from academics to res life to alcohol,” Bober said.
“People always want to know about the meal plan, if Grinnell has general education requirements … study abroad opportunities, and why I particularly chose to come to Grinnell,” Reynolds said.

Although most questions are repetitive and can be easily predicted, sometimes guides encounter uncomfortable questions, too.

“The trick with residence life is to ease around the issues of alcohol and drug use on campus,” Bober said. “I have actually been lucky to only have this question once or twice, but it is always a tricky thing to balance depending on the vibe you get from a family and the importance of balancing honesty with being appropriate.”

While parent questions about substance abuse have to be handled with care, other facts about Grinnell often cause exclusively positive reactions. The size of the College—and, consequently, the average class—as well as the many resources available to students are just some of them.

“I get a lot of awe at undergraduate research opportunities, class size and the extensive resources that we offer,” Bober said, “especially having five professional writers in the Writing Lab who work with both students and professors’ research, or having mentors in all of the science classes.”

Becoming a tour guide and performing all the activities that job entails professionally is not an easy task. However, most guides enjoy their posts and know very well why they chose it.

“I love my job because every day it reminds me about the awesome things about Grinnell, and it keeps me in touch with just how amazing the students and the community are and the amazing opportunities that we have,” Bober said. “It’s so easy, when you’re bogged down with work, to forget that we are so lucky, but then a student asks on a tour about the average class size and you get to say 18, or seeing the shocked faces of parents when they hear how common it is for a student to complete undergraduate research. I guess it just really keeps me in touch with the great opportunities that Grinnell offers.”

Grinnell’s admission process is as unique as the College and certainly contributes to both the style of tours and the prospective students who attend them.

“Grinnell’s admission process is a holistic one,” Badger said. “Ultimately we are looking for students who can both benefit from and contribute to this dynamic community of scholars. To help us discern that, we spend a great deal of time getting to know what a student has been like in high school and what they might be like at Grinnell. … Every application is reviewed by at least two, and sometimes as many as 10, Admission Officers before any final decision is made.”

After being admitted through such a process, it can probably be safely inferred that most prospies have great potential to be a good match for Grinnell. Our tour guides, however, are the ones who bridge the gap between cold paperwork or scary interviews and discovering of the soul of the college.

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