Graduate student tour guides offer visitors a glimpse of life at Virginia Tech
On a recent sunny day, Rose Campbell, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Chemistry who earned her undergraduate degree at Virginia Tech, took two Roanoke College students considering Virginia Tech's master’s program in computer science on a jaunt around the Blacksburg campus.
After asking them about their interests, she adjusted the tour itinerary to make sure it included buildings in which they might work, the Graduate Life Center and other buildings associated with student support, and places where they might enjoy extracurricular activities such as McComas Hall and the Duck Pond.
She also pointed out the various dining spaces as they slowly drove around. Throughout, she engaged them in conversation and answered questions, sharing her own experiences as both an undergraduate and graduate student.
“I was inspired to do this in part because I helped with recruitment last year with the chemistry department,” Campbell said. “As an ambassador, I enjoyed meeting new students. I love getting to know new people and making them feel comfortable. I’m also a double Hokie and have been here six years, so I can speak to many aspects of why I love VT so much.”
Campbell is one of 13 graduate students who applied, interviewed, and were chosen to be tour guides for the Graduate School this spring. More than 100 individuals and groups request tours of the Blacksburg campus from the Graduate School each year. People visit in all months and all kinds of weather — sometimes one person, sometimes one family, sometimes a group of as many as 50 undergraduate students with advisors.
Until recently, a few Graduate School administrators, staff members, and graduate assistants managed those tours, juggling them with other commitments. Now Campbell and the other tour guides — including one who can provide tours of the Health Sciences and Technology campus in Roanoke and another who can take visitors on tours of the greater Washington, D.C., metro area campuses — work with Operations and Training Coordinator Carrie Mayer and other members of the Graduate School team to ensure each tour has a guide.
“We feel that graduate students bring a different perspective to a tour than a staff member would,” said Mayer. “Prospective students may be more willing to ask questions of peers who are on the same journey as the one they are considering.”
Shania Clinedinst, coordinator for the Office of Diversity, Inclusion, and Strategic Partnerships, said the guides come from across the university’s colleges and programs. They learn about what a tour should include, tips and tricks to make tours fun, and ways to develop their dialog using sample scripts. Clinedinst said coordinators and guides may contact programs to arrange side visits to labs and other buildings as well.
Since the new system launched, students have led several tours wearing teal T-shirts and name tags. Each tour is customized, based on the interests of the potential student and visitors. If the tour group is larger than eight, two or more guides split the group into a more manageable size. During a recent visit by Virginia Commonwealth University undergraduates, at least four staff members and guides provided the tours, which included a visit to the Virginia Tech Stability Wind Tunnel for one group.
Emily Tirrell, a Ph.D. candidate in the Translational Biology, Medicine, and Health program, is a double Hokie like Campbell. “I was really excited to hear about the offer to be a tour guide. I got involved to take a peek behind the scenes at the Graduate School.
“Also, I really love Ut Prosim,” the university motto that translates to “That I May Serve," she said.
“Ut Prosim is one of the reasons why I chose Virginia Tech,” Campbell said.
Benjamin Comire, a doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Family Science, said he enjoys being a tour guide because “it is a great way to give back” to the university. “Being a tour guide affords me the opportunity to serve my community in a unique way by interacting with prospective students and helping them see all the great things that Virginia Tech offers and how they can make the university their home.”
Campbell and Tirrell said tour guides volunteer for their assignments and work to make each tour unique. “They’re very individualized,” Tirrell added. “We try to make it conversational.” Both have given tours for prospective students whose interests are similar to their own. They also consider visitors’ needs, such as accessibility, and tailor the tours to account for those.
They both start their tours at the Graduate Life Center, taking guests on a tour of the building before heading out to the larger campus. Tirrell said she almost always mentions the food at Virginia Tech’s dining facilities. Campbell likes to take students by Newman Library and Squires Student Center before heading to the van and visiting the rest of the campus. “This is such a hub of student well-being,” she said.
They take students around the Drillfield, pointing out different buildings and talking about events that often take place, and to the Duck Pond. If there is interest, they may stop at one of Campbell’s favorite spots, Hahn Horticulture Garden. Campbell also notes such things as graduate student parking and other transportation available to students.
After several weeks of conducting tours, the student guides noted additional benefits to the program. Campbell said the tours also provide an opportunity to practice the skills she would need in a classroom: “I want to teach. These are communications skills I want to learn.”
For Tirrell, who is the new Virginia Tech Board of Visitors graduate and professional student representative, the tours align with her enjoyment of public speaking and working with people. She also is working on providing tours of the university’s Roanoke Health Sciences and Technology campus.
Comire said being a tour guide affords the chance to have a lasting impact on the university community. “I know that it is truly helping future students and peers feel welcomed, supported, and valued by the incredible institution that is Virginia Tech.”
For those interested in a tour, make an appointment online.