Call them the customer service representatives of UC Davis. They’re your ambassadors to the campus, they know facts about the most obscure buildings, they can tell you exactly how to buy a meal plan and help you find your academic advisor – all while walking backwards.
I’m talking about the UC Davis campus tour guides, students who have the responsibility of not only understanding all of the ins and outs of the university but also relaying just how amazing UC Davis really is to 46,000 prospective students and their families every year.
I tagged along on senior biological sciences major and veteran guide Colin Goulding’s 10 a.m. tour Oct. 18 to find out what the job is really like.
About 12 high school students and their parents gathered behind the Walter A. Buehler Alumni and Visitor’s Center while Goulding introduced himself and asked everyone to warn him if he was about to fall down. We began winding our way through the Arboretum, while Goulding explained Picnic Day and the various UC Davis schools.
Next up was a walk past Mrak Hall and Peter J. Shields Library, during which everyone was warned about the freshman stripe and the importance of locking your bike.
“Park your bike next to a nicer bike,” Goulding suggested. “Don’t ever have the nicest bike there.”
We stopped in front of the ASUCD Coffee House, where Goulding said that the newly renovated facility is the largest student-run restaurant in the country.
After making our way through the Memorial Union, past the Death Star and stopping briefly in front of the MU bus station, Goulding took us toward the Segundo residence halls. He explained every housing option as well as the possibility of getting a BUI if one chooses to bike home after a night of partying. We went into the Segundo Dining Commons before heading over to the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC).
Goulding highlighted all of the amenities of the ARC, including classes, workout machines, intramural and club sports and the Pro Shop. One parent whispered in awe, “It’s so impressive. There are so many choices!”
Next, Goulding took us toward the Sciences Lecture Hall while explaining the finer points of the Aggie Pack, and asked, “Is there anyone who doesn’t like free things?”
As we made our way back toward the Visitor’s Center, Goulding pointed out the Silo, the Craft Center and the physics buildings. In closing, he offered his own assessment of Davis.
“The best thing people don’t know about Davis is how nice everyone is,” Goulding said. “You can actually smile at people on the street.”
After fielding a few questions from parents and students, Goulding and I met with administrative specialist of undergraduate admissions Austin Silva, a former campus tour guide himself, who explained that hiring and training campus tour guides is a multi-step process. After being hired, guides attend an orientation and receive a 15-page packet of information to memorize.
Within 30 days they must take a manager on a tour, who decides if they’re ready to go out alone. Guides have three chances to pass.
The best tour guides are good with people, comfortable speaking in front of groups and have a passion for UC Davis, Silva said.
Memorizing the information wasn’t too difficult for Goulding, though he said that walking backwards and switching his lefts and rights can be challenging.
“I fell once because I tripped going around a corner backwards,” Goulding said. “The problem is that after you fall no one trusts you. They keep telling every person that’s around you.”
The busiest time of year is April, when one-third of all visitors descend on the campus. Though tours are usually kept at around 25 guests, groups can get as large as 40 on the heaviest days.
Not all tours consist entirely of high school students. Alumni, education leaders from Turkey, members of Congress and even a Hollywood actor have taken campus tours.
For Silva, the goal of each tour is to show students what it’s like to go to UC Davis. They are, after all, in the recruitment business, though they try not to pressure students.
“There are misconceptions about Davis, like that it’s a cow town,” Silva said. “We have to fight with these conceptions and show people that Davis has changed exponentially. What parents think it is, it’s not anymore.”
Both Silva and Goulding agreed that being a campus tour guide has some definite perks, like being able to choose your own work schedule and becoming close friends with the other tour guides.
“It’s just really fun,” Goulding said. “You get to walk around outside, show the campus and talk to people.”
After the tour was over, high school senior from Modesto Alexa Adams said this was her second time touring UC Davis. She loved seeing all of the different buildings and found the information to be interesting.
“It’s really pretty,” Adams said, gazing up at the trees.
ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.