Watch: Walking and Talking - Backwards
Over the summer, many students and faculty members continue their work and research, and renovation projects and other work regularly occur. Yet the campus understandably grows quieter while classes are not in session.
One area where the pace does not slow down is the Admissions Office. Student summer tour guides meet the needs of the prospective students, their parents, and college counselors who visit the campus by providing a window into student life during this quieter time of year.
Sharing a passion for Swarthmore and meeting new people, tour guides make natural advocates for the school. "I love describing it to prospective students through my eyes," says pre-med student Tim Vaughan '15, a guide from New Hope, Pa., "and letting them know why Swarthmore is such a great place."
When Eddie Montenegro '13 visited the College as a prospective student from Manorville, N.Y., the captain of the lacrosse team at the time led his tour. The contagious nature of his guide's enthusiasm inspired the art history major to join the ranks.
"I just really liked how he was so genuinely excited about Swat even though he was entering his senior year," says Montenegro, now a rising senior himself who began as a tour guide last year. "Being able to genuinely translate that can make or break someone's impression of the school."
For Lauren Barlow '15, being a tour guide is less of an opportunity to sell the school to prospective students and more a chance to fairly represent the College and facilitate informed decision-making. "I do not believe my job is to make everyone come to Swarthmore," says the intended engineering major from Olney, Md. "Instead, I really try to represent the school as best I can, so students know before going through the application process if Swarthmore is a good fit for them."
When students are not leading tours, tasks in the Admissions Office keep them occupied. Tour guides are responsible for stocking the Admissions Commons with brochures and publications, sending out mail, scheduling interviews, and answering phones. Curious callers have probed both Aileen Eisenberg '15 and Steven Gu '15 about their own high school and college experiences to gauge what it may take to gain admission. To help prospective students ask the important questions, Gu, an urban studies special major from Audubon, Pa., posts for his blog, The Collegiate, during time away from the office. Eisenberg, an English literature major from Troy, N.Y., also spearheads a blog, Work@Swat, which chronicles what Admissions student workers are up to during summer.
After her shift as a guide, Barlow works at the Lang Performing Arts Center (LPAC), a job she has held since last year. Although the space is closed this summer for renovations, Barlow assists with lighting repair work and organizing theater spaces. Not surprisingly, the LPAC is a destination she takes care to point out during her tours. "I love talking about the place I spend the most time," she says.
Through experiencing Swarthmore first-hand, the tour guides are often reminded that the quirks of Swarthmore may be unusual for those new to campus. "There are a lot of Swat traditions I mention that puzzle the people on my tours," Vaughn says. "Screw Your Roommate is one, and I also mention the Pterodactyl Hunt. A mother of a prospective student once asked me, 'Where do they get the pterodactyls from? Aren't they extinct?'"
The College's Quaker roots and noted Honors Program are qualities of the College, to the tour guides' dismay, that are sometimes less interesting to their audiences than the most popular subject: food. For Barlow, even an honest answer is met with skepticism. "Typically, people ask about it as if they are really pushing me to answer honestly," she says, "even though I always do."
The outdoor amphitheater is the most popular destination on tours, which not only captivates tour attendees, but also acts as a reminder that the College is as much an arboretum as it is an institution of higher learning. "I love the amphitheater," Montenegro says. "People just gasp at how nice it is. Tours always pick up after that."
After her groups return to Parrish Hall, Eisenberg says she can pick out the future Swatties in the crowd. "If they're engaged, if they're asking questions, you can tell," she says with raised eyebrows and a can-you-believe-it smile. "How they respond to the stories I tell about my Swarthmore experience makes them stand out."
Speaking and presenting effectively in front of large groups are some of the skills that tour guides have attained from their jobs. And the most useful expertise? According to Montenegro: "Extreme skills in walking backwards."