UNC’s tour guides are ambassadors for campus life

UNC’s tour guides are ambassadors for campus life

Admissions Ambassadors build relationships with prospective families and each other as they guide the potential Tar Heels around UNC's campus.

An Admissions Ambassador leads a tour group past Hanes Hall on the Polk Place at UNC. Ambassadors lead tours, participate in panels and assist during admitted student days. Photo by Mimi Tomei.

Adina Girmay didn’t apply to be a tour guide at UNC because she was anxious to guide people around campus.

“Actually, my roommate was applying, and it was the day the application was due, and she kind of convinced me. ‘You know, I think we’d both have fun during the process at least,’” Girmay said. “So I had started the application, as I had filled in my name and my major, and I had kind of forgotten about it, so she kind of convinced me to complete it the night it was due.”

“So not really a compelling reason, but I’m glad I did,” said Girmay, a junior global studies and food studies double major minoring in entrepreneurship.

Girmay is part of UNC’s Admissions Ambassadors, comprised of students who give tours to prospective students, sit on panels and assist during special events like admitted students day. Ambassadors come from all backgrounds, majors and grade levels at UNC, and undergo a selective application process to join the group. If selected, these ambassadors go through a rigorous training process, including information sessions and shadowing experienced ambassadors. At the end of their training, new ambassadors give an entire tour under the supervision of an experienced ambassador before giving tours solo.

Prospective Tar Heels currently going through the application process encounter a slightly different tour than their predecessors from even a couple of years prior.

Samantha Paisley, a senior journalism and political science major and external relations chair for the Admissions Ambassadors executive team, explained how the structure of tours has evolved over the years to make tours more personal and engaging for prospective students and families.

“In terms of change, the structure of our tours transformed last year to incorporate new elements that are emblematic of UNC, such as the arts, athletics and appreciation for diversity of experience. Our old program focused on four themes throughout the tour — housing, academics, history and traditions and student life,” Paisley said. “I think the new additions to the tour format encourage a more holistic approach and highlight the many opportunities that shape individual experiences at UNC.”

Caroline Evans, a sophomore in the School of Media and Journalism, knew she wanted to be a tour guide when she came to college. Evans participated in a similar program in high school.

“Before I even got to college, I knew that I wanted to give tours,” Evans said. “I didn’t know everything about being an admissions ambassador, just more being a tour guide. I just wanted to do that.”

Evans and her fellow ambassadors don’t just build relationships with their prospective students — they also share special bonds with each other, cultivated through group events such as a yearly retreat. Since becoming an ambassador this spring and starting giving tours this summer, Evans has begun to appreciate the uniqueness of her organization.

“You definitely normally gravitate towards people that are like you, because those are the people that you want to be friends with,” Evans said. “So ambassadors definitely helps you get out of that box a little bit.”

Lenore Hango, a sophomore ambassador, began giving tours her first semester in an effort to branch out from the many other Carolina students that she knew from her high school.

“I think without a doubt ambassadors is one of the most eclectic organizations that takes all of these super passionate people that are very, very different and puts them in a room together,” Hango said. “I think the beauty of that is that you’re around people that you maybe wouldn’t have met in any of the other organizations you’re involved with or in any of your classes.”

Junior Ryan Huang finds his fellow ambassadors inspiring.

“I’ve learned to challenge myself more because of the people around me. The other ambassadors are so accomplished, and they do a lot of amazing things and push me to do more on my end,” said Huang, a biochemistry major and music minor on the pre-med track.

Huang and one of his fellow ambassadors share a particularly special bond.

“When I toured here at Carolina, it was actually that tour guide that became my mentor when I joined the program, so it was kind of full circle,” Huang said. “When I revealed it to him that he was my tour guide, it was one of the best moments because he impacted me to join admissions ambassadors.”

Hango also draws from her college application process in her tours. UNC wasn’t Hango’s first choice, as she grew up in Chapel Hill and wanted to experience life in a different place.

But Hango ended up staying in Chapel Hill and wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s like a whole different world. People will tell you that if you’re from Chapel Hill, but you don’t believe them until you’re here,” Hango said. “When I talk about Franklin Street and how it’s where the Carolina community meets the Chapel Hill community, I think they believe me more. Because I’m like, this town was built around the university.”

Hango’s experience growing up in Chapel Hill lets her draw a comparison few ambassadors can.

“I was there for the 2005 championship. I was there for the 2009 championship. I remember the teams,” Hango said. “Being able to experience it as a student has been a whole different perspective.”

Oliver Eisenbeis’ first choice school also wasn’t UNC. Eisenbeis, who is majoring in biology with a minor in global cinema, wasn’t sure he wanted to go to a school as large or as close to home as UNC. Eisenbeis said this helped him relate with students who also weren’t completely sold on the idea of going to an in-state school.

Eisenbeis, now a senior, has grown to love UNC in the years since, and he tries to structure his tours in a way that helps prospective Tar Heels have a positive experience on campus.

“There were a few schools where I toured that the tour kind of turned me off to the school, solely because it was kind of a bad tour,” Eisenbeis said. “Maybe it wasn’t my direct reason for applying to be an Admissions Ambassador, but in the back of my head I was thinking about the tours that I had that weren’t that great, that turned me off of that school, and I wanted to do better.”

Girmay said that she and other ambassadors try to make their tours less about numbers and more about experiences.

“When you take tours of UNC, it’s not all ‘this is how many students we have in a class, this is the percentage of blah blah blah,’” Girmay said. “We give you a couple of stats but it’s more based on our experiences. So whenever you go on my tour, it’s going to be different than Ryan’s tour or Lauren’s tour, because we’ve all had different Carolina experiences.”

Paisley has a unique way of ensuring that all her tour participants get the most out of her tours.

“I interact with each individual family between stops on my tours to establish personal connections and provide advice catered to specific prospective students,” she said. “I also try to emphasize UNC’s friendly atmosphere that coexists with academic rigor — that was something that always drew me to schools through the application process.”

Though the experiences that ambassadors draw from in giving their tours are quite different, there does seem to be one universal prerequisite to the position – a love for UNC that they enjoy sharing with others.

“It’s going to sound kind of cliché, but every single time I give a tour it makes me fall in love with UNC just a little bit more,” Eisenbeis said. “Being able to talk about the reason that you came here, the reason that you chose to stay here, you know, those small little nuances that you love about Lenoir Dining Hall, for example, those just kind of strengthen my love for Carolina every single time I give a tour.”

Evans spoke with a newfound fondness of the section of her tours she said she dreaded the most when she was touring schools.

“Surprisingly, my favorite part of a tour to give is the history and traditions section. Because I don’t think I actually enjoyed that when I was taking tours of colleges,” Evans said. “But I think that I love that section so much like talking about Davie Poplar and Franklin Street and the Old Well, that I think my tours really light up when I talk about that stuff because I’m just so excited about it.” 

Several ambassadors said it was challenging to keep their tours within the time limit because they wanted to give their tour members the best impression of UNC in the short period of time allotted for each tour. Junior Lauren Shumpert said she tries to emphasize how Carolina stands out from other schools prospective UNC students tour.

“Four years is a massive experience to talk about, and there’s so, so much to talk about with Carolina,” Shumpert said. “I feel like it has so much to offer, so really trying to pick out those big things that people want to hear – like the selling points but also those special things that make Carolina unique.”

Shumpert said first impressions matter.

“They’re only going to be here a few hours, so you definitely feel like you want to show them the best that there is in this place. But I think it’s also – Carolina really sells itself,” Shumpert said. “It’s beautiful and it’s vibrant and it’s fun. It’s easy to make people love it here because of what it is.”

Paisley hopes at least some of her tour participants come to love UNC as much as she does.

“My years at UNC have been the happiest, most challenging years of my life, and I want everyone to have a college experience that they find as fulfilling as mine. I sincerely believe UNC is a place where everyone and anyone can thrive,” she said. “It brings me so much happiness when my passion for my school is reciprocated after just a 75-minute walk around campus.”

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Mimi Tomei

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  • Lily
    November 7, 2017, 6:05 pm

    Great article! I took a tour of UNC when the old model of housing, academics, history and traditions and student life. I found it dry and impersonal, which is one of the reasons I didn’t ultimately end up at UNC. I think these changes sound like a move in the right direction


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