Why did you decide to attend UP? Perhaps you took a campus tour and were sold by the tour guide’s vulnerability, helpfulness and ability to talk and walk backwards without falling over.
Through leading personalized tours, UP student ambassadors and tour guides can have a large influence on prospective students’ college decisions. With Weekend on the Bluff approaching, which employees in the Office of Admissions refer to as a “marathon” for tour guides, The Beacon sits down with four student tour guides to discuss what it’s like on the job.
August Stone ’24
Each tour Stone leads is unscripted and personalized to the group of prospective students’ interests.
“I have a little intro I give about myself,” Stone said. “I asked them about their interests. And so we can kind of personalize it depending on what they're studying, what they're looking at and then we really just go from there.”
Stone had always wanted to be a tour guide and the idea of him becoming one had been a running joke in his family. Family jokes aside, the campus tour was a large factor in Stone’s decision to come to UP. He enjoys helping students make decisions for their futures.
Despite its challenges, Stone enjoys walking backwards, even if it means enduring countless jokes from the dads on the tours and losing a pair of shoes to it.
“I have broken a pair of Doc Martens, which is tragic,” Stone said.
All of the walking backwards has made Stone feel more comfortable walking on campus.
“I can quite literally do it backwards and forwards,” Stone said.
Stone found it amusing when someone asked him what his favorite part of the Clark Library was.
“I have a very strong opinion about study rooms,” Stone said, alluding to the amount of time he spends using them.
Stone also loves to bring up that he once wrote a paper on a BTS song for a theology class, which gets a lot of excited responses from prospective students.
Stone appreciates getting to be a part of a fundamental moment in students’ college experiences.
“Choosing your college is one of those big adult decisions that you make,” Stone said. “So being able to help students and be part of that process is really powerful.”
Giving tours and walking backwards for an hour and a half can be a little physically exhausting for Stone. He has also had to adjust to being vulnerable and sharing his experiences with prospective students, yet despite these challenges, Stone finds his work as a tour guide fulfilling.
Fabian Barba ’24
Off the stage but on the UP walkways, Barba tries to make each tour feel like a comedy set — entertaining and engaging for prospective students.
“It's really all about connecting with the students interested and finding out ways in which UP can accommodate that,” Barba said.
One of the main reasons why Barba became a tour guide was to meet prospective students with whom he shares similar identities. He wants students to feel represented when they see him as a tour guide.
“Being able to show that representation, even though it might not reflect the entire institution, having someone at an institution like this that reflects my identity is pretty big,” Barba said.
When walking backwards, Barba has to put his full trust in his tour guide partner or the group he is leading.
“I've had several times where I was obviously going to run into something and they didn't tell me like at all,” Barba said
One source of pride for Barba is that he has never fallen over while leading a tour.
“That’s actually my number one achievement,” Barba said.
When it comes to answering questions, Barba’s favorite’s are the ones about students’ niche interests.
“It's always great when they see something that aligns with that and it's exactly what they want to pursue,” Barba said.
Deciding how much of his personal experiences at UP he shares on tours has proven to be a challenge for Barba. As a tour guide, he has to mediate between his own opinions on UP and sharing facts about the university.
“To know that it comes from my own personal biases about things,” Barba said. “This has been my experience, but just know that it has been a different experience for other people.”
Georgina Jeffers ’23
When Jeffers leads tours she likes to add a bit of personal flair. When the information on the tour becomes broader, Jeffers talks about her own experiences to give an insight into what it is like to be a UP student.
“They get to learn the general information of the school,” Jeffers said. “They also get a very personal kind of introduction to it just by whoever's giving them their tour.”
When she was a prospective student, Jeffers came to UP for the Pilot-for-a-Day visit, which has not happened since 2020 due to the pandemic. As a Pilot-for-a-day, Jeffers got to take a personalized tour and shadowed a student ambassador in their classes.
“I was just like, ‘Man, I love how kind and welcoming they are,’” Jeffers said. “I just want to be that for someone else that's also wanting to come in. It's kind of been a goal since coming in as a freshman and I'm happy to have reached that goal.”
Jeffers feels that she has perfected the art of walking backwards. Having already been walking around the UP campus for three years, she’s gotten “pretty used to the shape.”
With a near-perfect fall rate, Jeffers has only fallen over while going backwards during one tour, when she wound up hanging onto a bush for “dear life” outside of Waldschmidt Hall.
Jeffers remembers the more unique questions people ask her on the job. While leading a tour on a rare sunny day, Jeffers was asked if it actually rains in Portland.
“Yes, it very much does rain,” Jeffers told them. “They were like, ‘So do I need to bring rain boots?’ and I'm like, ‘Okay, now you're going a little extreme.’”
Jeffers’s favorite part about being a tour guide is the community in the Office of Admissions. She enjoys talking about experiences at UP with the other student ambassadors and admissions counselors, many of whom are UP alums.
“It's one of the most welcoming and funny offices to work in,” Jeffers said.
To Jeffers, the most challenging part of being a tour guide is answering tricky questions, such as ones about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, in a professional manner. As a white woman, it is harder for Jeffers to talk about the experiences of underrepresented students at UP. Jeffers addresses this by conversing with BIPOC and LGBTQ+ UP students on how to best answer these questions.
“While it's not my place to always answer on these kinds of areas, it's also my place to inform and give the information that I can for those that are really inquiring about very serious and important topics,” Jeffers said.
Kaylan Tate ’23
As a tour guide, Tate finds reassurance in having a tour guide buddy to co-lead tours with.
“Especially in big groups, it's helpful to have someone doing wrangling at one point and someone talking, making sure when we're walking backwards, we're not tripping over each other,” Tate said.
Tate knew she wanted to be a tour guide before she started college. During spring break of her senior year of high school, Tate toured 10 colleges in seven days and became fascinated by the work of a college tour guide.
“I was just really interested in that role and being kind of a spokesperson for the University,” Tate said. “I thought that if I was really passionate about my school like all of these tour guides were I could do a really great job of kind of plugging the school.”
With all of that walking backwards, Tate feels that she’s gotten “really strong calf muscles.”
On the first few tours she led, Tate felt self-conscious of how she looked while walking backwards, but now it has become like second nature to her. She feels that it is important to walk backwards while leading a tour because it allows her to be more present and open with the group.
Tate takes interest in answering questions about religion and faith life on the UP campus.
“It does require you to kind of step back a little bit and recognize that this group … is super dynamic, super diverse and super unique,” Tate said. “You want to frame everything in a sense that's going to appeal to everyone in the group.”
Tate finds leading tours to be very natural to her. She loves getting to represent student life at UP and takes pride in knowing that her hour and a half tours have helped prospective students make decisions about their future endeavors.
“I think it's become very comfortable for me … to answer questions about something that I've lived and experienced for the past four years,” Tate said.
Being a tour guide still has its challenges. For Tate, it can be tiring to animate herself for her hour and a half tours, especially if she’s having a low energy day. She also finds it challenging to answer difficult questions that come up on tours.
“But just knowing that that information is valuable, and I can be like a vessel to share that is really cool,” Tate said.
Sydney Gannon is a reporter for The Beacon. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrew Gotshall is a videographer and photographer for The Beacon. He can be reached at email@example.com.