The story behind student campus tour guides

Dear Benny:
I often see Penn students conducting campus tours for groups of prospective students, parents and other visitors. Who are these students, and what sort of training do they undergo?
—Locust Walker

Dear L.W.,
Your question guided us straight to one of the oldest, largest and most varied student service organizations at Penn: the Kite and Key Society (K&KS). Founded in 1924, and currently comprised of more than 350 undergraduates, the K&KS not only conducts campus tours for the Office of Admissions, but is also the group that provides student hosts for overnight visits by prospective students and trains students to be on-campus ambassadors, as well as high school outreach representatives. And, in case that wasn’t enough, K&KS members also provide tutoring for community school students, and volunteer to play with children and do office work at the Ronald McDonald House.

Training to become a campus tour guide is challenging. First, students must apply to become a guide (usually in September) and be selected by the K&KS executive board. Then, the would-be guides are required to complete an entire semester of training, tagging along on two campus tours, giving a mock tour with other trainees and a current guide, leading a real tour alongside an experienced guide and performing a solo audition tour.

At the end of that long road, they are well prepared for Penn Preview Days in April, says Lara Grieco, assistant director for on-campus programs for the Office of Admissions, and “able to talk to any kind of group, whether they are from New Jersey or Zimbabwe.”

Typically, says Valerie Welsh, director of on-campus programs, Penn gets more than 60,000 visitors a year, and the guides are often families’ first campus introduction. Members of K&KS also work as ambassadors who meet with prospective students and families at the Office of Admissions visitors’ center to answer questions about life at Penn.

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Originally published on January 20, 2011