“Right now you’re at the Bell Tower,” said sophomore Owl Ambassador Courtney Clarahan. “It is our tallest monument here on campus. Anyone wanna take a stab at how tall it is? Anyone?”
The prospective students and their parents gazed from the Bell Tower to one another, internally calculating its height.
“One-hundred-forty feet,” a tall boy finally said nervously, staring at his feet.
“Close,” the tourism and hospitality major said. “It’s actually 110-feet tall. The bells chime every 15 minutes and then we play our alma mater at noon.”
The tall boy’s mom took a sip from a straw in a Pepsi bottle, checking out the lazy students dragging their feet to class.
“That’s when all the students basically gather here and we all hold hands and sing it,” Clarahan then said with a proud look on her face.
Upon hearing this, the soda-sipping mom began to cough, liquid spurting from her lips. Everyone else looked around and then at Clarahan for half a minute, confused and awkward.
“Just kidding, guys,” Clarahan said. She looked over at the mom. “Don’t choke over there!”
Temple’s Owl Ambassadors have a lot more going for them than the ability to blurt out any given fact about the school on request. Because tour guides play a key role in students’ decisions to attend the university, they must be effective and convincing in their tours.
“Definitely, they have to be outgoing with great public speaking skills, [have] a sense of humor and most importantly, a love for Temple,” said Niki Mendrinos, the associate director of campus visit programs and special events. “They are the cream of the crop to represent this university.”
Mendrinos goes through a grueling hiring process each fall to find new tour guides to join the staff. Because she gets so many applications each year, it isn’t easy to choose.
“Over the past two or three years, it’s been, like, people’s dreams to be tour guides,” said Mendrinos, who has been working at Temple for seven years.
A three-step interview process helps her choose candidates.
“We average about 100 applications for tour guide positions each year and typically hire between five and 10 people who apply,” Mendrinos said. After getting a callback upon submitting an application, students then reconvene in a more intimate setting.
“The first thing that we do is put them in groups, and we really try to identify students who take a leadership role and at the same time are not overbearing,” Mendrinos said. “They come up with a song, a rap or a rhyme describing what they think of Temple. We give them 10 or 15 minutes to put it together and they do it as a group while the others watch.”
Students chosen from this activity get to move to the final step of the interview process, which allows the most individual creativity.
“Some students are asked to come back to give a three- to five-minute presentation on why they chose Temple in front of other tour guides, myself and my colleagues,” Mendrinos said. “You can tell they put energy, effort and thought into it.”
Those students with the most interesting, creative presentations are generally those that are hired. Most were so ridiculous that Owl Ambassadors can never forget them.
“I changed the words to a Beatles song from ‘I saw her standing there’ to ‘I saw that Temple U,'” said Cory Anderson, a sophomore music education major.
“I wrote a poem about Temple University,” said Steve Smith, a sophomore psychology and political science major. “It was a two-page poem, and it sounded a lot like Dr. Seuss. It was pretty awful, but it was funny.”
Although many tour guides were hired because of their humorous presentations, some took a different approach.
“The last level of my interview process, I didn’t know if it was a formal interview or a fun interview, so I came in a full suit,” said Rahul Gaitonde, a senior political science and history major. “I had a jacket and tie, and the request was to make a three- to five-minute presentation on why you chose Temple. So I made a handout comparing Temple to my other two top picks.”
“Be as ridiculous as possible – in a good way,” Anderson said in reference to giving a tour.
Each guide has their own strategies for keeping tours interesting. And most of them agree that cheesy jokes are the way to go.
“One that I use is that, since on the first floor of the library there are only a few shelves of books, you turn around and tell people, ‘So those are all the books we have in our library,'” said Kara Snyder, a junior public relations major.
Given the abundance of information that each guide must recite on every tour, some facts are more interesting than others. So, naturally, every tour guide has a favorite.
“I like telling them that our founder, Russell Conwell, was buried in Founder’s Garden with his wife and a wireless chip is in the head of his statue,” Snyder said. “So the closer you get to his grave, the better signal you get.”
“The ‘T’ on the top of the Liacouras Center is the largest ‘T’ in the world,” Clarahan said. “I think that is interesting.”
Just as Owl Ambassadors have ways of getting their tour groups revved up, Mendrinos knows how to get her guides in the spirit. She makes them perform high school cheers before tours.
“The cheers really help,” Mendrinos said. “On a Saturday morning, most people come in exhausted and dragging [their] feet, but once we get in there and we start doing cheers, as corny as they are, it definitely changes the mood for the majority of the Owls. We always have to be on.”
Owl Ambassadors, who give tours to about 20 people every time they work, have seen it all after just a few months. They witness interesting questions, reactions and comments more often than one would guess.
“One grandmother actually asked if I was single,” Smith said. “She was supposedly asking for her granddaughter, but I don’t know if I believe it.”
“Sometimes students will yell at the tour group, ‘Don’t do it!'” Anderson said. “So I turn around and tell [my group], ‘See, Temple students love it so much that they just can’t help but scream out with joy.'”
“We’re here at Paley Library, the main library on campus,” Smith said, surrounded by his tour of 15, motioning to a painting on the wall behind him. “It was named after Samuel Paley, this guy right here. He kind of looks like Walt Disney, eh? Eh?”
The interested group let out a few laughs, most of the parents nodding along while their teenagers looked clueless.
“An interesting fact about the library is that if you took all the shelves and laid them out back to back, that would actually be 28 miles of shelves,” Smith said. “Now, not only is that how many shelves we have in the library, it’s also the coastal diameter of St. Croix in the Bahamas. So I like to think that going to the library is like taking a Caribbean vacation.”
Smith and his jokes, no matter how cheesy, are a big hit among prospective students.
“His humor was really great and memorable,” said prospective student Jonathan Ross, 17. “I think that the guides were so mellow and it made my experience more exciting. Their enthusiasm was important to me.”
The only other school Ross had seen before Temple was West Chester University, which, in his opinion, doesn’t compare.
“I live a block away from WCU and it’s very, very dull compared to here,” Ross said.
“Everything here is so much more exciting,” said tour attendee, Bouyeh Zulu, 18. “I’m a city person.
“I felt like I really got the ups and downs of the school,” Zulu added. “I didn’t want the admissions booklet.”
Like Mendrinos said, an Owl Ambassador has to love Temple in order to be convincing to prospective students. And that is exactly why every tour guide here is so good.
“It’s so much fun giving tours and meeting new people,” Smith said. “You can’t get that with other jobs on campus.”
Carlene Majorino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.