October 16, 2009

Tour guides take route less traveled

Campus tour guides are being told to cut Cobb in favor of the cutting edge after the University revamped its tours, placing an emphasis on science and research facilities and less on traditional tour staples.

The emphasis on research and athletics is the latest in the University’s attempts to distance itself from stereotypical notions of an overly studious and introverted U of C.

The changes, including more time on preprofessional programs, were formulated this spring by the Admissions Office and debuted this summer after staff rewrote the tour guide manual and retrained all tour guides.

Tours now focus on new buildings around campus, like the South Campus Residence Hall and the Gordon Center. The aim, admissions officials said, is to highlight the vanguard sciences facilities the U of C has to offer. “It’s also important to showcase the cutting edge resources,” said Holly Bland, assistant director of admissions, adding the science quad has “the nicest, newest buildings.”

Other state-of-the-art stops include Ratner Athletics Center and Max Palevsky.

After receiving complaints that dorms weren’t featured on the tour, tours now include the lobby of Max Central. “It was nice to get into the entryway of the dorm. Most schools don’t do that,” Stephanie Heacox, the mother of a visiting prospective student, said.

Tour guides contacted declined to comment on the new tours.

A tour given Tuesday began with “Welcome to the University of Chicago. We are a research institution.”

As the tour entered the Science Quad, the tour guide pointed out the Jones laboratory, “where the element plutonium was first isolated” and the “whole block of University hospital” which was described as an “integral part of campus.”

Showing these buildings, the BSLC in particular, allows tour guides to point out the proximity of graduate and undergraduate students. “It’s a nice thing to say our undergrads are alongside the medical school students,” Bland said. “Some of our peer institutions do have separate [graduate and undergraduate] campuses.”

Also updated is the information session, which fields questions about financial aid, the application process, and the Core Curriculum. It used to follow the tours, but now comes beforehand.

“We relied on them [the tour guides] to give a presentation,” Bland said, and, “we were well aware that the tour guides felt rushed.” “[Now] we lay out the groundwork, including the application process,” in the information session beforehand, she added.

As for the results, Bland said that now prospective students have “even more reason to consider this as a university. We think it’s been a big improvement.”

According to Bland, the overall feel of the tour is now different. “The older model was more didactic,” she said.

Bland denied that the changes abandoned the U of C’s traditions and reputation. “I think we’re even more true to it. I think that part of the U of C is being cutting edge,” she said. “The new U of C does combine the traditional and the constantly changing.