More than 2,500 visitors tour Bloomsburg University’s campus each year. For most, student tour guides are among the first peopletheymeet.
“WHAT’S THE FOOD LIKE?” “What are the meal plan options?” “How are roommates chosen?” “What’s in Centennial Hall?” BU’s Admissions staff hears all of these questions and many more from prospective students and their parents. Providing answers for visiting families — and making sure each visitor’s first impression is a positive one — is the job of student tour guides.
Meet Devon Mills, Nicolle Skiermont, Christina Davis and Dreka Williams who talk about their role as student tour guides and its impact on their own college experience.
Devon Mills, Senior,
Computer Forensics Major/ Criminal Justice Minor
Hometown: Watsontown, Pa.
Bloomsburg University stood out to Devon Mills in a number of important ways — her financial aid package, the family connection (her father is Philip Mills ’94/’96M) and, above all, the fact that the college had interpreters to accommodate her hearing impairment. As she started her senior year at BU, Mills was looking for an on- campus job. “The tour guide was one of the positions I applied for because I knew I could do it even with my hearing loss,” she explains.
Once Mills was hired, she read up on the important information she’d be sharing with families and shad- owed an experienced tour guide before she took groups on her own. The three years’ worth of BU knowledge she’d accumulated was also put to good use.
A big part of Mills’ job is to answer questions over the course of the tour. One of the most frequently asked questions? “People always ask if they can bring their cars freshman year,” she says.
Mills gives an average of two tours a week. She says a good tour guide “has the ability to adapt to any situation, is friendly and open or easy-going, understands how to give good lectures or make it interesting for the audience and has enough knowledge to answer most of the ques- tions that the audience may have.” At the same time, the “perfect” campus visitor “is anyone that is interested in learning about Bloomsburg University, will actually listen and asks a lot of questions.”
As Mills’ college career wraps up, she says her time as a tour guide has helped her in many ways. “It has given me more confidence and helped me become more comfortable with dealing with different types of people.”
Nicolle Skiermont, Senior,
Criminal Justice Major/Spanish Minor
Hometown: Southampton, Pa.
As a high school student looking at colleges, Nicolle Skiermont says BU had just what she was looking for. “It was a medium-sized school and it had my major. I went to campus for a tour. Seeing how beautiful and open it was, and seeing all of the renovations that had been done, I liked the way it looked,” she says. Once at BU, she wanted to find a way to pay it forward and share her experience with others. Skiermont was an Orientation Workshop Leader (OWL) as a sophomore, and believed she could do even more as a tour guide. “I thought it would be cool to see what goes on,” she says. “I had such an amazing experience my freshman year. I wanted to give people an amazing experience like I had.”
Skiermont gets many questions about living on cam- pus. “I get questions about meal plans. I also get a lot of questions about residence life — things like which dorms are co-ed and can they have microwaves and refrigerators.” She says most families want to see a lecture hall, which is decidedly different from most high school classrooms. “I always try to show them what it looks like,” she says.
Skiermont leads an average of three or four tours per week, and says her job has its advantages. “It’s so much easier to know the campus,” she laughs. “I know where everything is now.”
She also credits the Admissions staff for the work they do scheduling tours. “The tours are about the parents and students, but the behind-the-scenes stuff makes for a good tour.”
Christina Davis, Junior,
Communication Studies Major
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pa.
For Christina Davis, BU’s small size and friendly atmosphere — “something totally different from home,” she says — appealed to her when she was considering colleges. She describes herself as shy by nature, which campus visitors might find hard to believe. Besides working as a tour guide, Davis is a talented hip-hop dancer who recently won the “Lens on Talent” competition sponsored by BET.
Davis says she helps the families feel at ease by simply being herself. “I go with my experiences on campus and what it’s really like to be a student here,” she says. “I try to keep them laughing and smiling.”
Davis says it’s important to find something in common with the families on her tours. “Everybody is different, which is what keeps it interesting. Some people don’t have anything to say, or I crack a joke and they don’t say anything. I like families who have questions, especially the students.”
Davis says she’s also learned to be flexible. “Be well-prepared for anything that comes your way and know how to react. Whether it’s a parent who asks a lot of questions or those who don’t ask anything, I just go with the type of audience I have.”
Dreka Williams, Senior,
Hometown: Gaithersburg, Md.
Moving to college is stressful enough, but moving to an out-of-state institution is another level of stress all its own. It’s a feeling Dreka Williams remembers well. Williams, originally from Maryland, can relate to the students she takes on tours who are feeling a bit nervous about leaving home. Sharing her story helps to reassure them that not only will they do well once they eave home, but the campus is likely to feel like home in no time. That’s certainly been true for Williams, who chose BU because it was one of the few schools that offered her major. “I wanted to major in optometry, and BU advertised pre-optometry,” she says. That, combined with the beautiful BU campus, made choosing a college easy for Williams.
Williams says that she usually “clicks” with out-of- state students because she understands their fears and anxieties. “If you are not a people person, or if you haven’t liked your time at BU, this is not the job for you, because you are really selling the school. If you don’t love the campus, you probably won’t make a good tour guide.”
Williams’ experience as a tour guide has helped put her own college experience in perspective. “Even on days when I don’t feel like doing a tour, going on a tour helps remind me why I chose BU. When I’m not feeling my best, it helps give me a pick-me-up, too.” •
Sara Hodon is a freelance writer and college-level English instructor from Schuylkill County, Pa.