The Board of Visitors has recently taken an increased interest in the University Guide Service, a special status organization at the University responsible for providing both admission and historical tours for prospective students, families and other visitors. Although the group works closely with the Office of Admission to provide a positive guest experience, the Guide Service remains student-run and independent.
Currently, members of the Guide Service write their own tours based on information they are taught in new member education programs — classes designed to rigorously teach the University’s history. The Office of Admission, meanwhile, supervises other aspects of the guest experience, like scheduling and parking.
At a meeting in mid-September, members of the Board’s Academic and Student Life Committee briefly discussed the Guide Service after reviewing a survey in which a small number of guests reported being “disappointed” with their tours of Grounds. New member Bert Ellis suggested members of the Board could “anonymously'' observe tours and report back with their findings. The Jefferson Council, a group Ellis serves as president of, has been a vocal critic of the Guide Service and the content of their tours in recent months.
This summer, about 3 percent out of 709 survey respondents — those who took a tour in either July or August — cited their tour as “need[ing] improvement.” Of the same survey, 83 percent of July respondents and 76 percent of August respondents described the tour as “excellent.”
The Board’s written report also said any respondent problems did not seem to come from “negative comments about the University.”
Tahi Wiggins, chair of the Guide Service and fourth-year College student, emphasized that members of the Guide Service care deeply about tour content. Wiggins said most survey complaints were outside of the Guide Service control, such as not including a dorm visit and logistical issues involving parking and check-in services.
“It’s not really a question about the content of our tour, but more the institutional infrastructure within which we’re operating,” Wiggins said.
In order to bolster guest experiences on the admissions side, Senior Admissions Officer Kelli Barnette filled a new senior position and focuses full-time on the guest experience at the University. The Office will also engage an external expert with a background in guest experience and hospitality to help improve the guest experience.
Although the Guide Service is an independent organization, Wiggins said it shares the same goals with the University — to provide the best guest experience possible.
“We have a good working relationship where we each respect that our respective entities have the same goal of making people feel welcome at the University and helping them understand if this place would be a good fit for them,” Wiggins said.
In an additional effort to strengthen guest experiences, the Guide Service will receive $7,800 in funding for the 2022-23 school year. This funding will be used to support Guide training, as well as to eliminate member dues.
“The $7,800 is basically the equivalent to the operating budget if all members are paying dues,” Wiggins said. “This is like a recognition of the effort that Guides are putting in, of the time that they’re putting in, to convey the University to visitors.”
Isabelle Mathewes, co-scheduler for the Guide Service and third-year College student, meets with the Office of Admission weekly. Despite calls from the Board for increased oversight, Mathewes said she hasn’t noticed much of a change to the Guide Service.
“It does not feel like there’s a big difference in how admissions is interacting with us this semester compared to last semester,” Mathewes said.
Grace Deakyne, guide and third-year Commerce student, feels it is important that Guides are able to share their individual experiences at the University because that is what makes each tour unique and meaningful.
“You can have a neat opportunity to sort of shape a narrative, [although] obviously there are certain things you have to talk about,” Deakyne said.
Above all, Wiggins emphasized that the Guide Service and the University will work together to overcome any challenges.
“In that working relationship, we also respect that we are each independent entities, but that our goals can be best accomplished if we’re working together,” Wiggins said. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t have disagreements, it just means that we can work through them well, and overall our relationship is very productive.”