High school junior Brandon Brewster (second from right, in stripes) on a campus tour with guides (starting from far left) Hilary Nichols, Becky Tachihara, Cassie Venneau and Libby Hale. Daniel Berman/The AS Review.'

Chelsea Asplund/The AS Review

On any given day, thousands of people walk the lengths of Western’s campus, all with their own agendas. Then there is that rare breed, usually standing somewhere along south campus, which has something different in mind. They stand in clusters: parents with their noses buried in brochures, high school-aged sons and daughters staring at passersby with eager doe eyes.

They are there to meet with a student admissions representative who, for 90 minutes, will help them make one of their most difficult decisions in life: where to go to college.

Junior Brennan Taylor has been an admissions representative, also known as a StAR, since last year. Initially, he was just looking for some extra money on top of his job as a referee and submitted his application on a whim.

His in-depth training process addressed Western’s history, student statistics, programs, departments and everything there was to know about every nook and cranny on campus.

“The greatest thing about StAR training was the emphasis on us all coming together as a family,” he said. “Now that I look back at training, it wasn’t really learning about Western, but embodying what Western is, a family.”

Junior Becky Tachihara, who was hired as a guide last March, said she hadn’t realized how competitive the process was. The admissions office received more than 100 applications last year and only ended up hiring 20 or so, she said.

A key aspect to training was having new hires shadow experienced tour guides. By watching them in action, Tachihara said she was able to learn the ropes.

During the training process, new hires attend a weekly class, where they are given detailed information from admissions advisers regarding specific departments and background knowledge. They are also trained on how to answer potential questions.

Tachihara said one concern she had when starting out was being grilled by “helicopter parents” who ask questions about everything. But after dealing with different types of people and getting a few tours under her belt, she felt more confident.

She said her confidence also came from the help of a partner. By working in pairs, Tachihara said that guides develop a pattern of who talks about what, what jokes are used and how they play off one another to make the tour more interesting.

“Things change partly because none of us are fact-reciting robots,” she said. “We liven things up with jokes, anecdotes, fun facts and they change a lot, partly because we have different people on every tour.”

Taylor said that no tour ever looks the same as another. They usually start at the Wade King Rec Center and follow a path to the Viking Union. Depending on the dynamic between the guides, the route can be entirely different for each tour group. A lot also depends on what kinds of people are taking the tour, and which locations on campus they’re particularly interested in.

Taylor’s favorite experience leading a tour took place when he was leading a high school counselor around campus. He was an active member of the Humans vs. Zombies game going on at the time, and as the pair hit Red Square a swarm of zombies surrounded them. Luckily, he had a sign indicating that he was giving a tour and therefore could not be eaten. The counselor had a great sense of humor about the whole thing and began speaking with the group about different activities students can get involved in on campus.

“At the end of the tour the counselor told my partner and I that it had been the best college tour they had,” Taylor said. “I’m paraphrasing, but she said something along the lines of, ‘I learned more than just the academics of your school for my students, I saw how full of life, or in this case lack of life, the school is.”

Tachihara, who is an environmental journalism major, said her favorite moment as a tour guide happened earlier this quarter when she spoke with a prospective student who was interested in the journalism program. After speaking one-on-one for several minutes, Tachihara gave out her contact information and told the prospective student to email her with any questions or to just talk about college in general.

“A few days later, she emailed me and said no one had ever really encouraged her to go to college or pursue her interest in journalism before. That’s when it really hit home for me, how big a difference we can make in students’ lives,” she said.

When sophomore Faith Bredley was offered two jobs last spring, she knew she wanted to work for admissions over anything else. While being a StAR meant less hours and less pay, she knew the skills she would gain, especially public speaking, would be more valuable.

“Every time I have to do an oral presentation now, they are so much easier than they were last year,” Bredley said.
Her favorite tours to give are those with middle school students or low-income families, as opposed to prospective students or those who have already been admitted. Bredley said that prospective students know more about the college experience and also know what they are looking for in a college, so there are less surprises.

“To share [the campus] with middle schoolers or high schoolers who have no idea about the college experience, that’s the best,” she said.