On the Front Lines: Mason’s Ambassadors Help Create First Impressions
Posted: February 22, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am
Although Mason students are full of school pride, only a tried and true few would brave wind, rain, and the recent bitter cold front ripping through Northern Virginia to spread the Mason spirit to the outside community. Mason ambassadors—current students whose primary duty is to give tours of the university to prospective Patriots, their parents, and special guests—deserve the credit for being the first faces of the university. They do their job with enthusiasm, commitment, and a fine sense of humor.
Becoming a Mason ambassador isn’t easy. Only 3 percent of an incoming class is invited to apply. Those interested must complete an application, write an essay, and be interviewed by the Office of Admissions. Campus visit coordinator Emily Jones, BA Theater ’04, says that leading the Mason ambassadors is one of the most fun parts of her job. “They keep everything interesting,” she says. “It makes it worthwhile to come into work.”
With about 75 ambassadors of all ages and majors, the group is growing in recognition across Mason. Besides conducting campus tours, ambassadors can be found at many major university functions—commencement, open houses, Board of Visitor meetings, and networking functions. They also host Chat University, an online chat room where prospective students can ask questions about what SAT scores they need to have or what students do for fun on weekends. And ambassadors return to their own high schools during semester breaks to talk to students there about Mason.
Now that the spring semester is in full swing, ambassadors can easily be spotted around campus in their white polo shirts and khaki pants, giving campus tours. It is on these tours that many potential students get their first look inside the Johnson Center, first glimpse of a Presidents Park residence hall room, and first taste of college life. Ambassadors calm students’ and parents’ nerves and bring the admissions brochures and pamphlets to life.
“I am proud to be here, and I want everyone else to be, too,” says freshman ambassador Kate Pisano. “Giving tours is really rewarding, especially when you get thank you e-mails from students and parents about how much they appreciated the tour.”
The tours, which are usually given twice daily during the semester, can be unpredictable. Tour groups can range in size from one sole student to almost 100 prospective students during spring registration. And the questions can throw off even the most seasoned tour guide—from queries about area real estate to how much partying really goes on behind student housing room doors. To top it all off, numerous ambassadors have discovered the job hazard of falling while walking backwards on their tours.
Neither rain, sleet, snow nor difficult questions keep Mason ambassadors from guiding prospective students around campus.
Photo by Evan Cantwell
To help with the unexpected, some ambassadors compile stories, legends, or amusing anecdotes to tell along the way. For senior Brandon Baumbach, a past ambassador president, the stories personalize the campus and give the students something to remember. He tells visitors the legend of rubbing the toe of the George Mason statue for good luck and has the group rub the toe just for fun. On one tour, everyone except one young woman participated. Later on the tour, she tripped and fell. “Her mother laughed and pointed out that she was unlucky because she hadn’t rubbed George’s toe,” Baumbach says.
Ambassadors also have to be ready to answer tough questions honestly. “One of the hardest questions we get is, what don’t you like about Mason?” says Baumbach. “I have to say that construction and parking are sometimes difficult to deal with, but on the positive side, it means we will have new buildings with great technology and research opportunities.”
Jones is proud to see the ambassadors program growing each year, and she makes sure the students know how valuable they are. This past semester, she coordinated a holiday party and a bowling night for them. She also bought them fleece scarves with the new Mason logo to wear on those cold tour days.
“It’s really gratifying to be part of the ambassadors,” says Baumbach. “The first impression you give someone is important and helps them make a significant decision—where to go to college. To know you are a part of that decision just can’t be matched.”