Step this way for a closer look at what it’s like to be one of URI’s student tour guides

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KINGSTON, R.I. – April 1, 2015 – “Where can I work out?” “Does URI have a student newspaper?” “Will I be able to pick my roommate?” “Where can I get a late-night snack?” “Where does my daughter go for help with financial aid ?”

These are just some of the questions asked by the thousands of prospective students and their parents when they come to URI for a campus tour. And while the University’s small, beautiful campus can sway many of them, the enthusiasm, interest and sincerity of the URI tour guides are of the elements that seal the deal. Visitors travel from all over the country, and even the world, to tour the Kingston campus, and to learn more about the University’s academics, athletics, and student life, and URI tour guides are well prepared to answer almost any question, or refer a student or parent to the right person or office for further information.

In many cases, tour guides are URI’s first ambassadors. So it only makes sense that they receive intense training in the areas of academics, residential life, athletics, student involvement, and more. And since tour guides never see the same families twice, no tour is ever the same.

In this Q&A, we asked five of URI’s tour guides, Kerry Walsh, a junior majoring in communicative disorders, Shanique King, a sophomore majoring in accounting, Brian Brady, a sophomore majoring in biological sciences, Iman Aberra, a fourth-year pharmacy major, and Thomas Garabedian, a junior majoring in industrial engineering with a minor in business, what campus tours entail, why they wanted to join the program, and what they’ve gained from their experience. We even asked them about some of their funniest moments on tour, too.

Why did you want to become a tour guide?

SK: I loved the idea of being able to reach out to families and impact their college search experience in a positive way. URI is a wonderful school and I’ve had great opportunities here, and I value the opportunity to share my experiences with prospective students and families. I also wanted to try something that I never had done and get involved on campus.

KW: I am extremely passionate about URI and the opportunities that are available to all students. URI has changed me by giving me an education rooted in experiential learning, research, and focused attention from professors. Through clubs and organizations, I’ve had the opportunity to grow as a leader, devote time to community service, and meet inspiring people. I think that tour guides have the potential to impact individuals to come to URI and have this same experience. I would love to help someone have the same amazing experience that I’ve had at URI.

BB: I had a great experience while touring URI, and I wanted to try to re-create that same feeling for other students and to try to help them in any way possible.

What does a URI campus tour entail?

SK: The tour lasts about 90 minutes and visitors get a good look at academic buildings, classrooms, the library, where students eat and live on campus, and our athletic amenities. The campus tour starts and ends in the Memorial Union, which is the center of student life on campus. Through the tour, students really get a feel for what it is like being a student at URI!

TG: A typical campus tour covers 2.1 miles.

BB: During a tour, we show students and their families the URI campus, and all the things that truly make this campus more than just a school, but a community.

Is there something about you or the way you give a tour that makes a visitor’s experience unique?

TG: I simply try to give the visitors the best and most enjoyable experience that I can. Tour guides are often the only interaction prospective students and their families have while visiting colleges, so it is important to give them their best visit.

IA: I think it’s my energy that radiates from my love for the campus that makes my tour unique to our visitors.

BB: Something unique about my tour is that I tell all of my visitors how to make money quick on campus. For example, I got paid $100 for participating in an ADHD study.

What part of the tour do prospective students and families seem most excited about?

SK: Prospective students and families are always the most excited about the residence halls and the dining amenities. During the second tier of tour, visitors can really start picturing themselves as students, moving their things into their dorms, and taking trips to the dining halls.

KW: Oftentimes, the dining hall! Since we have so many accommodations and dining options for students, the visitors are almost always excited to learn about them. It’s fun to tell them that we have unlimited swipes with all of our meal plans because this is such a great system that most others colleges and universities don’t use.

BB: I notice a lot of students and families light up like a child on Christmas when I bring them to the dining hall.

What question do you get asked the most on tour?

TG: The most common questions are usually: What is it like living in the residence halls? How’s the dining hall food? What do students usually do on the weekends for fun? Everyone seems to want to know most about what it is like living here at URI.

IA: I often get asked if there is an Amtrak train station nearby.

KW: Most visitors are interested in our student involvement on campus, such as clubs and organizations, Greek life, attendance at our sporting events, and general Rhody Pride! As a tour guide, this is always fun to answer because there are so many clubs and organizations, so there is always the right fit for students. Once at URI, every student learns to bleed Keaney Blue.

What is the funniest or strangest question you have ever been asked on tour?

SK: I have never been asked any strange questions while out on tour. I am a huge Beyoncé fan and while passing the new Fascitelli Fitness & Wellness Center, I always mention the Beyoncé dance class that we offer and my tours always get a kick out of that!

TG: I had a parent once who was very concerned with where the closest mall is and where her daughter can go shopping. She actually asked me right as we were just starting the tour, before I could even introduce myself. I simply explained to her that we are in Rhode Island, and nothing is very far away.

KW: One time in the middle of the tour, a student asked me if I attended a camp in high school. Turns out that we went to the same student council leadership program and they recognized me from that!

How easy or difficult was it for you to learn how to walk backwards on campus?

SK: It was somewhat difficult for me to learn walking backwards. During my early tours, I would walk into (product) stands and almost walk off the sidewalks but after a while I got acclimated to walking backwards and giving a tour.

IA: It came naturally.

KW: It was very easy to learn! When there are puddles or snow my skills get tested, but the visitors are always very considerate and keep an eye out in case I’m about to walk into something.

BB: It was really easy learning how to walk backwards because I played defenseman in hockey.

What is the most valuable thing you have learned from being a URI Tour Guide?

TG: More than anything, being a URI tour guide has helped me improve my public speaking skills. Whether I’m on tour with groups of 20 or more people, speaking at the Admission information sessions, talking with prospective students and their families after a tour, or even traveling to a regional conference to present on our program’s recruitment process, I have had many opportunities to improve my public speaking.

IA: I’ve learned a lot about URI’s different colleges and majors. I’ve also learned a lot of random facts about URI.

KW: Since being a tour guide, I have met so many new people – visitors and tour guides included. I’ve come to appreciate and understand how diverse URI is as I’ve learned about individual degree programs, and the entire campus. I started working at the Visitors Center this semester and I’ve enjoyed being able to see the entire process that happens when a prospective student arrives on campus, start to finish. Also, my public speaking skills have really improved!

This release was written by Lucio Andreozzi, an intern in the Department of Marketing and Communications.

Pictured above:

Left to right, Tour guides Kerry Walsh, Shanique King, Brian Brady, Iman Aberra, and Thomas Garabedian.

Photo by Lucio Andreozzi.