Westfield State University is known for prioritizing its students and their education, leading to the establishment of various programs and opportunities created to enhance both academic and extracurricular learning. For those looking to develop complex interpersonal and problem-solving skills, training to be a student tour guide helps to improve initiative and leadership when it comes to not only their academic life, but their personal one as well.
In an interview, Katelyn Shea, Associate Director of Admissions, discussed the benefits of becoming a student tour guide and what that process entails. She also elaborated on what her experience has been like overseeing the tour guides as they continue to grow and build skills that are applicable to the real world.
“I started just over twenty years ago here at Westfield State, in the Admissions office,” she said. “I was hired as an Admissions Counselor, which was great for someone who was just out of college. When you’re looking for colleges, you don’t think as you’re sitting down in a high school counseling office, ‘That’s their job’.”
After the position opened, Shea joined the tour guide program and watched as it grew in number over time. “One of the assistant directors who was overseeing the tour guides left, so I was able to take on that responsibility. The program ran a certain way and I was familiar with it, so it was easy to jump in. As times changed, the tour program has had to change and adapt as well. We’ve gone from fifteen student tour guides to thirty. It’s been a great experience.”
Because the tour guides highlight the community at Westfield State, both Shea and the student tour guides have also fostered a sense of connection as she oversees their work. “My favorite thing is the relationships I’ve been able to foster, not just with my mentors here, but the relationships I have with my student tour guides,” she said about it. “I keep in touch with a lot of students, whether it be through LinkedIn, social media apps, or if they simply shoot me a text. It’s the relationships within the position that I’ve been able to build.”
Shea encourages the students to be themselves as well. When it comes to the scripts, students tour guides are allowed to speak as they normally do since each presentation relies on the character of the person giving it. “I don’t script my tour guides because I really feel that it’s important to be authentic and talk about the student experience,” Shea said. “There’s certainly talking points, but they learn a lot about what’s happening, and I learn. It’s also a great opportunity for the students to network and meet new people. They meet all kinds of people while they’re working, and that plays into problem-solving and flexibility.”
To become a student tour guide, students must go through an application and hiring process before being trained to start working. Students of any year or major are welcome to apply. “The more variety, the better,” Shea said. “It’s really about the person.”
Once a guide, students will be assigned at least one tour per week. These tours range in time from 1-2 hours, with open houses taking place during the fall. Additional responsibilities include “special tours”, Shea said, which are when high school groups or community-based organizations reach out to see the campus. “It’s very rare when a tour guide only has one scheduled tour per week.”
Besides being a paid opportunity, students are also developing real world skills and abilities, such as learning how to speak to varying groups of people. “They’re getting those public speaking skills,” she reiterated. “You’re expected to be able to speak in front of the group whether it’s four or fifty people.”
However, Shea was clear in students not needing to be experts right off the bat. “You don’t have to know everything,” she said. “I don’t ask that they know everything. The student experience is really what we need to be highlighting. What students want to hear is what life is like at Westfield State University. Every year when new tour guides are hired, I tell them, ‘You’re going to learn the information, but ultimately you live it every day.’ Respective students who visit campus are more likely to commit to Westfield State because of our tour guides.”
For students who are interested, Shea said, they should reach out to Admissions at the beginning of the academic year. “I do most of the hiring in the fall. I already have a good number of applications, and I’ll start interviewing next week. If a student doesn’t think they can do it but has an interest, just email me at email@example.com and we’ll get them on the interest list. I can send the application, and I take references from faculty and staff. If a student is interested, I’m going to do my best to include them somehow.”
The last thing to know for prospective tour guides is to not be afraid of the onboarding process. “I think it’s intimidating,” she said. “They see tour guides and think they don’t know anything, but we can teach you that. We can teach you the specifics. Live your life on campus. You can talk about that. These students are undergoing the college search process that the student tour guides went through, so they already have knowledge about why they chose Westfield State. I wish people would keep an open mind, apply for a position, and learn about it, because there are so many benefits for working in this position.”