Wearing a warm smile and her maroon-and-gold rugby shirt Nov. 13, Megan Garrity greeted another wide-eyed group of high school students and parents near the Bell Museum of Natural History.
“I’m sure you heard that a lot today, but we really do mean it,” she said.
Garrity is one of approximately 50 admissions ambassadors who often serve as the first friendly face to meet prospective students.
They act as University representatives and can make or break an undecided student’s decision to join them in the student body.
The senior nursing student has volunteered as an ambassador for two years and is considered one of the best.
“Sometimes she’s their first and only impression of the University,” said Angela Cortese, an admissions ambassador co-coordinator.
Garrity is required to give two tours a month. But her name is on the schedule usually every Friday, and for the last several weeks, she’s woken up early to give Saturday morning tours, too.
She points to Tate Lab of Physics at the beginning of her tour. On Friday nights, students can use the lab’s telescope to stargaze for a free romantic date, she said.
College students like free things, and mentioning the telescope is part of the ambassador script, Garrity said.
Usually she will make up her speech as she goes along, she said. Every tour is different, and she said she tries to tailor it to the student, such as noticing the patch on a letterman’s jacket or what major a student announces at the beginning of the tour.
“When I was touring colleges in high school, I loved the tour guides,” she said.
She said she even thought it might be something she could do in college. A few years later, she was walking backward around campus while pointing at buildings and giving history lessons about the University.
“I love being able to brag about everything we have at the University,” she said.
Walking backward is synonymous with being a tour guide. It’s great for the hamstrings, she said.
“Now, I think I feel more comfortable walking backwards than I do walking forwards,” she said.
One tour that did not go well during high school became motivation to become a tour guide, Garrity said.
She said she remembers a tour guide telling students they would be lucky if they were accepted into the college. Garrity said the experience discouraged her enough to throw away her application.
“You don’t want to be this stuffy, stodgy, here I am the University tour guide,” she said.
She tries to be approachable, she said, and talks to prospective students as though everyone can get accepted.
At the end of the tour Nov. 13, Claudia Ericson, mother of a prospective student from Lake Geneva, Wis. said Garrity was energetic and balanced, selling the University without overselling it.
She was positive, but realistic, Ericson said.
Her son, Paul Ericson, said, “Megan was just super. She showed us everything I wanted to see.”
Cortese said Garrity goes out of her way to make prospective students feel comfortable.
It is not required or even requested, but Garrity will have lunch with prospective students and parents after a tour to talk more about the University, Cortese said.
Garrity gives tours rain or shine, in sweltering heat or bone-chilling cold. Even when the temperature is 40 degrees below zero, she said.
But even when she is bundled up in a scarf and heavy jacket, giving a tour is not a chore, she said.
With graduation approaching, Garrity’s tour days will end in December. Ambassador terms run spring through fall.
“I think I will miss it a lot,” she said. “(But) I won’t miss it when it’s 40 below out or 100 degrees out.”