Ali Elkin, '17, leads a tour down Memorial Walk on Saturday, April 18, 2015. The tour guides discuss campus life and answer any questions admitted students may have. (Lillie Zakin/B&W)

Q&A: Tales of a Lehigh tour guide


Tour guides at Lehigh are the ones who present the university to prospective students, and it’s their job to sell students on wanting to come to the university. A Brown and White reporter sat down with a group of tour guides to discuss their experiences.

Q: How do you become a tour guide?

Chris Gramley, ’16, co-student coordinator: It starts with an application process and then we take that application pool and wind it down to the strongest applicants on paper, and then bring them in to see their stage presence. We ask them some of the questions that we know they get on tours, especially some of the harder questions. Then we take the strongest candidates and end up with a tour guiding team of about 70.

Q: What is your favorite thing about being a tour guide?

Gramley: I like getting up in front of people and talking. It’s very rare that you can stand in front of people for an hour and have them completely listen and hanging on to every word I say. It was really cool. We were told a few weeks ago that tour guides are the third-highest reason that kids pick colleges, which is really cool to be such a big part of a kids decision process when its something that was so integral to us, being able to pass that on is something so special to us.

Ovie Ojeni, ’18: I think just getting people excited about Lehigh is my favorite part. I just love telling all of the interesting stories I’ve experienced so far, especially being a freshman. Giving them the inside scoop and making them comfortable since they are going to be freshmen and are going through this process just providing this presence to make them comfortable knowing they can ask any questions that are on their mind without the fear of ridicule.  I also like marketing Lehigh the best I can to share my experience with others.

Mike Whang, ’16: Going off what Chris said, I was on the fence between Lehigh and another school, and what really made the difference was the tour guide and they just told me their experiences and really made it so that Lehigh was something I wanted to be a part of.  I sort of looked up to that person for a while because they helped me make one of the biggest decisions of my life. I guess I feel like I’m doing that with other students whether I know it or not. I also really like the public speaking experience because it’s a good skill to have in life. I’m just very enthusiastic about Lehigh and this is the best way to get that out there.

Ojeni: Walking backwards is a great skill too.

Gramley: Yea, until you hit something.

Q: How do you feel tours convey campus life? Do you think it accurately portrays Lehigh?

Gramley: The best thing about Lehigh is that you really don’t have to talk if you don’t want. You could just walk around and point at things. Lehigh pretty much sells itself, but we do have a phenomenal tour guiding team. I’ve had the pleasure of heading through the year (the tour guides) and have the opportunity to watch us kill it every day. All the tour guides really convey their passion for campus, and…as someone who has seen a lot of tours, (they) really get into it. It’s not a script. It’s more an experience because that speaks so much more personally about the student body.

Ojeni: When I first became a tour guide, I thought it would be a lot of scripts and memorization and I’m really bad at memorizing. So honestly, I was nervous about that. Matt assured me, “All you really need to do is tell your story and you’ll be fine.” So that’s what I ended up doing and I felt like my story, through my involvement with Lehigh After Dark and other activities I’m involved in, has helped me convey Lehigh in the best light possible. So actually being unscripted has really helped us convey Lehigh in the best possible sense.

Whang: I think tours accurately portray campus life. We’re told specifically not to lie on tours so when tour guides tell the tour something, it’s almost always the truth and how we truly feel about what we’re talking about. The campus and environment sell itself. Recently, I was giving a tour talking about how energetic and enthusiastic students are, and that there’s this positive energy that you can feel around campus. Then we walked through the quad and saw people hanging out, laying down, studying and playing frisbee with each other. Everything that we say can be reinforced by a physical image or building that we can point to and say there’s the perfect example of what I just said.

Q: What are the typical questions you get from prospective students and their parents? 

Gramley: There’s probably two or three that I get almost every tour. One really focuses on what it’s like living in different size dorms. You have Richards, Dravo and Drinker, which are larger freshman dorms on campus. You have M&M, which is considered a medium size dorm, and then obviously Upper and Lower Centennials. They kind of ask whether or not that changes your experience or how you do things. That’s one of the things I’ve always said that it doesn’t really matter where you’re put. Lehigh does a really nice job of putting you in a diverse place that really allows you to make friends and gain insights that you wouldn’t normally. The other one that I get on almost every single tour is in regards to campus size and campus life. With the three different campuses, they always want to know how difficult it is to get to sports games on Mountaintop, and how often you need to go. The other big one I get every tour is, “Can I have a car freshman year?,” which I’m pretty sure they address in the information session but most people just like hearing it from someone that’s on campus, to which the obvious answer is no.

Ojeni: For me, the biggest question is, “How is the food?” Me being a 6-foot-4 guy who eats a lot, I always brag about how good the food is here and how many options we have here. Another question is, “Why Lehigh?” I always explain, yes we do have the pretty buildings and we are a highly elite institution, but I always say the community is what I came here for. When I first came here, I was kind of lost within the community. (I was) looking for the admissions building and I met this girl who said “You look lost. Do you need help finding the admissions building?” and I said, “Yeah I am can you help me?” She said, “Sure, but first I’ll take you on a mini tour of Lehigh.” She took me to Lindy, showed me Lucy’s, and then up to the UC and it was chicken finger Friday, so that was kind of clutch. Then she took me to admissions and gave me her card and contact info and said, “If you need anything, please feel free to contact me.” I knew right then and there that I needed to take the actual tour because I knew I was coming to Lehigh.

Whang: Another question I encounter a lot is anything about Greek life. On occasion, if we have a small number of tour guides, we’ll mention some of the extracurriculars we do in addition to tour guiding. Whenever that comes up, we usually mention whether or not we’re a part of Greek life and when that happens, my tour groups almost always ask what Greek life is like. There’s this stigma that Greek life is bad and is just negatively portrayed in the media. Lehigh being a big proprietor of Greek life, parents are always worried about their students getting involved in that negative stereotype. It’s a pretty simple and straightforward question that the media misses all of the positives about Greek life and picks up only on the minimal one percent of negatives that very few Greek organizations actually have. It’s a little disappointing how often that question comes up because of how negatively its portrayed in the media.

Q: Any special or funny stories from tours?

Gramley: It’s very funny. Now that I’m leaving after this year, my very first tour and my very last tour were the most special. I ended and started on a high note. My very first tour I had about 45 people, it was a very large tour and it was the middle of the summer. We were walking around campus and at the end of the tour, people were coming up and I stuck around for questions at the end. This one guy stood around until the end, didn’t have a kid and was just standing around at the back, and didn’t have one of the information packets or anything. He walks up and said, “My name is ‘blank’ and I was a graduate of the class of ’93. I haven’t been back on campus since I graduated, and I’ve been working out in California for the last couple of years. I was on a sales call today and it was about an hour away, so I wanted to stop in. I caught you coming out of admissions and one of the coolest things that I’ve ever seen is the way you speak about Lehigh and the fact that you’re so passionate about being on campus. I have this as a graduation present,” and then he pulls out a watch with the Lehigh logo in gold underneath the watch head. This guy says, “It needs a new band and it needs a new battery, but would you like it?” I told him I couldn’t take it, that wouldn’t be fair because I enjoyed giving the tour. So he laughs and goes, “Either you’re going to take it or I’m going to throw it at you and run away. Because I’d really like to hand it to you and then shake your hand because that was a phenomenal tour. It’s kids like you that make me really proud to be a Lehigh graduate.” That was by far the best way to start off a tour guiding career.

Ojeni: As far as funny stories I tell on tours, one of my tour mates asked me a question about this funny story about the blue light system. So I told her a story about a horse and this girl getting rescued on a horse. So the story goes, there’s this girl named Lisa that was coming up from Dravo and 11 o’clock at night and she was kind of feeling unsafe, so she phoned into the blue light system voicing her concern that she was feeling unsafe. So what happens is the police department arrived up on a horse and rode her back to her dorm. Another funny story is the gate keeper’s house, which is now the philosophy department. A couple of kids decided to hop over the fence. When Lehigh was a lot smaller, the only entrance and exit was through that aperture. So the gatekeeper locked the fence and upon the kids return, they find out the gates are locked and they had to bang on the gatekeepers door to let them into Lehigh. I always love telling those stories and it gets a bit of chuckles and laughs.

Whang: I have a couple of funny stories. A big thing that happens when I’m on tours, if I see one of my friends or one of my fraternity brothers, they will follow my tour group. Then at the end as we’re walking back, they just rail me with questions, which is always a fun time. I know a lot of people like hearing mess up stories. So one time I was giving a tour to just a father and his son and the son was looking to be a transfer student. He had told me that he was a music major. So I told him I would try to make the tour a little more special since it was just us. I told him I would take him to Zoellner and show him the rooms. Then I proceeded to go on the normal tour guide route, I guess out of muscle memory. At the end of the tour, the son looks at me and goes, “So which one was Zoellner?” I realized I had completely forgotten to take them to Zoellner. It went completely out of my head that I was apologizing profusely. I asked them if they wanted me to take them back. They just go, “No we’ll handle it from here. Thank you.”

Gramley: The other thing that I think is really funny, which I see all the time now but used to be kind of minimal, is whenever you see a friend on tour, you wish them happy birthday. It’s just hysterical to watch the entire tour go, “Oh my god, you have to give a tour on your birthday? I can’t believe you have to give a tour.” If you’re really good, you can get the tour to sing to them and kind of toss them out of their rhythm. Then the entire time the tour guide is going, “No it’s not my birthday,” and the tour goes, “You’re just being modest. It’s so noble of you to give a tour on your birthday.”

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