Ambassadors show prospective students, parents the way to U of O

They're easy to spot on the University of Oregon campus in their green polo shirts, leading a group of visitors and talking about campus landmarks and programs. And often, walking backwards.

“We don’t teach them that. I prefer they don’t” walk backwards, said Cora Bennett, director of Student Orientation Programs. “A lot of them see it as badge of honor to do it.”

These are the UO’s Ambassadors, undergraduates who, in addition to leading campus tours, greet visitors to the Ford Alumni Center and represent the university at recruitment events such as Duck Days and college fairs. They also works the phones, calling prospective students to encourage them to apply to the UO and visit campus.

“They’re the public student face of the UO,” Bennett said. About 50 students are hired to be Ambassadors each school year, including eight or nine returnees. Ambassadors are paid $10 an hour — $11 if they speak a second language — and work 12 to 18 hours a week.

“We want someone who can tell a good story,” Bennett said. “We’re looking for well-rounded students who can learn a lot of information about the U of O. Obviously we want people who love the UO.”

Ambassadors, by the numbers

1,750: Number of regular and special tours 

4,987: Number of tours in April 2013, the busiest month

31,960: Number of visitors led on regular and special tours and visit events

48,000: Number of recruiting phone calls made by Ambassadors to prospective students.

Maiyra Espinoza, a graduate of North Eugene High School, just completed a year’s stint as an Ambassador. She completed her bachelor’s degree in June in Family and Human Services and is beginning her studies toward a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology.

“We’re not just giving you a tour,” she said. “We’re sharing our experience.”

In addition to being an ambassador, Espinoza also serves as a multicultural recruiter, reaching out to under-represented student populations.

“That's the part I enjoy the most — talking to other students of color and telling my story, and why I chose the U of O,” Espinoza said.

Before they lead their first tour, Ambassadors attend a two-day retreat, then get 40 hours of classroom training, including a detailed review of the 140-page Tour Manual. The book lays out detailed guidelines for tours, including the specific route that must be followed, and which doors to use at which buildings.

But that doesn't mean the students should not bring their personality to bear on their tours.

"You get  to craft the tour the way you want to," Bennett tells the students. "You get to tell jokes that reflect your personality."

Their mission, Bennett said, is not to rattle off facts and figures by rote, but "to tell the story of the student experience." 

Outgoing Ambassador Ryan Donlon, a junior majoring in business administration from Lake Oswego, Ore., said the job has helped boost his self confidence and his public speaking skills.

“It’s a cool way to get involved in the future of the university,” he said. “I’ve loved it.”

Tim Christie