"What's the best residence hall to live in?"
"Is there a curfew?" "Can the albino squirrel have babies?"
Fielding questions from campus tour groups -- while walking backwards -- is all in a day's work for UNT's Eagle Ambassadors, select students who help promote the university by leading tours and interacting with prospective students.
With the idea that current students are some of the university's best representatives, UNT's Eagle Ambassador program was created in 1998 to help recruit and retain students.
The issue is a concern for universities nationwide. According to a study by Art & Science Group, a Maryland-based consulting firm, 65 percent of college students polled around the country said their campus visit had the most impact on their enrollment decision.
"It's a well-known fact that campus tours are a deciding factor in choosing the right institution," says Joneel Harris ('66, '75 M.S., '99 Ph.D.), associate vice president for enrollment management.
Eagle Ambassador administrator Marty Newman ('02 M.J.), assistant vice president of university relations, communications and marketing, says the ambassadors help prospective students make a real connection to the university.
"We knew from various research and anecdotes that prospective students wanted to talk with other students when they toured campus," Newman says. "If their experience was positive and they felt at home, the prospective students were likely to enroll."
Beyond tour guides
In addition to giving tours, Eagle Ambassadors attend events sponsored by UNT President Norval Pohl, college nights at area high schools, UNT football games, conferences and other university functions.
"Their assistance with the college night programs adds
the ‘student' touch to our recruiting efforts," says Marcilla Collinsworth ('69, '73 M.Ed.), UNT director of admissions. "Students and parents at these events love to talk with them, since they are currently enrolled and know what it is like to be a current student at UNT."
Since its creation, the UNT program has increased 77 percent in size by adding more campus tours and student ambassadors to satisfy the demand of nearly 15,000 tour participants. Fourteen Eagle Ambassadors are currently on staff -- each receives a $1,500 scholarship in addition to being paid for hours worked.
Program coordinator and former Eagle Ambassador Jennifer McLendon ('01) says each year the program strives to recruit
a dynamic group of students to serve the university. The selection process is rigorous, with three rounds of interviews, and ambassadors must meet academic requirements and keep their grades up.
"It is important for us to get the cream of the crop," McLendon says. "We look for people who are friendly, approachable, professional and outgoing. They have to love North Texas. You can't promote something you don't love."
Eagle Ambassadors are given nearly 50 hours of training. They learn about the university's history, etiquette and
diversity, how to talk about the university and, of course, how to conduct campus tours.
Although other public institutions conduct similar tours, UNT's program is unique because of the extensive training required and scholarships offered. Tours are two hours in duration (expanded to accommodate the new buildings on campus) with weekend tours available, as well as tours in Spanish and tours for special groups such as students from
elementary and middle schools.
Former Eagle Ambassador Jasiel Perez ('02) served in the program from 2000 to 2002 and is now an admissions counselor for the university. He says he applied to be an Eagle Ambassador because he wanted to work with people.
"The experience taught me how to communicate with people from all levels, from a prospective student who has never stepped foot on a college campus to a city mayor," says Perez, who is working on an M.B.A. from UNT. "The level of training that is provided reflects the education you receive at UNT."
Perez is now part of the selection process for new Eagle Ambassadors.
"A lot of people who have seen me on campus have said I helped them to see what UNT was about," Perez says. "I gave
a campus tour to one of the current Eagle Ambassadors."
Kristin Hancock Ringe ('04), who served three years as an Eagle Ambassador (and whose husband, Jerry, also served), says she found it hard to leave UNT after graduating -- so she didn't. She is now an academic adviser for the College of Arts and Sciences.
"I just love North Texas," she says. "This [position] is a chance for me to further my skills as an ambassador. It was an easy transition."