Temple Times Online Edition
    FEBRUARY 16, 2006
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Owl Ambassadors make TU shine

Owl Ambassadors (above, in the new Welcome Center) put their Temple knowledge to the test as they tell prospective students and their families about the advantages of choosing Temple over other universities. The Owl Ambassadors are student workers who give campus tours to visitors and high school students who are thinking about attending Temple.

Owl Ambassadors must have their Temple trivia ready at the drop of a hat.

How many books are in Paley Library? How many undergraduate majors are offered at Temple?
They’ve mastered just about everything there is to know about the University. The trivia isn’t these ambassadors’ only skill — they do more than just spout facts that anyone could look up in the University view book.

You’ve seen the Owl Ambassadors: 30 freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior students in Temple-cherry hoodies who give campus tours to visitors and high school students thinking about coming here. These students share their University experiences with students and parents who are facing one of the hardest decisions in a teen’s life — where to spend the next four years.

Every day, the ambassadors go the extra mile to encourage prospective students and their families to choose Temple — efforts that paid off this year as application rates soared by more than 20 percent.

Timm Rinehart, the director of admissions, credits much of that success to the campus tour program, revamped in the past few years under the leadership of Niki Mendrinos.

“When students and their families come on tours, they get to know the tour guides, and that gives them a positive image of Temple students,” Rinehart said.

The Owl Ambassadors program has been courting students since the ’90s, but didn’t really take off until the fall of 2000. The whole recruitment strategy shifted when the Admissions Office realized how important the campus guides are, Mendrinos said.

“When you think about it, so much is riding on them,” she said, noting that more than 10,000 people came to visit campus last year. “People judge the whole University by who they meet when they come here.”

That’s where the Owl Ambassadors, who earn both prestige and competitive wages, come in. With one or two tours per day and up to 80 people per tour, being a guide is no walk in the park.

The Owl Ambassadors start their tours with an introduction to the University, from their new home in the TECH Center. The Welcome Center opened on the first floor this semester, providing the ambassadors with a new, state-of-the-art presentation room complete with Temple banners and cherry-red chairs.

When the introduction is over, the tour guides lead the group on a stroll through campus for about an hour and a half before heading to Johnson-Hardwick for an authentic campus meal — a free lunch that Mendrinos calls a “special feature.”

“We think it’s important that students have the opportunity to taste the food and see what it’s like, especially when other students are there eating,” Mendrinos said.

After eating, parents and students are able to get the dish on Temple from the student ambassadors during a Q&A session in the dining hall.

“Temple students are simply the best people to sell the school,” Rinehart said.

While showing off the University, the guides also shine a bright light on themselves: Several have received job and internship offers from visitors impressed by their tour conduct. Three former ambassadors liked what they did so much that they now work for the Temple Admissions Office after having graduated.

If you are interested in signing up, remember: Only energetic, entrepreneurial, pro-Temple students need apply.

“We look for special students, ones with a good personality who can be sincere and convey the best aspects of the University,” explained Mendrinos, who recruits, trains and supervises the ambassadors. “You can’t be enthusiastic and nice to people if you don’t like your school, or it’ll show.”

Mendrinos said not everyone has what it takes to be an ambassador for Temple. That’s why potential Owl Ambassadors have to go through a challenging “audition” hiring process before getting a chance to fill one of the positions.

“Every year, there is a lot of competition to become an Owl Ambassador,” she said. “This past fall, we received 100 applications for 15 available positions. The decision of whom to choose is always a difficult one.”

As difficult as it was, Mendrinos made the selection of 15 students by inviting the 100 applicants to a “meet the owls session,” where they were placed into groups of five to six people and asked to come up with a song, dance, rap or poem that they believe expresses what it’s like to be a Temple student. After some time to prepare, the groups performed in front of the rest of the candidates.

Mendrinos and current Owl Ambassadors selected two people from each group to meet with individually. During the one-on-one interviews, the candidates were expected to come up with a three- to five-minute presentation on why they chose to attend Temple.

Mendrinos is looking for students who can handle responsibility, are reliable and enthusiastic, have a sense of humor and, most importantly, love Temple.

One of the new faces to join the team this spring was freshman Kate Harner, an international business major and Spanish minor, who said she wanted to be an ambassador because she loves telling people all about Temple.

“The auditioning process to get this job was a little stressful but I think it was a great experience to go through,” Harner said. “I’m looking forward to learning a lot and meeting families to see why they like Temple.”

Although ambassadors do act as tour guides, they also spend time doing clerical work and scheduling open-house programs.

Despite all of the hard work that goes into being an Owl Ambassador, there are many incentives that make it worthwhile.

“There are definitely perks to having this job, like the free lunches, discounted food and books and free Temple gear,” senior Kelly Schramn said. “It’s also nice because Niki believes that academics come first and is very flexible making schedule around our course load.”

“This is a really fun job but at the same time I take it very seriously,” senior ambassador Jessica Dunston said. “If I have a bad day I know that I can’t let that reflect in my attitude on the tour because that could affect a person’s decision to come here.”

- By Karen Shuey