Campus tours led by Penn State students give visitors insider's view

August 11, 2011

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Throughout the year but especially in summer, high school students and their families visit Penn State, strolling along streets and sidewalks while learning about Penn State history, notable buildings and other distinctive facts important to students -- all from tour guides their age.

"Most prospective students have such a short window of time to really get a feel for the University," said Lion Ambassador President Katie Perugini, a senior public relations major from West Wyoming, Pa. "In no more than two hours we articulate the history, traditions, student life and services to offer prospective students and their families the most accurate glimpse of what their life could be like at Penn State."

Over the years, several tour groups have been formed to assist the University with tours: Lion Ambassadors, Lion Scouts and the Student Minority Advisory and Recruitment Team (SMART). Each group serves distinct functions for their audiences, but they share the common goal of demonstrating what Penn State has to offer and encouraging prospective students that Penn State could be the university for them.

Lion Ambassadors was created at the University Park campus in summer 1981 after Penn State officials identified the need for a "student alumni corps" on campus. Now established across all Penn State undergraduate campuses, with the exception of Penn State Shenango, which has Lion Leaders, Lion Ambassadors' mission is to foster excitement and pride in what is arguably the country's most popular university.

While Lion Scouts and SMART both offer tours specifically for prospective students, Lion Ambassadors also give tours to current students, alumni and friends. As an arm of the Penn State Alumni Association, Lion Ambassadors also assist and promote the Alumni Association and organize and host several of its notable events, such as Be a Part From the Start for incoming freshmen, the student S-Zone at home football games, history-themed nighttime Lantern Tours, Homecoming's traditional Guard the Lion Shrine event, Founders' Day, and each spring's University-Wide Senior Sendoff.

Be a Part From the Start is a spirited event held at the beginning of each fall semester to welcome the newest class of Penn Staters at the University Park campus. About 7,000 freshmen attend the hour-long lesson in Penn State pride featuring cheerleaders, the Nittany Lion mascot, the Blue Band and the dance team. Be a Part From the Start gives first-year students a chance to learn the school's fight songs, cheers and the Alma Mater.

"We encourage prospective students to take pride in Penn State by showing them our own experiences and speaking about the pride of our peers," said Perugini. "At Penn State we have the opportunity to not just be a student, but a Penn Stater. The pride that Penn Staters have for their university is unparalleled and service and commitment to Penn State exists in all forms."

Lion Scouts, established in 1985 by the Undergraduate Admissions Office, comprise more than 300 student volunteers who assist the Admissions office with recruitment efforts.

"Lion Scouts share their own personal experiences with the prospective students and show them areas around campus that may benefit them," said Lynn Koehler, assistant director of marketing and recruitment for Undergraduate Admissions and Lion Scouts adviser. "Scouts talk about some of the more than 900 organizations and groups here at University Park."

Although known for giving campus tours to prospective students, Lion Scouts participate in several other student recruitment activities and events."Phone-a-thons are held each spring, where Scouts reach out to students who have an offer of admission," Koehler said. "Online chats are hosted year-round for prospective and accepted students to chat with actual Penn State students and get their questions answered from a student's perspective."

Another large event Lion Scouts host is Spend a Summer Day, Penn State's "open house" at University Park for prospective families two weeks in late July and early August. (Penn State campuses host Spend a Summer Day -- or Morning or Evening -- events from June through August; dates are at online.) During these events, prospective students have the opportunity to learn about admissions, academics and student life at Penn State.

Koehler says Lion Scouts encourage the prospective families to take pride in our beautiful campus when they first arrive. "After introductions, families are inducted into the Penn State Family with the 'WE ARE-PENN STATE' cheer. The feeling of screaming 'PENN STATE' at the top of your lungs in unison with complete strangers is like no other! This all adds up to the true 'family' feeling that Penn State has to offer," Koehler explained.

SMART, the newest tour group at Penn State, was created in 1988. Now a part of the Undergraduate Admissions Office, SMART works to increase the retention and graduation rates of underrepresented student populations. SMART volunteers work to develop positive relationships with prospective students to help foster a diverse student body.

"SMART interacts with both minority and majority groups," said SMART President Jamika Williams. "We tend to stress all the resources and opportunities available to Penn State students. Being at a large university, students need to know what resources are available to help them not only acclimate to campus life, but succeed in the collegiate environment."

Aside from tours, SMART hosts several events each year where prospective students have the opportunity to visit Penn State and learn more about the University. SMART's main events include La Experiencia, a day focused on high school students of Latino or Hispanic decent; Spend a Fall Day, a time when minority high school students are invited to visit the campus and learn about Penn State's multicampus system; and the group's signature event, Achiever's Weekend.

"Achiever's Weekend has brought hundreds of high-achieving students who have been offered admission to Penn State University Park to campus for a weekend visit," Koehler explained, "to showcase not only the classroom experiences they could have, but also the social and cultural opportunities that exist here."

"I believe pride in Penn State only grows through experience, and members of SMART tend to encourage students to explore as much of Penn State as possible," Williams said. "With hundreds of clubs to join and thousands of people to meet, true pride in Penn State comes from interacting with other Penn Staters."

  • You could say that 'We walk backwards to move Penn State forward' is the motto of Penn State Lion Scouts, Lion Ambassadors and SMART, student volunteers who regularly give walking tours of Penn State.

    IMAGE: Penn State Public Information

(Media Contacts)

Kelly Newburg

Last Updated August 23, 2011