The first time a student steps onto Gonzaga’s campus is most likely on a campus tour. Meaning, the first person they meet is the smiling face walking backward telling prospective students facts, figures and memories of GU.
There are about 70 ambassadors who give these campus tours and welcome prospective students, and by February there will be around 30 fresh faces ready to share their enthusiasm about GU.
The application process to become an ambassador is lengthy and competitive but necessary, said Maggie Clare, a senior ambassador and the selections coordinator for ambassadors this year.
“I would say it’s a competitive process,” Claire said. “We don’t have a quota or anything but we’re trying our best to pick the best representatives for the university,” Clare said.
The process begins with a written application.
“Applications opened in early October and [ran] through Monday,” said Sandra Vance, visit coordinator in the Office of Admissions and supervisor of the ambassador program.
“From the application stage we’re looking for a clear love of Gonzaga. It’s important for our ambassadors to be people who love the university and enjoy being here,” Vance said. “Honestly, at the application stage it’s about ‘can we see this love, can they answer questions that are being asked in the application?’ and looking for something that wants to make us learn more about them. And that could be through an intriguing story or a really interesting creative piece.”
The second stage is the group interviews.
“They’re kind of tricky and hard but there’s different rotations over the course of about 45 minutes. We’re evaluating your presence in a group because that’s a big part of ambassadors, your ability to answer questions, your storytelling ability and creativity as well,” Clare said. “We really just get to know you a little bit better in person because as we all know you can only read so much into someone by their application.”
This stage helps them distinguish applicants who can answer questions on the fly, interact with other ambassadors and gauge their enthusiasm and passion for GU in person.
After the group interviews they move into the final individual interviews.
“[These happen] next semester and it is a one-on-several kind of interview and it’s very traditional. This year it will be the selection committee and the applicant,” Clare said. “This is when we really dive into who you are, as in a little bit more into how you would be as an ambassador not necessarily just a Zag.”
After this final interview about 30 new ambassadors will be inducted into the program and they begin their training.
Ideally, new ambassadors are trained in time for Gonzaga Experience Live (GEL Weekend), Vance said. For the training process they must shadow tours, co-tour with an older ambassador and then finally give a tour with a senior ambassador evaluating them.
Vance said that this process can be difficult but they are flexible and allow ambassadors the room they need to truly perfect their tour before they go out on their own.
“You slowly build the puzzle that is your own personal tour and it’s a cool process to see training-wise but what’s really cool is looking back on that first tour in comparison to the final year as an ambassador,” Clare said. “Thinking back on how much my tour was someone else’s’ or borrowed from our big story bank we mentally have is really cool in comparison to now where I have all my own stories to tell.”
Clare went on to tell her favorite story from a tour about asking a professor if she could take a test early so that she could go to Phoenix to watch the Final Four game her freshman year. To her surprise he said yes and through this Clare was able to see and take advantage of office hours, building relationships with professors, smaller class sizes and basketball.
Lauren Schaefer, a senior at GU and an ambassador, has a similar mindset. She said that when she goes out on a tour she always has certain facts and stories she wants to hit but that can change based on how talkative a tour group is.
“We don’t really have a script,” Schaefer said. “We’re here to say what we think it important and worth sharing.”
Vance emphasized the importance of having the ability to adapt and be flexible, which is something the application process highlights.
“A lot of times an ambassador is the first impression a perspective student and family has of the university,” Vance said. “It’s hugely important that ambassadors are making students and families feel welcome and comfortable on campus and inviting questions and making the tour an informative and enjoyable experience where students are walking away not just feeling like they learned about Gonzaga but that their tour guide cared about them.”
The hope is that the group of new ambassadors will be able to effectively communicate the mission and culture of GU while aiding perspective students in their college application journey.
They also hope that for those chosen to be ambassadors they find a special community they truly feel like they belong in.
“We’re not looking for someone who knows everything about the university but rather someone who is easy to connect with and perspective students feel comfortable with,” Vance said. “We want people who can connect with people from all backgrounds and make everyone feel welcome.”
Clare said the biggest thing they look for is authenticity.
“Be as authentic as you can. That is the one true quality that unites all ambassadors,” she said. “We’re all so vastly unique and different but the thing we all maintain is a sense of authenticity and that’s our hope is to have authentic representatives of this school.”