By BRIAN ANDERSO
Tour guides at BYU experience a wide range of unequaled situations, from hosting foreign ambassadors and prospective students to experiencing minor fender-benders on the tour carts.
BYU has an extensive history that the tour guides must learn, as well as responsibilities driving, hosting, and avoiding pedestrians on the sidewalks. Combined, it is not an easy task but is a rewarding opportunity for guides such as Chris Mason, a senior from Orem majoring in business.
“Probably the most memorable experience would be when I took the Consul General of Israel on tour,” Mason said. “I got to spend about five hours with him. I was expecting him to be a little stand-offish, but he was really down to earth. He was concerned about the students, where they lived and how they liked the school. He just really put me at ease.”
Ryan Whitney, a junior from Orem majoring in history, shared an experience in which he didn’t feel as comfortable.
On his first tour, Whitney was the scheduled guide for some guests from Australia.
“My first tour stands out in mind because I wasn’t a student on campus,” Whitney said. “But after the tour, the guests said, ‘You did a fine job, Ryan.'”
All the tour guides have had their fair share of the repeated questions. Can I get a ride? Do those things run on batteries? Does it have a horn? How fast do those things go? But they do get a fair share of unique questions as well.
When Mason drove by the Karl G. Maeser Memorial Building, a visiting Russian student asked, “Why does a Christian university have a statue of Lenin in front of this building?”
“I said it’s not some surplus statue we bought after the breakup of the Soviet Union; this is Karl G. Maeser — he’s German, not Russian,” Mason said.
Questions about Maeser, the first official principal of Brigham Young Academy, and others often help to remind the guides of their responsibility to represent BYU. Sometimes, the guides provide the only contact visitors have with students.
Sue Fernstedt, assistant to the director of Public Affairs and Guest Relations, offers reminders to the guides as well.
“The students hired here have to have good communication skills — good people skills,” Fernstedt said. “They also have to be willing to represent the rest of the student body. That means they have to be a cut above average in everything.”
But Mason doesn’t worry about the pressure of living up to the standards.
“I think it’s a good opportunity; it keeps me in line,” Mason said. “It’s just an added reason to make sure that we’re living up to the standards of the Honor Code, so that people don’t look at us giving tours and think, ‘what’s he doing giving a tour if he’s doing such and such.'”
Along with the Guest Relations’ historical tour, the department of School Relations offers a tour that is more geared toward prospective and incoming students.
Due to the specific nature of their tours, Derek Spriggs, the assistant director of High School and College Relations, said he looks for students with BYU experience, usually someone who has gone through their freshman and sophomore years.
The student guides must adjust to the system of learning history, communicating that history, being cordial to their guests, and avoiding situations that would redefine the tour carts as murder weapons.
With more than 30,000 students on campus during some part of the day in fall and winter semesters, it is remarkable that the program has such a high safety record. In fact, in his 11 years here at BYU, Clark has seen very few accidents involving the tour-carts.
No driver has ever run over a pedestrian, but on the other hand, a cart was almost run over by a bicyclist.
Clark was slowly moving up one of the ramps to the Marriott Center with a cart full of dignitaries, when a student ran into the cart.
“He put on his brakes, but there was no way he could stop by the time he saw us,” Clark said. “His wheel hit the front bumper, and he literally landed on top of the cart and came off the side. That was a real lesson: anytime we go up those ramps we have certain visual points where we have to be looking.”