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Hokie Ambassadors Add a Warm, Soft Touch to the Cold, Hard Facts

By Christie Lemley
May 19, 2010

For many high school students, college visits can be an overwhelming experience, especially universities with campuses as big as Virginia Tech. Couple that with an hour-long tour jam-packed with facts and figures about the school, and any teenager’s (and their parents’) head is sure to spin.

Hokie Ambassadors (HA) is a volunteer-based group of student tour guides at Virginia Tech who serve to embody the university for prospective students. Being current students themselves and having gone through the process of choosing schools, the members of HA know firsthand what it’s like to visit a college and have to make a major life choice based on an hour or two of their lives. Ambassadors recognize that since their words are a major contribution to the decision process, it is valuable to the visitors to give each of their tours a personal perspective of what life is like at Virginia Tech beyond the brochures and Web sites.

The different stories that ambassadors tell their prospective students provide a dynamic energy during the tour and cover a range of emotions. HA member Molly Binion likes to loosen her group up with a few laughs with a dramatic recount about her first experience with the on-campus cable as a freshman. “I had been doing band camp for the past few days, and it was nearing the end,” Binion recalled. “Now, most people I hang out with know it’s no secret that I enjoy Disney’s High School Musical. On this particular night in August, High School Musical 2 was supposed to premiere on the Disney Channel. I rushed to my room to watch it, only to discover the devastating truth that we don’t get Disney Channel on campus. I like to say, ‘That was the only channel I noticed was missing. Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that. I’m sure that none of you want to come here anymore.’ It get some laughs occasionally.”

Virginia Tech has an abundance of organizations, activities and things to do; some that even current students might not be aware of. HA member Justin Graves points out some of the experiences he’s had in just one room on campus alone. “I like to mention the wide number of things I’ve done inside Squires Colonial; seen movies, gone to class, gone to orientation, gone to church. That room has seen so many different faces,” said Graves.

James Hartman, who is also a member of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets in addition to being in HA, always tells people about his unique transfer experience. Hartman was accepted to transfer to Virginia Tech from Ferrum College in the spring of 2007, but was unable to attend classes in the fall due to an unexpected deployment to Iraq. “All of the departments that I dealt with at Tech were very accommodating to me, putting holds on my seat, taking care of my records, and even going about signing me up for housing and all of my classes for the following fall semester,” said Hartman. The day before his classes started, Hartman arrived home from Iraq to find an abundance of support and gratitude from his fellow Hokies. “My first class was Monday morning at 9:05 a.m. Having just returned from war at 3 a.m. the previous morning, I was not the most excited person to be actually attending class immediately. I was met with applause as I entered the room. That's when I knew I couldn't have made a better choice than to come to Virginia Tech.”

One of the things HA encourages its guides to do during their tours is to explain the reasons why they chose to attend Virginia Tech over other schools. These accounts can serve as great points of reference for the many prospective students who are struggling to make that very decision. HA member Debby Lee aims to abolish any fears the students may have about Tech’s immense size and population by pointing out that it has all the perks of a small school. “Blacksburg is such a tight-knit community and you get the sense of being part of a family, a Hokie family,” Lee declared. “In addition to feeling at home at Virginia Tech, I also bring up the fact that Virginia Tech is an amazing place to get a college experience, socially and academically. Other than being known in the nation for its academic reputation, the culture and tradition of the school is incomparable to any other school. From the football chants, to the sea of maroon and orange on both home and away game days, the spirit of Virginia Tech cannot even be described in words--it can only be experienced.”

During his tours, Nathan Lavinka tries to highlight the fact that the sense of community a Hokie feels is so strong that it extends way beyond the boundaries of Blacksburg, Va. “No matter where you are in the world, [when] you see the VT symbol, there is an instant bond,” explained Lavinka. “I was in Venice, Italy, last summer and while walking with several other Hokies we saw someone with a Virginia Tech hat on. We ran up and he had no idea what we were saying, but just seeing that symbol halfway around the world is something special.”

After taking a tour, prospective students and their parents are invited to comment on their experience and their guide. These comments prove that the passion and dedication that the members of HA have doesn’t go unnoticed. “I really enjoyed the guided tour,” noted one visiting student. “The tour guides did a wonderful job of staying positive and enthusiastic throughout the tour. They were happy to answer any question to the best of their ability and kept the entire tour full of information and not a dull here is... tour. Easily the best tour given of any college I have been to.” Another visitor, referring to HA member Michael Cardman, made sure to note his appreciation for his guide’s tour style: “Our tour guide was amazing and really funny, which made the tour that much better. With ever destination, he would add a personal story which was awesome.”

For many high school students, choosing which college to attend is one of the first major life decisions they will have to make in their adult life. As every HA member knows, being the face of the university means that a lot of the deciding factors are riding on their shoulders. The members of HA strive not only to represent Virginia Tech with dignity, respectfulness, and pride, but to be the embodiment of student-life as well. Adding personal touches to each tour can make the experience for those visitors more engaging and satisfying than they would have expected. “The tour guide was fantastic, as well as the info session. I learned so much about this school and I can't wait to apply here next November,” said one excited student after her tour. The little things can make all the difference. For more information about Hokie Ambassadors, visit