"A lot of responsibility."
This is what Joseph Harkins, junior in accounting, feels when he introduces prospective students to Big Orange Country. As a UT Ambassador, Harkins works year-round to showcase campus to prospective Volunteers.
When leading a tour, Harkins and Ambassador partner, Zach Wooten, sophomore in kinesiology, take prospective students on a specific route through TRECS, Presidential Court and Hodges Library, touting educational opportunities and the highlights of on-campus living.
For Harkins, no tour is exactly the same. The Ambassadors try to gauge the interests of each group, adjusting their tour slightly to accommodate their leanings.
"The less amount of people you have in your group, the different, more personal experience the people on the tour get," Harkins said.
To prepare for questions, guides meet weekly to stay updated on campus policies and construction developments.
Wooten said events like the Open House, held twice each semester, offer high school students another glimpse of campus and a chance to talk with their tour guide again.
"If they get a little bit of insight into your own life, that kind of helps them," Wooten said.
When the UT Alert system was questioned during a tour, Harkins and Wooten mentioned past incidents, like a bear roaming campus and snow day mischief. In a follow-up interview with The Daily Beacon, the guides were asked to explain their hesitance to disclose criminal activity in areas surrounding campus.
"When it comes down to safety, we just want to make it as optimistic as possible," Harkins said. "Our campus is the safest place in Knoxville.
"The things that occur off campus are sporadic, are random, completely out of control with anything UT can deal with."
Ambassadors, Wooten admitted, primarily mention alerts taking place on campus.
"A lot of the UT Alerts are so far off campus they don't apply as much to us," Wooten said.
Harkins credits the program with furthering his professional development, specifically with regard to public speaking.
The art of "making small talk," Harkins said, is crucial skill in making touring students feel welcome.
But if students spot Harkins on duty, they shouldn't hesitate to give him a shout – specifically, a spirited "Go Vols" or "Big Orange Country." Such gestures demonstrate solidarity despite a population 21,000 strong. That unity, he said, draws students.
"It makes it feel like it's smaller than it is," Harkins said.
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