The Maryland Images — the official campus tour guide organization — will resume in-person campus tours for the fall 2021 semester.
Images will begin in-person activities at the end of September after roughly 18 months of virtual tours, said senior journalism major and Images tour guide Molly Cuddy.
“I’m really excited to be back for the fall,” Cuddy said. “Fall visits are usually when we have a lot of people because students are looking at colleges, looking at where to apply, so fall visits are usually really big.”
Cuddy had her Images training semester in the fall of 2019. When she became a guide in spring 2020, she said she gave around four tours before the pandemic shut down the University of Maryland campus.
While Cuddy gave a few in-person tours as a sophomore, many current guides have even less experience. The past two recruitment cycles for the organization took place during the pandemic, resulting in a lack of in-person tour experience among new guides.
Junior biology major and Images training committee head Matt Walsh said the organization accounted for this lack of experience when they planned training events for this fall.
Walsh said Images held refresher tours at the start of the school year for guides with little experience in person. These tours covered issues unique to in-person touring, such as the recommended dress code and inclement weather policy.
Ashley Diamond, junior criminology and criminal justice major, is one of many Images guides that has never given an in-person tour. She said the refresher tours helped prepare her for her first in-person semester. Images leadership also took new guides on a mock tour of the walking route, she said.
“Coming into this year, I was a little nervous to get started, but [the organization has] actually been super helpful,” Diamond said.
Over the summer, the university offered in-person campus tours in a limited capacity. Maryland Images did not organize these tours, but Cuddy said she participated in the tours to warm up for this fall.
“Once I got back into it, it just kind of felt natural again,” Cuddy said.
Maryland Images conducted tours over Zoom in place of the in-person tours during the pandemic. These one-hour sessions helped showcase more areas of the campus since guides did not have to worry about walking to each stop, Walsh said.
Despite this advantage, many of the Images guides agreed Zoom tours could never replace the relationships fostered during in-person tours.
“What I missed most about in-person tours was that personal connection you get with your group and being able to feed off their energy,” Walsh said. “In the virtual environment, it was very tough to do that.”
Additionally, Walsh said the Zoom setup made it harder to personalize each tour to the students in the group.
“I didn’t know who my guests were, what they looked like, where they came from,” Walsh said. “Knowing the extra details … I can personalize each tour to be different. That’s something I’m really excited about.”
Despite not being able to physically tour the campus, some freshmen still found the virtual tours helpful in making their college decisions. Freshman psychology major Kylie Ly said her virtual tour of this university gave her a good perspective of what the campus was like.
“I think [the virtual tours] gave me a good idea of how campus was set up,” Ly said. “But obviously, coming here in person was a much better experience because I got to see how big it was and how many buildings there are.”
Ly did not tour this university’s campus in person until this past summer on her Terp Visit Day. Only an in-person visit could have shown her how long it may take to travel from her dorm to her classes, she said.
Diamond knows firsthand how connections made by tour guides can impact how students feel about schools.
“Like my tour guides that I had when I toured UMD, I thought they were so cool. I really looked up to them,” Diamond said.
And many students join Images in search of building connections. This fall, the return of in-person tours will help these relationships flourish.
“Knowing how much of an impact tour guides can have on students and their families is a really rewarding experience,” Diamond said. “I’m super excited to be able to do that in person.”