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Updated 9:30 AM September 8, 2009

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Campus tour reveals U-M pride, unique features

Seven hours from Sheboygan, Wis., Lutheran minister Clinton Gugel and son Mattias have traded rumble strips and sun-baked highways for flagstone footpaths into the Law Quad, where shadows and silence rule.

"It's really impressive," Gugel says, viewing the stately building facades.
Guide Mark Navarro talks with a Central Campus Walking Tour group while at the Chemistry Building. (Photo by Austin Thomason, U-M Photo Services)

Father and son are walking with families of prospective students from Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, Metro Detroit and out-state Michigan on a 90-minute Central Campus Walking Tour. The group is among 7,000 people estimated to have taken tours in August, the busiest tour month of the summer.

"We are encouraged that tour attendance has increased this year from last year," says Erica Sanders, director of recruitment and operations, Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs. "We are hopeful that this year's increase in visits will bode well for the 2010 application season. We are also experiencing increased attendance to events we are hosting for prospective students around the state."

The tour session opens with roughly 200 parents, prospective students and siblings watching a morning video presentation on U-M at the Student Activities Building. The group is then divided into groups of 25 and student guides lead them outdoors, through Regent's Plaza, past "The Cube," and into the Michigan Union lower level.

"Welcome to Ann Arbor and The University of Michigan," says guide Mark Navarro, an LSA junior, who is wearing a blue shirt with a maize block M, cargo shorts and brown leather sandals. "I'm originally from Adrian, Michigan, about an hour from Ann Arbor and I'm with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions."

He asks high school students taking the tour to identify themselves. "I'm Ryan form Philadelphia, looking at engineering," says one. "I'm from Chicago; I'm interested in art and design," says another.

Navarro notes that the Union, built in 1919, is where then-presidential candidate John Kennedy in 1960 announced his intent to create the Peace Corps.

He leads them to South Quad, where students and parents learn what they can expect from residence hall life, in terms of room size, bed configurations and safety. Navarro says rooms are protected by two locking systems — a four-digit code entry system and a card swipe system to unlock room doors, and that Campus Safety officers are available to escort students walking at night.

Carol Goike of Royal Oak, with daughter Anna, comments on the beautiful summer day. "We also toured Notre Dame. We wanted her to get the experience of a smaller campus and the larger campus here," she says.

"Our goal is to provide an organized and informative tour of the central campus," Sanders says. "We would also like to provide a less formal opportunity for visitors to ask questions about our campus community and student life of current students who serve as guides on the tours."

Guides get 20 hours of training before they can lead tours, and must obtain yearly certification by presenting a mock tour. "Tour guides should be friendly, outgoing and interested in giving an enthusiastic and informative walking tour of campus," Sanders says.

"This is one of my favorite places on campus," says Navarro, addressing his group from an arched doorway in the Law Quad. He explains that William Cook decreed upon designing it in 1924 that any additions had to be made of the same brick. That proved to be a problem when a library addition was considered, as matching the original material was deemed too expensive — so the library expanded below ground.

Navarro tells the group that gargoyles perched among the buildings were modeled after former professors and U-M presidents. Routinely, alumnus and Google co-founder Larry Page gets mentioned on tours and so do key historical contributors from Horace Rackham to current President Mary Sue Coleman.

On a lighter note, Navarro recalls the time a family dog joined a tour group. Tour-goers also have been known to ask about alumnus James Earl Jones, the villain in "Star Wars." "We have Darth Vader. You can't beat Darth Vader," he says.

Now crossing South University, the group stops outside the President's House. "This is the only building that originated from the 1837 move to Ann Arbor that still stands today," Navarro says, adding it served as a Red Cross station during World War I.

The adjacent William Clements Library, he continues, has the first letter Christopher Columbus wrote to Queen Isabella announcing the discovery of the New World. Other key tour stops include the renovated U-M Museum of Art, renovated Stephen M. Ross School of Business, the new central campus dining facility, the Chemistry Building, Diag, libraries, and the combined Angell-Tisch-Mason and Haven Halls.

Back at the SAB after the tour, as the group fills out pink evaluation sheets, George Goike of Royal Oak tells Navarro, "You did an excellent job."

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