As tour season heats up, engineering undergrads share love of Vanderbilt

Fourth-year mechanical engineering student Teddy Russell, second from right, guides a tour through Featheringill Hall. (Heidi Hall/Vanderbilt University)

It’s apparent to anyone who spends more than a few minutes on campus that tour season is here, bringing thousands of potential Vanderbilt University students and their parents to stroll tree-lined sidewalks and bustling hallways.

On the standard route: the School of Engineering’s Featheringill Hall, where groups stand in the brightly lit atrium and sometimes hear from student guides why its biggest lecture space is uniquely called Jacobs Believed in Me Auditorium. What they won’t hear are a bunch of dates, the square footage of buildings, lists of degrees and the like.


To be a guide at Vanderbilt, it’s most important to have your own great stories to tell, said John Nesbitt, senior assistant director of admissions. They need other attributes, too.

“They have to be enthusiastic, but they have to be genuine at the same time, because enthusiasm can be faked,” Nesbitt said. “We want them to be courteous, because nothing is worse than having someone walk you around and show you something, and they don’t really seem to care what you’re wondering. One of the things we’re really proud of is that our tour guides get 5 out of 5 for courteousness on a survey of our visitors.”

Of Vanderbilt’s 153 tour guides, 26 are engineering majors. All are undergraduates in at least their second year of classes.

Every visitor who takes the tour listens to a short presentation in the admissions building first. The room seats 155 and commonly fills up three times a day in the spring, Nesbitt said. Then guides take groups of 12-15 on the route.

They don’t get paid for doing it – the only potential tangible reward is Visa gift card for those who give the most tours. It’s the intangible that volunteer guides want, Nesbitt said.

“They do it because they love it. They had a great tour guide, and they want future students to have one,” he said. “Princeton Review said we have the nation’s happiest student body. Everyone should want to tell their stories.”


Tour guide Allison Ziegler, a second-year mechanical engineering major from Bryn Mawr, PA, said she fell in love with Vanderbilt on her first visit to campus. She said her goal is to show high school students on the tour that they can fit in all the activities they want to experience.

Ziegler should know. She’s an officer in the Tri Delta sorority, an executive board member of the Society of Women Engineers’ Vanderbilt chapter, a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and a V-Squared mentor for first-year students.

She tells groups about getting to design a prosthetic foot using CAD and a 3D printer that she still can access any time she wants.

“Giving tours has helped me a tremendous amount,” Ziegler said. “I’ve become so much more comfortable speaking to parents and faculty members. … That helped me get a full-time, paid internship with an Atlanta manufacturing firm this summer.”

Kenzie Lucas, a third-year engineering science major, said she tells visitors about how Ashok Choudhury, the adjunct professor who taught her first materials science course, knew the names of all 100 students in her class.


She also gushes about ES140, where she explored civil engineering through building a 5-foot structure out of K’nex and testing it on a shake table, mechanical engineering by making a mini car and computer science by creating a rough version of an app.

“I wanted to be able to share all of the reasons I love Vanderbilt with prospective students who may not realize all of the wonderful opportunities it has to offer,” Lucas said.

Students can sign up at any point to be tour guides, and the job lasts as long as they are at Vanderbilt, Nesbitt said. Very few ever resign, but if they do, it’s usually because they overestimated the amount of time they’d have available.

(In case you don’t know how Jacobs Believed in Me Auditorium got its name, it’s a tribute by an alumnus to legendary former mechanical engineering professor Dillard Jacobs.)

8 Themes Emphasized on Vanderbilt Tours

  • Balance
  • Community
  • Diversity
  • Nashville
  • Academics
  • SEC sports
  • Collaboration
  • Engagement



Heidi Hall, (615) 322-6614
On Twitter @VUEngineering