Photograph: The friendly crew at the Visitors Center greets Johanna Kuhn-Osius, left, a junior at the Brearley School in Manhattan. Staff members include, from left, Andy Shiner, CC'96; Donna Badrig, co-director of the center, and Ellen Bales, admissions officer. Photo Credit: Amy Callahan.
Photograph: The front doors of the Visitors Center.
Photograph: Volunteer tour guide Wayzen Lin, SEAS'98, tells visitors about the owl hidden in Alma Mater's robes. Photo Credit: Amy Callahan.
Campus visitors awestruck by the climb to the great columns of Low Library will find warmth and friendliness just inside, in the Visitors Center.
There, amidst wood paneling and upholstered reading chairs, parents receive answers to admissions questions, high school students learn about campus life and international visitors find someone who speaks their language (staff members and volunteers speak Japanese, Russian, Greek, Spanish, French, Cantonese, Mandarin, Italian, Korean, Polish and German.)
"It's a great way for people to be introduced to the University," said Ellen Bales, an admissions officer who conducts informational meetings for prospective undergraduates.
"It's a comfortable place. It's warm and welcoming, and the sole purpose of the staff is to answer any and all questions," she said.
Since moving into the handsome renovated space in Low two years ago--a project initiated by President Rupp--the Visitors Center has served a double role: It is both the headquarters of visitor services, directed by Jennifer Horton, and a satellite branch of Hamilton Hall's undergraduate admissions office, directed by Donna Badrig.
This time of year, more than 200 people visit the center each day. Many come just to pick up applications or ask for directions on campus.
But each week hundreds of tourists, prospective students, parents and international academics arrive for the Visitors Center's main attraction: campus tours.
"The reputation of the Visitors Center has grown throughout the city," Horton said, explaining that hotels, magazines and travel books tout the tour as a must-do in Manhattan.
The Visitors Center runs five daily tours (three for undergraduates and two for graduate students) and two information sessions, plus Saturday tours in the fall. A typical undergraduate tour provides all the fascinating history of Columbia--plus a peek inside a dorm room or two.
Recently, as one group of parents and high school students entered the Carman freshman dorm, unsuspecting student Amy Jewel, CC'96, was called upon to do her duty as a Columbian.
"Will you let us see your room?" asked tour guide volunteer and fellow student Wayzen Lin, SEAS'98.
Graciously, Jewel agreed. As she opened her room to 20 strangers, she said, "It's actually kind of clean because my mom's coming."
One father took advantage of the opportunity to speak candidly. "So, are you glad you came to Columbia?" he quietly asked.
"Oh yes," Jewel assured. "I love it here."
This friendly atmosphere is fostered by Horton and Badrig at the Visitors Center.
"Our prime objective is to provide comprehensive information to high school students about the limitless academic, cultural and social opportunities at the College and SEAS," Badrig said.
It seems most visitors go away happy. On the bookshelves in Horton's office are trinkets and souvenirs from overseas scholars, journalists and diplomats, for whom Horton arranges lectures and meetings with faculty members. She also keeps a box full of thank you notes. One prospective business school student wrote from South Carolina: "Jennifer, thanks for the tour. What an exciting place to be in the world--Nobel prizes, heads of state, the Dali Lama, Kerouac, Ginsberg, Streisand and more!"
Horton also annually handles thousands of visitor requests for information about the University, many coming via email from the Columbia home page on the World Wide Web. She is one of the few resources on campus to have a University-wide scope.
"I'm dedicated to representing all the schools of the University," Horton said.
The increase in people seeking information about Columbia, she said, is phenomenal: "The Visitors Center, the Web site and reaching out to publications all work toward promoting awareness about Columbia."
The Visitors Center is open to the public and University community Monday through Friday from 9:00 A.M. to 5:30 P.M.
Columbia University Record -- May 10, 1996 -- Vol. 21, No. 26