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ASPiRE Students Serve as Campus Tour Guides for Middle Schoolers

Middle Schoolers on a campus

By Patricia Cason

VCU students might be used to seeing high schoolers touring their campus, but on March 25, approximately 40 middle school students from George Washington Middle School visited campus. Their tour guides for the day were VCU ASPiRE students.

ASPiRE students began giving tours in February, after Erin Burke Brown, ASPiRE director, learned that the VCU Welcome Center had to limit its tours to high school students only, due to high demand. The detailed information on the tours was also more appropriate for high school students.

“We’re filling a need with something different and interesting by being a partner to the Welcome Center,” Burke Brown said. “We’ve developed content for the tours specicially aimed at introducing younger students to a college environment, and our ASPiRE students are natural guides to give middle schoolers a glimpse into college life and get them to start thinking about their futures.”

ASPiRE’s tours are led by a group of three tour guides who take the youth to the “hot spots” on VCU camps, like Cabell Library and the Cary Street Gym. The tour even includes a photo op at the ram horns outside of the Commons.

While walking in between destinations on the tour, students are encouraged to ask their guides questions. Audrey Ampomah, a sophomore pre-nursing major and first-year ASPiRE student, said this is her favorite part of the tour.

“The questions and thoughts they have about VCU and college as a whole intrigue me, and it's very refreshing to hear what plans they have for their future,” Ampomah said. “I think VCU's campus is so beautiful, and it's very important to immerse young people in college as early as possible.”

After the tour ends, students participate in a short panel with ASPiRE students where they can write down any questions they might have about college on sticky notes, making them feel free to ask anything they want. Questions range from “do you have a class schedule?” to “what is a sorority?”

At the end of the experience, participants receive coloring books designed by ASPiRE graduates Jessica Casey, ‘19, Stephanie Turner, ‘19 and Shanna Brandt, ‘19. “Coloring Richmond,” features historic Richmond landmarks like the East End Cemetery, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and Maggie Walker House. The team received a 2018 Undergraduate Student Research Grant to fund the project.

“We love giving back and volunteering, and we wanted to find a different way to do it,” Casey said. “We also love Richmond, and we decided to make a coloring book that taught about the city historically while also being interesting for children.”

ASPiRE has conducted tours for about 130 children since the program began, with plans to expand in the future.

For more information, contact Burke Brown at embbrown@vcu.edu.