The Director’s Corner... SUNY Police: Is it You?


Sandy Drumluk

Tompkins Cortland Community College


I often hear, “my tour guide made my decision to attend” and always dread the e-mail or phone call from the disappointed parent who was hoping for their child to LOVE our school but the tour guide turned them off. What do you do? Was this phone call from an Alum who had their heart set on their child attending as well; but from the minute their visit was confirmed that student was against it? Or do I really have a sour student giving tours that needs re-evaluation (I sure hope not) but let’s be honest it happens.

There are numerous studies and discussions on how important the visit to campus is and more importantly how imperative it is to have the best students giving tours, but what defines the best students as tour guides? The student that is actively engaged in a variety of clubs and organizations is great, until they have way too much on their plate you and are not their priority anymore. The academically talented students are a great addition to your campus, but do they relate well with the majority of your campus visitors? There is not a magic formula available to help you find the best fit students for tour guides, but having worked with this group in our office for nearly 9 years I have found some tips that have worked better than others.

Some of the best recommendations for tour guides and student ambassadors come from within the current group of students; each spring we send recommendation forms to our current students asking for nominations. We also evaluate the group and see where we may be lacking in terms of students (we like to have a wide variety of representation from students including different majors, geographic diversity, year in school, etc.) From the evaluation we reach out to contacts across campus asking them to nominate students from their departments, offices and organizations.  We typically tend to receive better quality of students that are nominated versus posting flyers across campus.

I definitely recommend interviewing all students regardless if they are a paid or volunteer; they often take the position more seriously when selected from an interview; it also gives you better insight to their ability to interact with others and answer questions on the spot. Finding balance within the group is important; try to have a variety of personalities and students involved at different levels across campus.
Once you have your group of students selected for the new recruitment cycle, training is the next step. Learning through experience is how they will become even better. Instead of giving new students a script and saying let’s get started, have them shadow a select few of your top students, and then have your top students observe them during their first few tours, or give tours together. This allows for that ease of nerves as well as making sure the information you want all guests to walk away with is shared.

You need to remember that these students are students first so you do have to allow for some flexibility. Take the time to get to know your students and let them get to know you- after graduation you may be asked to write them letters of recommendation or serve as a reference.  From the beginning it is important to establish clear goals and set positive examples. The most important is taking the time to show appreciation; there are numerous ways to do so whether publically at training or individually with notes when someone goes above and beyond.

Even with all of the TLC you put into the group, you will occasionally run into the tough decision of keeping a student or not. Ultimately go with you instinct and think of what is best for the group as a whole.

“SUNY Police,” those words have, for years, struck fear into the minds of young SUNY admissions professionals. I remember the first time I heard them. It was during recruitment travel in 1995, I was a young admissions counselor representing SUNY Canton. I was working “The Egg” college fair in Albany. My table was next to Scott Allan from Alfred State (we had switched signs with Brockport so that we could stand next to each other, shhhh) and with about 20 minutes to go in the program some SUNY reps began taking down their displays. Scott said, “Uh oh, the SUNY Police are not going to like this.” I responded, “SUNY Police? Who’s that?” “No one knows,” Scott answered, “but whenever someone leaves a program early their Director gets a call.”

Now, I had been trained by the best of the best at SUNY Canton and I knew to never, ever, leave a program early. Not even when there are “more of us then there are of them,” as some people do, but I was petrified nonetheless. Who were these “SUNY Police” that were watching over everyone at every program simultaneously? I asked questions, I watched people, I poked around, but nothing ever turned up.

Flash forward 16 years to a little college fair at Stockbridge Valley High School. It was a quiet fair, not many people in attendance, not even when the soccer game ended and the team came in from the field to check us out. People began breaking down their tables almost 45 minutes early. As this was going on, I wandered over to the Mohawk Valley Community College table to say hello to my good friend Mike Badolato. After exchanging pleasantries, Mike looked around the gym and said, “Uh oh, the SUNY Police are not going to like this.”

I realized at that point that The SUNY Police were bigger than I had imagined, and yet even as a Director for over eight years, I still had no inside knowledge.

Myth #1: It’s the same one person that has been doing it for (at least) 16 years, monitoring all college fair programs, day and night, across the state.
Myth #2: It’s just a few select troublemakers.
Myth #3: There are a few Directors who will call their fellow Directors to rat people out.
Myth #4: It’s fellow road runners who feel confident enough to call a Director and tattle on one of their own.

My conclusion? The SUNY Police force is even bigger than people think. The SUNY Police are made up of everyone who ever made a call to a director, associate director, or travel coordinator to rat out a fellow road warrior. The SUNY Police are made up of everyone who ever sent an email, a voicemail, text message, or Facebook message to a Director to report that someone had left a program early.

My recommendation? STOP. Instead of calling someone’s Director, why not walk up to the person and see what’s up. Maybe they have another program to get to and that’s why they have to leave. Maybe they are covering the program for someone else and their campus (as well as the college fair organizer) knew all along that they would have to leave early. Maybe their wife is in labor and they just got the call. Maybe something we don’t want to know is going on in their life and they are needed somewhere else (insert any additional legitimate reasons to leave a program early here).

OR maybe, just maybe, they didn’t see the harm in leaving early. It could be an innocent mistake. Use this as a teaching moment. We don’t need to be at NPO to take a young road warrior under our wings and show them the way. Explain to the person that they shouldn’t leave a program early, that they never know when that student who is a perfect fit for their campus is going to approach their table. Explain that their campus has paid a considerable sum of money to have them at the program and it would be wasteful to leave. Explain that a college fair is a commitment, and that 6-9pm means 6-9pm. Empathize with them that they have a two hour drive to their hotel and an early program the next day but this is the job and it’s their decision to be in this profession – there are a LOT worse jobs out there. Trust me, I had a few in college.

Now, you may think to yourself, “I’m not their boss. I’m not going up to someone I hardly know to ask why they are leaving early. Who am I to be a mentor, and why would they listen to me?” That’s a fair thought, and my response? PHOOEY. Just do it. Disguise it by saying, “Hey, I notice you’re headed out, want to leave some material behind and I’ll try to keep half-an-eye on your table? You never know, more people may show up.” Use it as a conversation starter and see where it goes. Heck, maybe they’ll end up staying until the end of the program! We are all one ”Hello” away from a new friend, and maybe this is your opportunity for a Scott Allan, or a Mike Badolato.

Join me in my mission to convert the SUNY Police from feared secret agency to a force of helpful SUNY mentors. And our badges will proudly read, “The Power of SUNY.”

Thanks for reading, and if you ever need it, my boss’s phone number is (607) 844-8211.