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Undergrads to lead Duke Chapel tours

For the first time in Duke’s history, there will be an official ambassador program for undergraduate students to lead some Duke Chapel tours, spurred by a need for more tour guides.

Chapel administrators have long been interested in increasing student involvement with the building, so come January, members of the Duke Chapel Student Ambassadors program will move into their new role. DCSA members will be educated on the history of the building and trained to work alongside current docents, longtime members of the congregation who currently lead tours. 

Chapel Visitor Relations Assistant Caroline Horton, the coordinator of DCSA, emphasized that this change is meant to supplement the Chapel’s current tour system.

“Duke’s Chapel is at the center of campus, so it would make sense to walk in and be greeted by a student,” Horton said. “We want people who walk into the Chapel to also get a taste for Duke students. We have an incredible community of docents… we don’t want to replace them, we want [the students] to work with them.”

Students providing tours will be able to focus on themes that appeal to them, she explained. If a student ambassador is interested in studying architecture, they might bring their group on a climb of the tower while describing the history behind the Chapel’s interior design.

“We’re hoping that the student ambassadors will be able to take some ownership and that there will be some creativity involved,” Horton said. “We’re trying to bridge Duke Chapel with other parts of campus.”

Horton and her colleagues posted information about the opportunity on Duke List and handed out physical flyers throughout the first semester. The online application was open to all undergraduate students, but the Chapel was particularly interested in candidates with an aptitude for speaking, teaching and learning more about the famed edifice. 

Becoming an ambassador seemed like the perfect opportunity for first-year Sam Reynoldson, who attends services at the Chapel and read scripture there once.

“I heard about the program through Rev. Bruce Puckett,” Reynoldson said. “I thought it sounded like a great opportunity to give back to the church [and] learn more about the Chapel. I hope to come away with a greater appreciation for the Chapel, but most importantly, I hope the people I give tours to come away with an appreciation for such a special place.”

According to fellow first-year Harriet Caplin, the application process was simple and free of stress.

“I had been looking for programs to apply to that would allow me to find my place on campus and to learn about Duke itself,” Caplin explained. “As a first-year, I hadn’t filled out many applications, [but] the questions were fairly straightforward… I am so excited to now officially be a Duke Chapel Student Ambassador!”

Applicants were notified of their acceptance status after Thanksgiving break. Before they can begin to interact with visitors, however, they need to complete a five-week training course led by docents. The time will be divided between learning about the Chapel’s history and shadowing tours of the cathedral.

Lois Oliver, the Chapel’s head docent, is typically in charge of training future tour guides. For the DCSA program, however, Horton will take the reins and manage the majority of the ambassadors’ orientation.

“All the docents are trained in the same way,” Oliver said. “They study a docent manual which has a lot of information from the Duke Archives about the builders, the materials, the artisans and the history. They also get a copy of Duke Chapel Illustrated, which adds more information.”

In addition to providing undergraduates with a valuable job opportunity, officials hope that the increased student involvement will help the whole Duke community perceive the Chapel as a more open and inclusive space as well.

“The Chapel’s intended for all [people],” Horton said. “Whether you are Christian, atheist [or of another religion], you have a place here. We want the Chapel to be welcoming to all.”

Editor's Note: An earlier headline, as well as the opening sentence, stated that undergraduates were giving Chapel tours "for the first time," which is incorrect. Undergraduates have given tours of the Chapel before, but this is the first time there has been an official student ambassador program. The Chronicle regrets the error.  

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