What You Learn As A Penn State Tour Guide

“Hi! My name is Mary Frances Pillion and I’ll be your tour guide for the day! I’m a sophomore double majoring in Supply Chain and French, with a minor in International Business, and I’m from Mechanicsburg, PA.”

Have you ever wondered what it’s really like to be one of the khaki-wearing, backwards-walking Penn State tour guides? Well lucky for you, today you get to hear our fun facts and dad jokes without having to walk all over campus!

This semester I was lucky enough to be chosen as a Penn State Lion Scout, and I’ve spent the past six weeks training to give tours. Above is the intro that all tour guides must give at the beginning of every tour, which is followed by us asking the prospective students where they’re from and what they’re thinking about studying. Next, we do what is arguably one of the most important parts of the tour, and that is to teach them the “We Are” chant so that they’re prepared when random students yell “We Are!” at them while walking around campus.

I’m not going to take you through the whole tour process — I know you’re all just here for the fun facts. So I’ll walk you through the best parts of our tour route and tell you my favorite jokes along the way.

“If you look to your left you’ll see the Wagner building, home to our ROTC program on campus. We have four out of the five branches of military here on campus, can anyone guess which branch we don’t have? We actually don’t have the Coast Guard, because we’re in the middle of Pennsylvania – we have no coast to guard!”

That one always kills it with the dads.

Did you know that the Creamery has rules? Well it does!

“If you look to your right you’ll see the famous Berkey Creamery home to Penn Staters’ favorite ice cream. However, when going in there for some delicious ice cream you should know that there are two rules: The first rule is that you can have any color sprinkles you’d like – as long as they’re blue and white! The second rule is that you cannot mix flavors.”

Despite the strict rules, one person in the history of the Creamery has HAD mixed flavors. When Bill Clinton was the president, he took a trip to Penn State and obviously had to make a stop at the Creamery. The woman who served President Clinton that day was new on the job, so when he asked for two different flavors (Peachy Paterno and Cherry Quist) she gave it to him not knowing that mixing flavors was strictly forbidden. However, when Clinton came back to the Creamery later, he tried to mix flavors again and was denied.

One more fun fact about the Creamery: It only takes four days to get from Cow to Cone.

“And now we’ve arrived at the Pattee and Paterno Library on Campus. It holds more than 6 million volumes of books. If for some reason you can’t find the book you’re looking for in our library, we can reach out to all our commonwealth campuses and see if any of them have what you need. If we still don’t find it there, we then reach out to all of the Big Ten schools to see if they have the book you need. This is great because we get a lot of coloring books from Ohio State!”

You always have to pray there’s no Buckeye alumni on your tour when you make that joke, but it’s too good not to say — especially given our recent upset win.

When standing on the side of the library that’s closer to Downtown, have you ever noticed that the scenery looks oddly familiar? Well if you’ve ever been sightseeing in Washington DC, you might know why.

“When looking down towards Downtown, the setting may look a bit familiar to you, that’s because this area of campus was modeled after the National Mall in Washington DC. The grass is meant to be the reflecting pool, and if you look back up at the library, that was modeled after the Lincoln Memorial.”

Once you realize this, you can’t unsee it.

We all know that Penn State is a huge school, and we’ve all gotten the “We Are” chant in random places, but did you ever stop to wonder just how many Penn Staters there are out there?

“Penn State has more than 600,000 living alumni. One out of every nine Pennsylvanians who hold a baccalaureate degree is a Penn State graduate, and one out of every 117 people who hold baccalaureate degrees in the United States is a Penn State graduate.”

So yeah, there’s a lot of us, and we’re everywhere.

Next we get to talk about some of my very favorite fun facts of the entire tour — Old Main fun facts.

“We are now passing Old Main, the most Instagram-able spot on campus! Old Main used to be the entire campus of Penn State, the students and faculty alike lived there, worked there and attended class. They also housed livestock in the basement. When the school started, students had to contribute a few hours of manual labor per day in addition to their classes in order to finish building Old Main. They used donkeys to haul the stone up from the quarry, which is around where the Corner Room is now. One of the donkeys, Coaly, worked harder and longer than all the rest, and thus Penn State got its first mascot, Old Coaly.”

It’s probably a good thing we changed our mascot to the Nittany Lion, I’d rather not think about the chants we’d get from other schools if we were the Penn State Donkeys. (Honestly though, it would still be better than a Buckeye.)

“Although the bells are now automated, there used to be a real bell in the bell tower. The original bell now sits to the left of Old Main. Back in the day, this bell used to signal the start and end of the day as well as all classes at Penn State. Legend has it that when it was cold, students would sneak up the bell tower at night, flip the bell over and fill it with water so that it would freeze and the bell couldn’t ring. If the bell couldn’t ring, it couldn’t signal classes. The students could have a day off.”

Meanwhile, we had one snow day two years ago, and no one can recall another time we’ve had one.

After Old Main we usually lead tours past the McAllister Building and into the HUB.

“The McAllister Building is home to Penn State’s post office. Penn State University actually has its own zip code that is different from Downtown and the surrounding areas, it’s 16802.”

“Now we’re about to enter the Hetzel-Union Building. This is the first and last time you will ever hear it called that, as students just refer to it as ‘The HUB.’ Approximately 43,000 people walk through the HUB every day.”

No wonder you run into everyone and their brother in the HUB.

Obviously Penn State is a huge school, but do you know how big the biggest classroom is on campus?

“This is the Thomas Building which has both big lecture halls and smaller classrooms. This building actually houses the largest lecture hall on campus, which seats 725 students.”

The moms’ faces when you say this are priceless. Their eyes get huge and they look terrified until you tell them that the average class size is about 25-35 students.

We all know that we have the best student section in the country and everyone else is just playing for second, but our cheering on game day actually causes something other than an Ohio State loss.

“If you look behind me you can see the Millennium Science Complex which was completed in the Fall of 2011. As you probably know, we Penn Staters love our football, and we love to cheer loud at football games. We cheer so loud in fact, that we actually register on the Richter scale because we cause mini earthquakes with the magnitude of our cheers. The Millennium Science Complex built underground labs for sensitive projects that are controlled for temperature, humidity, and vibrations, so our cheers can’t throw off the scientific data.”

After a few more stops this specific tour route ends at the Pollock Commons, and that’s where we end our tour and take any questions. So I’ll leave you with my official tour ending.

“It has been a pleasure being your tour guide today and I want to thank you guys for being such a great group! At the end of every tour we like to tell you something we call our ‘Warm and Fuzzies.’ These are the stories of why we chose Penn State and why we love it so much.

Here’s mine: My dad went to Penn State, so I grew up coming to at least one football and basketball game every year. I grew up bleeding blue and white and from the time I was four years old. I told people that I was going to Penn State when I grew up. Then for one year during high school, I decided that I was going to the University of Virginia — I was dead set on going there and nowhere else. However, my parents still wanted me to consider Penn State, so we took a trip up to State College and walked around the campus. Eventually my momma wanted to take a picture of my dad and I at the Lion Shrine, like we’d done a thousand times before. This time was a little bit different, though. When I looked at the picture, all I could see was a past Nittany Lion and a future Nittany Lion. And that’s when I knew there was no other school for me. I was destined to be a Penn State student.”

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About the Author

Mary Frances Pillion

Mary Frances is a senior from Mechanicsburg, PA. She is double-majoring in Supply Chain and French and is a photographer and occasional writer for Onward State. She is an avid lover of weenie dogs, macaroni and cheese, and the Pittsburgh Penguins. She is also the Vice President of Lion Scouts and you'll often catch her running into things as she walks backwards around campus giving tours. To contact Mary Frances, email her at [email protected], or if you're feeling particularly generous, follow her on Twitter @maryfranny2.

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