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Q&A with the Visitors Tour Program

You don't have to take a class to learn something new at UC San Diego. Just take a tour. Every Sunday, knowledgeable adult volunteer guides offer free tours of the campus through the UC San Diego Visitors Tour program. The guides present a general overview of our 1,200-acre campus, imparting their insight about UC San Diego's history, architecture, and our mission of education, research and public service. This interview features a conversation with the program's director and three of the tour guides; keep reading and you'll probably learn something you didn't know about our university. For more information on the bus and walking tours, click here.

What is your connection to the campus—past and present?

Corlyn Vance: I came onto campus in 1972 to work at the School of Medicine as the administrator for the Associate Dean of Medical Education. It was after I retired that I got the call to create the Visitors Tour program, and now it is my job to help and support the guides. I spend my time on campus going to music concerts, art exhibits and lectures, and visiting Geisel Library. I like to see Dr. Seuss's notes and drawings, and try to figure out how his mind worked. The campus offers stimulation and continued learning, and there is always something going on.

Bob Starkey: I started at UC San Diego in 1967 when Revelle College was the only college on campus. I spent 39 years, most of my working life, as a UC San Diego employee in the Campus Planning Office. I was in a position to see many of the changes at the development stage, and as they were implemented. I was lucky enough to know many of the bright, forward-thinking and creative faculty and administrators who started the campus. I am now a member of Chancellor's Associates and we have regular events on campus. I'm also on the board for the Faculty Club so I participate in their events, and I like to remind people that the Faculty Club is open for membership to all faculty, staff and community members. I go to lectures and plays. I probably spend one or two nights a week doing something on campus. In fact, I'm on campus every day because I use the athletic facilities.

John Meyers: I was an Ob-Gyn doctor in the late 60s when the UC San Diego School of Medicine opened. I was among the first doctors from the community to volunteer as a faculty member. After I retired from private practice and teaching in 1982, I was recruited by a friend to volunteer as a campus tour guide. Now, my wife and I are subscribers to the La Jolla Playhouse, and we've been Chancellor's Associates for the past 15 years. We were also long-time members of the "Friends of the UCSD Theatre" support group during the many years that that organization was active. I also enjoy the eating experience on campus, student dining facilities like the Bistro and the Faculty Club as well.

Jill Holmes: I'm the newest kid on the block. I got my post master's nurse practitioner certificate from UC San Diego when they had the program. After graduation, I worked at the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center and helped one of the psychiatrists open the Senior Behavioral Health unit. I retired in 2001, and had a neighbor who was a tour guide and she recruited me. I'm now a member of Town and Gown, and I enjoy lectures and classes at UC San Diego Extension.

How are your tours different from the campus' student-led tours?

Bob: Student tours cover student life, classes, schedules, living quarters, student organizations, all the things the students need and want to know about. Our tours cover campus buildings and architecture and history.

John: Our tour is designed for members of the public who want to know more about the campus in general.


What are the differences between your bus and walking tours?

Bob: The walking tours take you through the heart of campus, which you can't drive through. And the bus tours give you a better feel of the entire campus, by taking you through the main campus and down to Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Corlyn: You can't cover our 1,200-acre campus in a walking tour. I think the bus tours are a great way to start because then you can figure out what you're interested in—the art gallery, the Stuart Collection, the libraries—and come back and spend more time there.

John: I think the tours are complementary. You can take the bus tour to get the big picture, and then take the walking tour and get the heart and feel of being on the campus in the midst of students and activities.

Corlyn: Also, part of my job is to update the tour guide scripts, and I do that weekly. The scripts are always changing because the campus is always changing. It shows that we're cutting-edge. We also meet with faculty regularly to discuss the salient points they want us to explain to the public as we give our tours. Next year, we're going to do more architectural tours.

Why should people take a campus tour?

Jill: To discover the aspects of the campus that aren't widely known, such as the powerhouse research that happens here, and that the campus has generated many of our local biotech companies. I love it when community members take the tours, especially when they're new to town, and they realize what a resource the campus is, and that it's so prestigious. We also have one of the greatest collections of mid-century architecture by renowned architects. We don't have the Tower of Pisa, but we have plenty to see here.

John: People should take tours to have some fun, to learn something interesting and to be adventurous. You can ride around in a comfortable 19-passenger bus while an experienced guide points out various campus features and buildings, and tells you all about UC San Diego. And the tour takes you by Scripps Institution of Oceanography, one of the oldest and largest oceanography centers in the country, and by Birch Aquarium. You'll learn about these two famous institutions—what they look like, how they relate to each other, why they're world-renowned, how they contribute to the local and global economies, and their enormous scientific contributions to San Diego, the state, the nation and the world.

What is your favorite piece of UC San Diego trivia or folklore?

John: Many contemporary UC San Diego folk are unaware of the existence of a web of underground passageways between buildings in the main campus. They are big enough to walk through. They contain utility lines and pipes, and are only accessible to selected maintenance personnel. They have been locked and inaccessible to the public for so long that only the "old timers" know about them.

Bob: Recently a student told me he heard that the Geisel Library was sinking—that the architect did not figure the weight of the books in its design. A few days later I saw my friend, Boone Hellman, the Associate Vice Chancellor of Design and Construction, and asked him about the rumor. He laughed, said he had never heard that, but that there is absolutely no truth to the story.

Jill: The Geisel library has appeared as an iconic building in a variety of ways—in movies, television series and in a Kohler plumbing commercial.

What do you like best about the campus today?

Jill: I like that it's never static; it's always changing. I've lived near four UC campuses, and there's always a crane somewhere. We have to stay on the cutting-edge, even though our state funding is decreasing.

Bob: I need to point out that 85 percent of the current and planned construction on campus is not funded by the state; it's student-funded, contract or grant funded, or funded by donors.

John: The other thing is that several years ago, when our state budget was much better and we passed various bond measures, money was allocated for construction on our campus. Current projects that you see now have been in the pipeline for a long time; it takes a number of years to translate that into contracts and building. I am also pleased with how well the natural environment has been preserved in the midst of the explosive growth of construction. And I appreciate the campus's determination to remain energy efficient, to reduce fossil fuel usage, and to construct all new buildings in accordance with the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards. The campus is exciting, creative, active and growing. It's like a beautiful plant that keeps blossoming.

Bob: I love how well the campus has responded to dramatic funding reductions while maintaining the quality of education it provides, and how well the community has assisted our efforts. We have excellent relations between the campus and the community. And I'm always impressed to see the many new start-up companies — many on the Torrey Pines mesa — which have been started by faculty, researchers and alumni from UC San Diego. I'm also impressed with the quality of research here, which I regularly read about in the paper. The Preuss School is also a great source of pride for UC San Diego, as it provides a college-prep education for first-generation students and it is nationally recognized as one of the best high schools in the country.

How has the campus changed over the last five decades?

Bob: Of course, there are the obvious things like the growth of the campus — the number of students and faculty, and the budget. But it's also how our reputation has changed. We started as a small, very great place that nobody knew about. And now I meet with international students who say everybody knows this is the place to come. We're also always at the top of various rankings. It's clear we're one of the best.

Corlyn: The faculty has always been top-notch, and I think people recognize that. But I think one of the big changes is how our local community has taken us in, accepted us, and realized what a great resource this campus is. Our teaching and research are always ahead of their time, like with the addition of the new Medical Education-Telemedicine building. And I think that adds to our reputation.

John: I think the campus is like a promising young person who has really grown and blossomed, and shown the world his or her full capabilities. Having been on the campus scene for 25-plus years, I have had the opportunity to witness the expansion of the programs, the construction of new buildings, and I've known many of the university's past and present leaders.

Jill: We're also beginning to see distinguished alumni, Craig Venter being one of them, getting recognition. For instance, there was an article in The Wall Street Journal about who's going to be the next Steve Jobs, the next big innovator, and Craig's name was mentioned.


What is the best part of being a tour guide?

Bob: I just can't get away from the campus after spending so much time here as a staff member. I consider giving campus tours a win-win—I love to talk about the campus and I can pass on to others some of why I love it.

John: I am a teacher at heart. I love to share information. I get a lot of pleasure out of how amazed and impressed our visitors are when they discover the treasure trove of intellectual riches right here in our community. It's also fun to take groups of alumni around and see how amazed they are about what's here now that wasn't here when they were here. And what was here that they didn't even know about.


 Fun Faves

Favorite place on campus:

  • John: The Price Center
  • Bob: The Faculty Club
  • Jill: The northwest neighborhood
  • Corlyn: Geisel Library

Favorite new addition to campus:

  • Corlyn: The Medical Education-Telemedicine building
  • John: Me too, because I am a physician and it's a state-of-the-art teaching facility
  • Bob: The Village at Torrey Pines
  • Jill: The Rady School of Management and the Sulpizio Family Cardiovascular Center

Favorite UC San Diego tradition:

  • John: The Watermelon Drop at Revelle College
  • Corlyn: Me too
  • Bob: Same, and the Sun God Festival
  • Jill: Sun God

Favorite Stuart Collection piece:

  • Bob: Sun God, Snake Path, Bear and Standing
  • John: Sun God
  • Jill: The Table
  • Corlyn: Sun God



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