In order to increase the capacity of prospective families that are able to visit Ohio University while continuing to meet COVID-19 safety guidelines, OU developed and implemented a new campus touring style known as the Pawprint Tour

Introduced Monday, the Pawprint Tour is inspired by a living history museum tour concept, in which families guide themselves to 15 tour stops where tour guides are stationed. 

Despite the new style, the key locations of the Pawprint Tour and the regular walking tour are the same, Katie Troyer, senior director of Enrollment Marketing said. Troyer also said OU is still offering traditional tours.

When arriving on campus for their tour, prospective families will go to Baker University Center Ballroom for their information session. 

“We're able to host up to 60 families at any session,” B.J. Heidlebaugh, associate director for Visits and Events, said. “We worked really closely with Dr. Ice. She's very supportive and we've used her guidance … and advice as we’ve gone through welcoming families back to campus.” 

After their information session, a tour guide escorts families to one of four different starting locations. From those locations, families guide themselves around campus using a specialized map that highlights each tour stop.

In order to make the tour easier for the families, OU Pawprint Tour stickers have been installed along the routes and signs have been placed at each key location where they are met by a tour guide. 

Every tour guide has different experiences at OU, and being able to show prospective students the reasons why they love the university, as opposed to only hearing from one guide on a walking tour, is a benefit of the Pawprint Tour, K.J. Russell, a senior tour guide, said. 

“I think it gives them (tour guides) an opportunity to meet more families, instead of having one group that they walk around for an entire 90 minute tour. They get to see a lot more families and interact with a lot more people,” Troyer said. “I would also say that's a benefit for the families as well, that they get to see a lot more of our current students than just one tour guide.” 

While the guides and families are meeting more people while on the tour, compared to the 10 person limit of the walking tour, safety guidelines are still in place.

“I can only imagine, I'm thinking about it now, how many door handles and elevator buttons I've pressed throughout the course of just a 90 minute tour. I really don't have to worry about all of that,” Russell said. “Some people might bring up the fact that I’m meeting more families, but (we’re) keeping our social distance six feet apart, wearing our masks, mask up all the time that’s something that we preach … trying to keep everybody as safe as possible and as healthy as possible.” 

There is also more ease in scheduling tour guides with the Pawprint style tour. If a walking tour ran long, some guides would feel pressure to wrap up the tour in a timely manner in order to avoid conflicts with other shifts or classes. The Pawprint Tour shifts are similar to a traditional work shift, which helps guides plan better, Heidlebaugh said. 

While still in its early stages and designed to maximize the number of families on campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pawprint Tour has the potential to remain in the future. 

“It's hard to see beyond COVID right now but ...  we've already started brainstorming how this tour could be used in the future.” Troyer said. “I could certainly see it sticking around.”