JU Updates Golf Carts and Campus Tours

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Rolling on chrome wheels and enveloped by a coat of crisp-green paint, Jacksonville University student ambassadors sport a set of new golf carts for the Fall 2012 semester, shining as they make their daily rounds guiding prospective Dolphins and families through their first impressions of the university campus.

The university leased three new and modernized golf carts over the summer after making the decision to revamp the admissions campus tour route to include the riverfront. It is now mandatory for touring visitors to see the Marine Science Research Institute as well as new construction along the dolphin green, such as the Larry Strom Amphitheater and the Swisher Golf Practice Facility, both completed over the summer.

“We wanted to show prospective families what JU has to offer and without showing them the dolphin green you really can’t get the full experience,” said Stephanie Ballman, Admissions Events Coordinator.

Previous to this, the university possessed only two golf carts for use by admissions and the campus tours were commonly traveled by foot. However, with the addition of the riverfront locations and the distance over which they span, transitioning to a strictly golf cart tour was an essential need.

In line with this, another notable alteration to the campus tour is the removal of the valley, which in previous years was part of the walking tour. The infamous south campus stairways that serve as a dividing wall between the JU residence halls and the buildings of academia will no longer be shown on the standard tour.

“We did a test run before we obtained our new golf carts and the walk was 2.9 miles long, I believe, which is way too long for families,” said Ballman. “People were coming back winded and that’s not acceptable. We want to put our best foot forward when showing the university to prospective students.”

Implementing the more constant use of the golf carts, walking has been more or less eliminated from the campus tour. This was designed with the comfort of both the student ambassadors and prospective families in mind and also allows for the visit to be more handicapped friendly, said Ballman.

“We want to make sure that everyone has a pleasant experience and the new golf carts have definitely added to that,” said Ballman.

With the addition of the new golf carts, the university now possesses five, two old carts which are owned by JU and three new ones which are leased.

The three new golf carts are to be used strictly for admissions tours, including campus tours that will be given to alumni during Homecoming week. They will not be available for use by other departments. The two older carts will remain in use for overflow with admissions tours with the option of being rented out to for use by different organizations and departments on campus.

The new golf carts strut campus in style. Larger than their predecessors, they feature seatbelts, chrome wheels, higher roofs, handles to assist in entering and exiting, a horn, blinkers and lights.

“It really is the Lexus of golf carts,” said Ballman with a smile.

One of the main improvements seen in the new golf carts is in the seating. Like the old carts, the new ones can seat six people including the tour guide. However, the new carts have all seats facing forward, whereas the old ones had rear-facing back seats.

“It caused the families sitting in that back row to get a little bit disconnected from the tour,” said Ballman. “They might not have stayed as engaged and made as much of a connection as we had hoped for them to make with our ambassadors. Where, with the new back seat facing forward, we’ve already seen improvements. I’ve seen improvements personally on tours where families sitting in the back seat are asking questions and staying much more engaged in the tour. Developing that relationship is really what we aim for. That’s a great improvement.”

Additionally, the admissions department is currently looking into decorating and personalizing the carts to JU, said Ballman. One of the options is to make dolphin fins and noses to attach to the carts. A JU logo is also being discussed for potential use on the front of the vehicle where it currently says ‘star.’

“We really want to personalize the carts,” said Ballman. “That way people will feel like they’re getting into a JU automobile, you know, a JU cart.”

However, as with the start of any transition, there are kinks to work out.

“Their turning radius is a little bit wider which causes some difficulty for riding around campus. Some of the bushes around campus will have to be looked at but I’m in the process of meeting with Joe[seph] Coleman, the Physical Plant Director, and we’re going to go around campus on the new golf cart and see where the problem areas are,” said Ballman.

For student ambassadors, the addition of the new carts has brought a mix of delighted excitement and anxious frustration as they learn to adjust to the way the new carts drive.

“No,” said sophomore student ambassador Brittani Wyskocil, in response to the question of whether or not the carts make her job easier.

“I don’t mean it in a bad way,” said Wyskocil. “I mean no, as in they have different sensitivities that the old ones didn’t have. It almost kind of stresses me out more. So that’s why I say it doesn’t make my tour easier.”

Although some student ambassadors remain weary as they learn to better operate the controls of the new carts. The overall overtone for admissions and its ambassadors is one of excitement.

“They [the golf carts] are a lot nicer,” said Wyskocil. “They look better because our old ones weren’t very good. It’s just still kind of like figuring out how to operate them for me personally.”

The carts are currently under a 36 month lease to the university, with the intention of renewal upon the lease’s end.

“We are planning to have them for years to come,” said Ballman “and hopefully they continue to work as well as they do.”

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