09:15 AM

A 500-mile labor of Buckeye love

University Ambassador Matt Studenmund sets new record for campus tours

As Ohio State University alum No. 15 in his family, 2019 graduate and Marysville native Matt Studenmund has considered himself a Buckeye all his life.

But a campus tour he took as a high school student sealed the deal on his commitment to attend Ohio State. He liked what he saw and heard so much that he took a second tour after he received his acceptance letter.

In the summer of 2016, Studenmund set out to have the same kind of impact on incoming freshmen that his tour guide had on him, joining the crew of University Ambassadors who lead campus tours for prospective students and their families.

Three years later, he has set a new University Ambassador record: On Saturday, July 20, he will complete his 290th tour, surpassing the previous modern-day record of 264 and becoming only the 11th ambassador – out of hundreds who have held the job – to pass the 200-tour threshold. And he’s done most of it walking backwards, a skill mastered by every official Ohio State campus tour guide.

By the numbers, 290 tours at 1.7 miles per assignment means Studenmund has walked backwards for about 493 miles and preached the gospel of the exceptional Ohio State undergraduate experience to an estimated 4,350 prospective students and guests.

It has been a labor of Buckeye love. Studenmund, also a resident adviser in Smith-Steeb Hall for three years and co-chair of the Ohio State Welcome Leader program before that, is all in for Ohio State.

“I had an older cousin who was an ambassador … and seeing him and seeing the passion he had for Ohio State led me to the job at first,” he said. “And I’ve been a Buckeye for life … sharing that passion and love I have for this university with those incoming first-years.

“I spend 90 minutes outside twice a day talking to people about Ohio State – you can't really ask for anything better than that.”

The University Ambassador program employs between 70 and 75 students each academic year and up to 40 during the summer. Ambassadors go through weeks of training and certification and combine facts from a 56-page script with plenty of personal anecdotes to tell a comprehensive story about Ohio State.

Despite the repetitive nature of the job, Studenmund still considers the natural light and glass-enclosed stacks at Thompson Library as bright a spot in each present-day tour as they were when he first set foot on campus as a prospective student.

“I remember going on my first tour here and realizing everything Ohio State had to offer. I'm walking across the Oval and realizing, ‘this is really cool green space,’ and walking into Thompson and being, like, ‘wow this is a library,’” he said. “That’s my favorite part of each tour now. Whenever I walk into Thompson, I always turn around to watch all the families’ reactions because you see that huge smile on their faces as they walk in.”

The more smiles the better, as these tours are a significant part of college choice decision-making for prospective and admitted students, said Ebony Smith, associate director of admissions visits & events in the Office of Student Academic Success.

“Campus visits are a crucial element to the admission process and are a trusted source,” she said.

Though the route may vary, the points of interest on each tour and accompanying messages – delivered during stops or while ambassadors are walking backwards – are the same, and include: a residence hall; information about the First Year Success Series, which for Studenmund featured a lesson in laundry; Hale Hall and the university’s commitment to access, affordability and inclusive excellence; the Digital Flagship initiative; a briefing on meal plans; a discussion of traditions while crossing the Oval; a lecture in a classroom about academic advising, the student-faculty ratio (19-1) and first-year class sizes (73% have 50 students or fewer); and a finale featuring why each ambassador selected Ohio State.

The script reinforces a presentation that visitors attend before each tour, which highlights the opportunities Ohio State and the city of Columbus have to offer undergraduate students.

Studenmund’s affection for Ohio State and his Buckeye family were deepened after he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma during the summer before his fourth year. He was treated at The James Cancer Hospital and was able to keep his RA job, attend classes and remain a University Ambassador, but took a semester off from tours. He extended his undergraduate studies for a fifth year, giving him time to reflect on his future. As a math education major, he had planned to be a teacher, but his vast campus involvement has led him to Indiana University this fall, where he will pursue a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs.

But the people who surrounded him – including many fellow ambassadors – while he was sick were the best therapy of all.

“Everything was fantastic at The James in terms of the medical side. On the mental side, I had family back home and also here on campus, where I had friends from all over the place come in to keep me company during chemotherapy appointments,” he said. “They truly helped me keep a positive mindset and helped me feel like a normal student here even though it wasn't normal going through everything. They helped me realize that I have this whole community and family here that can help me get through anything.”

Studenmund has been in remission since January 2017 and feels fine leading tours each day in Ohio heat and humidity, with energy to spare.

That fifth year did give Studenmund some extra time to build up his tour portfolio, and he admits to being driven to break the record once it was in his sights. But leading tours has never been a grind.

“This job has shown me how much Ohio State can mean to me,” he said.

On Saturday, he’ll be feted at the Ohio Union as he completes his final tour – a tradition for all University Ambassadors when they end their tenure with the program.

“This is such a special moment,” Smith said, “and Matt is such a special Buckeye.”