Homecoming is filled with tradition. So how about an untraditional take on the history of Arizona’s first university? UA Student Alumni Ambassadors have got it covered.
Who strolls the halls of Old Main after hours? Did the first female professor at UA murder her husband in a fit of jealousy? Could that be the sobbing of a long-ago jilted girl who lived in Maricopa Hall? Why does the Berger Fountain have 13 spouts? And what accounts for the misplaced furniture in Centennial Hall?
The Ghosts of UA Tour, the latest Homecoming tradition sponsored by Student Alumni Ambassadors (SAA), poses answers. For anyone already familiar with the highlights of the University’s storied past, this “behind-the-scenes” look at the more macabre and mysterious parts of the UA narrative is both eye-opening and entertaining. “UA is so full of history and tradition,” says Dana Dobbins ’14, SAA advisor at the University of Arizona Alumni Association (UAAA), “The ghost tours are a way to see a side of campus people may have not known about.”
Each walking tour begins, appropriately enough, where it all started — in front of Old Main — then traverses campus with multiple stops, wrapping up at Bear Down Gym. Along the way, participants get to discover the more-gory-than-glory details of UA’s bygone days, and gather tidbits of surprising trivia, like which sport first drew national attention to UA’s athletics program. (Hint: It’s a sport "Pop" McKale did not coach.)
These weeks before Homecoming are especially busy for Student Alumni Ambassadors. In addition to the ghost tours, SAA also coordinates with the Bobcat Senior Honorary to kick off Homecoming Week with the Lighting of “A” Mountain the Sunday before the game. And as the official hosts for alumni on campus, they welcome guests and help out at all alumni events that weekend, attend the bonfire and pep rally, and march in the parade.
The Ghosts of the UA Tours began last year as an addition to SAA’s Homecoming roster of activities. Those first tours attracted about 100 participants. This year, the Halloween edition is already booked, with 350 people signed up, and the Homecoming 100 ghost tour should bring out even more students and alumni, ready for plenty of fun and a fright or two.
For SAA Ghost Tour Chair Bailey Cunningham ’17, it’s been a great way to gain even more knowledge about UA history. She updated last year’s tour notes, drafted volunteer guides, and worked with SAA President Ahva Sadeghi and the rest of the club’s task force as well as Dobbins and UAAA’s Cindy Kaiser, also an advisor, to bring all those “dead” stories to life. And it provided hands-on experience in event planning, a field Bailey hopes to enter after graduation.
This is a pivotal role SAA plays for so many students — offering opportunities to learn and lead while fostering long-lasting connections with the University and its alumni. SAA’s commitment to campus involvement and numerous networking events with UA alumni enhance the entire educational experience, providing practical experience and real-world advice that is helpful and often influential. Bailey, for instance, found her major early, after talking to a Retail and Consumer Science alum at an SAA networking event in the spring of her freshmen year. One semester later, her enthusiasm and hard work for SAA have garnered her a place on the organization’s task force, a couple of dozen students who do much of SAA’s planning and work mostly directly with UAAA.
As Dobbins points out, “The students bring tremendous passion and energy to SAA.” She should know. As a UA student, she was president of SAA for two years and vice-president of alumni relations for a year before that. Part of a small group of students who spurred on a resurgence of interest in SAA four years ago, Dana and her colleagues saw membership skyrocket to 330 students within a year, and today it is over 700, making it the largest student club on campus.
Those members will be out in force during Homecoming 100, supporting the tried-and-true traditions and scaring up some excitement and Wildcat spirit at the new Ghosts of the UA Tours. That continuity and creativity are all part of the UA legacy, and gratifying for the alumni and UAAA staff who get to support and advise. “The best part of my job is getting to see the way the students are continuing the traditions,” say Dobbins, “and adding to them, too.”