University of Richmond launched a virtual interactive tour of campus using the company YouVisit last month. The tour is available on the UR website and is available for prospective students and their families.

“We wanted to have an option for those that can’t make it to campus to at least, in a virtual sense, have the experience of seeing campus,” Rebecca Buffington, senior associate director of admissions, said.

Buffington led the project with Danita Salone, the associate director of admission. She said most of the planning for the project occurred over the summer while students were away, and YouVisit came to photograph campus in early September.

YouVisit has made over 400 virtual tours for educational institutions across North America, and, according to its website, was created to “help businesses and institutions educate their audiences, while inspiring them to visit in person.”

PJ Morreale, vice president of YouVisit Studios, said in an email interview that the curving paths and changes in elevation across campus, “make the campus pretty to enjoy, but they offer challenges when trying to stitch 360-degree footage together in a way that feels seamless,” Morale said. “We had to get creative at times with what paths we took and how we assembled them."

Buffington discussed the many benefits of a virtual tour for the University of Richmond, including the ability to give prospective families, “additional information that we couldn’t provide,” during the minute-long speech from the virtual tour guide. 

Buffington said more materials will be added at each virtual stop, and that the tour could include student-produced content.

Jake Hooper, junior, said a benefit of the virtual tour is the ability to view places on campus that the real tour can't cover. Hooper is the continued training and education manager for tour guides, and has been a tour guide since his first year.

“We were trying to come up with a new route, and we really wanted to include the gym in some way,” Hooper said. “So this is a good way that we can do that, at least for now.”

The new virtual tour allows students to explore the inside of the gym and the library, and stand on the 50-yard line of Robins Stadium, he said. The virtual tour is offered in English, Spanish and Mandarin to accommodate international students, Hooper said.

YouVisit includes a GPS feature that works with a downloadable app if prospective families choose to explore campus with their phones. 

“If you are on campus and tours aren’t offered, you can download this app and walk around campus,” Hooper said. When a virtual tour user arrives at a designated stop on campus, "someone pops up and talks to you,” Hooper said. 

Hooper said the real-time aspect of this feature largely benefits a prospective family’s experience visiting campus.

“Richmond’s campus, from a tour guide’s perspective, is a really hard campus to tour,” Hooper said. “I think [the virtual tour is] really nice because it’s really hard to try to show all of Richmond’s campus and what it’s about.”

But, the virtual tours won't replace student tour guides, Buffington said.

“There’s just something about the personal connection that’s just a great sales point,” Buffington said. “There’s a place for technology in what we all do now, but it has the balance, then, the personal connections, that are still very important, too.”

Contact managing editor Liza David at elizabeth.david@richmond.edu.

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