Walking the talk

by University Communications,

Mitch Diaz ‘16 has walked countless miles all over campus. Part of an elite squad of some 40 admission interns who give tours to introduce prospective students to the university, he loves sharing what makes Willamette one-of-a-kind.

Every week during semesters, Diaz provides tours for groups ranging from a handful of people to up to 20 prospective students and their families. While fall isn’t too busy, spring — especially Presidents Day weekend — sees up to 50 students and families a day.

A predetermined route covers campus in an hour, but Diaz often tries to customize the tour. So, he’ll take students interested in music through Rogers Music Center.

“I like helping prospective students see what Willamette’s all about,” he says. “I want them to leave feeling like this is a place where they are welcome.”

He loves to impress prospective students with the fact that Willamette can claim more Oregon Professors of the Year than any other school in the state. And he likes to see the surprise on their faces when they learn that the university offers more than 100 student organizations. “What I love about Willamette is this mix of the academic and the co-curricular environments,” he says. “I’ve learned so much in classes, but also just talking to people in student organizations and the residence halls.”

Inevitably, someone on a tour will ask why Diaz chose to become a Bearcat. He tells them that he wanted a smaller school, where he didn’t feel like just a number and where his professors would get to know him well. But he also relates the story of how, while he was waiting for a friend during his first visit to campus, a couple of current students started talking to him about their classes and professors.

“They gave me a tour around campus, even though they didn’t know me,” he says. “That’s the culture here: being nice to people and going out of your way to help.”
Although admission interns used to memorize a manual full of Willamette facts, now they focus on sharing their personal experiences, allowing the facts and figures to surface naturally during the tour. Diaz has plenty of experiences to share, as he’s immersed himself in Willamette’s culture and campus life.

Among his numerous volunteer efforts, he’s served as a host and coordinator of the program that provides prospective students with an overnight stay in a residence hall (in fact, he’s proud to share the record for having the most students choose Willamette after staying with him). Formerly a community mentor for the Office of Housing and Community Life, he has also served as its Eastside Area intern, helping students form friendships and a community. He also finds time to serve as president of his fraternity, Kappa Sigma; as co-executive director for the Residence Hall Association; and as his class representative on the Willamette University Alumni Association Board of Directors.

“Being involved with all these organizations has taught me many valuable life lessons, such as balance, self-care and how to act with conviction and determination,” he says. “Taking on so many leadership roles has definitely felt overwhelming at times, but I have received incredible support from my amazing faculty and staff mentors.”

As he’s so familiar with every nook and cranny on campus, Diaz finds it difficult to single out one particular location or building as his favorite. When pressed, he’ll narrow the choices down to the part of the tour where he leads people away from Ford Hall, past Waller Hall and toward the Star Trees.

“It’s the perfect spot to boast about what a great place Willamette is, because it’s all right there,” he says. “Honestly, I could talk about it for ages.”