May 29, 2023

Eagle Eye View

Welcome to your UMW campus tour with senior guide Marc Gehlsen.

11:30 a.m., Lee Hall: Home of Admissions, Student Services, Financial Aid and More

You push open the door to Lee Hall, step out onto the sun-soaked stone terrace. Blinded, you squeeze your eyes shut, replay the admissions message inside your head. You refocus, look out onto the Fredericksburg campus. In a flash, you see your future unfold.

Student by the fountain Lee Hall Marc Ghlsen giving a campus tour, Wednesday Oct. 12, 2016. (Photo by Norm Shafer). Marc Ghlsen giving a campus tour, Wednesday Oct. 12, 2016. (Photo by Norm Shafer). Marc Ghlsen giving a campus tour, Wednesday Oct. 12, 2016. (Photo by Norm Shafer).

11:32 a.m., Ball Circle: The center of Mary Wash student life and traditions

You hurry down the steps to join your tour group. That’s when Marc Gehlsen whisks onto the scene.

He struts like a drum major across a faux stage. Anything to get your attention. “A big word on campus is ‘tradition,’ ” he says, pointing to the spherical lawn, site of uniquely Mary Washington customs like Club Carnival and Devil-Goat Day. He reveals he’s a devil, spars with a mom in the crowd who says she’s a goat.

A Washington Guide, Gehlsen has led UMW tours for years, zany one-liners, colorful commentary and all. He delivers in English, of course, but he also speaks Spanish, French, Chinese, Russian and Arabic. His love of language will take him into the courtroom as a forensic linguist, but for now he’s using his words to wow campus visitors – like you.

11:37 a.m., Randolph-Mason Hall: One of Mary Washington’s 18 residence halls

You stroll along Campus Walk toward Randolph-Mason Hall, dodging a squirrel on the way. Inside, Gehlsen starts in – student IDs, laundry, bathrooms. Private or shared, he jokes, they both accommodate the urge to “sing Disney ballads in the shower.”

He had his share of sharing growing up, the youngest of five on a Nokesville, Virginia, Christmas-tree farm. He gleaned what he could from his siblings, who all studied language before him, and from the migrant workers his father, a masonry carpenter, invited to dinner.

By the time Gehlsen took Spanish in middle school, he could curl and roll r’s like nobody’s business, and he zoomed to the top of his class. Other languages followed, including Hawaiian, because “who doesn’t want to say ‘aloha’ whenever they get the chance?”

In college, Gehlsen knew he would major in Spanish. A campus tour led him to choose Mary Washington. It was fall, and the scenery and sense of community – everyone seemed to smile and say “hi” – cast a spell, he said, like a wand that finds the right wizard. Hands all aflutter, he demonstrates the Harry Potter effect for your tour.

11:45 a.m., Palmieri Plaza: A signature UMW meeting area, complete with fountain

You move on with the group, trailing Gehlsen up the hill to Palmieri Plaza. “You have to swim in the fountain at least once before you graduate,” he says. “If you’d like to try it before the end of the tour, you’re welcome to.”

11:47 a.m., Monroe Hall: One of UMW’s many academic buildings, housing history, geography and political science

Lost in the bubbly blue water, you realize the crew has moved on without you. You catch up, climb the steps to Monroe Hall. File into a classroom. Slide into a desk. Gehlsen’s up front, explaining UMW’s Honor Code, Office of Disability Resources and opportunity to create unique courses of study. He dishes on his own second major, a linguistics program he crafted himself.

“His brain has a knack for language,” said Betsy Lewis, professor of Spanish and chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures. “Some students worry they’ll make a mistake. They freeze up. Marc’s personality is so outgoing he can just jump right in and not worry about any of that.”

A Phi Sigma Iota language honor society member, he studied abroad on a trip Lewis led to trace Don Quixote’s footsteps through Spain and plans to pursue a master’s degree in linguistics on the West Coast. At UMW, Gehlsen has handled social media for the Honor Council, coordinated programming for Green Housing, and started an honors thesis that keeps him holed up in the Hurley Convergence Center. Your group heads there next.

The living of campus, the inside of the University Center Anderson Center University Center Information and Technology Convergence Center Inside of Woodard Hall, home of the College of Business Marc Ghlsen giving a campus tour,  Wednesday Oct. 12, 2016.   (Photo by Norm Shafer). senior Marc Gehlsen gives a tour of campus

11:56 a.m., Hurley Convergence Center: Four stories of state-of-the-art tech capabilities

You walk on, passing Simpson Library and Blackstone Coffee, which a fully caffeinated Gehlsen calls “the most important building on campus.” You visit the Goolrick Hall gym, see the Anderson and University centers, before returning to Lee, where you browse through the bookstore for the perfect memento.

But you know you’ll be back.

It’s a quick glimpse of campus, but for Gehlsen – who caught the tour-guide bug as a freshman, brewing coffee and propping open the door of his Randolph Hall room, which was part of the rounds – it speaks volumes.

“I’ve loved every single second of it,” he said. “I get to spread the word of the UMW awesomeness.”

Intrigued by Gehlsen’s tour of the UMW campus? Want to see more? Take our guided, interactive virtual tour!