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A Kite and Key tour on College Green on Sept. 30, 2019. Credit: Kylie Cooper

Beginning next semester, members of the Kite and Key Society, who serve as University tour guides, will receive compensation from Penn for their work for the first time in the organization's history.

The Kite and Key Society, which was established in 1924 with the goal of welcoming prospective students and families to Penn’s campus, has been a strictly volunteer organization since its inception. 

Kite and Key President and College senior Steven Wren said that the shift to a paid model will help to reduce the burden of participation as well as make being a tour guide more equitable.

“This collaborative shift will allow the Kite and Key Society to continue its long-standing pride in student leadership and volunteerism while compensating individual members for their time and efforts to engage with Penn’s in-person and virtual audiences,” Penn Admissions Director of Visit Experience Tommy Bergstrom wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian on April 26.

While many specifics of the shift to compensating guides are still in the works, including how much society members will be paid, Wren said that he and Kite and Key Vice President and College junior Jonah Charlton — who is also the DP's editor-in-chief — were excited to work together with Penn Admissions to set the plan in place for all guides beginning in fall 2022.

“We were more than happy to have these discussions and agree that, moving forward, tour guides should be paid for their time,” Wren said. "We really believe that this shift will help to ensure that Kite and Key accurately represents the University."

Wren added that he thinks the values of Kite and Key — including leadership, passion, and volunteerism — will still remain strong with the new model because the type of students joining the society truly have the desire to welcome students to campus. 

“I don’t think having tour guides compensated for their time will change that mission at all,” Wren said. "Our guides have been giving tours without compensation for years just because of how much we enjoy it. Adding compensation won't change that passion."

While the main role of society members is giving campus tours, members also engage with prospective students through group panels and more personal "Live Student Chat" conversations. 

The change to a compensation model comes at the end of a tumultuous two years for Kite and Key, which was forced to largely overhaul its programming during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kite and Key continued to operate during the height of the pandemic after unveiling the first live, virtual tour in the Ivy League in May 2020. In fall 2021, on-campus tours resumed after well over a year of solely virtual programming.