Devils' Advocates: 50 years of walking the Sun Devil walk

Former campus ambassadors reunite at ASU for Devils' Advocates anniversary


group of people in front of Old Main
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The Devils’ Advocates student group is looking back on 50 years of walking backward around the Arizona State University campus.

The group, which leads tours for prospective ASU students and their families across the Valley campuses, is the longest continuously running student group at the university. Started in 1966 as a way to recruit more National Merit Scholars to ASU, there are now about 1,100 Devils’ Advocates alumni. Nearly 150 former Advos, as they call themselves, gathered at a “Walking the Walk” reunion at Old Main on Tuesday.

Jen Bergmark, a 2006 ASU graduate, came from California for the event and fondly recalled her time as a Devils’ Advocate.

“We had moved to Virginia, so I came from far away for my tour, and I was so impressed by my tour guide. I thought he was the coolest guy ever, and I wanted to be him,” said Bergmark, who was a member from 2003 to 2006.

The daylong reunion started with a session in which alumni got to ask questions about the current Devils’ Advocates.

Does the group still surprise new members in their dorm rooms to tell them they’ve been accepted?

Yes.

Do they still wear khaki shorts with the white sunburst logo polo shirt?

Yes, but they also can wear black or maroon pants, shorts or skirts.

Do the Advos still take a yearly weekend retreat at Camp Tontozona in Payson?

No. The retreat is now a daylong event at a state park.

How many Devils’ Advocates are there?

There are more than 100 on the Tempe campus, with nearly 50 on the Downtown Phoenix, Polytechnic and West campuses.

This drew gasps from the alumni, some of whom didn’t know ASU has grown beyond Tempe.

Do the Advos still walk backward?

No.

WHAT?!

Katie Troupe, a senior accounting major and the current president of the Devils’ Advocates, addressed the alumni at a luncheon later in the day. She has been giving tours for four years.

“I walked backwards for the first three, but this year we started walking forwards,” she said.

The group loudly booed.

“I wanted to address the elephant in the room,” she said to raucous laughter.

This is the first year that the tour guides are walking forward. Studies have shown that guests on the tours would concentrate on the backward walking and not on the information they were hearing. So now the Advocates walk forward, with the group, and then stop and chat.

Video by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

The guides, chosen after a rigorous three-round interview process, are armed with lots of information about ASU and the campus, but one of the points is for families to just interact with a real student.

And that also was the goal when Bob McConnell, the ASU student body president in 1966, launched the group after reading an article that the University of Arizona was attracting many more National Merit Scholars than ASU.

“I thought, ‘That makes no sense.’ I was aware of how the athletics teams recruited, and I thought, ‘Why don’t we recruit National Merit Scholars like that?’ ” McConnell said.

The group later became a partnership between the ASU Alumni Association and the Admissions Office. Although the Advocates still conduct campus tours, they no longer visit high schools in Arizona or travel on out-of-state recruiting trips like the group did in the early years.

Back then, the group members were hand-selected. They would find a letter in their mailbox saying, “Congratulations! You’re a Devils’ Advocate.”

Patricia Ladue, who was in the group from 1975 to 1976, said it was much more low-key back then.

“It was much simpler. A tour was usually one student who already decided to go to ASU and their family, and it wasn’t like we were trying to compete with schools in California,” she said.

Ladue was among several dozen alumni who went on a campus tour Tuesday with current Devils’ Advocates. The alumni marveled at the changes.

“There used to be only one business building. It was all open here, it was all green,” Ladue said of the area where McCord Hall sits now. “I had a physical conditioning class, and we used to run around here.”

people receiving a tour of the Tempe campus

Former Devils' Advocates take a tour of the Tempe campus as part of the program's 50th anniversary reunion celebration. Although Devils' Advocates now walk forward during campus tours, they tried out the old style — walking backward — during the alumni event. Photo by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

 Chuck Wattles was in that first group in 1966, and stopped every few steps during the tour to take photos.

“You’re kind of in awe of how big it is and how many different colleges they have,” he said.

Wattles was among the 25 founding Devils’ Advocates. Nadia McConnell, now Bob's wife, was the first president, and she gave the group its name.

“The idea of Devils’ Advocates had a deeper meaning,” she said. “We wanted something unique and catchy.”

Phoenix attorney Brian LaCorte, who graduated in 1985, said that being in Devils’ Advocates was one of the highlights of his college career. He introduced the McConnells during the reunion luncheon and noted that they never received their own polo shirts with a sunburst logo because the group didn’t start wearing them until 1974.

“So now I’m going to walk backwards and give them their polo shirts.”

Top photo: Former Devils' Advocates gather for a reunion in front of Old Main on ASU's Tempe campus in recognition of the program’s 50th anniversary. Photo by Ken Fagan/ASU Now

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