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Tour of The Heights places Boston College in the palm of your hand

Asst. Features Editor

Published: Monday, January 28, 2013

Updated: Monday, January 28, 2013 00:01

“Touchdown! Touchdown, Boston College! He did it!” the announcer jubilantly exclaims. It’s a video of Doug Flutie throwing his infamous last-second, game winning 48-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to Gerard Phelan in 1984. It’s an authentic, black and white snippet of history that allows the viewer to escape, even for a matter of seconds, into the mysterious world of BC in the  ’80s. A poignant event, so enmeshed in the fabric of BC history, has been revived.

Thanks to the Tour of the Heights mobile tour application, current BC students, all of whom were not alive to experience Flutie’s accomplishments, are offered a chance to experience the thrill of our football glory days. The free application was unveiled in conjunction with the University’s Sesquicentennial celebration this past September. The application is a GPS-guided mobile tour which offers an inside guide to the BC campus that can be viewed on smart phones, tablets, and desktops.  

“In anticipation of the Sesquicentennial celebration, we wanted to do something significant that showcased the history of BC in a meaningful and accessible way,” said Jack Dunn, director of the Office of News and Public Affairs. Consequently, the Office of News & Public affairs collaborated with the Office of Information Technology Services, University Archives, Media Technology Services, and Modo Labs to produce a significant and interactive compilation of videos, pictures, and audio that showcase the rich history and infrastructure of BC.

The project, which took around a year to complete, features a wide range of notable presences across campus. The audio portion boasts of voices from faculty members, staff, administrators, deans, and even students. After downloading the app, anyone can listen to the tour, watch the videos that correspond to a building or area of campus, and browse through an archive of pictures. A contest was held to find the “Voices of the Heights” for students, and the top eight were chosen. Notable other voices recorded range from Jerry York, who narrates the Conte Forum portion of the tour, to Rev. William Neenan,  S.J., who guides the listener through Gasson Hall. Each narrator has some sort of personal connection to the landmark they showcase, intertwining their narration with a personal flare that clearly demonstrates their investment in the University.

Together, the text, video, audio, and photos tell the stories behind 13 historical sites and 15 additional campus sites of interest. In addition to Media Technology Services’ uprooting of archived video from the past, a lot of video was filmed specifically for the Tour of the Heights project. Hence, the app is an eclectic and seamless mixture of the old and the new. Videos display important BC events such as Tim Russert’s commencement address in Conte Forum in 2004, bringing archival footage previously sitting in a vault back to life by making it extremely accessible. It simultaneously offers a contemporary aspect, inviting the viewer on a modern glance at the campus, modern improvements and all.

Tom O’Connor, the unofficial dean of Boston history and a long-revered professor at BC, was essentially the catalyst of the Tour of the Heights project. Before his death, O’Connor had invested an enormous amount of time into compiling and writing the words that are found on the various historical markers scattered throughout campus. These markers are helpful in providing vital information about significant landmarks and historical locations to alumni, incoming freshman, parents, students, and visitors. “We realized,” Dunn said, “that as poignant as Dr. O’Connor writings were, we needed an element that brought the campus to life in a modern way—that was more accessible to students.” Thus began the journey that has resulted in the Tour of the Heights app, a true testament to the importance of staying afloat amidst a rapidly changing world of fast-paced technology.

O’Connor actually recorded the “Campus Green” audio portion of the tour before his death, which stands as a tribute to him as a prominent BC figure. “I wanted to follow through with the marker project and create the app because Dr. O’Connor was one of BC’s greatest professors and one of our best ambassadors. The markers installed in September would be a great tribute to him and his unwavering devotion to BC. He died last May and never got to see the markers installed. However, I know that Tom would delight in the fact that his words will live on providing assistance to future generations of BC students,” Dunn said.

Melissa Beecher, social media manager in the Office of News & Public Affairs, noted the importance of creating a forum that combines many different aspects of the school. “The University archives are so rich in content,” she said. “Yet few people take the time to dig through them. In using archived material for the app and creating a slideshow, people with 15 minutes to spare can get a taste of BC history,” she said. Beecher also pointed to the fact that in today’s world, more and more people’s primary resource is their phone. Thus, creating this app was paramount in placing the information in people’s palms, and making it available on all social media channels.

The defining feature of Tour of the Heights is its self-guided aspect. It is GPS navigated, capable of tracking your exact location and guiding you through the tour. On the other hand, a prospective student living in California can be taken through the virtual world of BC’s campus in the comfort of his or her own home, without h aving to step foot on a plane to Boston.

Alissa Rothman, CSOM ’15, noted how eye-opening Tour of the Heights was for her. “We walk around campus every day, but we never really stop and think about the significance and the history behind our surroundings,” Rothman said. “I definitely have a newfound appreciation for BC.”

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