I’m an RA. Here’s Why.

Erin Sipple is a sophomore at Carnegie Mellon University majoring in neurobiology and Hispanic studies. She’s also an RA in Fairfax Apartments. Here, she explains what being an RA means to her, discusses things she was nervous about before applying to become an RA, and shares the many ways that being an RA is personally rewarding to her.

Why did you want to become an RA?

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Last year, Erin traveled to Nicaragua with Global Medical Brigades to work with patients in a triage clinic. Care for others is clearly a personal value for Erin and one that serves her well in her role as an RA.

I believed that as an RA, I would be in a position to foster significant and positive personal development in students, which would consequently cultivate a meaningful impact on the campus community as a whole. Moreover, I felt that my personal values and strengths aligned very well with the roles and responsibilities of an RA. Although I knew being an RA would require a substantial commitment, I also knew it would be incredibly rewarding.

What do you both love and find most challenging about being an RA?

I love that being an RA isn’t something that I can clock in or out of. I am an RA 24/7, which means I am there for my residents and the community at all times. This commitment has allowed me to have a meaningful impact on the well-being of my residents. However, because I am so committed to my role, I find it challenging to feel comfortable taking time for myself when I know I could be working to help my residents in some way.

When you decided to apply for the role, what were you most nervous about and how did you conquer that fear/anxiety?

I was very nervous that my residents would be out of control, wouldn’t like me, or would need constant disciplinary action, all of which could easily inhibit my ability to form meaningful connections with my residents. In order to prevent all of these things, I was determined to establish a community built on respect among residents and between my residents and myself. This respect was fostered by being genuine and open with my residents about my expectations for the community and about myself. This way, residents could feel comfortable connecting with me on a personal level and feel comfortable as a member of our housing community.

Complete this sentence: “For me, being an RA means … .” 

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Erin and her roommate Kara enjoyed the activities at Janufest 2015. Having fun is a big part of being an RA, mentor, and friend.

Being the ultimate resource for my residents. If I cannot directly resolve an issue, I am able to connect them to the appropriate resource that can. I am whatever they need me to be: toilet paper supplier, shoulder to cry on, brownie baker, cheerleader, friend, pseudo mother, and (most importantly) someone who they can talk to and receive support from.

What skills are you gaining from your role as an RA that will help you reach your future goals?

I am gaining and developing a multitude of skills, but some of the most impacted are my time management, leadership, and communication skills.

Why is the Fairfax community awesome?

The Fairfax community is awesome because we have apartment-style living that provides a sense of privacy and independence that other housing communities don’t have. At the same time, because we are a campus housing community, we are able to promote positive personal growth among our residents as well. Residents at Fairfax get the best of both worlds.

Share one of your best memories/stories from your experience as an RA.

One of favorite experiences as an RA was when a resident of mine felt comfortable reaching out to me to talk about some personal issues regarding his/her mental health. I immediately was very open with my residents about my own struggles with depression, hoping that my openness would encourage them to come to me if they ever experienced something similar. I invited the resident to talk over tea and he/she felt more comfortable sharing his/her issues with me than with his/her friends. Because of my own experiences with psychiatrists/therapy and CaPS, this resident trusted my advice to seek counseling with CaPS and has been pleasantly surprised by how helpful is has been for him/her.

After our initial talk, this resident continued to update me on his/her progress and even knocked on my door one day saying: “Hey, I was just heading to my room but I saw you were in, and I just wanted to tell you you’re the best and thank you so much for everything.” Then, he/she gave me a hug. Moments like these, where I can see that I’ve actually made a difference in a resident’s well-being, no matter how small, are incredibly heartwarming; these moments are why I am an RA.

What is an important life lesson you have learned while being an RA? 

I’ve learned that although everyone is extraordinarily unique, there are always common threads that can connect us, and the only obstacle to connecting with someone is taking the time to find that thread.

What other organizations or interests do you take part in on campus?

I’m president of Mellon College of Science Dean’s Student Advisory Council (MCSSAC), I’m an EXCEL leader for Academic Development, and I conduct research in Dr. Gittis’s neuroscience lab.

Piece of advice you’d give a student who is considering becoming an RA.

Before becoming an RA, I believed there was a certain RA mold I’d have to fit to excel. Now though, after seeing the varied strengths of my housing community’s staff and how well we work together, I have learned that anyone can bring something to the table and play a significant role in the community. In the process of helping both your residents and the community grow, you will find yourself growing as well. It’s extremely rewarding.

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Erin and her friend Amna at Pittsburgh’s Light Up Night 2015.

Tell us something about yourself that your residents might not know.

I believe the majority of my residents know how much I care about them and how much I enjoy being there for them, but I don’t think many of them realize how much they have helped me. Even the smallest interactions with my residents make my day, and I feel so lucky to have them as my residents.

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msemple2015

Director of Marketing for Student Affairs Operations

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