Getting to Know Michelle Mirabella

Michelle Mirabella is the Housefellow for Boss House and McGill House, two residence halls located on “the Hill” area of Carnegie Mellon’s campus. She also serves as the Coordinator of Community Standards and the Integrity-Process Advisor for the university’s Disciplinary Committee. A Carnegie Mellon alumna, Michelle graduated in 2010 with an undergraduate degree in professional writing and a music minor. She earned her master’s in higher education administration and student affairs from New York University.

She’s excited to back at her alma mater working within a community that helped shape her as the person she is today. Let’s learn more about Michelle!

How did you come to join CMU?

I applied to Carnegie Mellon for my undergraduate and was accepted in spring of 2006. I graduated four years later and then worked as the Acting Housefellow for Boss and McGill for a year after graduation. After five years working at other institutions – both domestically and abroad – I’m excited to be back!

What have you learned about the Boss and McGill communities so far?

McGill and Boss complement one another in forming the BaMily. Both houses are intimate in size and engender a sense of family. McGill House is an all-women’s mixed class residence and Boss House is a themed residence focusing on global living. As a cohesive BaMily community, we can delve deeply into topics germane to our house identities, like intersectional feminism and intercultural competency.

What makes you most excited about being at CMU?

The students. Students at Carnegie Mellon are uniquely passionate and pointedly interdisciplinary in their approach to challenges.

What is an important life lesson you have learned from a student or students?

The beauty of intentional gratitude; I have seen this exemplified by RAs and CAs throughout my time as both a student and professional at Carnegie Mellon. This concept goes further than supporting one another, than appreciating one another. It is genuine gratitude for someone that allows you to support and appreciate them in return. This strikes a special place in my heart.

Outside of work, what are your hobbies/interests?  What are you passionate about?

Language and language learning, reading up on current events/feminist theory/social justice. These are my main hobbies and passions. I speak Spanish as my second language and dabble in Portuguese and Italian. I have also taught English as a foreign language. I am fascinated by the language learning process and how language shapes our experiences as we move through the world.

All-time favorite book.

I don’t do favorites unless you ask me my favorite number. Context is relevant for me. One book I believe is important is Feminism Is for Everybody by bell hooks. I highly recommend it.

If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Perhaps in this moment, I would choose the very author of the book I previously mentioned: bell hooks. Her work focuses on the intersection of race, capitalism, and gender.

You’re stranded on a desert island – what three things would you love to have with you?

A water desalinator, a huge box of flares, a journal/pen combo to document.

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An Inside Look at Being a CA

So, you’re thinking about being a CA?

You might think that to be a CA you have to be some kind of superstar RA. I don’t think so. In fact, I consider almost all of my current RAs to be better than the RA I was.

This gets at the core of what it means, to me, to be a CA: strive to make others better than you could be yourself. It’s a selfless role in many aspects, but there’s a lot in it for you as well.

Be a Mentor and an Open Book

There are two things that I would like to point out as important when thinking about how you would be as a CA:

First, bring your best self to the table, so that you can be someone the RAs can learn from and look up to. As a CA, I try to embody the kind of leader for the RAs that the RAs should strive to be with their floor. This is a high level of responsibility and leadership because your influence trickles to the whole of the building.

Secondly, and quite importantly, a good CA comes into the role willing and able to recognize and learn about their own flaws. In this regard, you must remember that it is not all on your shoulders. You have your housefellow, other housefellows and CAs, and your staff to support you.

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The 2015-16 first-year and upperclass CAs pose after painting The Fence together to welcome RAs back to campus. (Funny side note: The Fence was painted over before the RAs returned!)

Two Rules of Thumb

When I began my role as a CA, I kept in mind times when I was an RA and took on extra work myself to help others get their jobs done. After gaining advice about this from my housefellow, I decided to make it one of my main focuses starting out in my new role, and I learned two major things are critical as a CA:

  1. Delegate, delegate, delegate. Everything you don’t have to do yourself, get an RA or someone else to do it. You can’t possibly take on all the responsibilities given to you as a CA and that’s a big reason why you have a staff with responsibilities that go beyond caring for their own residents.
  1. Extend trust. When I was tempted to take over the duty of an RA (running a dorm event, for example), I stopped and reminded myself to trust them a little more. As a CA, I must teach them to fish for resident engagement, not take the rod from them.

It’s part of my job to delegate and trust. Even if the RAs fail, they will learn something. If I do it for them, they lose the potential of learning something and/or being successful, and I lose the gesture of showing my trust in their abilities. This learning experience alone has made my role as a CA worth it already. I have learned so much about being a leader and leading a team, skills that will carry through to multitudes of future roles.

Truth Be Told

Alright, honesty time. After being an RA, I didn’t really want to be a CA. I took a year off from student life. When I was thinking about jumping back in, the CA role was really the only one that made sense. But I was hesitant. I thought I would miss the residents too much and it would be all administrative stuff.

But now, I am so enjoying the position and it has felt so right. Most of my time is still spent with people, just more intentional and with deeper connections. What I failed to realize before is that by investing in a staff versus working directly with residents, RAs are so much more reciprocating – they want to work with you. Residents do too a good portion of the time, but with RAs it’s almost guaranteed that they’re in this to learn and grow with you, and that’s really exciting.

Even the administrative parts – I now can navigate Giant Eagle so well and am a pro at Google Drive. But jokes aside, even the administrative parts become meaningful because if you do it right, everything becomes attached to wide resident impact. That full cart of groceries leads to seven-floor events that brought delight to 50 different residents coming back from a long day of schoolwork. Those well-written meeting notes and staff emails lead to your RAs growing as leaders and making meaningful conversations with residents.

The Ripple Effect

And it doesn’t really matter that this is secondhand impact. That was my greatest fear – that I would lose that visible joy on our residents’ faces. Now it is replaced with joy on your RAs’ faces in your one-on-ones when your RA glowingly tells you about that amazing floor event or really deep conversation. You still get to bask and participate in that joy as a CA, perhaps on an even bigger scale. That has made it so worth it, and so much more fun than I ever thought it would be.

Take the Good with the Bad

One last thing – it may seem that being a CA is fun as long as everything goes well. I want to say that the bad things also have a captivating place. Something I’ve taken away, even after a semester of being a CA, is that it’s very hard to faze me. An RA can come in and talk about a terrible resident situation and now I have learned (not as knowledge, but perhaps more like the behavioral psych sense of stimulus and response) how to face any alarming new situation with a calm and reasoned approach.

Previously as an RA, I had two pretty well-behaved floors. Called EMS once in two years. Not a ton of “issues.” I thought I may not be ready for the CA role – I wasn’t really “experienced.”

If that’s you, well, don’t worry. You’ll learn either during CA training or even the first few situations how to be calm and respond to situations. You’ll learn to trust yourself and smartly rely on others to assist you.

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The Mudge 2015-16 staff at camp for fall RA training.

Take the Chance at Something Great!

So that’s all I got for now. In short, I am so thankful for this opportunity. Someone told me there’s really no other campus leadership position like being a CA, and I agree. If you’re on the fence, just apply! Too many great people miss out on these kinds of things because they convince themselves out of it, when the humble people are the best leaders. The worst that can happen is you learn something – go for it!

Your friendly neighborhood Mudge CA,
Erik

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This blog was written by Erik Pintar, a Carnegie Mellon University fifth year senior majoring in electrical and computer engineering and human-computer interaction. 

Interested in more stories and advice from Erik? Reach him at epintar@andrew.cmu.edu!

VISIT THE STUDENT LIFE WEBSITE FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE CA APPLICATION PROCESS, INCLUDING MATERIALS NEEDED AND DEADLINES.

Getting to Know Jennifer Duncan

Jennifer Duncan (pictured above, far right) is the Coordinator for Greek Life and a Housefellow for Alpha Chi Omega, Delta Delta Delta, Kappa Kappa Gamma, Sigma Phi Epsilon, and Sigma Tau Gamma. She also serves as the advisor for the Panhellenic Council, Greek Sing, Order of Omega, and Rho Lambda.

Jennifer earned her undergraduate degree in history at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and her master’s in higher education also from the University of Arkansas.

Let’s learn a little more about Jennifer!

How did you come to join Carnegie Mellon?

After working for two years in my previous role, I knew it was time to look for something new. I was really excited when this position at Carnegie Mellon opened up. I’d always heard the best things about the university and knew I had to apply. I interviewed, got the job, and moved here a few weeks later.

Being a member of a Greek community can mean many things: being a mentor, taking on leadership roles, organizing community service opportunities, creating lifelong friendships, and carrying legacies and traditions forward. What inspires you most about Greek Life at CMU?

I love all the ways Greek students are involved on campus and the cool things they do for internships or in their academic fields. This is what makes the Greek Life community at CMU so unique. Events like Greek Sing would not be what it is without the incredible talents and skills of our students.

Share an example of when a Greek Life event or initiative made a tangible and positive impact on campus or the broader community.

One of my personal interests is women’s equity and I’m passionate about education. I was so happy when I learned that the Panhellenic Council supports the Circle of Sisterhood Foundation – a foundation that seeks to uplift women out of poverty through education. This is the first year that CMU Panhellenic has donated to the foundation. I love that our students realize this is a such a necessity and are doing something about it.

What is an important life lesson you have learned from working with students, Greeks in particular?

You never know what someone else is going through. Everyone is dealing with their own challenges. It’s important for us to remember this and be supportive in the way they need.

Outside of work, what are your hobbies/interests? What are you passionate about?

I’m always up for checking out local restaurants and exploring Pittsburgh. I’m still new to the city so I’m always learning something new. I love to travel, watch SEC football (Go Hogs!), listen to podcasts, and watch Netflix.

All-time favorite book.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

You could travel anywhere in the world for free and stay for a month. Where would you go and why?

Europe. I’ve never traveled abroad and want to so badly. Europe encompasses nine of the top 10 countries I would like to visit. I could cover a lot of ground in a month!

What advice would you give to someone living in Greek Housing?

Live it up! I never had the opportunity to live in Greek housing and I’m still upset by that. It may seem like living off-campus is the best option, but you’ll have a lot of opportunity to live off-campus after graduation. This is kind of a one-time thing so take advantage of it now!

Want to learn more about Greek Life at Carnegie Mellon? Check out the Greek Life website and the Greek Life housing website.

“RA-ing Is as Much about Giving as It Is Growing”

A sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering and physics with a penchant for performing arts, DaVonne Henry (pictured above left of center) is also an RA for Scobell 2. We asked him to share his thoughts and perspectives on his RA experience, and DaVonne provides us with a great insider look on what the RA journey means to him. His honest and personal reflections on the experience may inspire you to pursue this important and rewarding role in residence life at Carnegie Mellon University.

Why did you want to become an RA?

I’ve always enjoyed connecting with people and helping them get acquainted with new situations. I enjoy listening to people, sharing my experiences, and, on occasion, giving advice.

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

It is so easy to spend a lot of time RA-ing, so much so that you forget to think about yourself sometimes. I love that there is so much that can be done to make a community better. I enjoy every part of that. The challenge comes with balancing it with school. It’s a fun challenge to find ways to combine RA time and school/personal time. When those things come together, it’s amazing.

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

I was nervous about being disliked. I didn’t want a floor that wouldn’t want to talk to me or that I couldn’t connect to. Getting over that fear was equal parts action and luck. I stayed true to myself. Always. I reached out to everyone, and I figured that if someone didn’t like me, they’d simply turn down my invitation to dinner. In the end, though, I got a great group of guys on Scobell 2.

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

… knowing what to say, even if you don’t. No one has a magical formula on how to make connections, deal with an emergency, or be a mentor, but for me, I want to at least be able to point someone to a resource, a club, or even just a new way of thinking.

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

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DaVonne in his freshman residence hall, Henderson House, with a group of friends, fellow residents, and RAs.

Organization and communication. I know they’re buzz words, but RAs do a lot of planning. We coordinate events for our floors, our communities, and with other members of our staff. I’ve gotten much more comfortable coming up with an idea, hatching a plan, and getting it ready. We need to communicate effectively with our staff members, residents, and anyone else that we think can improve life in our communities. We are challenged to keep in touch and be present.

Why is the Hamerschlag/Scobell (HamSco) community awesome?

HamSco is great because of its diversity and openness. So many people are involved in so many different clubs, areas of study, and areas of interest. I have learned about rock-climbing, ultimate Frisbee, and have improved my SMASH skills enormously, all from just talking to members of the community.

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

Every year, HamSco puts on a huge haunted house. I’m not big on Halloween, but I happened to be on duty that night. A few other RAs and I were led through a Dante’s Inferno themed haunted house. What I loved was not just the execution but the fact that so many people came together to put on a spectacular event. It was an interesting, albeit frightening night.

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

You can never truly know someone fully. It’s easy to meet someone one day, or know them for a week, a month, even a semester, and feel that you can tell exactly what they’d be interested in or who they will or will not talk to, but people will always surprise you. Keep an open mind and be patient. You could end up in a great conversation with someone who would barely say “hello” to you for months.

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

I love performance arts. I am a member of the CMU Treblemakers A Cappella group, and I love to see everything that Scotch’n’Soda does, as well as make it out to choir concerts, School of Drama performances, and School of Music performances.

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

Think of a quality that you have that you can use to share with a community. It could be that you love sports, are extremely opinionated about current events, or are devoutly religious. That is what you will bring in to the community. That’s what will drive you in the initial stages of the work. Think of something that you would like to improve upon about yourself. It could be organization, a focus on personal well being, academics. That is what you will work on in full view of the students you are mentoring. Being an RA is as much about giving as it is about your own personal growth. No one has it all together, and what better way to approach a situation in college than by making sure you are continuously learning yourself.

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

I’m pretty sure my mom lives a more interesting life than I do. She’s more of a “I’m going out to see a jazz show in New York” person, while I’m more “I’ll stay in and watch Modern Family.”

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.

12 Helpful Hints from Housing Services at Carnegie Mellon

It’s back to school time! In case you are stressing about what’s already in your room (so you don’t have to pack as much), wondering about washing clothes and keeping your favorite refrigerated snacks nearby (as in an arm-reach from your desk), or worrying about what happens if you accidentally lock yourself out of your room (it happens), this blog is for you. Below are 12 tips from Housing Services to get you prepared for move-in day and the exciting year ahead!

1. The ‘basics’ are provided.

What are the basics?

  • a twin extra-long bed
  • built-in closet or wardrobe
  • dresser
  • desk and desk chair
  • trash can
  • recycle bin
  • cable television hook-up
  • wireless or wired internet
  • toilet paper, trash bags, light bulbs, vacuum cleaner (just ask your RA!)

(Apartment or suite-style rooms will have additional living room and kitchen furniture.)

 2. Definitely pack this stuff.

  • clothes (and remember, it gets cold in Pittsburgh … brrr!)
  • clothes hangers
  • desk lamp
  • laundry basket/bag and laundry soap
  • mugs, cups, plates, utensils
  • reusable water bottle
  • storage bins
  • toiletries (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant, etc.)
  • umbrella (it also rains a lot in Pittsburgh. Despite the rain and snow, we promise Pittsburgh is awesome!)
  • surge protector/power strip
  • school supplies
  • university documents

Don’t want to pack sheets and blankets? You don’t have to! The Carnegie Mellon Bookstore partners with the Student Dormitory Council and Bed, Bath, and Beyond to offer a full line of linens (designed to fit extra long mattresses), comforters, towels, blankets, and many other supplies to make your move-in transition smooth and effortless. Order by July 30 to ensure your selections and to make sure they will be delivered to your room on time. 

Another little tip – start with packing the essentials and then buy more items as needed once you are here. Many stores are just a short shuttle or bus ride away, and the university store has many essential items, too.

3. Easy in, easy out. Inspect your room once you are checked in.

Upon checking in, each student must inspect his or her room, apartment, or house and complete an electronic Living Space Condition Report (eLSCR) as accurately as possible. This report plays an important role in tracking damages from check-in to check-out and is the main component of spring closing inspections.

So, once you are checked in, log into the Housing Portal  to complete your eLSCR. Watch the tutorial on exactly how to do it:

4. You can “cook” and cool in your own room.

microfridgeMicrowaves and mini fridges are permitted within the residence halls. Residents may bring their own compact microwaves (under 700 watts) and mini-refrigerators (smaller than 4.5 cubic feet and operate on 110/120 VAC).

If you’d rather not worry about measurements and wattage, you have the convenient option of renting a microwave refrigerator/freezer (all in one compact unit) that will be installed in your room prior to when you move-in, if you order by August 10. To rent one, click here. (These also get removed after move-out in the spring.)

5. Doing laundry is a cinch at CMU.

Laundry services are included for on-campus residents. To wash and dry clothes, simply load up a machine, choose your cycle, and push start. Why can’t all things in life be that simple? To make things even more convenient, use this handy-dandy Laundry Viewer to see if washers and dryers are available before walking to the laundry room.

6. I locked myself out. What do I do?

7. Don’t suffer in silence … submit a work order!

Housing Services is here to help you with (most) of your facility maintenance needs. All non-emergency requests for maintenance in the residence halls (including furniture requests) should be submitted via the Housing Portal. (Only students who are checked into their room will be able to submit a maintenance request.) When submitting a request, make sure to be as detailed as possible so that we can address the problem in the best way possible.

Our goal is to complete all maintenance requests within seven working days. An exception to this goal is during opening, when maintenance requests come in at a high volume. Please note that maintenance requests (particularly those for lofting or de-lofting) may take up to four weeks after classes start to complete – we appreciate your patience during this very busy time!

Watch the tutorial video on how to submit a maintenance request:

8. How and where can I print?

For an on-campus student resident, a personal printer is not needed. Save money on ink and paper by using the campus printing stations, many of which reside in residence halls. Each student receives $40 per semester in printing, just swipe your CMU ID to print.

Printing stations are located in Morewood Gardens, Mudge House, Donner House, the Hill Service Center, West Wing, and Residence on Fifth.

9. Visit the student front desks.

Front desks are located in Donner (open 10 am to 2 am, daily), Morewood Gardens (open 24/7), Mudge (open 10 am to 2 am, daily), Stever (open 10 am to 2 am, daily), and the Residence on Fifth (open 24/7) to provide safety, security, and customer service for our residents and guests. (The Morewood Gardens Makerspace desk is open from noon to 12 am, daily.) The desks offer a variety of equipment available for check-out, including:

  • cooking supplies
  • pool cues/pool balls
  • board games
  • DVDs
  • remote controls
  • ping pong paddles
  • music room keys
  • red moving carts

These desks are staffed by students, who are happy to answer any questions you might have!

10. Get involved.

There are many ways to get involved on campus, and getting involved in your residence hall community is one way. The committees below look for feedback from current students about how to improve the Carnegie Mellon residential and student experience. Look for more information on bulletin boards or our social media sites!

11. Find a student job on campus.

Are you interested in an on-campus job? If so, start by utilizing Handshake, our campus wide recruiting system. Housing Services posts multiple year-round positions, such as the Desk Services Assistant position and Office Assistant position.

12. Start planning for semester breaks.

Depending on the building you live in, your building may close for winter break, so be sure to plan travel accordingly. Most buildings close on Tuesday, December 19, at 12:00 pm, for Winter Break, and re-open on Friday, January 12, at 12:00 pm. The buildings that remain open are Morewood E-Tower, Morewood Gardens, the Residence on Fifth, Shirley Apartments, Webster Hall Apartments, and Fairfax Apartments.

Thanks for reading and we hope these tips are helpful! Housing Services is  anxiously awaiting your arrival!

Contact us at housing@andrew.cmu.edu or 412-268-2139 with any questions you may have.