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.

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.