“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.”

Getting to Know Thomas Rainey

Thomas Rainey (pictured above holding baby Oliver, fellow Housefellow Helen Wang’s son) is the Housefellow for Mudge House, a mansion that was donated to the University and converted into a residence hall, located on the corner of Morewood Avenue and Fifth Avenue. In addition to his role as Housefellow, he also serves as the Student Life liaison to Housing Services and the faculty advisor for SUMMIT, a three-day program directly preceding the spring semester that features courses, seminars, and workshops on topics selected by students. “We’ve had courses on baking, balloon animal making, Bhangra, glass blowing, ice skating, photography, pizza tossing, sign language, fire arm safety, archery, pottery, and a lot of other topics,” says Thomas. “Students get to explore things they are interested in or passionate about that they don’t always have time for during the regular academic year.”

In addition, Thomas is a member of the Division of Student Affairs funding committee, and he works with Housefellow Bryan Koval on the selection, training, and development of resident assistants (RAs).

Thomas completed both his undergraduate and graduate degrees at Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, in psychology and students affairs in higher education, respectively.

How did you come to join CMU?

I first visited Carnegie Mellon with members of my graduate program, and I truly fell in love with the energy of campus. Later, I did an internship with M. Shernell Smith, now a fellow housefellow, in the Multicultural Initiatives office. During this time, I met so many extraordinary students and was incredibly excited when a housefellow position became available. I applied and was fortunate enough to be selected. I enjoy my work here every day.

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

Embrace your passions. Maybe that means coming off as nerdy or awkward, but that is the true beauty of Carnegie Mellon. It’s the acceptance and celebration of what makes you uniquely you and the sharing of that with others that really allows you to embrace who you are and what you love.

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

I love to read Japanese manga (comics) and I love to watch football and basketball. I enjoy lifting weights and am trying to get into running more. I also enjoy watching documentaries and reading books and articles of all genres. I enjoy any form of music that tells a great story. Most importantly, I am an avid chicken wing enthusiast. If you want to know the best place to get wings in Pittsburgh, let me know.

All-time favorite book: The Lord of the Rings trilogy

Tell us at least one thing that’s on your bucket list: Skydiving!

If you could give first-year students one single piece of advice as they start their journey here at Carnegie Mellon, what would it be?

I would encourage them to be open to new experiences and to embrace the best versions of themselves. This university has so many amazing things to offer, so during your time here take advantage of as much as you can but also pace yourself and enjoy the amazing ride.

Getting to Know Aaron George

Aaron Thomas George is the Housefellow for Hamerschlag and Scobell, Carnegie Mellon University’s two buildings that house first-year male students. Also as the Coordinator of Community Standards and Integrity, he works with students in the focus areas of academic integrity, bystander education, men and masculinity programming, and respondent support.

Aaron completed his undergraduate studies in mathematics and earned his master’s in educational administration and leadership with an emphasis in student affairs from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. “Pacific was great – a medium, private, liberal arts school,” says Aaron. “Many movies were filmed on our campus because it has an East Coast Ivy League look and it’s only a day’s drive from Hollywood.”

How did you come to join CMU?

After three years working at the University of Puget Sound – a small, private, liberal arts college in Tacoma, Washington – as a Resident Director, I decided it was time for a change. My job search landed me here where I could use my strengths in both Greek life and residence life. My father was born here in Pittsburgh at Shadyside Hospital, so I have always known about Pittsburgh and thought of CMU as a great school. When I saw the job posting, I jumped at the chance.

What are you looking forward to most in becoming the Housefellow for the HamSco communities?

Over the last eight years of my professional experience, I’ve mostly worked with upperclass and fraternity/sorority students. I’m excited to work with first-year students, especially within an all-male community. Part of my work in the Office of Community Standards and Integrity (OCSI) is coordinating efforts around men and masculinity issues. In other words, I provide programming and support for those who identify as male and those who care about them. Together, we work to understand what it means to be a man, how social and media constructs of masculinity support unhealthy attitudes toward ourselves, other men, and women; and how, as men, we can rediscover our maleness and live a life that is both affirming and supportive. I look forward to bringing this programming into the Hamerschlag and Scobell (HamSco) communities and to empower the residents to create a living experience where authenticity is supported and celebrated.

Share one of your most prized CMU memories.

Seeing Buggy/Carnival for the first time. The moment I came for my on-campus interview and then throughout my first year here, everyone talked about Carnival. It didn’t really make sense until I saw the booths starting to go up. Then it sunk in … this is a real Carnival! The craftsmanship was amazing, and the buggy races were out of this world. I couldn’t believe there were actual people inside the buggies. I will always remember my first Carnival!

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

I’m passionate about going to the movies. To me there is nothing like going to the movie theater. Stepping up to the (assumed) high school student selling tickets, the smell of popcorn in the air, getting your favorite snack, finding your favorite seat in the theater still available, the lights going down, the green image signifying that a movie preview is about to be shown, the chatter in the audience simmering down … I am able to turn off the overactive part of my brain and envelop myself in a story that I feel is meant just for me. I’m whisked away from my current reality for a brief movement, and when I return, I feel rested, energized, and excited for the next theater-going adventure.

All-time favorite book?

It’s hard to choose my favorite book. The last book that I read and really enjoyed was Fiend by Peter Stenson. It’s about drug addicts who survive a zombie apocalypse, because they are drug addicts.

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

My great-great-grandmother Margarete Lomeli. She had 18 children, crossed over the Rio Grande from Mexico, and worked her way to California as a migrant field worker. She was a very strong woman, and my family credits her with giving us our strong work ethic.

You get to eat a meal where fat, calories, sodium, and cholesterol get completely wiped off the books. What would be your food of choice for this very special (and sadly impossible) meal?

Cinnabon all day, every day!!