“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?

11193264_10206717449479118_4995473858251818620_n (2)
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 Lucas Christain

Lucas Christain is the Housefellow for Welch House and Henderson House and serves as the Director of Community Standards and Integrity as well as the Student Affairs College Liaison to the Mellon College of Science (MCS). He completed his undergraduate degrees in history and sociology, as well as a master’s in college student development, at The University of Iowa. This is his eighth year at Carnegie Mellon University.

Lucas is pictured above with his wife and two children. Now, let’s learn a bit more about Lucas …

How did you come to join CMU?

I am close friends with David Chickering, the Housefellow for Morewood Gardens. Both he and I attended The University of Iowa and also worked together at Iowa. David encouraged me to apply for a CMU housefellow position in 2008, and I’ve been here ever since. My wife and I love Pittsburgh and find the city and Carnegie Mellon to be welcoming communities. In fact, we’ve decided to raise our two boys here and have convinced my parents to move to Pittsburgh.

Why are your housing communities so awesome?

Henderson and Welch, or “WeHe” as the two communities are affectionately known, are a tight-knit community where students tend to live for two to three years, creating a sense of familiarity and consistency within the community. Also, the wellness theme in Henderson House is a shared experience and unifies the members of the community. While this is true, the residents make the communities awesome.

Share one of your most prized CMU memories.

I have had the opportunity to work with some incredible students in my time at CMU. Picking one story or one experience is difficult. However, I can say that the most prized memories I have are of the relationships that I have developed with students that last beyond our shared time at CMU. Building genuine connections with students is the most rewarding part of my job.

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

Slowing down is important. When you slow down, you do better work, you are less stressed, and you can actually see the nuances and uniqueness of each situation at hand. When we work too quickly, we often focus on completing a task versus accomplishing a goal or enjoying the experience.

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

I’m passionate about wellness and well-being. I run regularly and enjoy the balance it provides me. I’m also very interested in music, food, and the brewing and distilling science of beer and spirits.

All-time favorite book: Jack Kerouac’s On the Road

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

Country western musician Johnny Cash. I’m always glad to take people for coffee or tea and tell them about my appreciation for Johnny’s life, music, and legacy.

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?

Szmidt’s Old World Deli is a restaurant in Greenfield. I would order their Keege pastrami sandwich, which has grilled pastrami, pepper jack cheese, sautéed banana peppers, and roasted garlic mayo on homemade bread. It’s terrible for you, but so good for your stomach and soul. I often order the Keege and a bag of salt and vinegar chips when I take a day off from work to read and relax. It’s a wonderful thing!