Getting to Know Katie Schneider

Katie Schneider is the coordinator of Greek leadership development and housefellow at Carnegie Mellon University. In her role, she is responsible for leadership programs within the Greek community and advising the Greek councils. She is also housefellow and advisor to the following organizations: 

  • Alpha Kappa Delta Phi
  • Delta Xi Phi
  • Lambda Phi Epsilon
  • Omega Phi Beta
  • Alpha Epsilon Pi
  • Delta Tau Delta
  • Sigma Chi
  • Sigma Phi Epsilon

Katie attended Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio (GO BROWNS!) where she studied marketing and public relations. She completed her graduate work in higher education administration at the University of Akron while working in fraternity and sorority life.

How did you come to join CMU?

Upon completing my graduate program, I was seeking a Greek advisor role on a private campus that was geographically close to my family in northeast Ohio. CMU popped into my inbox and I was instantly excited. The position description couldn’t have been more inspiring, actually. After coming to campus and meeting students and staff members, I felt like this would be a great new home for me.

As coordinator for Greek leadership development and housefellow for Greek Life, what specific ways will you support and contribute to the Greek life experience on Carnegie Mellon’s campus?

I will be supporting students in a variety of ways: advising, developing a leadership curriculum, assessing the Greek experience, and as a housefellow. While I directly advise the Interfraternity Council (IFC) and the Multicultural Greek Council (MGC), my door is always open to every member of the CMU community, affiliated or not. Advising is important to me as a way to build relationships with students and to challenge and support them through their personal journeys and as members of Greek organizations. Leadership development is a passion of mine, so I am excited to take a closer look at the opportunities for leadership that currently exist and where that blends with campus efforts surrounding leadership. Lastly, I will be supporting students through assessment of the Greek experience and help “tell the story” with the results!

What inspires you most about Greek life?

What inspires me most about Greek Life is the global impact our membership has. Fraternities and sororities truly have great power and responsibility to fulfill the calling for positive, far-reaching impact. Sororities are the largest women’s organizations in the United States; fraternal service improves the quality of life around us; our philanthropic donations save lives and lead to breaking developments in research; our leadership influences Fortune 100 companies and entrepreneurs of small businesses. The amount of responsibility we have as members of the Greek community, to ourselves and to our communities, is inspiring. I think most of all, the Greek experience becomes a part of our identity and creates a special connection with brothers and sisters – past, present, and future.

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

I have learned this about myself and about students I work with: it is okay to fail. Nobody wants to fail, but everyone does, and sometimes failure is the best outcome for the scenario. What we learn from failure and furthermore what we do with that knowledge is what is most valuable.

All-time favorite book.

I don’t think I have a single favorite but The Giver and The Great Gatsby are up there.

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

Katie 1I am passionate about living a healthy lifestyle so cooking has become a passion. I am constantly thinking of how to make something delicious and still healthy. Also, I want to see the world so traveling is at the top of my list now that I have finished grad school.

This may be controversial around here, but I am also very passionate about Cleveland sports. Browns, Cavs, Indians, ever since I could remember. I am also passionate about Italian food, specifically, pizza and ravioli. My favorite pizza place is called Edison’s, in Tremont, Ohio, where I get ricotta pizza … tastes like ravioli on pizza. My favorite artist is Claude Monet so I try to see his work anytime it is nearby.

Lastly I am passionate about my family. I have three younger sisters and we are best friends, so spending time with them is always fun!

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

Well this is really tough. I haven’t been out of the country since I studied abroad in undergrad and when I did, I got to travel to many countries in Europe. I am partial to Italy, as my family owns a vineyard near Florence that I never got to see, so I think I would like to go there and to Cinque Terre. Or, I would go back to Claude Monet’s house in Giverny, France.

What’s a piece of advice you’d give to a student who is considering joining a Greek chapter but isn’t sure?

Each institution is different. Give it a try and form your own opinion about the Greek experience, sans media and advice offered by others. Give each organization a chance and meet more than just two or three members. Go beyond the surface with your conversations and ask about the impact they have on the community and what their ritual means to them. Lastly, know your values and decide whether they align with one or more groups. If so, we’d love to have you! If not, that is okay, we still welcome you to our events, and support you in your decision to pursue another passion. And, we’ll still be friends and attend your events, too!

Getting to Know Jordan Kunz

Jordan Kunz is the Housefellow for Shirley Apartments, a first-year apartment community in the Oakland area, and Fairfax Apartments, an upperclass community. He also sits on Provost Jahanian’s Task Force on the CMU Experience which is a group designed to make immediate and long-term changes to enhance the experience for students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

Jordan completed his undergraduate degree at CMU in business with a minor in computer science. He is currently pursuing a master’s in information systems management through CMU’s  Heinz College, and in the future is looking to move into the field of technology consulting.

How did you come to join Carnegie Mellon?

I am actually a native to the Pittsburgh area, and growing up I knew what a great school Carnegie Mellon was. When I was accepted in 2011, I was really excited for the opportunity to go here, and I have been here ever since!

I’ve been involved in Student Life pretty much my entire time at CMU. I was a Resident Assistant twice, a Community Advisor my senior year of undergrad, and an active member of the Student Dormitory Council. As I was graduating from undergrad and getting ready to start my graduate work, it just so happened that Shirley Apartments was going to be transitioning to a first-year community. I was offered the chance to be Housefellow for that community, and that’s where I’ve stayed

What makes Shirley Apartments so awesome?

I think there are a lot of pretty great things about life in Shirley. One of my favorite things is just walking through the halls in the evening and smelling all of the food everyone is making. Every apartment in Shirley has a kitchen, and people definitely take advantage of that. We have multiple potluck events throughout the year because few things are more fun than sharing your favorite dishes with your friends.

I also think what’s great about Shirley is that it’s such a small community. It’s the only community on campus where you can learn everyone’s name in the first week without really trying. It so quickly becomes a tight-knit community where people feel really comfortable with one another, and that leads to really great adventures, discussions, and experiences.

What kinds of first-year programs take place in Shirley?

The most popular programs we have in Shirley are definitely the Thanksgiving potluck, Milkshakes in the Yard, and Shirnival. When everyone in the building has a kitchen, why not make an awesome Thanksgiving meal together as a house? We have the Thanksgiving staples, but we also have a lot of fun dishes that people want to share with their friends which makes for a really unique and delicious meal.

Shirley has a side yard creatively referred to as “The Yard.” As a celebration for the last day of classes, we all go out to The Yard and make milkshakes, hit a piñata, and play games. It’s a great way for everyone to have one last shared experience together before they leave for the summer.

Shirnival is an event run by Shirley’s House Council during Spring Carnival. The House Council hosts games, holds contests, and has fun prizes for people. It’s a really unique event because houses typically don’t have events during Carnival, but Shirley wanted to do its own thing and they had a really good time with it!

Share one of your most prized CMU memories.

My favorite day (or days depending on the weather) every year is Raceday for Sweepstakes. The buggy races are just such a cool experience, and my first Raceday is really special to me. The swarms of people, the jumbotrons, the excitement. It all just adds up to a really fun day for anyone involved, whether they are spectating or participating.

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

I am into sports, superheroes, and learning. I try to follow as many sports as I can, and have played nine different sports competitively in my life. I also spend a lot of time watching superhero TV shows and movies because they’re just a lot of fun. In terms of learning, I’m always finding new things I want to learn about. Currently I’m working toward being fluent in Spanish, learning how to do sports analytics, and learning how to cook.

All-time favorite book:

My favorite book is Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. I first read it in eighth grade and it’s been my favorite book ever since! It’s not a particularly long read so I reread it every once in a while.

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

My best piece of advice for first-year students is always this: you’re going to change in college, so accept that and make it change that you want to see in yourself. College is a chance to hit the restart button on how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you. Take advantage of that to become a person you are proud of.

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 Jesse Koch

As the Associate Director of Greek Life and Housefellow at Carnegie Mellon University, Jesse Koch works directly with Greek organizations, programs, and partners, with the goal of improving the Greek experience for all members.

More specifically, he directs advisory support for fraternity and sorority chapters, regularly meeting with chapter leaders to provide advice, help them achieve their specific chapter goals, and problem solve. Additionally, Jesse works to facilitate collaborative working relationships and partnerships among Greek chapter advisors, alumni, and national headquarters, as well as with Carnegie Mellon campus partners such as Housing Services, Alumni Relations, Student Activities, and the Office of Community Standards and Integrity. He also directs the Greek community standards process, the Standards of Excellence (a chapter assessment program), and the annual Greek Awards.

As Housefellow, Jesse supports students who live in on-campus chapter houses.

Jesse earned his undergraduate degree in criminal justice from Penn State, Altoona, and master’s in higher education in college student affairs leadership from Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.

How did you come to join CMU?  

Before CMU, I worked with the Greek community at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. I loved the job, but knew that I eventually wanted to come back to Pittsburgh, my hometown. Coincidentally, the summer I started looking for new opportunities, the position within Greek Life at Carnegie Mellon became available. After researching the institution, meeting students and staff members, and visiting the campus, I knew it was the right place for me.

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? 

Our students truly guide their own experience, and that’s really inspiring to me. As a staff, the Greek Life team embraces an advisory approach in which we focus our energy on student support, rather than telling our students what to do and how to do it. We work to understand the goals of our Greek organizations, give them advice on how to achieve these goals, challenge them when appropriate, and allow them to do the work.

When our students are afforded this responsibility, they create a Greek community focused on self-governance, shared accountability, and high expectations. With this framework, it’s amazing what our Greek students are able to achieve.

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

Many people may not know that the 1000plus Day of Service used to only happen once a year and that the Carnegie Mellon Greek community used to host a similar program called The Greek Day of Service, which was coordinated annually by our office and Greek students. The Greek program grew to the point where it made sense to combine efforts with 1000plus.

To me, it was encouraging and inspiring to see the Greek community take a very successful program and join forces with another incredible program on campus, thus leveraging the event’s strength in numbers and impact.

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

It’s okay to not be the smartest person in the room (at CMU, I rarely am!). Rather, understand your personal strengths, experience, and expertise, and be confident in what you bring to the table as a result.

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

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Jesse ran the 2014 Donut Dash – an event hosted by CMU’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon – with his dog Kevin.

I love dogs! I have two of my own – Kevin and Livvy – and I walk dogs every week at the Animal Rescue League shelter. If you see me walking on campus after work, there’s a really good chance I’ll have a dog with me. I also enjoy playing soccer, softball, and running. This is largely to counteract my unhealthy obsession for pizza.

All-time favorite book.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. It was my favorite childhood book. I’ve probably read it a few hundred times.

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

I love skiing and have been doing it since I was 4 years old. My dream would be to spend a month in British Columbia checking out the ski resorts and heli-skiing some remote mountains. To me, skiing is a perfect combination of adrenaline rush and peaceful relaxation.

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

Your Greek housing experience hinges largely on your chapter’s respect for the house. Treat the space with pride, and others will do the same. If your members work together, you will benefit from a clean environment free of unnecessary distraction and a place you can look forward to showing off to your guests.

There are a lot of support mechanisms in place to ensure your Greek experience is a positive one. Feel free to reach out to your chapter leadership, Housing Services, or Greek Life should you ever need help or guidance!

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.