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 David Chickering

David Chickering (pictured above with his daughter) is the Housefellow for Mudge House, a large first-year residence hall (and mansion) in the Morewood corridor of Carnegie Mellon University’s campus. In addition to his role as Housefellow, David is the assistant director of Student Life, the Student Affairs college liaison to the Schools of Art and Music, an instructor for the environmental course called Privilege, Responsibility, and Community, and the liaison to the university’s neighbors on Beeler Street.

David earned his undergraduate degree in theatre and English and his master’s in higher education, both from the The University of Iowa.

A member of the Carnegie Mellon community for 10 years, David has lots of great stuff to share!

How did you come to join CMU?

I was looking for a selective school with creative students. I was also looking for a city with a National League baseball team, green spaces, good coffee, and character. I did not know much about Carnegie Mellon or Pittsburgh before I was asked to apply. I have fallen in love with both.

Mudge House courtyard and koi pond
Mudge House courtyard and koi pond

What makes the Mudge House community awesome?

Mudge always has the most amazing residents. Mudgies do great things at CMU and after they graduate. Just ask me. On a more tangible note, Mudge is a mansion with a beautiful courtyard and a koi pond.

What kinds of special first-year programs take place in Mudge?

Mudge hosts a Dinner with the Deans and Faculty event every spring. More than 30 faculty and staff come to Mudge for a celebratory dinner with over 100 Mudge residents. Faculty get to know students better and students get to see their faculty in a different light. We also drink tea and do classy, reflective things.

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

I learned from a student and his friends to wear two different styles of socks every day. There are so many reasons to do so. I highly recommend it.

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

I am pretty sure that I love my family. So, I do lots of family stuff – hiking, camping, biking, coaching kids sports, and carrying stuff. I like to eat and cook good vegetarian food. I am pretty proud of my Indian cooking skills. I collect and ride vintage scooters. I garden and drink copious amounts of good coffee.

What’s your all-time favorite book?

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Tell us at least one thing that’s on your bucket list.

Buckets. You can’t have a bucket list without buckets.

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?

Empathy is important. People are complex. Get to know people. You will learn a lot and things will make more sense, or less sense. Either way, you will be better for it.