“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. 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 Josh Schaldenbrand

Josh Schaldenbrand is the Housefellow for Hamerschlag and Scobell (or HamSco), first-year communities on The Hill of Carnegie Mellon University’s campus. He is also the university’s Coordinator of Community Standards & Integrity.

Josh earned his Bachelor of Arts in history in 2005 and his Master of Arts in counseling in 2008, both from Edinboro University. “Edinboro is located about two hours north of Pittsburgh and 20 minutes south of Lake Erie,” says Josh. “If you have seen the movie, Frozen, then you would be familiar with the weather in Edinboro from October to April.”

How did you come to join CMU?

I previously worked in residence life at three other universities where much of my work was focused on residential education and staff selection and training. I joined CMU in September 2014. During my interview process, I was so impressed with everyone I met and with how invested everyone is in their work. I was also eager to gain more experience relating to community standards and wanted to return to Pittsburgh, where I was born and raised.

 

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

Many things, but I am most excited about being able to work with the RA staff to rebrand, renew, and create a new vision for the HamSco community. This is a really unique opportunity to see change happen while honoring the strong community traditions that already exists in HamSco. I am looking forward to being a part of the larger Hill Neighborhood and seeing how HamSco can connect with Wehbam and the Intersection.

Share one of your most prized CMU memories.

Spring Carnival is always a highpoint in the year for me. Timing the buggy races with other staff members is something I love to do. It allows me to see the creativity and hard work of our students in action as they push their teams’ buggy across the finish line. More importantly, the time invested in building relationships with students has been incredibly meaningful for me. Those relationships are what I treasure the most about being a Housefellow and being a part of the Carnegie Mellon community.

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

In this work I have learned many things from students. The most important lesson that I have had confirmed for me is the importance of being authentic. The moments when people are truly themselves are the moments when reflection and resilience can flourish. This applies to good times, bad times, and in between times. The students whom I have been fortunate enough to work with have taught me a lot about how important it is for me to maintain my authenticity and to allow others to see who I am.

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

Josh's pups, Jack and Sam
Josh’s pups, Jack and Sam

I am a doctoral student in the Higher Education Management EdD Program at the University of Pittsburgh and that takes up quite a bit of my time. Beyond that I read, I Netflix, I cook, and I attempt in vain to train my two dogs, Jack and Sam. I’m extremely passionate about Pittsburgh sports teams, specifically the Pirates. Most importantly, I enjoy spending time with my partner, Meredith, and also my nephews, Henry and Baker.

All-time favorite book(s): You could ask me this question and I’d give you one answer on Monday and a different one on Tuesday. Right now I am really immersed in reading for classes, but in reading “for fun” I really enjoy memoirs, biography, and autobiographies because they are often both historical and personal. Most recently I read Eric Clapton’s autobiography.

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

Barack Obama

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?

Mineo’s Pizza in Squirrel Hill.

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