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RAs reap benefits of reaching out to students

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Courtesy of Joanie Dovekas/ UW-Green Bay Housing and Residence Life

Megan Hanna, Life Editor
February 6, 2013
Filed under Life

They’re in college now. They’ve grown up and left the nest. But just because mom and dad aren’t there doesn’t mean they won’t need help now and again. So where can college students turn? Their RAs.

With another school year approaching, the Office of Residence Life is accepting applications for RAs for 2013-14.

According to Joanie Dovekas, assistant director of Residence Life, one of resident assistants’ primary tasks is to create a welcoming environment for residents.

“Every single student deserves an environment where they feel a part of the community,” Dovekas said, “where someone is watching out for them, where they can try new things and they can make mistakes and learn from those mistakes.”

RAs go about this in several ways and have various duties.

“The one big thing most people know we do is go on rounds each night,” said RA Sammy Jackson, junior English major, “but we do a lot more than that. We are responsible for getting the buildings looking creative, fun and welcoming for residents. There’s also programming, countless meetings, dealing with conflicts and just getting to know our residents in general.”

The RA job description classifies RAs as community facilitators, programmers, referral agents and peer advisors.

“We’re a resource for students who may be having any sort of problem, whether it be personal or social,” said RA Tony Hinkel, senior English major. “We’re trained how to mediate conflict and direct people to proper on-campus groups that can help them.”

Neither Jackson nor Hinkel would recommend this job to just anyone.

“I would recommend being an RA to someone who I know would be in it for the right reasons,” Hinkel said, “someone who genuinely wants to improve the quality of life on campus for students living here.”

Hinkel’s view lines up with those of Dovekas.

“The passion to serve and help others is crucial,” Dovekas said.

Other qualifying factors Dovekas looks for in RAs include the ability to handle change and feedback, a strong work ethic, teamwork, the ability to have difficult conversations when necessary and commitment.

“We want leaders who take pride in the work they do and are devoted to the residents they serve,” Dovekas said.

No matter how qualified a student is, the job still has its challenges. Hours vary and are often late, and Dovekas said RAs have to be willing to come back to school early, stay late and sometimes work during breaks. According to Hinkel, it can also be difficult to balance academics and the job’s requirements.

However, for those willing to face the position’s challenges, there are benefits. RAs receive their own room in a residence hall or apartment and a monthly stipend. The position can also help boost a resume.

RAs receive training in communication skills, time management, alcohol and substance abuse, team building, confrontation, mental health issues and many other topics. Jackson said her leadership and presentation skills have improved, and Hinkel said being an RA has made him more responsible.

“My time management abilities as well as my confidence in getting done what I know needs to be done have both improved greatly,” Hinkel said.

But some benefits are more intrinsic.

“The greatest benefit is what RAs learn about themselves and working and living with others,” Dovekas said.

Jackson not only learned about herself and her strengths but also built new connections and lasting friendships.

Jackson and Hinkel both returned for their second year as RAs this semester, which, according to Dovekas, is common among RAs.

“Most RAs return because of the close friendships they have built with their residents and with other RAs,” Dovekas said. “We have a number of third-year RAs, a couple fourth-year RAs and even one RA who stayed four and a half years. For many, being a RA was the best part of their college experience.”

To be eligible to be an RA, applicants must have a GPA of 2.4 or higher, be full-time students, have lived on campus for at least two semesters and be of sophomore status by the time of employment. Students interested in applying can download the application and reference forms at uwgb.edu/housing. Applications and three reference forms must be emailed to ra_selection@uwgb.edu by 5 p.m. Feb. 13.