Faces of EU Leadership: A look into the process of RA selection and the importance of student leadership.

On March 2, Interim Assistant Dean of Residence and Student Life Ben Howard and fellow Resident Directors Krista Barnett, Lexi Dunbar, Heidi Birtwistle, Bryce Johnson, Courtney Johnson, and Theresa Noye announced the students who have been selected to work as resident assistants in the coming academic year of 2018-2019.

Resident assistants are students who are assigned to live on a specific floor and assist residents as they adjust to college life and grow academically, spiritually, and socially. Resident assistants, or RAs, work to foster community amongst students who live on their floor, and they also are an easily-accessible source of comfort and guidance. According to the Eastern University website, residents are trained in paraprofessional counseling skills, crisis intervention, and community building. RAs also enforce university policy and ensure that campus expectations are met.

RA selection is a long and arduous process that lasts for the majority of the spring semester. Many students apply every year, and the residence life spends a great deal of time and energy interviewing candidates and creating cohesive residence assistant staffs for each hall. Interim Assistant Dean Ben Howard describes the RA selection as “a robust process” that starts as soon as the spring semester starts.

The Resident Directors hold open informational meetings in a variety of locations and at a variety of times so that even students with the busiest schedules can attend. These meetings last between 45 minutes to an hour, and once at these meetings, potential RA candidates can hear about the different responsibilities required of a resident assistant, as well as the different requirements and expectations. The open meetings also have a time specifically for fielding questions, so candidates can ask about the application as well as the compensation for the position.

If candidates remain interested in the resident assistant position, then they have to submit an application consisting of multiple short essays and other relevant information detailing their interest in the position as well as their relevant skills and experience. Those who do not feel that writing is their strength do not need to fear, because the next parts of the application process consist of a group interview as well as an individual interview.

Howard says that the residence staff does as much as they can to “make as wide a field as possible; the process allows people to show their strengths in a variety of different ways with a lot of different assessment tools.”  Resident directors also tend to know candidates as residents before they apply; sometimes the best resumé can be a student’s good behavioral record along with an eagerness to participate in community events.

Through this series of assessments, the resident directors attempt to deduce “if candidates have leadership skills, are teachable, are responsible, are hard-working, and are kind,” Howard says, “We’re trying to figure out people who have an appreciation for who Eastern is, and to help us continue to foster the type of community that we want to build here.”

It is certainly not a simple task, as resident assistants must support and demonstrate a certain moral ethic, as well as contribute to a learning and living environment people enjoy being a part of, that allows them to grow spiritually, socially, and intellectually. However, Howard and the rest of his team are certainly aware that RAs have different strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately it is a developmental position.

“We would all love students who are capable of doing everything without being asked, but at the end of the day, our department is called ‘student development’ for a reason. As much as we want the RAs to shape community in the res halls, our jobs as RDs is to also shape those RAs,” Howard says. 

Sophomore Suzi Staherski certainly agrees that her current position as an RA in Sparrowk Hall has been an experience of growing and overcoming difficulty. Staherski will be returning as an RA next year (most likely in Gallup Hall as of the writing of this article), and she looks forward to how the RA position will stretch her in the future. “I’m hoping through another year of service that I can gain more experience being handed a lot of responsibility and grow in the confidence I have,” Staherski says.

Staherski eagerly anticipates welcoming a new class of freshman and helping them acclimate to the Eastern University community. “I hope to help the new first-year students that will come in the fall in order to ease their transitions into college life; this was my favorite part of being an RA this year. There’s so much excitement in getting the halls ready for residents to arrive, and I’m excited to build good relationships like the ones I have with my residents this year,” Staherski says.

The residence life staff met over spring break to review all the applications and then contacted those accepted for the position two weeks ago. Uniquely, resident assistants are hired for the entire campus before they are hired to work in a specific building. Thus, they attempt to reach a consensus on each candidate before they are accepted (although this is not always possible when dealing with seven resident directors). Now that the resident assistant staff for the entire campus has been selected and notified, the resident directors are meeting to discuss which new resident assistants will be placed where, with the announcement most likely being made at the end of this week, on March 16.

Howard says that the residence staff is extremely grateful to the students who apply for the resident assistant position, and regrets that there were only 32 spots open for new applicants. “There’s a lot of qualified people who don’t get hired every year; we don’t have that many res halls, or that many floors,” Howard says. Fortunately, there are many other leadership opportunities available for interested students. Howard is specifically passionate about the Student Activity Board and views it as a very valuable leadership experience. There are also many diverse student-led clubs, and organizations such as Student Government, the Inklings literary journal, the Multicultural Awareness Advisory Committee, and the Waltonian student-run newspaper. “There’s an abundance of leadership positions to help students develop and grow,” Howard says. Congratulations to the resident assistant staff of the 2018-2019 year, and for more information on potential leadership opportunities, go to eastern.edu/student-life.

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