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Resident Assistants remain pivotal part of campus life

May 8, 2008

An old saying says there are only two constants: death and taxes.  For student residents of UW-River Falls, there is a third constant: resident assistants.

Out of 69 total positions, 38 new RAs have been hired for the 2008-09 academic year at UWRF. These new staff members will be placed into positions in all 10 Residence Halls on campus, affecting the lives of every student living in the halls. These 38 new members of Residence Life were selected through a two-tier application process aimed at sifting out the most qualified applicants. 

Students interested in the position were required to submit an application along with resumé, cover letter and three reference forms by Feb. 15. The number of open positions vary from year-to-year, but on average, 100 students show interest and submit applications each spring. 

According to the resident assistant position description available online through the school’s Web site, an RA is a “live-in student staff member… [who] contributes to the student life program and works specifically to develop and enhance community for residents.” Therefore, resumes must reflect emerging leaders willing to step up and “work with student residents to create an open, inclusive and supportive residential community.”

Coordinators within Residence Life reviewed applications and selected which applicants would receive interviews. Since there is more to being an RA than a free single room and a free meal plan, coordinators looked for applicants that were willing to bring something unique to the role. 

“Résumés need to capture experience that can translate into the [RA] position,” said Jason Neuhaus, the west area coordinator for Residence Life. “[But] if their GPA meets the requirements they’ll [probably] receive an interview. We almost always try to offer the chance to students.”

Interviews took place during the final two weeks of February. Panels of interviewers were made up of one to four Residence Life staff members, at least one of them being Neuhaus or Kristie Feist, the east area coordinator for Residence Life.

“We try to ask questions that will allow the applicant to share examples of experiences they have that will illustrate their ability to succeed in the position,” Feist said in an e-mail interview. “We want to see…how they will handle certain situations if hired.”

Once all the interviews were completed, the professional staff within the department of Residence Life reviewed all the applicants and their impressions of them from face-to-face interaction. In most cases, interviewees were asked if they had any preferences to the type of community they would most like to be placed in: first-year student wings, returning student wings or substance-free lifestyle. 

The different personalities of the applicants were also matched up to create diverse staffs that will mesh well together, bringing unique viewpoints and skill sets to each hall. 

It is also important to find individuals who are able to connect with residents. For that reason, a variety of personalities were hired. 

“We’d be in trouble if we hired 100 percent extroverts or 100 percent introverts—we wouldn’t be able to connect with residents that way,” Neuhaus said.
This concern for a healthy and effective staff is reflected in residents’ attitudes.

“My overall opinion of UWRF RAs is positive and I feel that they are effective in their position,” said junior Heather Pederson. “I do feel that this University can hire competent RAs.”

“It’s hard to know for sure how people will handle the job with just one interview,” said Jared Fritz, a first-year student.  “But I think they’ve [the administration] done a good job at it.”

“We have been fortunate to have enough returning RA’s to place in each building to act as mentors and role models for our new staff,” Feist said.

This year, Residence Life is test-driving a new method of bringing returning RAs closer together with newcomers.  On March 27, an RA social was held in which staff members from different halls were paired up into buddy teams. The goal was to provide new RAs with an experienced individual that could answer questions and be a general resource. The staff for 2008-09 seemed upbeat for the upcoming year, with first-time RAs excited for the opportunity to be young leaders.

“[It’s a] really awesome position to be a part of,” said Hannah Tjoflat, a first-year student and a new RA for next year. “I’m really excited to get involved.”

The RA position is one that can really help with outreach to students, according to Hailey Samples, a sophomore hired for next year. 

“RAs can do a lot to show students what they can do on campus,” Samples said.

Applications for the RA position are accepted at the beginning of each spring semester.  Applications can be found at the Involvement Center desk or online through the University’s Web site.  resident assistants, hall managers and area coordinators can answer questions about the position as well.