I began my first ever full-time job just about two months ago as a Residence Director/Honors Academic Assistant at Ithaca College (IC) in Ithaca, NY. The beginning of my role has been a whirlwind of professional staff training, RA training, opening, welcome week, no-show reporting, and the daily task list. I thought I knew everything there was to know about running a residence hall from my graduate experience, but that is far from true. Here are five things I have learned since becoming a full-time professional.
- Running a hall (or halls) by yourself is a unique challenge. In graduate school, my full-time supervisor and I ran our 650-bed hall together in tandem. At IC, I run two buildings totaling just over 200 students by myself. You would think this would be much easier, but I now recognize how much I relied on my supervisor as a graduate assistant. I always had someone available to take on projects when schoolwork got busy or answer my questions about building-specific issues. Now I am in charge of everything, which I find both overwhelming and fun.
- On-the-job training is the best way to learn. I probably learned about 1/3 of what I know about my job through official training, with the rest as on-the-job training. I am still learning things every day from my student staff members, colleagues, and supervisors. I am thankful to have a fellow RD as an officemate and eight other peers who are happy to answer questions and brainstorm issues with me. I now understand that the best way to learn is by actually doing the task.
- The best way to approach work is by trial and error. I will not always know the exact answer to an RA’s question or the perfect way to do a certain task within my institution’s guidelines. With most things there is still some wiggle room and an opportunity to correct mistakes. I have found myself going with my gut and saying or doing what I think is right and then checking back later. I am very honest with my students that I do not know all the answers and that I will work to make sure they get the correct information. I also try to give myself some space to make mistakes, which is always a challenge for me.
- Students share many of the same challenges no matter what type of institution. I did my undergraduate work at a school similar to IC and my graduate work at a school dissimilar to IC. I expected there to be similarities between my peers’ experiences during undergrad and the students I work with now. While that is certainly true, there are also tons of similarities between IC students and the students I worked with over the past two years. All of these students struggle with academic stress, pressure to succeed, financial struggles, mental health concerns, and a deep desire to find oneself and one’s place on campus.
- And finally…you don’t have to do homework! This might seem obvious and I knew on some level that I would not have homework once I graduated with my degree in May. However, as someone who had been in school straight from ages 3-23, I don’t think I remembered what it felt like to come home at the end of the day and not have homework. It is one of the best feelings ever and I truly cherish the time I have at home with my partner, cat, Netflix account, and good books to keep me company.
For those of you who have also just started your first full-time position in Housing and Residence Life, what are things you have learned thus far? Best of luck as you transition!
Jess Shapiro is a first-year Residence Director/Honors Academic Assistant at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York. Her favorite part of working in residence life is helping students to develop and reach their goals. Originally from Southern California, she will always be a California girl at heart despite spending all of her adult life in cold weather. Jess earned a Bachelor’s degree at Boston College and earned a Master’s in College Student Personnel from Bowling Green State University. You can find her on Twitter @jshap722.