RAs bring enthusiasm, take away experience

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — According to the National Survey of Student Engagement, about 35 percent of first-year college students in the United States live in on-campus housing. At Penn State’s University Park campus, nearly all first-year students and 37 percent of all undergraduate students lived in campus housing in fall 2013. They live and thrive with the guidance of neighbors known as resident assistants, or RAs, whose own experience helps prepare them for success after graduation.

A long journey

Rhonda Bates, a senior in human development and family studies, became an RA for a very simple but important reason.

“I wanted to instill the love I had for Penn State with other residents."

— Rhonda Bates,
Penn State senior, resident assistant

“I wanted to instill the love I had for Penn State with other residents,” Bates said.

During her freshman year, Bates realized that some of her fellow residents had a disconnect with Penn State. She thought, “It’s awesome here! Get involved!”

Bates is serving her fourth semester as an RA. Though she’s got the hang of it now, the journey to becoming an RA was challenging.

Rhonda Bates-RA

Rhonda Bates is a senior at Penn State majoring in human development and family studies. She has been a resident assistant for two years.

Image: Patrick Mansell

To become an RA, students must meet the minimum GPA requirement of a 2.40, attend an information session to acquire the application, get approved, excel in two interviews and take a class designed to teach students about the policies and challenges involved with being a resident assistant.

Students must get an A in the class to receive the coveted letter of recommendation that grants hopefuls a position. At first, Bates did not get the letter of recommendation because her coordinator thought she was too busy to give adequate attention to the job. She waited a semester, then finally received the letter along with the approval of her coordinator.

Initially, Bates was nervous. When she applied as a freshman, she didn’t realize how many other applicants would be her competition. The interview portion, however, put her at ease.

“When I had my interview, it was very casual and personable,” Bates said. “I didn’t feel like I had to answer questions to a T. It was like I was just showing my personality.”

The long process of becoming an RA was difficult, but Bates says it was worth it.  “While it’s rigorous, it’s fun, too. You make the best out of it,” Bates said.

Working ahead

Brittany Jackson, a resident assistant in Nittany Apartments, also plays piccolo in the Penn State Blue Band during the fall semester. Both roles require a huge time commitment.

“It certainly helped my time management, being thrown into both of them at once,” she said. “I had to learn to plan ahead.”

“I became an avid user of my planner. I write down everything I have in terms of rehearsals or when I’m going to plan a community builder."

— Brittany Jackson,
Penn State junior, resident assistant

Jackson was especially challenged during band camp and resident assistant training at the end of August before students arrived on campus. Rather than becoming overwhelmed, Jackson used the time conflict to strengthen her management skills.

“I became an avid user of my planner. I write down everything I have in terms of rehearsals or when I’m going to plan a community builder,” she said.

Charlie DeFrancesco’s job is a little different. A senior majoring in biology, DeFrancesco is a resident assistant for BIOME in East Halls, a hybrid of the words “biology” and “home,” meaning “ecosystem.”

DeFrancesco has been a resident assistant since the spring of his sophomore year, though this is his first time in BIOME. Considered a special living option — a hall designed for students with a common interest — BIOME is geared toward students studying biology.

Charlie DeFrancesco -RA

Charlie DeFranceso is a senior at Penn State majoring in biology. He has been a resident assistant in East Halls for three years.

Image: Patrick Mansell

BIOME is unique among special living options because all students living in BIOME are taking the same classes and freshman seminar, “linking residence life and academics,” DeFrancesco said, noting that first-year students, in particular, “want to live with people who are in the same classes so they can work through the difficult classes together.”

DeFrancesco is in the process of applying to medical schools and has no doubt that the skills he learned during his time as a resident assistant will be applicable to his career as a doctor. The most useful skill that he will take away from his experience is learning to relate to his peers.

“Working through problems, empathizing — as a doctor, you’re going to encounter a diverse group of people,” DeFrancesco said.

Daniel Galante, a senior majoring in engineering sciences, knows he has already benefited from the skills he has learned as an RA. Though he enjoys it, he remembered fighting his nerves for the first house meeting of the year. In the beginning of the fall semester, all of his residents gathered together to learn about policies, Penn State, and getting to know each other. “I knew I had to get them to pay attention and listen. It’s a big lesson in public speaking,” Galante said.

“Those experiences, getting up and giving a speech for an hour in an interactive meeting — it was a pretty big learning experience for me. My ability to communicate as an engineering intern definitely was helped by being an RA."

— Daniel Galante,
Penn State senior, resident assistant

Galante worked for GE during the summer as an intern. He had to give a large presentation to his co-workers and realized that his skills as a resident assistant helped him in this scenario, too. When he presented, Galante realized that he felt at ease and his peers and co-workers responded positively.

“Those experiences, getting up and giving a speech for an hour in an interactive meeting — it was a pretty big learning experience for me,” Galante said. “My ability to communicate as an engineering intern definitely was helped by being an RA,” he added. Galante knows the skills he learned as a resident assistant definitely will help after graduation, too.

More than anything, Rhonda Bates is grateful for the people she has met on her journey, though her time at Penn State will end in May at graduation. 

“Being an RA has helped me become the person I am today because it has given me the opportunity to interact with so many young females from so many walks of life,” she said. “Helping them to see their potential to be active contributors to the Penn State community, I’ve come across some amazing residents.”

Last Updated May 15, 2014