Home Sweet Rowan: Intensive training program prepares RAs to serve residential students
The responsibility of being a Rowan University resident assistant (RA) is enormous. Gian Connor calls it a privilege.
“RAs have the opportunity to make a positive impact the transition of new students,” said Connor, a junior marketing major and first-year RA, who will serve freshmen on the fourth floor of Mimosa Residence Hall.
“I want my freshmen to feel like they always have someone in their corner,” he continued. “I want them to know that I will be a resource and a voice for them. I want them to feel loved and cared for. And I want them to know that Rowan is full of resources to help them.”
A total of 107 undergraduate RAs—along with nine graduate student residential directors and three full-time residential learning coordinators--serve 4,385 residential students on Rowan’s Glassboro campus. Of those living on campus this academic year, more than 1,900 are freshmen.
Safe, supportive, inclusive community
Rowan’s Office of Residential Learning and University Housing, which includes a total of seven full-time professional staffers, hires and trains RAs, whose main job is to promote the development of a safe, supportive and inclusive residential community for on-campus students.
The intensive RA training program requires more than 150 hours of education year round, according to Travis Douglas, director of residential learning and University housing.
“RAs are dedicated to helping other students take on many roles—from peer mentor and ally to crisis responder,” Douglas said. “The intensive training process they go through assures that they are as prepared as they can be to meet our students’ needs.”
This summer, RAs spent three full weeks on Rowan’s campus, attending daily and evening sessions that covered, among many other topics: the nuances of student development theory; promoting diversity, social justice and inclusion; conflict resolution; crisis response; active listening; conduct and policy; ethical decision-making; leadership; and community building. Sessions also covered a plethora of safety issues—from fire safety to housekeeping.
Training also included Behind Closed Doors sessions, during which returning RAs acted out scenarios that required new RAs to resolve real-life issues and problems.
Resident assistants are required to develop and implement programming for residential students throughout the year that promote and enhance interaction among residents, staff, and even faculty. They work up to 20 hours per week and receive housing, an $800 annual stipend and a 10-meal plan.
Cindy Rubiano-Gomez, a junior psychology and Spanish major and second-year RA, became a resident assistant in part because she had such a positive experience living on campus her freshman year.
“My RA my freshman year went that extra mile for me,” said Rubiano-Gomez. “I had a great freshman year. That made me want to get more involved on campus.
“In the freshman residence halls, especially, you help residents find resources. You’re role models, friends and programmers. You make sure their experiences are good ones and that they’re succeeding academically. You play an important part in their lives.”
Building a community
Community building is important, she says.
“We have a really strong little community, one that we build from the very beginning to help them feel that Rowan is home for them,” Rubiano-Gomez says. “We’re a family.”
When he welcomed RAs to their summer training, Vice President of Student Life/Dean of Students Richard Jones reminded them of their responsibilities—and their impact. Jones, himself, began his career as an RA.
“This job is really about making a difference,” Jones said. “You have an opportunity to change the lives of the students you serve. Get involved with them. Talk to them. Meet them where they are. The day you knock on their door just to check in might be the day you impact their life.”
Connor has the highest expectations for the freshmen he’ll serve as they begin their Rowan careers.
“I want them to forget who they think they are…and learn who they really are,” he said.