July 15th, 2007 15:55 EST
Give and Take: the life of an RA
As students filter in the Lake Claire apartment lounge, they grab chips and soda and wait their turn to play in the Wii tournament their resident assistant planned out. Danielle Watson, their RA, watches the students chat among themselves while they play video games. They have no idea how many hours it took her to plan the event, budget the housing money and make fliers for the social program. They also don`t know about the five additional hours she`ll spend planning the next event and talking to them on their floor.
Those hours do not include studying and other club responsibilities. But, Watson and other UCF RA`s willingly sacrifice their time and energy for the impact they have on their residents, the great friends they`ve made and the valuable skills they`ve learned.
Many other tasks take up RAs` time. Besides organizing eight social and educational programs a semester, RA`s are required to be on-duty for one night a week from 4:45 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. for student emergencies or problems. They must also be on-duty a whole weekend, about 72 hours, four times a semester.
Including duty assignments, RA`s commit themselves to devoting 15 hours a week to their residents. Part of that time is devoted to knocking on doors and making sure the residents are doing well academically and socially. RA`s also make bulletin boards about upcoming events and write newsletters to inform students about on-campus activities.
Crystal Lee, a 2-year RA this fall, said she often spends extra time on her RA responsibilities.
"The requirement is 15 hours, but I go way over that," she said. "I spend about 30 hours a week planning programs and talking with residents."
Although working as an RA does drain their time, the job gives more than it takes away.
Watson said about the freshmen she manages: "It`s like having 45 children to take care of. The best part is making a connection with the residents. You feel a sense of accomplishment when they don`t need you anymore. I watch them grow up."
Alison Helfferich, a Rosen college RA, also realizes the influence she has over her residents. She explained how a random encounter she had with a girl in her class showed her the true responsibility of being an RA.
"We have to always be an RA," Helfferich said. "I`ve gone to a bookstore to buy a scantron and a girl asked me, `Do we have to make our own cakes?` I didn`t know her, but she knew me as an RA and that we had the same class together. If an RA goes to a bar and takes shots or something, residents might see them."
Some sacrifices RA`s have to make are hard "a lesson Karl Stein recently learned. Stein, a Hercules apartment RA, was caught with three beers in his fridge, which is illegal because he was underage. Stein was fired.
He misses the RA staff. He said that he made some great friends. Some of the best times he had were being on-duty with his assigned partners.
They would talk casually about classes and friends, but the conversation would grow more serious as the RA`s became better acquainted. A fellow RA shared with Stein about her family in South Korea and her experiences in the U.S.
The other RA`s say that they might miss out on plans with friends because of their hectic schedule, but most of their friends are RA`s too.
Watson`s boyfriend, Brandon Woodard, is a RA. And, Helfferich said her best friend lives next door.
Helfferich didn`t always have many friends. She said she used to take the shuttle to Rosen, and in between classes listen to her iPod or read a book. "I`ve made friends with the people I met in housing. We hang out and go to dinner together," she said.
Her friends understand when Lee can`t make it to a party or get-together but that they love giving her a hard time about it.
It might be easy to make friends with the RA staff, but some RA`s feel it`s a challenge to connect with their residents. Even with all the time they devote to helping their residents, RA`s still might not be able to form relationships with them and get the chance to impact their college experience for the better.
It was hard making friends with the upperclassmen he was in charge of, Stein said. "In the apartments, the residents have a kitchen and their own room. They`re not freshmen, so they already know what to do. They didn`t need me."
Lee tried a creative way to bond with her residents. She put together a "tag-along." The residents met her at a certain spot and they all car-pooled to Jeremiah`s Italian Ice, across from UCF. At the same time that they`re meeting other residents, they`re also finding out what`s in the Orlando area.
RA`s put a great deal of time and energy into their job and their residents, but they can`t forget about their other obligations.
Lee balanced being vice president of her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, a member of the LEAD Scholars program, director of philanthropy with LEAD Scholars and her involvement with Campus Ministries.
Watson also realized the importance of balance. "Being an RA has helped me with time management," she said. "It taught me how to manage multiple jobs and be responsible for other people. I have to allot my time. I live by my calendar."
She is the marketing director of the homecoming executive board, a member of LEAD scholars, a member of the leadership honor society Sigma Alpha Pi, and a member of the AD-PR club.
Stein agrees. "I never really used a planner before I was an RA. Now, every single day I plan everything out," he said.
Planning is not hard for Helfferich. She`s an event management major and said that being an RA helped her with her future career. "It was the first real look into the planning and execution of events," she said.
Event management is Helfferich`s seventh major. She feels that being an RA has given her the chance to help other students figure out what they want to do with their life.
Academically, all the RA`s said that their grades have not suffered either. Watson said that if anything, the time she has to study is more focused because she knows she may not get much time otherwise.
With the sacrifices they make academically and socially, Helfferich, Watson, Lee and Stein all feel like the lost time is worth the students they influence.
Lee remembers a particular time she got to impact a resident.
A resident told Lee that she was having some problems. She felt her boyfriend was clinging to her and that she wanted to stop being dependent on him. Lee continued talking with the girl and learned that the student`s mom had lung disease. Lee did some investigating and led the girl to Get Carded, a UCF program that promotes becoming an organ donor and indicating the decision on your license. The girl still has the same boyfriend, but now is the assistant director of Get Carded and feels like she is now independent.
Watson said that despite time crunches: "The best part of being an RA is seeing your residents stop asking so many questions and help other students because they already have the answers. You see them handle classes and their own responsibilities. That`s rewarding."