Colorado School of Mines’ Department of Residence Life is a featured program.
When you think about traditional residence hall staffing, it isn’t uncommon to think of a student Resident Assistant who is supervised directly by a professional or graduate student. Sometimes, there is a more senior “head RA” who helps to mentor the staff and coordinate administrative processes. But very rarely are undergraduate students given the opportunity to serve in a role that is critical to the success of the department.
At Colorado School of Mines, a team of 8 full time students comprise the Senior Staff – 7 Hall Directors and 1 Community Director who directly supervise staffs of 4 – 8, coordinate administrative processes, and serve as first responders in an on call rotation. The job they do is equivalent to what many student affairs graduate students do in their assistantship, complete with the learning process and dedication to their students. They carry out their job with pride, professionalism, and passion that shows in everything that they do.
The Senior Staff are directly supervised by Residence Life Coordinators, but the working relationship is often more of a partnership. The two positions work together to supervise and hire teams of Resident Assistants or Community Assistants, as well as manage the facilities and administration of the residence halls. The Senior Staff truly have ownership over their staffs, helped in part by their involvement in the hiring process. They run weekly staff meetings, hold 1:1’s, and even complete performance evaluations for each staff member. On the facilities side, Senior Staff have the opportunity to assist in fire and health and safety inspections, manage work orders, and collaborate with custodial staff. Through all of this, the RLCs help guide them through the processes and try to find opportunities for them to grow in areas that they can carry on to their first professional position, no matter the field they choose.
Because of the amount of responsibility placed on the Senior Staff, training looks a little different than the typical student staff member. After being hired in January, they begin meeting as a group with professional staff to bond as a team and learn the ropes. During the summer, they are in communication with their RLC supervisors to work on training sessions for RAs and CAs, as well as prepare for the upcoming year. Once August arrives, the Senior Staff and professional staff take a 4 day retreat to the Colorado mountains for more in-depth crisis, social justice, supervision, and programming training. No retreat would be complete without some relaxing and exploring, so the staff also enjoy a healthy amount of hiking and campfires.
One of the most impressive parts of the Senior Staff role is the on call rotation structure. When there is an incident, RAs or CAs call the Senior Staff member on call first. In many cases, the Senior Staff respond and are able to handle the incident all on their own – including alcohol incidents, resident concerns, and facilities issues – and then let the RLC on call know that an incident occurred. When the situation is serious enough for an RLC to respond, the Senior Staff on call is still included in decisions and follow up.
Beyond the job expectations, the Senior Staff are an invaluable asset to the RLC team. They serve as a liaison between the professional staff and the rest of the students because they have the understanding of the unique experience of being a Mines student. They are able to provide context to both the professionals and the residents, and they truly do work to bridge any gaps that may be present. Even in the most fundamental sense, they can help to translate the student experience into terms that are usable and impactful. For new professional staff members or in new situations, the Senior Staff can explain campus culture in ways that staff cannot learn in any other way. This connection is part of the reasoning behind assigning each Senior Staff member 2-3 ancillary responsibilities – ranging from staff selection and evaluations to community service and staff bonding. For each assignment, a Senior Staff member and RLC coordinate to tackle a piece of Residence Life. They bring the student perspective to decisions and suggest new and creative ways to tackle problems.
If you ask the Senior Staff, they’ll share many of the lessons that they have learned and will carry past graduation and to their first full time jobs. Many of them cite creativity, communication, and balance as valuable skills that they would not have gained inside the classroom. The appeal of the position pulls in leadership development, management experience, and social justice education, creating a challenging and fruitful opportunity to grow. The expectation of a Mines graduate is to exhibit leadership, integrity, flexibility, and perseverance – skills that tested and built in this challenging role.
The level of trust and responsibility places on the Senior Staff may be surprising to many professionals, but it is part of the well-oiled machine that runs Mines Residence Life. Before the RLC position was created just 4 years ago, the Senior Staff ran the buildings on their own and reported directly to the Director of Residence Life. With the addition of more professional staff, the role of the Senior Staff has shifted, but they remain an integral part of the team to make campus home for 1,800 students.
Submitted by Lisa Latronica, Residence Life Coordinator for Traditional Halls