Are you a returning staff member who recycles the same programs semester after semester, year after year?
Are you a new staff member who is worried about how to create innovative and successful programs for your residents?
If so you are not alone!
As a returning staff member it is easy to fall into a routine and continue implementing programs you feel comfortable doing because you know they are successful. I’m not going to tell you not to do those anymore; in fact, it’s good to have solid programs in your “bag of tricks.”
As a new staff member you may be nervous about your programs being successful, and if a program works once you may be tempted to make some minor adjustments and try it again.
I have worked with many RAs in my five years as an RD and I have seen this pattern of repetitive programming.
Because of this, one of my goals has been to assist RAs with broadening their perspective on what programming is and how to be creative in developing new ideas and planning something new.
Know Your Audience
Let’s face it, new is scary. Who wants to plan a program that you have no idea what the outcome is going to be or put a great deal of work into something and not know if anyone will come? This brings me to my first point; know your audience. If you are planning a square dance for your building and everyone listens to rap, chances are slim that your residents are going to come.
Find the Right Motivation
Do you plan programs in order to meet your requirements or are you truly doing this for the students? Realistically, maybe it should be a combination of both. So, where do your ideas come from for these programs? Is your thought process automatically, “I need to do a program around drugs and alcohol, so I will call the health center and have them do a canned program? Check, that requirement is done!” When trying to think of ideas, consider your daily routine. Be aware of things you think about. Chances are, others are probably having the same thoughts.
For example, all college students at one time or another have criticized another’s outfit or some aspect of it. A great program would be a college student fashion show. Work with a local department store and have some of your residents be the models. There will be a lot of people there (even if it is to watch their friends model), the store gets to advertise for free, and everyone has fun. Switch up the same program a little and have a pajama fashion show for the college students who don’t change in the morning to go to class. This program can easily be made educational by having someone in to talk about individual stereotypes and perceptions based on how a person dresses.
Another place to get ideas is from your own experiences. You may be the RA but you are also a student. Think about conversations that you and your friends have. What do you gripe about? What do you wish you knew and what do want to learn how to do? Use these daily things that occur naturally to assist you with the programming you have to do for your job. Another great way to do programming is to ask your residents what they would like to do. This may be an obvious one, but one that I know my RAs in the past have forgotten about. You don’t have to say, “Listen, I am required to do programs for you and I need to know what you want to do.” You could just get to know them as people and then you won’t have to ask. If you know that all your residents enjoy playing video games, have a tournament or go to an arcade.
Funding: Turning Problems into Payoff
One challenge that needs to be overcome may be that you have little or no money to do programs and everything you want to do requires money. There are ways around this. For example, you can seek donations from area businesses, ask a group on campus to sponsor the program, or make minor modifications that will allow you to work with a more limited budget. For example, one of my RAs wanted to do a program like the show Trading Spaces on TLC. Of course on the show the participants get $1000 and two full days, but through working with my RA and making some minor changes, we were able to do the same program for free. Does your school have a design major? If so, seek out students who need to do projects for their classes or ask the professors for advice and tips as well. No major? Look for local interior decorators in your area. They will often come for free just to get their names out there. Have a contest and they can only use what is in the room to work with. This can be fun, creative, and free. In addition, talk to your supervisor, there is sometimes money you just don’t know about.
Beyond “Average” Advertising
Advertising is a big part of a program’s success. Flyers are often how people learn about your event. But if your school is anything like the ones I have worked at, the standard 8.5×11 paper signs on the walls don’t get read, and are just a waste of time. Be creative with your advertising. What signs do you notice when walking around? Use those as examples. Advertise where no one else does. Everyone posts on the bulletin boards, classrooms, dining halls, and lobbies. So use mirror chalk in the bathroom, everyone on the floor will see that. Make doorknob hangers or individual invitations and have them delivered through campus mail, (who doesn’t love getting mail)? Use footprints on the floor leading to the program. People aren’t used to seeing things on the floor so they are more likely to look. One of my personal favorites is using a student’s room to advertise. One of my RAs used window paint and asked all her residents that lived on her floor if she could paint on their window to advertise a program. Everyone outside the building of course read the windows and the women on her floor asked questions about it when she was writing it. They also had a constant reminder every time they opened their shade that they couldn’t avoid prior to the program. The turn out for that program was amazing.
Another thing I noticed in a little experiment I tried was that students were less likely to want to come to a “program” as opposed to a “get together”. Why call it a program? A program in student’s minds automatically means they will learn something. How about saying, “Some of us are getting together in the lounge to watch a movie, want to join us?” Or, “we are all going over to the comedian, want to come?” Drop hints, like, “I heard that the guy from the counseling center is coming over to talk about GLBT issues, he is supposed to be really good, want to go check it out?” Doesn’t that sound more inviting than “Please come to my program? There’s food. There’s pizza. Please come or my boss will fire me if none of my residents go.” Chances are that the resident has been in class all day and the last thing he or she wants to do is go to a program and keep learning stuff. They want to have fun and be with friends and hang out in the building. So bring the programs to them, don’t make it sound like they have to go to class again. Make it interactive and, above all else, be creative and HAVE FUN!
Resolving “The Rut”!
I hope this has helped you to begin to find ways to avoid a programming rut. Use the resources available to you for ideas and take advantage of all the websites for RAs as well as RA conferences. Just remember, you don’t have to recreate the wheel. In fact, take a program from another school and adapt it to your school. Most importantly, once you get an idea, do what you can to get the idea into action. GOOD LUCK!
Submitted by Shelly Keniston, Resident Director, Bridgewater State College