So maybe you got into this RA thing thinking “yeah, I could be the one to plan the pizza parties for the floor…I like pizza, and I like to get people together to hang out…” Since going through the RA selection process you’ve probably heard that when it comes to planning programs, the expectations of your new boss are going to be a little higher than the occasional pizza party. Why is that? What is the point, other than challenging you to be more creative? (And no, making it a “chicken wing party” isn’t necessarily considered being more creative…)
Basic Reasons Why You Program
Well, your initial programming intentions are actually good ones. Some of the basic reasons for programming are very simple – programs can be fun, and they are a good way to get people together. As you may already realize, helping your floor or area to become a community is probably one of your most important tasks as a RA. It’s important for people to get to know each other in order for that community to be able to “gel”, and programs are great vehicles to get everyone out and interacting.
The Importance of Interaction
To go back to the pizza program example, how might this program forward your community-building goal? By getting people together. How might it fall short? Possibly by not stimulating much interesting interaction. (Picture this: “Can you hand me the box of pepperoni?” and “Yeah, I don’t like mushrooms either.”) These types of conversations don’t really lend themselves to helping residents get to know each other much beyond their topping preferences. That brings us to the next reason we program: to provide opportunities for deeper interactions among residents. These deeper interactions can help people have a greater understanding of who is living around them, how others’ life experiences may have been similar or different to their own, and ultimately help them feel more connected at the institution. So if you go to your supervisor with a plan for a pizza party, be prepared for him/her to say, “that’s a good starting point, but what else are you going to do with them?” It’s your job to come up with some ways to help stimulate that next level of interaction. Some ideas to get you started are to lead a discussion on a current event at the College, to facilitate an activity where individuals might share personal information about themselves, or to play an interactive game with people working in teams. You can imagine that people will spend a little more time together with these activities, and more productive and memorable interactions will result.
Adding Education and Making Connections to Interaction
Sometimes when RAs plan programs, outside speakers or facilitators can be used. This type of program provides the opportunity for students and faculty or staff to develop broader relationships beyond the classroom or office. As you know, it isn’t easy to connect with University administration as a student. But when it happens, a student has a much greater chance of feeling connected to the school, and staying enrolled there through graduation. Now you are really beginning to see the power you have as a RA: helping a student connect with faculty or staff through a floor program could positively influence their overall experience at the school!
So what kind of programs would a faculty or staff person be useful for? Many faculty have talents or interests beyond their areas of study that they would be pleased to share with students, such as cooking, fitness, local history, crafts, travel, or societal issues in which they are active. If you are having trouble forming connections with campus faculty or staff yourself, talk to your supervisor, as they may be able to help you begin to network through their own connections on campus.
The Importance of Learning Outside the Classroom
These types of programs will help you beyond the “pizza party” for yet another reason. Programs like these can enable students to continue to learn outside the classroom. This is one of the richest aspects of residence life that we can facilitate. Students come to college to learn, but not just in the classroom. As you’ve probably realized, you have continued to change and grow since arriving at your school. Much of this is the result of the new experiences you have had. As a RA, your programs provide new experiences to your residents as you expose them to new information, help them learn new skills, or facilitate interactions between them. That, at the highest level, is why we program. Every type of program you plan can be a learning opportunity for you and your residents, yet it can still be one of the most fun parts of your job.
Tips for Success
As you go through training, you will get some very good instructions on how to plan a program. Please pay attention to those guidelines, as you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to be a successful programmer! Keep in mind some key tips: first, you do have to plan your program well in order for students to benefit, including publicizing far enough in advance, and making sure your have planned your logistics thoroughly. Also, work on presenting a diverse slate of programs through the year to keep residents interested and involved. Finally, get the residents’ input as you decide what programs to plan, and get feedback afterward so you can continue to improve your programming skills.
You’re Going to be a Great Programmer…
The fact that you have taken the time to read this article means you have the motivation and ability to be a successful programmer! Hopefully you now understand more about the potential benefits programming has for you and your residents. Enjoy the process, be creative, use your resources and have fun!
Bliming, G. (1995). The resident assistant. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company.
Submitted by Betsy Stone Plummer, Director of Resident Life, Gwynedd-Mercy College