SRU’s student residence life staff learns the ropes

Student on a zip line

As part of a 10-day training program, more than 60 community and resident assistants at Slippery Rock University completed team-building exercises and a high ropes course, Aug. 20 at the University’s Leadership Development Center.

Aug. 21, 2018

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - There's a lot more to the job of a community or resident assistant than enforcing residence hall policy. And at Slippery Rock University, CA/RA training is more involved - and fun - than going over a list of rules and procedures. The training ranges from the daring, like climbing and zip-lining from a 35-foot tower, to the analytical, like role-playing exercises and overcoming tricky obstacles as a team.

More than 60 CA/RAs arrived on campus Aug. 12 for 10 days of training, including a day of ropes course training and team-building exercises, Aug. 20 at SRU's Leadership Development Center.

Quintan McLauglin

  McLAUGHLIN

"The leadership training is big for team-building and to create a sense of community," said Quintan McLaughlin, a senior management major from Gibsonia who is entering his second year as a CA. "We all have the same title and we come from different backgrounds and experiences, but we're all here to accomplish the same thing. We're also having some fun; it's hands-on and not sitting in an auditorium."

Their 10-day training includes safety, student conduct and health-services guidelines and procedures, but there's a reason why team-building and leadership training is such a key component to preparing CAs and RAs for their jobs.

"I think it's the hardest leadership position on campus, and I'm not saying this just because I'm the director of residence life," said Patrick Beswick. "When you are being responsible for peers, there's a higher expectation for leadership."

CAs/RAs assist students with academic and personal referrals, help integrate them into the campus community and offer additional problem-solving and support.

Sarah Cordish

   KORDISH

CAs are typically assigned to each floor or wing of the University's eight residence halls and four RAs are assigned to the ROCK Apartments. While they all work in teams based on their building assignments, Beswick said what makes the job so challenging is knowing when and who to ask for help, all while using sound judgment to set an example for fellow students.

"The training is when they have to learn how to work together as a collective 'we' on a team," Beswick said. "Part of leadership is identifying your own strengths and weaknesses, and this really drills in that you're not in this by yourself."

"(The training) helps break through the fear or hesitations that come along with the job," said Sarah Kordish, a graduate student in student affairs in higher education from Duncansville, who is one of 10 graduate assistants who lead a group of CAs/RAs assigned to residence halls. "There might be things that you are uncomfortable doing but you can push yourself and know that you have other people to rely on. You need to learn to work together and come up with a plan and execute that plan."

Gracen Hilsinger

   HILSINGER

To be a CA/RA, students must have completed 30 credits, maintain at least a 2.25 grade-point average and have previously lived on campus for a semester. More than 130 students apply each year for roughly 25 openings. Other than having their housing fees covered and providing an excellent leadership opportunity, there are one of two reasons why students are motivated to become a CA/RA, according to Beswick: 1.) they either had a really good CA/RA in a previous semester and they want to provide that service to other students, or 2.) they had a really bad CA/RA and they want other students to have a better experience.

"I had roommate issues (two years ago) but I managed to communicate with my CA and it gave me insight on what exactly a CA does," said Gracen Hilsinger, a junior exercise science major from Mechanicsburg, who is entering his first year as an CA. "You learn more than just settling issues; you become a connection for someone to help and offer a different view in their life. I took for granted all the issues that CAs deal with but now experiencing and going through training I realize it's really rigorous. You have to be able to adapt to every situation. Someone who has to handle 40 (residents') situations is impressive."

Beswick said the role of the CA/RA has become more demanding in recent years, as the needs of the students they are serving has increased. Students are faced with mental health and resiliency challenges and their success relies on having someone identify their needs and connect them to the appropriate resources.

Before the CA/RAs can help others they have learn to help each other, even if that means scaling and zip-lining from a 35-foot tower.

"(The leadership training) is a lot of fun and this helps them get to know each other and work well together throughout the year," Kordish said. "If they can do that early, they'll be stronger later in the year."

The application process to become a CA/RA for the 2019-20 academic begins and ends during the fall semester. For more information, contact the Office of Residence Life at: 724.738.2082.

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 | justin.zackal@sru.edu