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Students run the show and gain experience in the residence halls

Posted on Nov 5, 2012
click to enlarge
Kirsten Gutting, student manager of Curran-McNeill-Ostrander Residence Hall, at work in her office. (Photo by Jenny Schlender)

Kirsten Gutting, student manager of Curran-McNeill-Ostrander Residence Hall, at work in her office. (Photo by Jenny Schlender)

By Elizabeth Reichert
University Relations student writer

When you walk into any of the three residence halls on campus, nowhere is there to be found a full-time staff manager or the "dorm mother" of old. At the University of Wisconsin-Superior, the residence halls are completely run by students.

As only one of two universities in the UW System with student-run halls, UW-Superior provides students with rare opportunities to gain experience. Student positions in Residence Life range from front desk staff to resident assistants to hall managers. All the jobs equip students with experiences and skills that can be used both during and after college.

"We're always talking about transferable skills and application to the real world. There are so many transferable skills," said Mickey Fitch, assistant director of Residence Life.

Learning skills

The skills start and culminate with the hall manager - the highest student position in Residence Life.

"The skills and experiences I've gone through with Res Life - social skills, budgeting, critical thinking skills, team-building skills - have helped in many areas that are useful in my entire life," said Alex Johnson, a senior from Barnum, Minn., majoring in elementary education.

'Doing something meaningful'

Three student hall managers - Johnson, Kirsten Gutting, and Lynn Wistrom - oversee Crownhart Hall, Curran-McNeill-Ostrander Hall, and Ross Hall, respectively.

These students build relationships with staff members and residents, manage facilities, conduct meetings with residents, and support and manage the staff in their building, among other responsibilities.

"I get paid to care about people and make a community," said Wistrom, a senior from Two Harbors, Minn., who's majoring in elementary education. "You have a big responsibility, but you're doing something meaningful."

Benefits outweigh challenges

Gutting, a senior from Deer Park, Wis., with a double major in secondary education broad field science and secondary education biology, agreed that the job's benefits outweigh the challenges.

"You see a student struggle for weeks and weeks and you get so frustrated, but then you catch a glimpse of the student who changed for the better," she said. "It's worth it."

Assistant managers

In addition to managers, each hall has an assistant manager. Brody Bakken, Suzie Chung, and Pilar Williams hire and supervise desk staff, make the resident assistant duty schedule, help with programming, take care of desk inventory, and maintain budgets for the resident assistants and for programming.

"For most universities, it's a paid, salaried position, so people think, 'Weird, these young adult students can actually manage these halls,' " said Williams, a junior from Sioux Falls, S.D., who's majoring in art therapy.

"I was really scared I would be really busy. I thought my academics would be dropped," Chung, a senior from South Korea majoring in international business, said. "But I have more organization. I make a time to study."

Time management works

Students across the spectrum in Residence Life agree that time management can be a challenge with their positions. But Adura Agbi, a senior from Nigeria and a resident assistant in Curran-McNeill, said her busy schedule forces her to use her time wisely.

"I genuinely think it helps me. When you have a lot to do, you tend to be a hard worker," the biology major said. "It's easier to be lazy when you don't have a lot to do."

Students understand students

Although student staff may have a full schedule, they are still approachable, particularly with talking about academics and life.

"Because I'm experiencing the same things residents are experiencing right now, I'm very relevant and up-to-the-minute," said Teri Cadeau, a senior from Gilbert, Minn., and an academic resource coordinator in Curran-McNeill-Ostrander majoring in media communication. "It makes me empathetic and makes me figure out a good way to help them or a good source to point them to."

Ryan Guthrie, a sophomore from Esko, Minn., and a resident assistant in Curran-McNeill, agrees.

"I think it's nice to be able to be a student and show residents that, yeah, I'm an authority figure, but I still go through the same struggles, still go to classes," he said.  

Student staff makes sense

To Fitch, having a student staff only makes sense.

"Residence halls are for students, so why not have them run by students? It's truly a student-centered operation," Fitch said. "Students know best what they want their experience to look like."

Williams agreed. "By making them student-run, it gives opportunities to equip students with skills," she said. "It works, so why not? Students - people who live in the halls - who knows better?"

In addition to creating a more responsive environment for residents, putting students in leadership positions allows them to cultivate their own development.

"Our bosses emphasize personal development into professionals and leaders," Wistrom said. "Every semester, I'm a whole different, better, stronger leader, and that's because of this job."

'Opportunity for leadership'

"It's a great opportunity for leadership," Gutting said. "Not a lot of people get this opportunity."

Williams and Chung agree that their positions as assistant hall managers of Ross Hall and Curran-McNeill-Ostrander Hall, respectively, have affected their future in a tangible way.  

"It teaches me things like budgeting and administration," Williams said. "It teaches me to be a leader and time management skills - very practical skills and work experience that are going to help me in whatever position in a job."

Career ideas

Chung's experiences with Residence Life helped her realize that she wanted to change her career path.

"It really, really changed my career," she said. "Before, I wanted to be in marketing and customer service. I want to meet people. Because of being a lead student for First Year Experience and because of Residence Life, I want to go into Student Affairs and am applying for grad school."

News Contact: Al Miller | 715-394-8260 | amiller{atuws}
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