Sara Gerken was in high school when she first began thinking about becoming a Resident Assistant.
Her brother was a sophomore at Stetson and an RA in the former Honors House, then located on Sorority Row. Matt Gerken became so close to students in the house that, to this day, they stay in touch and have even attended each other’s weddings.
“It was a truly inspirational experience watching him flourish as an RA and this ultimately motivated me to become an RA once I came to Stetson,” recalled Sara, the Lead RA for the Apartments Area and a senior Psychology major. “I longed to create not just a close community, but also a support system for my fellow Hatters to lean on one another in times of need.
“I am so blessed that I found my niche and passion in Residential Living and Learning,” she said.
Residential Living and Learning celebrated Resident Assistant Appreciation Week on Nov. 16-20 with events throughout the week, including a “Thankful for You RA Meet & Greet” with President Christopher Roellke, PhD, and other administrators Thursday from 4-5 p.m. at the President’s House Tent (with physical distancing).
“In a normal year, the Resident Assistant position is like no other, but we can all agree that this Fall hasn’t been typical,” said Larry Correll-Hughes, PhD, assistant vice president for Campus Life and Student Success, and executive director of Residential Living and Learning. “The RAs have done amazing work, supporting and caring for over 1,350 residents on-campus and in hotels this Fall.
“It is a unique job during a unique time and we want to make sure that they know how much the Stetson community appreciates the work they do!” he said.
Next year, Stetson will have more than 60 Resident Assistant positions. These student employees receive a financial aid award to cover their housing cost and also are paid a $1,000 stipend over 20 payments.
RAs say they benefit from working in one of the most dynamic student jobs on campus, gaining professional skills in leadership, crisis management and interpersonal relationships that will benefit them in their careers.
Junior Kiler Melvin is pursuing a double major in Economics and Finance. An RA in Conrad Hall, he says his favorite part of the job is also the most challenging.
“Because no two residents are alike, there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution to problems,” he said. “This means that RAs must be constantly coming up with unique solutions that work for each resident. It can be challenging at times but is also a fun puzzle to work on with the right mindset.”
Melvin became an RA in Fall 2019 when one of his professors suggested he apply for the position. He was surprised to learn about the diversity of the Stetson community.
“In two years of working with residents, I have not met a pair with the same background or perspective,” he said. “Getting to meet and connect with so many different types of people really make the RA position fun and unique.”
When Gerken became an RA in Fall 2019, she was surprised to discover how much she grew and developed in the position, which provides extensive training for these peer leaders. Now in her second year, she is enjoying the role of Lead RA for the Apartments, co-supervising other staff and helping them develop as leaders in the field. She also belongs to Stetson’s Honors Program and serves as president of the Stetson chapter of Psi Chi, the international honor society in psychology.
“The RA role is very dynamic in that there are so many different elements and skills that we learn between creating a community, planning events, learning, and using crisis management skills, and developing teamwork strategies,” said Gerken, one of five RAs who are working virtually this semester.
“Compared to my previous leadership experiences, I hadn’t had such a hands-on personal and professional development approach in my leadership journey until becoming an RA,” she added.
For more information about become a Resident Assistant, visit the Residential Living and Learning website. Anyone interested in becoming an RA next year must apply by Dec. 4. The requirements, application and a FAQ are available on the website.