Hello! My name is Erik Heller and I serve as an Area Coordinator in Residential Life at Gustavus Adolphus College. Gustavus is a small, private, liberal arts institution in southern Minnesota. My job is, to say the least, incredible and I’m lucky enough to work with some amazing people every day. As a recent graduate of my Master’s program, I was eager to have a balance of autonomy and collaboration in my first full-time position in residential life. Some of the highlights I’ve had the opportunity to be a part over the last year include designing a residential social norming campaign around alcohol education, reexamining staff positions and learning outcomes, bringing students to the UNI RA Conference for the first time, and joining multiple committees for the student affairs and housing profession. It has been incredible to see how a few projects can be so rewarding and grow over the course of a year.
Realizing that it’s already summer is just odd because it seems like a few weeks ago was opening weekend. My weeks have gone by so fast, but I have loved each day. Tuesday was probably my favorite, and often my busiest, day of the week for a number of reasons. One of my highlights of each morning was grabbing coffee with my fellow Area Coordinators to not only energize for the day, but to catch up on what happened the night before and what was ahead of us for the day. From there I had one-on-one meetings with my student staff, hall council members, or other meetings with residents. I also had conduct meetings and roommate mediations scheduled in there as they came up. Working in a central office from 9am-4pm offered a lot of structure for a residential life position in the work/life balance realm, but I also gained an appreciation for “work” or “prep” time during the day and then implement/facilitate/advise/resolve those projects in the evening. I structured my weekly scheduled meetings for Tuesday-Thursday, which also allowed me to have more “prep” or “work” time on Monday and Friday, to prepare for the week or catch up from the week. Evenings, although they can get late, are also a big highlight because that’s when the most student engagement comes to life. Staff meetings, Hall Council meetings, campus events, and/or hall programs always had me busy Monday-Wednesday.
Over the course of a year it was exciting to see how my schedule changed from month to month. Over the year there were many transitions from residence hall move in to hall council elections, our first break housing to hall programs, Thanksgiving break to student appreciation events, then came January (Interim Experience) Term and spring semester kick off, recruitment and hiring for student staff and professional staff, and closure with the student groups and hall closing. To say the least, it’s a mix of excitement and exhaustion. As a new professional, each day was different. Each day I utilized a piece of knowledge or experience from the previous day, and each conversation had something different because of a previous conversation. It is pretty awesome to look at my own personal and professional growth over the the course of the year, especially when so many things changed week by week. Throughout the year I was able to watch how the student experience, specifically in the residence halls, developed from September to May. As a recent professional joining the housing area, I was very interested in the engagement of students from a residential perspective, as opposed to an orientation, admissions, or student activities lens. One piece in particular that I enjoyed was discovering the unplanned use of me as a professional at sporadic hours of the day or night. The need for professional staff support in student housing cannot be planned and are needed 24 hours a day. I found that some of the most meaningful experiences and conversations happened outside of regular office hours in settings outside of the office.
One of my favorite pieces to being a full-time professional rather than a graduate student was the ability to dedicate my full attention to the position. Over the course of the year I was able to continuously develop and work with my hall staff and student leaders. I enjoyed every interaction with the students I worked with because each interaction was different than the next. I was able to incorporate a lot of the activities, trainings, dialogues, and other developmental components I had used prior to coming to Gustavus in each group I worked with. Something I found quite remarkable was how the content used was interpreted differently by each group and students. For example, I am a big believer in the FiSH! Philosophy. I shared this philosophy with each group I supervised and advised, and each incorporated it into their work a little differently than the next. I was also very fortunate to join a team where individual goals and interests are valued, so my interest in identity development and group development was supported and desired from my staff.
From a residential life area, our projects were continuously changing and evolving. While each Area Coordinator was able to develop and implement projects specific to their student populations, I loved being able to collaborate with other professionals in my office on department initiatives. Whether it was student staff hiring and training, alcohol education, social media, professional development, or residential curriculum planning, each of us was able to bring something new to the table for discussion or implementation. It was amazing to see how something was brought from an idea on the table to full implementation in a few weeks or a few months. Taking an idea like an alcohol education hall program and evolving it to a week long educational event to include a mock house party, bulletin boards, door hangers, and other passive or active engagement components, was one of the many projects I was able to help develop from an idea at the table and bring it to life.
Something that came unexpected to me in this role was the immense amount of support and resourcefulness of my colleagues and other professionals. I knew I had joined a good team. However, after the first few weeks of trying to figure out the “right way” to do things, I realized I was brought on to the team for my outside perspective and different way of approaching things. This was not news to me and something I had realized from previous teams I was a part of, yet it was an eye opener to realize that the people I work with were the best source of support when I was questioning how to complete a task, how to have a conversation, what I should or should not accomplish by the end of the day, or have someone remind me that it was time to leave the office and go home. I did not know that working in a central office structure, as opposed to an office in my residence hall, would be such an incredible piece of my job and is by far a highlight to to my position. I never realized that having a resource of other professionals just across the hall was such an important piece of my job, and will now be a piece to consider in any future job searches.
This post is part of our #dayinSA series on highlighting the diversity of functional areas in the field of student affairs. We will hear from #SApros of all kinds – academic advisors, office mangagers, res hall directors, vice provosts of SA, and many many more. Each will share exactly what their typical day looks like, what exactly they work on, and what makes them want to come to work each day. We hope to squash stereotypes within the field and celebrate all the different kinds of great work that #SApros do. For more information, check out the intro post by Sara Ackerson. Be sure to read the other posts in this series too!