When nursing major Nate Feleke ’19 graduated from his small boarding school in Maine and came to Colby-Sawyer College, he was guided by a group of student leaders dedicated to helping him make the most of his college experience. Those students were his resident assistants (RAs) in Lawson Hall, and they inspired him to pay it forward.
Nate attended almost every hall program his RAs held his first year, and they helped him get to know his classmates and the college. It was during those sessions that he started picturing himself as an RA.
“I knew what RAs had done for me and what I could do to help students,” Nate said. “I wanted to be part of the process that makes the transition high school to college as smooth as possible.”
He applied for an RA position in Residential Education as soon as he was eligible, was accepted and completed the annual training. Now, he’s starting his second year of helping to make Colby-Sawyer feel like home for first-year students.
While each of the 26 RAs has their own reason for joining the Residential Education staff, they’re all motivated by a similar desire to create a caring community in which students can thrive.
Each RA hosts nine programs per semester — three social, three educational and three passive.
Those social programs are important for first-year students, Nate said, because “they’re a safe place to intermingle and get comfortable living in your hall.”
Nate started his programming last fall with a scavenger hunt that required residents work together to learn the ins and outs of Best Hall. He and other RAs also teamed up to offer a fun Minute to Win It game night, which was one of the most well attended programs of the year.
Passive programs include creating door decorations for reach resident and engaging bulletin boards, which give students a sense of ownership over their space.
RAs also help connect student to other activities on campus. Nate’s a member of the Campus Activities Board, Student Government Association and the Presidential Blue Key Society as well as the Hispanic Latino Club and Feed the Freezer Club, so he’s always up-to-date on what events are being offered. If his residents want to get more involved on campus, he knows in which direction to point them.
RAs also uphold and enforce college policies to set a healthy standard of living for the community, and that can mean navigating some complicated territory.
To do so, RAs undergo an extensive training program that equips them with the skills to help students with their personal development. In addition to covering administrative and legal procedures, the training teaches communication skills, conflict mediation, intervention strategies and student development theory.
“We have a model called the Knowing Students pyramid that looks at the kind of information RAs typically seek about their residents,” Director of Residential Education Mary McLaughlin said. “The heart of the model focuses on understanding each student’s goals and then connecting them to the appropriate resources to help them overcome obstacles to meet their goals.”
Nate finds that the observation and analytical skills, compassion, empathy and other facets of his nursing major influence his work as an RA. When he spots a student alone in a common area, he asks if they want to grab a meal together. He also has an open-door policy, and he posts his schedule on his door so his residents can find him. Last year, when one of Nate’s residents was dealing with extreme homesickness and a conflict with her roommate, Nate and a fellow RA approached her and helped resolve the situation.
“One of the most important things about being an RA is listening to students,” he said. “So we sat there until she was ready to talk.”
Time management is a major learning curve for first year college students, but Nate has mastered balancing campus involvement with academics. In addition to being an RA, Nate is a student ambassador for the Office of Admissions and a Dean’s List student who received the Junior Class Award and is a member of Alpha Chi and the Wesson Honors Program. He’s picked up a few tips for juggling responsibilities and is always willing to share those with his residents.
Being an RA is a commitment of time, emotion, talent and energy, but one Nate and others gladly make to be among the many amazing resources on campus. This year, Nate has chosen to be an RA in a first-year hall again so he can make the biggest impact possible.