College Student Empowerer
Connecting residential student leaders with leadership opportunities.
As the Assistant Resident Director (ARD) of Haggett Hall, my primary role is to advise Haggett Hall Council, a group of student leaders that plans and runs social events to develop the sense of community among our 400 residents. As the adviser, I recruited and selected members at the beginning of the year, created opportunities for students to practice and demonstrate leadership, and provided training and support throughout the year. I also support Resident Advisers (RAs) through training and mentorship, and my supervisor through completing tasks pertinent to the whole building.
I made many friends and developed useful skills through being involved in Hall Council in my first year at UW, so I was excited for the opportunity to help form a thriving Hall Council as an advisor. In addition, it was rewarding to work as an RA the previous year where I supported residents by introducing them to relevant resources, connecting them to leadership opportunities, and supporting them in their academic success and personal wellbeing.
As an ARD, I was able to quickly establish a connection and rapport with my group of student leaders. I am grateful for the elevated opportunity I’ve had to provide support to residents. I’ve also encouraged and empowered RAs in their role, and supported some of them in working towards further leadership positions.
Advised 25+ student leaders to plan, publicize, and run events with 100 - 225 attendees including a haunted house, a de-stress with therapy dogs event, a food drive, and a s’mores game night.
Supported student leadership and career development by facilitating trainings on communication, resume-writing, and other topics for groups of 10-35 people including residents and staff.
Ensured the safety and security of our building by scheduling an RA to be on call every night during the school year, and providing 24/7 coverage during breaks.
Helped move in 300+ residents over two days by managing 5 staff members to direct vehicles, safely control the two-way flow of vehicles across a one-lane road, and provide effective customer service to parents and students.
Coordinated advisors and Hall Council members across 6 buildings to facilitate planning for a large-scale North Campus collaboration event.
Leadership Competencies Gained
Reflection and Application
I found advising to be an important and challenging skill, so I was reflective throughout the year to find ways I could most effectively support my Hall Council. During the first quarter of Hall Council, I recognized that I was more hands-on in my Hall Council’s planning than I should be as an adviser. I then stepped back to enable my Hall Council members to step up and practice their leadership skills.
This was difficult but valuable: I was very impressed by the capability of my Hall Council to be leaders and self-organize in Winter Quarter. They planned and facilitated meetings and events largely on their own. However, midway through the quarter, I realized that additional support was necessary for my Hall Council members to develop their skills further. For instance, I recognized that when Hall Council members are individually responsible for setting their deadlines and holding themselves accountable, their progress in event-planning could sometimes get stalled.
Recognizing this, I took a number of steps to mitigate the issue. In one-on-ones with Hall Council members, I asked them to set goals for the next two weeks so that I could hold them accountable to those self-imposed deadlines. By empowering Hall Council members to practice leadership and by providing sufficient accountability, my Hall Council members can develop skills and make effective progress towards events.
One element of my vision for Hall Council was to make the experience useful and valuable for students looking to transfer the skills they develop through Hall Council to other student organizations, jobs, and leadership opportunities.
To accomplish this, I tracked the work of my Executive Board to create opportunities for them to have a diverse set of experiences. For example, I invited each member of our 6-person Executive Board to facilitate a leadership training for our group. When we would determine leads for upcoming events or initiatives, I ensured everyone had such an opportunity. I also advised my Director to create a sign-up system to have all Executive Board members have the opportunity to facilitate icebreakers. Finally, I made these experiences transferable through providing peer resume review.
As a leader, I believe it is important that I prepare those I work with for success in future roles. By being attentive to the experiences of each individual, I connected my whole group to the opportunity to develop valuable skills.
Throughout the course of the year, I have facilitated multiple leadership trainings for groups of 20 - 30 Hall Council members, and I am proud of adapting my facilitation style to meet the needs and preferences of my group. In collecting feedback, I found that my group appreciates activities involving movement and discussion, so I explicitly incorporated those elements into future trainings.
I facilitated a training on inclusive language where I organized my Hall Council into small groups spread out across the room. Each group had butcher paper with an example of an exclusive phrase (i.e. “hey guys”, “I’m OCD”, etc.), and the groups discussed the impact of the phrase, came up with inclusive alternative phrases, and documented their discussion with markers. Finally, we had a discussion in the larger group about the phrases and connected it to why inclusivity is important in our Hall Council work.
Through being responsive to my group’s learning styles and being mindful of what topics my group is interested in, I’ve been able to facilitate useful and engaging leadership trainings where members gain skills that are useful both personally and for their Hall Council work.
During Hall Council recruitment at the beginning of the year, I had 41 applicants to the executive, representative, and general membership positions. Despite the overwhelming number of applications and despite general membership being an open opportunity, I invited residents who were only applying for general membership to have a chat rather than an interview.
Often, I found that these residents were interested in more specialized and elevated positions, but they didn’t feel confident applying to those. This was particularly true for first-year students who underestimated their leadership abilities. Through conversation, I encouraged and empowered residents to be considered for additional leadership positions, and this broader set of applicants helped me select the most invested, capable people for our Hall Council. For example, my Director initially only applied for general membership, but she has been effective and successful as the head of Hall Council.
Additionally, I recognized that my applicants had a wide range of background experiences and may not have had practice with interviews. Because of this, I included interview preparation resources from the UW Career Center with every interview invitation.
I believe that the effort I put into understanding others’ circumstances was important in connecting the right people to the right opportunities. As a leader, I believe it is important for me to empower individuals even if they underestimate themselves.
I conducted many interviews for Hall Council positions during recruitment, and I intentionally designed the interview process to avoid an intimidating power dynamic to maximize each applicant's ability to represent themselves well.
Some ARDs work with their RAs to conduct interviews in pairs. I elected to interview applicants one-on-one, as I felt that participating in an interview with two interviewers can be overwhelming. In addition, I felt that this environment could be more personal. With every interview, I began with small talk to get to know them individually, to hear how their first few days of classes went, and to connect them with resources if they indicated that they needed academic support or had other needs. This conversation allowed me to demonstrate care and understanding for each candidate rather than just being an interviewer. Finally, if I recognized that the applicant did not provide enough details in their answers for me to accurately assess their candidacy, I would ask follow-up questions for them to elaborate.
By thoughtfully de-escalating the power dynamics in the Hall Council interview process, I was able to get to know each candidate as a person and enable them to represent themselves the best they could.
In this role, I found that I really enjoyed working with and supporting Resident Advisers (RAs). I was an RA the previous year, which enabled me to have the empathy and context to understand what RAs need, and to satisfy those needs through mentorship
I had previously struggled to communicate my RA experience on my resume in a way that’s relevant to the technical jobs I was applying for. As an ARD, I synthesized my personal reflections, Career Center resources, and resources from other staff members into a single RA resume handout that I shared. Then, I scheduled one-on-ones with RAs to discuss their career goals and provide resume feedback. I am not an expert on what resumes should look like in every field, but by asking open-ended questions to have RAs share their goals and what skills employers were looking for, we were able to make their resumes more refined and targeted.
As a specific example of mentorship, I enjoyed supporting Madi, an RA in my building who was interested in applying to the ARD role. She was proactive in asking me about the job, seeking opportunities to shadow some of my work, and requesting specific feedback on where she could grow as a leader. I appreciated supporting a highly-motivated individual to help her accomplish her goals through reflective conversations and providing shadowing opportunities.
Responding to Change
As the COVID-19 pandemic impacted Seattle, it was important for me to respond to guidance from my supervisors and from Public Health while being thoughtful about how I take action.
When I recognized that two Hall Council events needed to be cancelled the following week, I considered the impact this would have on my Hall Council members and how to address this. I wrote an announcement recognizing that it is disappointing to have events they planned and were invested in to be rescheduled, but emphasizing the importance for the wellbeing and health of our community.
When I was informed that neither my job nor Hall Councils would exist in Spring Quarter, I again thoughtfully shared this information by recognizing the frustration but celebrating our successes and our community. I continued to provide support to my group by developing an online resource to substitute for the career preparation activities I wanted to facilitate in Spring Quarter.
Working in Residential Life, there are many occasions where resiliency has been important to provide excellent service to our residents, even in frustrating conditions. During move-in, I worked exhausting shifts from 6:15am to 5:00pm (with a 2-hour break) for two days to help move in 300+ residents into our community.
In this operation, I delivered the same speech hundreds of times to welcome and direct students and parents before they unload their vehicles. Regardless of the time of day, I provided this information accurately and with energy to facilitate excitement around many family's first college experience.
Due to limited space in our parking garage, I re-directed dozens of vehicles to queue in the waiting area instead of immediately unloading. Reactions ranged from understanding to frustration, and I demonstrated compassion while still clearly explaining that we have limited space and a standard procedure to all individuals.
Through providing consistent service in challenging conditions, I demonstrated resiliency and excellence that is important for any leader.
This role has helped me reaffirm my interest in teaching or mentoring students. As an ARD, I had the opportunity to teach leadership skills to large groups of residents and staff, and to individually mentor students to reflect on their skills and find leadership opportunities. Although I previously was primarily interested in teaching technical skills, I am exploring opportunities to provide mentorship to students in many backgrounds.
For next year, I am applying to the Assistant Residence Education Specialist role where I hope to advise a student government group or a sustainability advocacy group. For the long-term, I have identified opportunities to mentor UW students after I graduate through the Information School or the Alumni Association.