PWSC residence staff build community

by Vicki Heisser, Jessica Young, Sam Foist-Swart  |   

With students back on campus at PWSC, we talked with student housing Resident Assistants (RAs) Rodrigo Flores and Joe Kay to learn about their experience as they prepare for the new school year.

Both Rodrigo and Joe became interested in the Resident Assistant position after talking to and learning about it from previous RAs. 

Rodrigo shares, “Matt, who was one of the RAs last semester, was telling me that I should try it out and see how it goes. And he convinced me to go for it. So far it's been pretty good.”

For Joe, it was “...kind of the same thing as Rodrigo, except I was talking to the other RA who was Silas, and he said it was a pretty cool experience. It's definitely a job I hadn't done in the past, I was trying to branch out and see if I would like it. The programming and event planning seemed interesting to me, along with getting more people in housing involved. These were things I wanted to try and do, so that was part of the motivation.”

As new RAs, Joe and Rodrigo have been spending time training, learning protocols and procedures, and working with the Residence Life Coordinator/Housing Manager Sam Foist-Swart who has been training the new RAs with an eye toward COVID safety. 

Sam states, “I think one of the key differences for us with COVID is the fact that we're holding small, in-person classes and housing students.  Many universities across the country are not in this same position. One of the changes for our team has been in the way we’ve conducted the RA training and our staff meetings. Whether it's talking about on campus living policies, responding to emergencies, or planning programming, we always have an extra training discussion of the ways we implement each of these components ‘COVID-style’ to make sure we’re all safe.”

Even with all of the new protocols and changes due to COVID-19, Sam is optimistic.

“All of the creative planning for COVID considerations is going to make us a stronger residence life team this year, but also just overall. The team is navigating not only how to navigate COVID personally and professionally in a safe and conscious way, but really learning skills that will transfer to other work they are doing and will do in the future. Rodrigo and Joe have already been tremendous at communicating university policy and creating a sense of belonging at the residence halls. One of the benefits for our team is that we all knew each other from last year. Already having rapport and a good gauge of the strengths each of us brings to the team has been a positive factor as we jump into this tough but creative time of opportunity.”

Part of Sam’s optimism is focused on programming. She’s excited for students to finally be in Valdez, see it’s beauty, and get outdoors. 

“We focus on getting students outdoors because we live in Valdez, which is beautiful and stunning. So many people haven't been to Valdez Glacier, High School Hill, or even to Dock Point. Those are really great ideas for programming for us; we let our landscape provide those opportunities”

For Sam, getting students outdoors and involved in the community, making connections with others, is a top priority. 

“We focus on a sense of community volunteering and getting to know people in Valdez. We focus on learning new skills, a sense of social connection, and diversity/inclusion as well, to say, you belong here and we want to make sure that this is a space where you thrive and connect to other people.”

Since everyone will be living alone in housing, without roommates (as a COVID-19 precaution), getting creative to foster connections and build relationships will be a main focus.

Joe shares, “I think it's really going to be important to get everyone together and have that social interaction time rather than just staring at the rooms in your apartment alone. We've been trying to do things that everyone in the residence halls can attend.”

Right now, Rodrigo is focused on winter sporting activities for students.

“What I'm thinking is more ski trips, like short little trips through Mineral Creek to try and get people to enjoy the snow rather than hide from it. We're also going to try to have a lot of movie nights like last year- just to get people more comfortable with their friends and meet new people.”

One way Sam and the RAs have worked to create a comfortable community is through family dinner.

Joe explains, “Family dinner is a program we've added where the team cooks dinner for everyone. We’ve had one so far and we had to meet outside due to COVID. We sat in a big circle, had some pizza and cookies, and just kind of gave people the opportunity to connect with each other. Because again, with everyone living alone and in different resident halls, you don't really see everyone all the time. Almost everyone was there. It was just a fun time to get together and meet our fellow residents.”

With the new year under way, the Residence Life staff is doing all it can to foster morale and maintain a sense of community. 

As Sam shares, “At the end of the day, it's really about relationships. We want people to be healthy, thriving, and connected.”