What do Quidditch, March Madness, and turkey bowling have in common?
If you were a Chadron State College student living on campus last year, you would have an edge on answering that riddle correctly, since all three were events for students put on by college’s Housing and Residence Life department.
And the three events were only a few of the many programs offered through Housing and Residence Life that aim to create a sense of community, expand horizons, and broaden the educational experience for CSC students, according to Taylor Osmotherly, associate director of Residence Life.
“Programming is a way to get students involved with each other, to get students to learn about and find interest in different cultures,” Osmotherly said. “It’s a way of reaching students outside of their classes.”
Osmotherly joins Austen Stephens, associate director of Housing and Residence Life, in the top leadership of the department, headed by longtime CSC professional staff member Sherri Simons, who is retiring at the end of August.
“That’s 38 years of experience walking out the door. She’s been a good mentor for our whole staff,” said Stephens. “We’ll miss that a lot.”
The staff also includes 42 Resident Advisors (RAs), five professional, live-in hall directors and two graduate assistants, said Stephens. The department’s charge is managing and supervising the five CSC residence halls (Kent, Andrews, High Rise, Brooks, Edna Work and Eagle Ridge) and meeting the needs of the approximately 900 residents who live on campus each semester.
Stephens, who earned his bachelor’s degree from CSC in 2014 and completed a master’s in business administration last December, said a major component of his job is overseeing, supervising and training RAs and hall directors. The week-long RA training begins just before classes start in August and covers everything from programming requirements to Title IX training to policies and procedures, Stephens said.
“We want them to have a global view of what goes on at campus, not just their building,” he said.
Included in the training are mock room scenarios – acted out incidents of the type that an RA might encounter, such as a resident coming back to the dorm highly intoxicated.
The training, and a rigorous vetting process for prospective staff members, are important because RAs can have a significant impact on student success, Osmotherly said.
“It’s a tough position, and people don’t realize how important they are,” said Stephens.
Creating and implementing programs for students is part of each RA’s duties, said Osmotherly, a 2017 CSC graduate, who, like Stephens, was an RA as an undergraduate. Programs can be as simple as putting up a bulletin board about alcohol awareness or as complex as staging a campuswide event, such as the popular Quidditch tournament, he said.
In prior years each RA had to complete a certain number of programs per semester, but a newly implemented system now awards points based on the scale of the activity and the objective it addresses.
“This year the main goal is for each program to have a purpose and for the RA to understand why they are putting on the program,” Osmotherly said. “We are giving them more free rein so they can do a lot of small programs or bigger programs.”
The department provides assistance to help RAs come up with programs that focus on particular student needs, such as dealing with the stress of finals, dieting and weight loss, or improving study habits. Programs to improve social skills, provide service opportunities, and build community among diverse student groups are also encouraged. “My goal is to unite students from different walks of life on campus; to get athletes and art students and math students involved (with each other),” Osmotherly said.
The wide spectrum of program objectives lets RAs be creative in the activities they lead. “They can come up with anything,” Osmotherly said, citing turkey bowling at Thanksgiving time, wheelchair basketball and a contest to predict the outcome of the March Madness basketball tournaments as examples of successful activities that had high levels of student participation.
Although programs take place in each residence hall and all across the campus, many are in The Hub, a spacious, well decorated room located in the breezeway that links Andrews, Kent and High Rise. The space, previously known as the Gold Room, was originally a student computer lab and more recently the home to Project Strive/TRiO. Improvements and the accessible location make the room a popular place for students to gather.
“We really want this place to always be a hub for students, always buzzing with activity,” Osmotherly said.
Because of the number and variety of programs offered each year, Osmotherly doesn’t have an estimate of total student participation, but believes the numbers over the course of the year are high.
“Each program can be from 10 to 200 or 300 people,” he said. “Our goal is to target everyone on campus.”
Food and beverages offered in conjunction with most programs are among the incentives for students to participate in programs, Osmotherly said.
“We offer great prizes, great food and entertainment on all programs,” he said.
An evaluation form is completed after each event to gauge its effectiveness, and Osmotherly plans to meet with RAs individually to review the programs and find out how they can be improved.
The department is also exploring new ways to make students aware of the programs that are offered. While posters and bulletin boards are still part of the outreach, the department is using social media tools such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat to reach students.
Housing and Residence Life programming is open to all students, even if they don’t live on campus, and ideas for activities don’t have to come only from RAs and staff members.
“If students want to put on programs with Residence Life, they are more than welcome,” Osmotherly said. “If students have big ideas and don’t know how to get them accomplished, we have the resources and supplies and money to help them. That’s what we are here for.”