Graduate students’ lives are busy and challenging, filled with homework and research. Those who choose to be graduate associates have the added task of caring for undergraduate residents. These select students have to balance work and the well-being of those who live with them.
Graduate School of Social Policy and Practice student and second-year GA Monica Hanza previously worked with teens in the San Francisco Bay Area and found that being a GA complemented that experience.
“This [being a GA] is a way for me to stay connected ... to mentor students, which is what I love to do.”
Graduate School of Social Policy student and first year GA Annie McGunagle also has previous experience working with young adults. Upon coming to Penn, she wanted to subsidize the cost of going to graduate school and was excited to work with freshmen in Ware College House.
“That type of accessibility is something that I never thought I would appreciate ... it has been so much of an added bonus [living with residents].”
However, even with their extensive experience with young adults, both Hanza and McGunagle have had challenges connecting with their residents. In her first year, Hanza faced trouble helping her residents with important logistics, such as where to find the best burrito. However, she found that she could also talk to them about homesickness and the adjustment to college.
McGunagle finds the most difficult thing about being a GA is keeping an eye on her residents’ mental health. She mentioned that training for GAs has a lot of focus on such needs, something she is very cognizant of.
“How much ownership do I take onto that, and how can I be better?” McGunagle asked.
Nursing graduate student Andrew Dierkes is in the Hillman Scholars Program in Nursing Innovation and is in his third year as a GA in Harnwell College House. Dierkes finds difficulty in confronting students and stepping into the role of a rule enforcer. He does not want to destroy the positive atmosphere he has worked so hard to create, but he is able find a silver lining in disciplining students.
“Those end up being some of the better relationships because they are kind of tested in that way. There is kind of a reward hidden in the challenge.”
These GAs have found that flexibility and organization are key to balancing school work and residential life and many, such as Hanza and Dierkes, return to the job again.
“I just always find that I am learning how to do the job better,” Dierkes said.
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