Credit: Katie Shia

Nearly every Penn student can say that they have had a hall residential advisor or graduate associate who filled their undergraduate year with free food and bonding activities. But few know that behind the scenes, these undergraduate and graduate students have to start thinking about how to organize these activities nearly nine months before students arrive.

On Nov. 28, Penn’s College Houses & Academic Services will open up the application to recruit a new host of RAs and GAs for the 2018-19 school year.

These student advisors are attracted to the position for a range of reasons, including free housing, the opportunity to assume essential mentoring roles, and to meet new people. 

College senior Jazmine Smith is spending her final year at Penn as an RA in Rodin. Although free housing was a perk, Smith said her initial draw to the position is rooted in her freshman-year experience with her own GA.

“I honestly feel as though if he hadn’t been my GA, I probably wouldn’t have stayed at Penn," said Smith, who added that she had a "rough" freshman year. 

“I wanted to be that person for someone else," she said. 

Credit: Emily Xu Graduate Associate Nick Hall in his room in NCH

Not only does the process to become a RA or GA start months before students take on the role, the application also varies between college houses and can consist of several rounds of individual and group interviews.

While Fisher-Hassenfeld College House applicants are interviewed by the house dean and a staff member, Harnwell College House organizes its applicants into a round-robin style interview. Rodin College House introduces group projects and a secondary interview with two staff members.

For students intending to apply for the role, Smith warned: “It's a lot of work, and it's not for the faint at heart.”

This year's application to become a RA or GA closes on Jan. 11. Those selected will have to start planning to lead a school year of programmed bonding events for their house residents and individual floors.

Riepe College House RA and College junior Jakub Jarmula said he uses food to attract residents to events. He hosts a weekly hall event called "Bread and Spread" where people in his hall gathers to eat his homemade bread. Smith and 2019 Engineering graduate student and Rodin GA Marissa Como also said their hall events are centered around food.  

“Some people's residents like to go out and go see movies," Smith said. "But my residents just want free food so we hang out — it can be for hours."

Smith said she also programs house-wide events to help students destress, such as Rodin's October vision board party. 

Jarmula, whose hall consists exclusively of freshmen, also said that incoming RAs can face difficulties adjusting socially as well. 

“In a freshman dorm, everyone can relate because they’re having the same experiences of being in college for the first time," Jarmula said. "[RAs see] different situations arise that aren’t prevalent in four-year houses."

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