Changing the Roles of RAs: ResLife to ‘overhaul department’ with RA requirement changes

Resident Assistants (RAs) working in UConn dorms across campus like Northwest (above) will be required to complete a new Residential Learning Model as part of their summer training for the Fall 2017 semester. (Olivia Stenger/The Daily Campus)

Resident Assistants (RAs) working in UConn dorms across campus like Northwest (above) will be required to complete a new Residential Learning Model as part of their summer training for the Fall 2017 semester. (Olivia Stenger/The Daily Campus)

As part of a long-anticipated revamping of the University of Connecticut’ Residential Life, Resident Assistants (RAs) will be required to complete a new Residential Learning Model (RLM) as a part of their summer training for the Fall 2017 semester to focus more on student learning, Director of Residence Education Claudia Arias-Ciranna said.

“(The Model) focuses on teaching each student how to grow intellectually and become contributing members of the community,” Arias-Ciranna said.

UConn wanted to follow the national trend they have seen of moving towards a more curricular model for Residential Life, Arias-Ciranna said.

“There’s a national shift to become more curricular, having some type of theory based on what we’re doing,” Arias-Ciranna said.  

Residential Life has been working on crafting this system for the past five years, but the steps toward implementation began two years ago, Arias-Ciranna said.

“It’s an overhaul of the whole department,” Arias-Ciranna said. “A Residential Learning Model is not just about a program, it’s about a thought process, it’s about changing the way you think in regard to student learning.”

The new model will provide RAs with a better way to determine whether students are actually learning from the programs. The Learning Goals of the program will focus on personal success, interpersonal competence and intellectual fulfillment.

Students’ progress in these areas will be measured in stages composed of specific criteria.

“For years, we focused on programming without learning outcomes, without actual educational goals, without assessments to see what students are learning,” Arias-Ciranna said.

Currently, RAs are responsible for developing programming for Learning Development Opportunities, which are primarily assessed through evaluations written by the RAs.

“Sometimes your supervisor will also go to the event but it’s mostly about your own reporting,” one RA, who preferred to remain anonymous, said. “We don’t really know how successful it may or may not have been.”

The RLMs will be much more structured as RAs will be given facilitation guides, similar to lesson plans used in the classroom, with parameters for specific evaluations, Arias-Ciranna said.

“It will be more structured and more thoughtful and will have the tools they need to be successful to do their job,” Arias-Ciranna said.

The implementation of the RMLs will change the role of RAs, Arias-Ciranna said.

“(The model will have) a significant impact on the role of RAs because it will change the way they view the RA experience,” Assistant Director of Resident Education Ashley Robinson said.

Once the RAs begin to implement the RMLs, their job will be easier, Arias-Ciranna said.

“It’s a shift in mindset, but when they start to do it on a full-time basis, it will be easier to understand,” Arias-Ciranna said.

“Because we haven’t received that much information on it, a lot of RAs are a little skeptical or nervous for the implementation because people don’t know what it’s about yet,” one RA said.  

The RMLs will be very specific and structured. RAs will no longer have to come up with programming themselves and will be provided with detailed plans for different programs.

“You will never have questions about what you’re doing and what the result will be,” Arias-Ciranna said, “Everything is going to be very specifically planned because that’s what the learning model is.”

The assessments will be specifically tailored to the objective and activity.

“We want to make sure students demonstrate in some way the behavior we expect to come through,” Arias-Ciranna said. “We are tailoring our assessment to each learning activity.”

Residential Life also wants to emphasize RAs fostering personal connections and conversations with residents, Arias-Ciranna said.

“We want more intentional, physical conversations, we really want to get to know our residents,” Arias-Ciranna said. “Once you get to know your residents, all the other situations that come across come easier because you built that trust, you built that relationship.”

The model will constantly be evolving in order to better respond to students’ needs.

“The Residential Learning Model is ever-changing, we’ll always be adjusting them for the needs to the department and the needs of the students,” Arias-Ciranna said. “Things are ongoing at all times because the purpose is to keep in contact, to understand the students’ needs to make sure they understand their resources.”

While participation in the events will not be mandatory, Arias-Ciranna said she thinks students will see the value in them.

“We can’t mandate students to do all these learning opportunities, but if we handle them correctly, I think they will want to be part of it and it will eventually feel like a natural thing,” Arias-Ciranna said. “It’s about making connections and I don’t think they’re connections no one will want to make.”

The purpose of the model is to give students the tools to help them be more successful and to take away something valuable from their resident experience, Arias-Ciranna said.

“I hope that students really do understand that when you live on campus here at UConn you’re really getting a diff experience than if you didn’t and how that experience affects your future,” Arias-Ciranna said.


Anna Zarra Aldrich is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at anna.aldrich@uconn.edu. She tweets @ZarraAnna.