News feature interview

Meet the RLADs

The day-to-day lives of the west campus residential life ADs

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The seven RLADs.
Courtesy of Jessica d. Bolandrina

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: A previous version of this article misspelled the Burton-Conner RLAD's name. She is Michelle Lessly, not Lessey. The same article also misspelled the Simmons RLAD's name. He is Joshua Gonzalez, not Gonzales.

When the Residential Life Area Director (RLAD) position was announced via a leak from one “Tim Beaver” this summer, students and GRTs alike were up in arms about the impending addition of an administrator to the dorms without prior notification. The RLAD of each dorm is meant to work as both an administrative assistant to the housemaster as well as a source of support for students and GRT. The seven RLADs, two of whom were previously Residential Life Associates (RLAs), started their new jobs in August and moved into the spaces created for them in their respective west campus dorms.

Now that the RLADs have had a chance to work and adjust for a semester, The Tech sat down with them to discuss their day-to-day lives and thoughts about the position.

The Tech: How did you adjust to role when you came to campus?

Joshua Gonzalez (Simmons): When I first got here, there was so much uncertainty about what the Area Director position was going to be. One of the first things I focused my attention on was building a foundation, building a trust with the students of Simmons Hall, figuring out who I am as a person, what this position will look like for the students, how this position will go, and having those conversations with my housemasters and GRTs. They were a great, honest conversations about where we are now, where we want to go, and how can we get there.

TT: What’s your relationship like with the housemasters?

JG: In Simmons, collaboration and teamwork is the big thing. I joke around and say, “Teamwork makes the dream work.” I see my housemasters everyday. Monday through Friday we’ll have a meal together or have a conversation some point in the day via email or in person. I love it because it’s a true partnership. We see and respect each other, and at the end of the day, it’s about making sure the students know they matter and making sure they succeed here as a student, as a person, and in what they do globally and at MIT. It’s making sure we’re giving them the platform to do those wonderful things. Sometimes the students don’t need me as an Area Director; I just want to make sure that the rest of the campus knows how well they’re doing as a house and as individual students.

TT: How do you provide support to students?

JG: I like to say I’m a one-stop-shop for all student needs, much like a clearinghouse for students’ ideas. We are there for what the students need, and for working with the house team, the hall government members in where they want to go.

TT: What is your relationship like with the GRTs?

Rebecca Kjaerbye (Maseeh): It’s very collaborative. I try to create a space where they can come ask me questions or for advice on student issues or concerns. I talk out a lot of things with the GRTs ­­— I consider myself a resource for the housemasters, GRTs, and students. We have a very positive relationship [with the GRTs] — I’m there to help them do their job and make sure they have the skills to help them be the best GRT that they can be.

TT: How is this job different from the previous RLA position?

RK: I don’t feel any different in terms of job function, but I feel very different in the way that it’s focused. I told students when they asked about the changes in the position over the summer was that no one’s changing, we’re still doing the same job, but we’re going to do it better and be able to help [the students] more.

TT: What are specific services you provide for students?

RK: The two key resources that I definitely offer are event planning and leadership development. Beyond that, I also assist in crisis management.

TT: What’s your day-to-day life like as an RLAD?

Laurel Dreher (Next): I usually try to chat with my front desk workers when I go down in the morning. My house manager is sometimes in and around the building, so I don’t always see him, but I might see our custodial staff so I stop and chat with them. Checking email is the way I start my day ­­— I usually check to see if the GRTs have emailed me about anything, if my housemasters have anything they need me to take care of; just making sure I have a grasp on where the day is going to go because things can change in a heartbeat. A student crisis could happen at any moment, and I make sure to stay connected and am able to rearrange and drop things when a student needs my support.

TT: When was a time you felt like you really connected with the your dorm’s community?

LD: I spent a lot of time with my students during REX. I think my favorite event was the life-size version of Angry Birds they did in the TFL. It was really fun to come home and see a giant structure made of cardboard and different boxes, with people shooting birds at it. My exec team and house government was really welcoming, as were the GRTs. I know that a lot of us (the ADs) just try to be present and around, just to show that we were dedicated to getting to know students without stepping in and taking over everything. The students’ experience is the students’. We’re here to guide, advise, and help, so I thought the beginning of the semester was a great time for us to show that. Beyond that, my students like to play Duck Hunt, so I’ve had them over to my apartment to do that. Recently, I was also invited to watch the Dark Knight with some students in one of the wings, so I try to spend time with my students as well.

TT: Coming in as an RLAD, have you felt any negative reactions from students?

LD: I haven’t experienced any push-back or negativity in Next House. If anything, it’s been the exact opposite, The GRTs, Housemasters, students, and the exec board have all been very welcoming. I think one thing that we all tried to do at the beginning of this year, especially us newbies, was to come in and learn. None of us wanted to come in and disrespect the culture and traditions our houses had built.

TT: What’s something you’ve done to try to connect with the students?

Michelle Lessly (Burton Conner): At the beginning of the school year, I invited every student into my apartment to hang out ­— I had baked an obscene amount of cookies and I just had my door open. Students came in; I just wanted to invite them to my space to let them know that my doors open ­— I want people to feel comfortable coming to talk to me. In turn, I was invited to a lot of the study breaks; it was great to see the students in their environment with their traditions.

TT: What programs or initiatives have you started while being an RLAD?

ML: I put out a newsletter. Also, every Monday night, I hold a knitting class in my apartment that students come to. We donate the projects that we create to Knit for Boston, an organization that donates hats to children at the children’s hospital and some homeless communities. Then, once a month, I partner with the house team and throw a spaghetti dinner.

TT: How do you fit into the house team of your dorm?

ML: One of the things that I really enjoyed in transitioning from the RLA role into the RLAD position is the change in interactions with the GRTs, many of whom I already knew from being an RLA. Part of the Area Director role is to be much more involved in the house team, and I’ve seen really positive relationships grow from my role. Because my GRTs trust me and have that relationship with me, my students trust me.

TT: What is one concrete thing you’ve brought to the house since you started being an RLAD?

Lauren Piontkoski (McCormick): I took all of the information I was getting from students and I started compiling newsletters for McCormick, so I’m building an image toward what we do and what we want to accomplish as a house. Since September I’ve been putting out one each month. It’s been well received — there are pictures and stories from the students directly; it wasn’t just a one-time thing, it’s something that’s been happening progressively over the semester.

TT: Do you view the RLAD position as more of an administrative role or an active student support role?

LP: I would liken the role to a chameleon because day-to-day, it could be a mixture of both administrative tasks and supporting students.

TT: What are your responsibilities as an RLAD?

James Reed (New House): In New House, there are nine different communities ­— they function largely by having the central exec board performing a number of key functions. I usually interact with the President and Vice President who have just come in for this next year, so I’m starting to get them organized. [The RLADs] also have a number of responsibilities from the Division of Student Life, such as to sit on committees for projects and initiatives that are going on within our department, so we also work behind the scenes on those.

TT: How often do you interact with the students?

JR: I’ve been doing a newsletter monthly since about September/October. We’re working on turning that into a blog so that we can update it a little more. My office is on the main hallway of New House, so I try to keep my door open all day long when I’m there. Students usually pop in and out. I attend many of the study breaks, held by GRTs and by students.

TT: What has been your favorite moment as an RLAD so far?

JR: At the end of last semester, the social chairs for New House organized an end of semester party/care package making. At the end of the event, they came up to me and said “You’ve been very helpful this to us semester and we wouldn’t know who would have been able to help us have as many events or do as much as they had this year if it wasn’t for you.” Any moment you get the sense from the students that you’ve given them an opportunity or that you’ve really opened up their viewpoint is always great.

TT: What do you like about being an RLAD?

Michael Zakarian (MacGregor): One of the best aspects of the Area Director position is that the day-to-day aspects of the job depend on the culture and temperature of your building. There are days where I am in my office interacting with students and discussing possible program ideas. There are times where I’m working with the Area Director team to build programs for the Residential Community as a whole and looking for ways that we can make a positive impact at MIT. There are also days where I’m working closely with the House government, or following up with situations that happened in the building over the weekend. Each day is an adventure and that is what is so appealing about this position.

TT: How do you interact with the GRTs and Housemasters?

MZ: The GRTs are a great resource for both the students and the RLAD. They have such a great feel for their entry and assist in keeping the RLAD and Housemasters in the loop. We work hand in hand in program planning and meet monthly as a team to discuss the building. Similarly, the Housemasters and the RLAD work together to ensure that MacGregor is a warm, welcoming community. We work together, along with the Associate Housemasters to make sure we are communicating effectively. The housemasters have such great knowledge of the building and a strong sense of what will and will not work in the community. They have really assisted in my transition into this position and I greatly appreciate their perspectives.

TT: What is your vision of this position in the future?

MZ: The most important thing is that this position needs to continue to be a resource for students, whether it is to assist in personal issues, event planning, conflict resolution, or just day-to-day operations of the building.