The RA Experience


Becca Smith’s experience as a resident assistant has been eye-opening — from the enforcement aspect of her responsibilities and the lifesaving decisions she has had to make to the self-knowledge she has gained and the gratification she has gotten from community building. 

Coming into Resident Assistant (RA) training for the fall, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I had thought about being an RA as early as my sophomore year of high school, but I originally looked at it solely as a job for room-and-board compensation to help with my education expenses. However, after weeks of training, the position has become so much more to me.

I arrived on campus in late August and RA training began soon after. The subsequent 10 days of training were long, challenging, exciting, stressful, overwhelming and eye-opening all at the same time. I went to bed (fairly late) every night with completely different emotions from the night before, but each time I realized I had learned so much more about the position and about myself than I had known the previous day. I began to see the role as having many different sides to it: a teamwork aspect, an enforcement aspect, a communal aspect and a personal discovery aspect.

Working with my staff members has given me confidence about the upcoming year because I know that I can rely on them for support during tasks. I never thought that I could form such a tight-knit new circle of friends before my academic year had even started.

During training, the enforcement aspect was definitely the most challenging part of the job. There were countless policies to remember and thought-provoking, real-life scenarios that opened my eyes to certain situations I could be experiencing regularly.

The communal aspect has been the most entertaining for me so far — whether it was meeting and socializing with my residents, creating bulletin boards and door decorations for my wing or brainstorming upcoming programs with my staff. I become more and more enthusiastic about being the instrument to facilitate community on my floor. It’s only been a few days since freshmen have moved in, yet it already seems like everyone is mingling and getting to know each other.

Lastly, I have unexpectedly realized how much personal discovery the RA role has offered to me. Having to use my strengths and realizing my weaknesses while in group activities, being thrust into uncomfortable scenarios to make quick, lifesaving decisions and balancing time to complete assignments and attend information sessions has definitely provided me with quite a bit of self-examination. I really enjoyed getting to notice certain personality traits about myself before my classes and other extracurricular activities began, so that I could better use those qualities during the year.

Being an RA has been quite the roller coaster of feelings and experiences, but I have grown and learned more than I could have imagined. I have met some of the most amazing people and participated in some fantastic dances/raps/talent shows/ice breakers, and I certainly wouldn’t exchange the past 18 days of training for anything.

Sweet Home Chicago


Senior Molly Shaheen, a member of the 2014 Wildcat Welcome Board of Directors, offers some insight into one of Northwestern’s newest traditions — a day to celebrate the University’s special relationship with Chicago.

Let’s be honest, we’re a bit, er, intense about our traditions here at Northwestern.

Whether in the form of camping out to paint the Rock or screaming your throat hoarse during the Primal Scream of Finals Week, Wildcats gravitate to these unifying, shared experiences. But when we think beyond the silliness of some our common rituals, we find something greater and more enduring: the common values they create.

One of those values, and key elements of the Northwestern experience, is the relationship Wildcats have with the city of Chicago.

Last year, Northwestern’s Office of New Student and Family Programs brought a new event (a tradition in the making) to first-year students on campus: a class-wide trip to Chicago’s Millennium Park entitled “Purple Pride!” As one of Wildcat Welcome’s most successful events, “Purple Pride!” has returned in 2014.

On the first full day of Wildcat Welcome, Northwestern’s week-long new student orientation program, more than 2,000 new students travel into the heart of downtown Chicago for the second iteration of this seedling of a tradition. Under the arches of Pritzker Pavilion, just steps from the iconic Cloud Gate sculpture and the Art Institute of Chicago, the Class of 2018 and transfer students are introduced to some core Northwestern values.

In some of their first activities as a class, students build communityas they learn the choreography to a “new student dance” at Pritzker Pavilion and sing the fight song as a unit. From guest speakers and conversations with their Peer Advisers, students start thinking about the lasting relationships to come and the school’s history and traditions that eventually tie us all together.

In preparation for the Northwestern home football game that falls during Wildcat Welcome, students get a crash course from the athletic department about spirit, showing Purple Pride and supporting our ’Cats on the field. As “Chicago’s Big Ten Team,” our fight song is the tune of choice in Millennium Park, and new students get to hear it straight from the Northwestern University Marching Band and Spirit Squad.

With the architecture of the Magnificent Mile to the north and a chilled brisk Lake Michigan breeze in the air, new students hear from successful Chicago-based Northwestern alumni as they reflect on their time in Evanston, their fondest memories from school and the powerful Chicagoland Wildcat network.

From notable Chicago-based alumni such as Mike McGee, co-founder of The Starter League and one of Crain Chicago Business’ 2013 “40 Under 40,” students get a vision of how success at Northwestern can lead to success in Chicago. The city, central to our powerful alumni network, inspires students to start thinking about the lifelong ties they will have to their University after they turn their tassels and pack up their college apartments.

Adjusting to college can be complicated and overwhelming. When we get to introduce new students to the thriving, diverse and always changing urban neighbor that is Chicago, they get the opportunity to start seeing Northwestern as more than just four years but a community that will support them for the rest of their lives.

It’s All in the Family


As members of Northwestern University’s Class of 2018 prepare to come to Evanston for Wildcat Welcome (Sept. 15 through Sept. 22)  and the beginning of their college careers, their families will be trying to figure out the best way to support and encourage their students while allowing them to fully experience all Northwestern has to offer. To help with this often-challenging balancing act, we’ve enlisted the help of the Division of Student Affairs’ Family Ambassadors. The ambassadors, who are current undergraduate students, offer some tips and advice for families to help make the transition to Northwestern life as smooth possible.

What did your family do during your first year at Northwestern that you appreciate?

My family granted me the independence that I so wanted. They would not visit campus unless I had the time to see them and never expected me to come home unless I wanted to. Still, they were always there to support me. Someone would always answer the phone when I needed to vent before a midterm, and they sent me care packages with my favorite snacks from home before finals. These small things made the biggest difference. Knowing that I had a support system at home made my first year all the better. Leila Green ’17 — Oak Park, Illinois

How does your family support you during your time here at Northwestern?

My parents provided the perfect amount of encouragement. They wanted me to do well in school, but not to the point that I spent my energy only stressing over grades rather than also doing what I am passionate about, which helps me to have a “complete” Northwestern experience. I have thrived at Northwestern thus far because I am supported as a whole person, rather than just a student. Alaina Kafkes ’17 — Western Springs, Illinois

What’s important for families to know about the Northwestern experience?

Northwestern life becomes all encompassing. Between classes, extracurricular activities, social life and sleep, it’s easy to become so engrossed in life and so busy that students may forget to call their families. Families shouldn’t fret or become worried; it usually means their kids are having a good time! You may need to settle for short phone calls here and there, or even text conversations, but those short phone calls mean so much to me. Paige Leskin ’17 — Tenafly, New Jersey

I think the most important thing for parents is the realization that their child is entering a community of peers, professors, organizations and administrators that have the best interest in mind for their child. I think the community at Northwestern provides a huge amount of support and services to make the transition as smooth as possible. It isn’t just a place of buildings and structures; the people in it are what make the Northwestern experience so enriching. Connor Lantz ’17 — Zionsville, Indiana

How often do you communicate with your family?

I usually communicate with my family at least once a week. This will be my senior year and the amount of communication I have with my parents has decreased each year as I get more and more invested in life on campus. However, I do make a point to let my family know how I’m doing and still turn to them for advice on tough decisions, and I really appreciate that they’re always there for me when I need them! Sheridan Brown ’15 — St. Clair Shores, Michigan

What is a favorite Northwestern memory that you share with your family?

Last year, my family and I had a Northwestern day — a tour of campus, tickets to a football game and lunch at Lou Malnati’s while wearing their very own NU sweatshirts. Now whenever they come visit, they’re wearing those shirts! Tiffany Tran ’15 — Chicago, Illinois

What pieces of advice do you have for families of first-year students?

Helping your student to realize it is okay to fail at some endeavors will no doubt help them. Unfortunately not everyone gets a co-op or an internship or some leadership position on campus every time they try. However, if they learn something from the experience, it will still be valuable. It is also okay to seek help if it is needed whether it’s through friends for a homework problem or University Career Services (UCS) for job interview tips. Kedric Daly ’16 — Schaumburg, Illinois

From Your Peer Advisers: Six Tips for New Northwestern Students

All right, let’s be real for a minute. New students are sitting at home watching a Harry Potter marathon for the 13th time waiting for Wildcat Welcome to start. The void of friends has left you a bit of time to think about the next year, and you may be starting to worry. We got you. We’ve got some tips for you regarding your first year straight from the 2014 Peer Advisers.

1.Come to Northwestern guns blazing” — Jerry Benson ‘17
Come to Northwestern guns blazing. Everyone is going to be nervous or lonely during the first few days so there is nothing to worry about other than being yourself. You have nothing to lose by showing your true colors — the great friends you make will be proof!

2.Find a balance that works for you” — Joona Hamad ‘16
Find a balance that works for you. Figure out what you value, what makes you happy, then incorporate that into your week (e.g., gym, schoolwork, clubs, family, friends, exploring downtown). It takes time, but it’s important to find a balance or you won’t be happy!

3. “Don’t be too hard on yourself” — Jazmine Jenkins ‘17
Learn how not to be too hard on yourself. All Northwestern students are intelligent and hardworking, and we expect the best from ourselves — but we must remember that we are at a highly academic and competitive institution. We are here to grow and challenge ourselves not just academically, but socially, as well. It takes time to learn from mistakes; we aren’t perfect.

4.It’s perfectly normal to be stressed or homesick!” — Katie-Meelel Nodjimbadem ‘15
It’s perfectly normal to be stressed or anxious as a college student. It’s important to share those feelings with someone. I struggled with homesickness and stress my first year, and I wish I had reached out to someone on campus. When I finally did, I realized I was not alone in the least! The Northwestern support system is amazing.

5. “Laugh!” — Diane Arthur ‘17
Laugh. College is serious, but there is so much excitement and humor in the little things. Your ability to learn to enjoy the difficulties and find happiness in the perils will determine the quality of your first year. Grades may not go according to plan, friendships may not be peachy at first, and the Chicago weather may throw you off, but laugh it off! Your grades are not your identity. There is more to life than this paper. So relax, take a deep breath, and laugh.

6. “Try things differently from your usual routine!” — Daniel Stromfeld ’16 (transfer student)
Try things differently from your usual routine. Join an arts-based group, a dance crew or do volunteer work — anything you’ve never done before! I was not expecting to be a part of any of these, but ended up having the time of my life when I found new passions at NU. Our four years here are short, so we must get a taste of everything to make it last.

Living and Learning With Faculty-in-Residence

When Jacob and Freda Smith go home at the end of the workday teaching and advising at the School of Communication, they don’t have far to go. In fact, they don’t even leave campus. The Smiths just finished their first year of living among students in Elder Hall as Faculty-in-Residence. Their role, part of Northwestern’s Residential Community Program, is to provide leadership in the hall by organizing intellectual, cultural and social events, or just giving residents a good, solid piece of advice when needed. Jacob Smith, an associate professor of radio/television/film, offers an inside look at his family’s experience during the last year.

It started out as a standard Sunday morning. The family woke up, gathered in the kitchen and made a cup of tea or two. We warmed up the waffle iron and pancake griddle. But what happened next makes our family’s Sunday morning different. When we opened our front door, 150 Northwestern freshmen were waiting to share our breakfast with us. That’s because our home is theirs too: I am the Faculty-in-Residence at Elder Residential Community, and I live in the faculty apartment with my partner, Freda, and our son, Henry. This was our last event of the year, a waffle and pancake breakfast to say goodbye before the Elderites finished their final exams and headed home for the summer.

The academic year began 10 months earlier, when we welcomed arriving students with an open house and trays of candy apples. We wanted every freshman in Elder to know who we were, where we lived and how the Faculty-in-Residence would fit into their coming year. Students were surprised to find a snazzy family apartment stuck onto their residence, and it still surprises us sometimes that a step outside of our quiet home, there is a busy student hallway and lively dining hall. That is the blend that makes the Elder residential community special — the hall is a space for diverse interactions with the broader Northwestern community. Our apartment was a place where students could have informal chats with faculty about Super Bowl ads, the environmental impact of consumer products or the depiction of race in Hollywood films. It was also a place for socializing at casual buffet dinners with faculty or in small yoga classes by the fire.

Our home was part of Elder, and the rest of Elder felt like part of our home. On weeknights, we ate dinner in the dining hall and sometimes ended up doing impromptu student advising. Every Sunday we served hot cider in the first-floor lounge where students would take a study break and hear short talks about Northwestern organizations. In the spring, I taught a class on the history of recorded sound in Elder and held office hours onsite. It was amazing to have a walk downstairs be my commute to work! We converted the classrooms into a soothing retreat during Reading Week by hosting relaxation nights with professional chair massage and meditation tips. Our programming reached beyond the building into the broader community as well, like when we took field trips to Chicago to celebrate Chinese New Year.

Looking back over this remarkable year, from candy apples to pancakes, I’ve learned that a “Residential Community” provides a unique experience at the University. Elder is a community composed of undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and Residential Life staff, all of whom share a space, eat together and interact everyday. Together we explore the many different interests, career goals and commitments that make up the University, as part of a community that is big enough to allow for amazing diversity and small enough so as never to be intimidating or overwhelming. It has been an incredible opportunity for me as a member of the faculty to interact with students as part of the Elder community. My family and I will soon be warming up the cider pots and waffle iron for what will surely be another fascinating and engaging year!