Housing & Dining Services Staff Help to Ease Transitions
By Sylvia Cranmer
When students move to campus, the transition involves new experiences for many who may be living away from home for the first time. This academic year has been especially challenging with so many unknowns due to COVID-19. Throughout this fall semester, Housing & Dining Services (HDS) staff has been vigilant and on-the-ready to make students feel comfortable and normalize this new on-campus living experience.
At all levels, from student staff through professional staff, a genuine desire to help students has kept the momentum going through the semester, and it has paid off in helping students remain on campus until Fall Break. Braiden Hall Resident Assistant (RA) Hanane Assougdam has a close relationship with her residents and does all she can despite the challenging circumstances.
“My number one goal this semester was to help my residents have the best freshman year experience, because if I got to enjoy mine, they should be able to enjoy theirs,” Hanane said. “Whenever I talk about my residents, I refer to them as my ‘besties,’ and that’s because I learned a lot about them and made the most out of our new normal lives together in the halls.”
She exudes enthusiasm as she talks about her residents and the impact she hopes to have on their lives and academic careers. “It’s very rewarding when they come to talk to me or want to stop by and tell me about their day. It’s all about providing opportunities to get to know each other, giving them resources and even just having a conversation with them that makes a difference.”
Hanane’s first-year RA experience hasn’t played out exactly the way she anticipated, however in some ways she says it’s better. “Some may say that COVID has made being an RA very hard, and there’s truth to that, but it made it very real as well. It has allowed me to step back and know that everything isn’t always going to go as planned.”
Throughout the semester, HDS staff have transcended typical job descriptions and filled in wherever needed, especially as it relates to helping students navigate the COVID quarantine/isolation process.
“Our staff have been amazing and approached these new responsibilities in a very positive manner,” says Karyn LeBlanc, HDS Facilities assistant director. “They have also made suggestions for improving processes to include ways for our students to be more comfortable.”
Six HDS Facilities staff members have filled in as adjunct quarantine staff, transporting students to their temporary quarantine locations and delivering daily meals – shouldering a fair amount of responsibility for the comfort of students, physically and emotionally. This care and attention ultimately helps contribute to the students’ overall growth and academic success.
Students have been very appreciative of the efforts and the professional/personal touch that HDS staff are providing. Scott Campbell with HDS Facilities recalls helping a student through some anxiety they experienced as he was transporting them to their temporary quarantine living space.
“The student was looking uncomfortable and scared, so I took an extra 10 minutes to just talk to them about the entire process and give them options to reach out for further guidance if needed,” he recalls. “When I left, I felt better about the situation and the student was very appreciative.”
A little empathy can go a long way in helping to normalize the quarantine experience. “Some of us are parents and we realize that if our child was in this situation, we would feel a lot better knowing that they are being taken care of. Knowing that we are making a difference in a not-so-pleasant situation is a great feeling and a way to pay it forward.”
Kenady Leighton, a first-year student living in Parmelee Hall who experienced temporary quarantine housing in Corbett Hall, has been very thankful for the care provided by the quarantine team.
“I appreciated the staff going out of their way to help us,” Kenady says. “It’s a really hard job that I know they never expected to be doing, so I made sure they knew that I was really appreciative. It means a lot to me to know they are putting themselves as risk every day.”
Living in a temporary space, out of your comfort-zone can be scary. “One of the things that made me stay positive through it all was the staff who touched base with me every day and made sure that I felt at home even though I wasn’t at home,” adds Kenady. “My interaction with staff was amazing – it was the best I could ever ask for.” Kenady points out one staff member in particular, John Malsam, the Associate Director of University Housing who leads the efforts for HDS’s internal quarantine hotline. “John really helped me a lot and was my main contact. He was always available, and made sure I had everything I needed.”
HDS staff has done a tremendous job at taking care of each other and taking care of students in a difficult context. However, a good portion of the credit also goes back to the parents and families for raising great people who make the effort to show appreciation to the staff supporting them. Scott Campbell echoes the thoughts of many of HDS staff, “The words of gratitude have enabled us to be successful and makes us want to continue, until we get through this.”