Challenge accepted: Nearly 6,000 one-on-one conversations in 6 weeks

Students meeting for coffee at the seal in academic quad
Students meeting for coffee at the seal in academic quad

The Challenge

Vicka Bell RobinsonDr. Vicka Bell-Robinson, Director of Residence Life

When Director of Residence Life Dr. Vicka Bell-Robinson set the expectation that all Resident Assistants (RAs) would meet one-on-one with at least 75% of the students from their residential communities - within the first month of the fall 2018 semester - she knew the goal would be challenging.

In previous years, RAs had the entire semester to meet with their students; Fall 2018 is the first year to put such an emphasis on the first month. “If you’re only meeting someone, sitting down with them, for the first time in November, you’ve already lost them,” said Bell-Robinson of the new requirement.

One-on-one conversations, when they happen early in the year, can set up a strong foundation for a positive resident-RA relationship. “If those conversations aren’t happening early,” said Bell-Robinson, “it’s probably not going to happen.

The Experience

Many RAs were surprised at how easy it was, in some cases, to get students to have those conversations. Some reported being surprised by how comfortable the residents were talking to the RAs. “Conversations weren’t just ‘get them over and done with,’” said Kourtney Duchesneau Spaulding, Resident Director in Etheridge Hall and Maple Street Station. “ Students really wanted to chat and get to know their RAs and let their RAs get to know them.”

“I appreciated it,” said Jordan Gilligan, a third-year resident in Stoddard Hall. “It’s good for RAs to check in on us early in the semester.”

The Residence Life Facebook page also posted on the experience. “One-on-ones happen over food, in the lounges, on campus for coffee, during a study break, or while taking a walk around our beautiful campus. They give both residents and RAs some time to get to know one another as well as an opportunity for RAs to offer support to students living in their community.”

After each meeting, RAs submit an individual summary that details their conversation and other interactions with each resident; supervisors can review and follow up if needed. It’s a way to provide personal attention on a large scale, and allows the central staff to provide more comprehensive oversight in support of students’ transition to and through Miami.

The Results

Havighurst Hall RA StaffHavighurst Hall residential staff

The stated goal was for RAs to meet with 75% of their residents in the first 30 days. “While the day count is a little off,” said Bell-Robinson in an email, “I am pleased to report that at the end of September the Resident Assistant team met with 75.89% of residential students.” That amounts to 5,937 one-on-one conversations in less than 6 weeks. There are 243 total RAs.

“Doing the one-on-ones early in the semester set the precedent that I’d be around and a good resource for [my residents],” commented Noelle Lemaire, RA in Havighurst Hall.  

“I’m really proud of them,” said Bell-Robinson. “I want to make sure we pause here and acknowledge and celebrate what we did.” She wants RAs to recognize the impact they’ve made. “I hope this will be energizing for the team.”

What’s Next

Residence Life plans to look at data from the Transition Survey and the Assessment of Living and Learning (ALL) survey this fall to see what kind of impact the conversations have made.

Bell-Robinson has already noticed some differences. “We know that RAs are writing more incident reports this year over last,” she said. “But more of the reports this year originate from students going to RAs for assistance instead of RAs intervening on their own.” She hopes more and more students will see RAs as resources as a result of their positive interactions.

There will be similar expectations for the spring semester as well.