A day in the life of a Community Advisor

Dorm life is a major change from life at home. With rooms shaped like jail cells and curfews no more, we find ourselves caught in the irony that is college life. Over the years, institutions have tried to ease the transition by providing support structures, one being housing staff.

Tech has historically used a lot of different titles for community advisors (CA), but for our purposes, we will only differentiate between “CA’s” and peer leaders, “PL’s.”

Rachel Johnston, a CA in Center Street Apartments and second-year MGT major, is one of the hundreds of students employed by housing staff at Tech.

Speaking with her this week shed some light on the role of housing staff on our campus.

“You could say it’s like having a job in human resources,” Johnston said, still shivering and trying to recover from her frigid walk across campus.

“When people ask me how many hours I spend being an CA, it’s hard to say, because it’s like a full time job. You’re just not clocking-in hours.”

A sister in Alpha Chi Omega sorority and Ambassador for the College of Management, Johnston has had to develop a lot of self-discipline and time management skills early in life.

“It’s a sacrifice of time, but anything you do is a sacrifice of time,” Johnston said. “You just have to figure out what you want to do and then do it.”

The most important thing to Johnston as an CA is community. “Getting to know my residents really well is the most rewarding thing and working for housing is like being in a big community.”

Although she would not disclose the details of any real life dorm drama, Johnston said that conflict resolution was covered in training, which includes two weeks of pre-semester workshops and a weekly CA seminar class.

Integral to the housing structure are the community-building programs that are held in each residence hall. There are different “programming models” for freshmen, upperclassmen, graduate students, married students and international students, each tailored to meet the needs of that student population.

“Being an CA as a second year, I think it’s necessary to quickly learn the needs of upperclassmen,” Johnston said.

“Also, when you live in dorms, there’s only one door separating you, but in the apartments, you have to work a little harder to get to know people,” Johnston said, citing a difference between CA’s and PL’s.

Of course, the main difference between CA’s and PL’s is that PL’s work exclusively with freshmen, and CA’s work with everyone else.

Johnston said that she would have been happy with either position, but that she had grown especially fond of her role as an CA now because of the greater emphasis on large-group social activities.

According to Johnston, PL’s still plan large-group activities, but there is a greater emphasis on individual interaction.

At the CA/PL candidate meeting, staff explained that smaller groups were facilitated in Freshman Experience dorms by assigning fewer residents to each PL.

One of the most important things PL’s can do to get to know their residents is to make sure they are going to the dining halls and eating with them regularly.

Johnston said that becoming an CA has been one of the most rewarding things she has done while at Tech, and she is glad that she has followed in her mother’s footsteps, who was also an CA in college.

If you are planning on applying to be an CA or a PL, “references are a big deal,” Johnston said. Every candidate is required to submit at least one letter of recommendation with their application, and finalists will be interviewed.

According to Center Street’s Hall Director, Steven Jubert, “you want to put your best foot forward,” which means treating the staff interview the same as you would treat any other interview.