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RA Role Unique at AU

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Blending learning outcomes and on-campus living, the residence assistant role looks a bit different at AU when compared to many universities.
Photo by Patrick Bradley.

Junior Iyad Ghanim works as a resident assistant in AU’s McDowell Hall, where something is a little strange.

“I went to a conference for RAs in the region and met a lot RAs from other universities,” he says. “You could definitely figure out that AU is a bit different.”

Mary Criasia, a junior RA in Hughes Hall, is busy at work with her forty resident students. She’s also noticed something unusual is going on at AU.

“My sister was an RA at her university,” she says. “She didn’t have much to do there…she decorated.”

Both Ghanim and Criasia work in a living environment that’s particular to AU. For AU students, learning doesn’t end when they step out of the classroom. Instead, Housing and Dining Programs engages on-campus residents, building living/learning communities through each of its 75 RAs.

“AU is one of the first schools that started to build this curriculum for the resident assistant role,” Criasia explains. “Other universities just throw pizza at residents and call it a hall event. We’re supposed to build targeted learning outcomes based on student development theory.”

Criasia and the other RAs develop curriculum that covers the entire semester. Focusing on the theme “Personal Health & Wellness,” Criasia is offering her residents an in-hall zumba class, body image awareness programming, and financial wellness education. As her group is a politically-interested set of students, she’s also organized State of the Union and Republican debates viewing parties.

Next door in McDowell Hall, Ghanim crafts his curriculum around programs that can help keep his residents safe throughout their college experience. With that in mind, he focuses on the four pillars of residential education curriculum – Civic Engagement, Multicultural Competence, Academic Excellence, and Personal Health & Wellness – making a point of highlighting alcohol issues each semester.

“The challenge for me is being creative about that and trying to get through to people about things they care about and want to know about without being overbearing,” he says. “There are some things you can’t learn in class, and that’s something important to realize.”

Other than the standard programming and events, Ghanim also oversees two residential community clusters on his hall of fifty-four students. In these clusters, students share suite-style living and focus on an educational topic throughout the semester. For Ghanim’s hall, the two groups are focusing on Culture in the Holy Land and Arabic Language.

This unique educational approach to the RA role has had a profound impact on residents just as much as the RAs themselves. For Criasia, who wants to teach high school AP Government, it’s been an ideal situation.

“I’m studying secondary education,” she says, “and I know that a lot of the student development theory, curriculum building, and learning outcomes are going to translate directly into my professional life. That’s great for me.”

In his third semester as an RA, Ghanim finds himself in Criasia’s position.

“Before, I wanted to go into criminalistics,” he shares. “Now I want to go into teaching, definitely because of the RA job. I think it shifted me a little bit. I enjoy being around people I can influence and assist, answering questions. Being a resource has really intrigued me.”

For Ghanim, though, the major perk of his job isn’t the career direction he’s found; it’s being able to inspire residents through his programming and personal attention to each student.

“I feel like I’ve succeeded when a bunch of my residents tell me they’re applying to be an RA,” he says. “When they’re inspired to do the job, that makes me feel better about what I do.”

With their shared commitment to resident students, both Ghanim and Criasia represent a small piece of the work that shapes the whole student at AU – one of the many things that sets the university apart, or as Ghanim would say, makes it just “a bit different.”