Experiencing Residence Life - Virtually!

When I introduce myself as a Virtual Resident Assistant who is working from home, I see the confusion in everyone’s eyes. During a usual semester, the role of a Resident Assistant(RA) is based largely on the interactions with their residents that are living on campus and the experience they have — even the compensation is given in the form of free on campus housing and meal plans. However, Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 have not been a regular semester, and the number of students on campus have rapidly decreased due to the pandemic. Every department at Rutgers has had to improvise and establish new ways to offer a memorable experience virtually including Residence Life! 

The newly-developed Virtual First-Year Experience is a program in which first-year students sign up to join a cohort and build the connections that students would typically form while living with each other. As a Virtual RA, I do many of the things I used to do when I lived on campus, but now it is over Zoom instead! I run weekly group meetings, participate in weekly staff meetings, hold “office hours” for my students to drop by, and I have meet one-on-one with all of the students in my assigned section every two weeks. My interactions with my students are some of the highlights of my week. I love being able to goof around with them and watch their friendships develop as time goes on! 

Like many others, I’m still adapting to the virtual environment. Running a program in person came naturally for me, and keeping a group of students engaged and excited to learn more about each other through Zoom has been more difficult than I expected. Every week, I evaluate what worked and didn’t work the week prior, and adapt my next meeting to better fit the needs of my community. By channeling my creative side, I have come up with new activities every week that allows my students to have fun with each other and build a bond, much like they would if they all lived together on the same floor in a dorm.

I’m determined to help my first-year students find the group of people that makes them want to stay at Rutgers, which is more crucial now than ever. I commend Rutgers for being able to transition an experience that is solely based on in-person interaction to a virtual environment. They were able to properly emulate parts of the living experience in a first-year dorm as much as possible, which is no easy feat. I’ve learned a lot stepping into this new role, and though I cannot wait to go back on campus and meet everyone in person, I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities and experiences I’ve had thus far.

-Anusha, AE ’22