Becoming a Resident Assistant: Part One

Wilson Hall Lobby
Published On: April 22, 2019

Earlier this year, Aleaha Reneé Smith, a sophomore marketing major within the Eli Broad College of Business who currently works as a communications assistant for the Division of Residential and Hospitality Services, underwent the process of becoming a resident assistant (RA) at MSU.

Below, Aleaha offers an inside perspective to the competitive, rigorous and selective process behind the selection of the roughly 340 RAs who annually work to provide a positive on-campus living experience for the 15,000 students who call campus home each year.

The Application Process

The application process was extensive. Along with inputting personal and academic info, applicants were asked to submit a resume and write three essays.

I began writing my essays about one month in advance. All three questions allowed applicants to demonstrate their commitment to fostering an inclusive environment on MSU’s campus by sharing activities and leadership roles they have participated in thus far. For example, one of the questions revolved around MSU’s culture of inclusivity and how I feel like I've had a hand in it. When answering this question, I decided to disclose my time working with an organization I helped build called LUX media.

LUX was created to provide a voice to marginalized groups on campus. While there, I had the opportunity to work alongside individuals across campus who identified with various communities. Through highlighting my dedication for my fellow Spartans by participating in LUX’s organizational activities, I gave authentic examples of how I achieved this within the past year.

After completing each essay, I asked people I trusted to review my writing. These individuals included parents, siblings, current RA’s, counselors and professors. I did this to make sure my thoughts were thoroughly expressed, and qualifications were emphasized. Gaining multiple perspectives and opinions on my writing, strengthened it and allowed me to become more confident in my ability.

Next, applicants were asked to choose their top three favorite neighborhoods at MSU. These responses would be taken into consideration if one was fortunate enough to be selected as an RA. This proved to be one of the most difficult parts of the application.

I remember thinking, “Top three? Well, I most definitely have a top five.”

After making this painstaking decision, I submitted my application three days before the deadline.

The Interview Process

The interview process was divided into three parts; one group interview and two 2-on-1 interviews. 

The group interview: Upon arrival, all applicants were divided into groups of 12-14 for group interviews. Within the next 45 minutes, applicants were able to get to know each other through various team building activities. One of the activities allowed applicants to create their ideal living and learning community. My group’s ideal community was called Earvin “Magic” Johnson Hall. It was equipped with handicap accessible entrances, a dining hall, laundry room, gym, and multiple single and group study areas. It housed multiple majors, to ensure diversity of thought and was accessible to all students regardless of physical ability. Each group presented their community and explained why they chose the attributes.

To me, the group interview was a particularly beneficial part on the process. It served as a reminder that I was there to assist the diverse needs of my fellow Spartans. This time also allowed me to loosen up and gain some last-minute confidence before entering the interview hall or, judging by the expressions on most applicant’s faces, the Roman Colosseum. This was the point at which applicants would either rise to the challenge or experience their demise.

Interview part A: I remember being nervous during this part of the interview. One community director and an RA sat across the table from me offering behavior-based questions while furiously writing notes as I answered. I was dying to find out what was on the other end of that clipboard; hoping Superman would loan me his x-ray vision just this once. While wracking my brain for situational examples, I answered every question utilizing the STAR (Situation, Task, Action and Result) Method. I finished with time to spare and got the chance to get to know my interviewers better by asking them questions of my own. As an alarm sounded, I was asked to rotate seats with the person next to me; part two was about to begin.

Interview part B: A second group of interviewers, one assistant community director and an RA provided me five pieces of paper with potential scenarios for the position. This exercise was designed to have no right or wrong answers. As long as I could formulate a carefully thought-out, valid explanation for how I ordered them, I would pass. After giving our explanations, we were able to exit the interview hall and go home. This section of the interview also included some STAR-based questions.

The WAITING Game

From the night of the interview to the morning of the decision.

The next few weeks were agonizing.

This time period, as every RA applicant can attest, is complete torture. Many things go through our minds, including: Did they really like me? Did my breath smell? Did I answer all questions to the best of my ability? Did the interviewer really blink, or were they trying to roll their eyes at me? Did they really think my outfit was cool?

All equally important questions.

The DECISION

The good, the bad, the ugly

I didn’t really know Feb. 22, 2019 would be the date. I had begun to hear rumors of when the decisions would be finalized but didn’t want to get my hopes up. Therefore, the email caught me completely off guard. I found out at work. In a meeting. The email notification popped up on my phone, and my stomach twisted in knots. Even though I felt as though I had lost control of all motor skills, I tried to casually unlock my phone to view my fate. It took about three hours for the email to load; at least that’s what it felt like. Initially, I only read the first line. I wanted to dance, scream and cry for joy all at the same time; I was absolutely ecstatic.

As I continued to comprehend my newly appointed status, my phone rang. I had a pretty idea what the call was about. I excused myself from the meeting and answered; it was one of my best friends. Her shriek signaled she had received the same news. We quickly linked another of our close friends to our phone call. She answered with a disheartened tone; she didn’t even have to tell us.

I remember feeling heartbroken while listening to her voice as it wavered. For a moment the world slowed. Although disappointed, she remained supportive. She congratulated us on our acceptance as we reassured her, she could interview again next year.

Looking Forward

What I’ve gained and what’s next?

I didn’t realize how much obtaining this position would influence my experience as a student at MSU. I find it nothing short of an honor to be granted the opportunity of impacting the lives of Spartans. Although decision day was bitter sweet, it remains one of the greatest moments of my academic career thus far. I am excited to begin the RA seminar on March 11 and can’t wait to see what comes of this opportunity.