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Number of Resident Assistant Applications Shoots Up

Rahat Ahmed remembers calling the university police on his own peers who were smoking marijuana at a party — his job as a resident assistant (RA) calls for him to be “selfless.” He makes decisions like this every day and the job is anything but simple. He can play the role of parent, friend, mentor and, in some cases, bad cop.

These roles come with the job, which puts its employees in situations from diffusing a simple disagreement to preventing a suicide. Even with the vital responsibilities that the job holds, more students than usual have applied for an RA position.

For the academic year ending 2010, 474 applications were submitted and 314 of those applications are eligible, according to Anthony LaViscount, who is in charge of RA recruitment and the hiring process. For this school year, 338 applications were submitted — a difference of more than 100. Presently, there are 63 RA positions available next year, making the acceptance rate 13 percent — a comparable rate to admissions Dartmouth College, Brown University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

According to LaViscount, the number of positions available will rise as some students graduate, decide to study abroad or cannot work due to other factors. An exact number could not be predicted, but LaViscount estimated that about 50 more RA’s could be hired.

The increase in selectivity this year has set the bar high for applicants. “More candidates, better quality,” LaViscount said. “I have watched the quality improve.”

Norbert Dunkel, president of the Association of College and University Housing Officers International, said that he has not seen a rise in applications like this in his 28 years in the field. Another new trend that he has seen is students who live off campus are applying for the job. In the past, students live on campus before applying.

“It is getting more difficult, obviously, to secure money to go to higher education,” said Dunkel, director of housing and residence education at the University of Florida. “More parents are losing their jobs. When a student can find a wonderful leadership opportunity like being an RA that comes with that compensation package, it really does pay for the student to go to school for the year.”

Stony Brook RA’s receive a housing bed-waiver, meal plan and bookstore stipend, according to the university website. “I think a lot of people going for the RA position is honestly because of money. Becoming an RA seems like an easy way to cope,” said Ahmed, an RA in Toscanini College. “There are some who genuinely want to help people and, while I say this, I don’t think it’s wrong to apply because of economic reasons. As long as you do your job and are a positive role model, then your title as an RA isn’t making you a hypocrite.”

There are a few reasons for the rise in applications at Stony Brook. “My hope is because we had a new marketing technique: the use of the Internet,” LaViscount said. “Our best form of advertising is from our hall directors and RA’s. Our students have great experiences with them so they want to become part of that.” However, he later said that the present economy might have had an impact.

SUNY schools, Geneseo and Buffalo, are part of the nationwide rise in RA applications as well. “I attribute this increase in interest to two factors,” said Celia Easton, the dean of residential living at Geneseo. “First: the economy. RA housing and stipends are a valuable way to help pay for college. Second: outreach to students, particularly outreach to members of ethnic and cultural organizations, who were not active members of Residential Life in previous years. Beginning in 2008, we have received an increase in our pool directly connected to personal connections made with the Black Student Union and the Latino Student Association.”

With a large group of applicants, LaViscount says certain qualities in a candidate stand out to him. “I look for people who are motivated,” LaViscount said. “?For people who want to get others excited.” For those students who don’t get the job, LaViscount offered some simple advice. “The best you can do is get involved on campus. Join clubs and organizations that allow you to get involved. Try, try again.”

The RA hiring process has a number of steps. First, students who are interested submit an online application, which includes a cover letter, resume and two references. Qualified applicants — undergraduate students with a minimum GPA of 2.5 (3.0 for graduate students), fulltime course load and good disciplinary standing — can then attended a pre-interview workshop. According to LaViscount, this workshop is a new part of the process. It provides applicants the opportunity to ask any questions they may have and prepare for the actual interview.

“I was really nervous for my interview,” said Nina Casiano, a sophomore and RA applicant. “But now that I think about it, it really wasn’t that intimidating.”

Next is the formal interview and mixer. “The mixer is a more informal opportunity to meet hall directors,” LaViscount said, adding how it can be a more relaxed atmosphere than the interview for many.

“Sometimes we look like police people and party poopers, but we’re just doing our jobs and we do it because we care about the residents,” Ahmed said. “Some people end up hating your guts forever. For those guys you can just hope that they learn their lesson from what you were able to do and hopefully grow up.”

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