By Paige Lusczyk, Contributing Writer.
An on-campus role typically reserved for upperclassmen has been offered to first-semester freshmen this year as the University of Maine at Farmington faces a shortage of student employees. Four freshmen joined the Community Assistant training earlier this semester, with only a campus tour and Summer Experience under their belts.
Typically a full CA staff would need 36 positions. When COVID-19 struck campuses nationwide in March 2020, many UMF residents had already applied and accepted CA positions.
Director of Student Life and current Scott Hall Professional Staff, Brian Ufford, explained that when Dakin Hall closed to become the allocated quarantine building, many applicants were brought into the other halls as extra help instead of firing a large group. That is the reason the third floor of Scott Hall North had three CAs for the fall 2020 semester when the number historically has been two.
When the spring 2021 semester started, many former CAs decided not to return. When asked, Ufford replied that the CA shortage is “a product of COVID more than anything.”
Ufford said the job was “not nearly as rewarding” due to COVID-19 restrictions and less on-campus resident interaction. As of right now, Scott Hall is short five CAs that will hopefully be filled before the fall 2021 semester ends. A few residents have already applied including more freshmen.
Hannah Levy is currently a CA in Mallet Hall and feels “very confident in [her] ability to be a CA.” She, like the other three current freshmen CAs, was approached during Summer Experience.
“Brian [Ufford] had mentioned in a big group that they were looking for CAs and that this was the first time that they were allowing freshmen first semester to apply,” Levy wrote in an email.
Levy has had a bit of experience already because she was an RA in high school and loved it “because [she] was able to be a part of people’s lives and hopefully make an impact on someone.”
Although Levy admitted to feeling nervous and intimidated at the beginning of the training week, she still exclaimed, “I am excited to take what I have learned from my high school and CA training and incorporate it into my hall.”
Hunter Kemp, who is currently a CA in Scott Hall, shares similar thoughts. Kemp also admitted a nervous feeling about the position. Fortunately, his confidence has continued to grow with more experience. He mentioned that in the beginning he “was nervous about becoming a resource figure on campus, mostly because [he] didn’t know the campus yet.” Kemp added that everyone has been helpful.
Both Kemp and Levy said they believe that they’ll be able to connect to first-year students on a more personal level than the upperclassmen CAs since they would be going through the same experiences other first-year students go through; newly found independence, real college classes, self-care, and time and financial management.
Ufford said he has full confidence in the freshman CAs, explaining that in his opinion all high school graduates have the skill sets for many jobs similar to the CA position. Coming into the job they just lack the “familiarity with campus resources, but [Ufford] thinks [UMF staff] did a good job [during training].”
As the Fall 2021 semester goes on, Professional Staff plan on interviewing and hiring potential candidates. As predicted by Ufford, the new applicants will start by being placed in Scott Hall and will most likely go through a mentorship process, on top of regular training, where they will be able to continue learning with returning CAs.
Ripley Biggs Contributing Writer
As applications for new Community Assistants (CA) open up for the spring semester, students should know there is more to the job than meets the eye.
“I would say that [students] should know that being a CA is a 24/7 job, even when we are not in the office we are technically ‘on duty,’” said Sierra Tarbox, Scott Hall CA and junior liberal studies major.
Being “on duty” is the most visible part of being a CA. “Duty is when you sit in the office and take care of things like paperwork, hanging up posters, filling out things, and checking on residents,” said Tess Gioia, Stone Hall CA and sophomore with a currently undeclared major.
Other CA job responsibilities include making bulletin boards and door decs as well as going to meetings and ensuring a healthy, safe and thriving dorm environment. Additionally CA’s are the first ones to arrive in the fall and after breaks and the last ones to leave after checking everyone else out.
CA’s have to participate in training before each semester, both to refresh themselves and to meet and work with new staff. As they are also mandated reporters, CA’s engaged in more difficult training as well, preparing for instances, “like if a resident were to come to us saying that they’ve been sexually assaulted or how we would handle a mental health/suicidal ideation situation,” said Tarbox.
Cait Davidson and Sierra Tarbox (Photo courtesy of Sierra Tarbox)
Training also includes guest speakers, such as staff from the Health Center, Public Safety or Sexual Assault Prevention & Response Services (SAPARS), according to Tarbox. “We also have presentations from our Area Coordinators and other residential life staff members and sometimes even other Community Assistants, we also do group activities,” she said. “They really try to change it up and keep us engaged with the stuff we’re doing, as everything we’re learning is incredibly pertinent to the job that we were hired to do.”
To help build a community in their residence halls, CA’s put on a variety of programs. The programs must fall under one of five categories: community building, diversity and support, health and well-being, personal development and all areas. “We use these programs to educate residents, bring fun into the hall, and build a sense of community,” said Tarbox.
People who want to be a CA go into the job for many different reasons. Tarbox said, “I am a Community Assistant because I am the kind of person who takes joy from helping other people, and to have a job that allows me to act as a support system for people who need it. It is something I really value.”
Being a CA comes with many challenges. “The biggest challenges of this job I would say are the time commitments,” Tarbox said, “and sometimes if you aren’t careful and practicing self-care you can burn out pretty easily.”
But the job also comes with many rewards. “Actually being able to help someone when they need support is the best possible reward. Helping residents be happy and successful is an incredible feeling,” said Tarbox.
“This job is important because we have to help maintain order and safety within the halls so that everyone can be their most successful and authentic selves during their time here,” Tarbox continued. “I would also mention that we are students and people too, we can get overwhelmed and tired just as easily as anyone else so please take it easy on us, we are just trying to keep you all safe, that’s our top priority.”
For people who are interested in applying to be a CA, Erica Crawley, graduate student and Area Coordinator for Scott Hall, recommends, “evaluat[ing] if being a CA is really what you want to do, make sure you have the time, talk to a CA.” Crawley also asks students, “Do you have the ability to relate to people? If you can strike up a conversation with people you don’t know, that is huge.”
“If you are thinking about applying, my advice is to just go for it! This job isn’t meant for one specific kind of person. For example, I’m super introverted but I’m still able to do this job. We thrive most when there are many different kinds of people on staff,” said Tarbox.
“My advice is to be yourself. If you act any differently, you aren’t being true to who you are, which is a big part of the job. Just be yourself and relax,” said Gioia.
According to the University of Maine at Farmington work-study job opportunities list, there are 37 CA positions on campus. Interested applicants must have a GPA of 2.5, but if someone who is interested has a lower GPA there can be a probationary period to allow the GPA to improve. The application process involved is somewhat different for spring versus fall semester. Both require a resume, cover letter, and recommendations from both current CA’s and staff or outside sources. Applicants will shadow a CA while on duty and write up a reflection on the experience. Lastly, there is an in-person interview.
If any interested student would like to apply to become a CA, student life has started the process of hiring for next semester. Applications are being accepted until Nov. 8 at 4 p.m. More information about the application process and the application form can be found at https://sites.google.com/maine.edu/community-assistant-app/