Taking Charge


Robert isn’t the kind of student to let opportunities—or challenges—pass him by. Is he a part of Student Alumni Ambassadors? You bet. Does he co-direct the student engagement program Sights and Sounds? Of course. Is he a McNair Scholar? Naturally. Does he work for the Fighting Illini marketing team? Absolutely. Did he make the 2022 Homecoming Court? Indeed he did.

Along with his RA responsibilities, Robert works on marketing communications projects for University Housing. “I run both of our social media pages for Weston Hall, [and] I do a lot of different marketing and advertising within the hall itself.”

“Time management definitely was one of my strong skills coming into school,” Robert says. “If I can’t commit to something 100% or give all my effort, I’m not going to do it.”

Despite his busy schedule, Robert also took 42 first-year students under his wing this past fall as a resident advisor, or RA. The catch? When Robert started the position, it was his first year on campus, too.

“I looked at the position and I did get discouraged at first, because it said ‘First-year students may not be eligible,’” Robert says. “But I knew that earning an associate’s degree, having previous college experience, and the leadership qualities I possess made me qualified for it. So I said to myself, ‘Why not? Just apply and see. I’m not a first-year student, I’m a transfer student, and I’m meant for this this role.’” 

Robert’s confidence paid off. He was called back for an interview and ended up being offered the job.

“Due to RA training, I was able to arrive to campus two weeks early and get a head start exploring campus,” Robert says. “I felt like a pro by the end of it and was more comfortable navigating the campus and providing resources and directions.” 

After taking advantage of the extra time, Robert was ready to dive into the job headfirst. 

“Once the residents got on campus, [I realized] I liked being an RA,” Robert says. “The best part is engaging with the residents and developing those connections.” 

The RAs in Robert’s hall work together when faced with difficult situations, and Robert knows he can overcome any challenge with their support. “I feel like we’re family, so if something does go wrong, we have others we can call and lean on.”

Seeing his residents on campus is one of the highlights of his job, especially when he’s able to form a connection with students who are usually quiet or reserved. “When residents approach me, call me by my nickname, and begin to tell me about their days, life achievements, and other stories, it warms my heart,” Robert says. “I’m truly grateful to be in the position to foster these relationships.” 

He soon discovered that being an RA was also an opportunity for him to use his skills and create a fun, welcoming, and inclusive environment for his residents. 

“I’m a creative person,” says Robert. “Some highlighted events where I’ve been able to use my creativity include the Welcome Gala, Fall Fest, Nacho Night, and Spa Day held in our hall. Planning, organizing, and facilitating comes natural to me; it gets me really excited to watch an idea come to life. In the role, you are given a lesson plan geared toward objectives and learning outcomes. From there, you have a full range of opportunities on how you present the materials. That’s what I like most—I get to express myself and watch others glean from the experiences.”

But being an RA is more than making new friends and planning exciting events. Residents rely on their RA for all kinds of things, from roommate disputes to medical emergencies and more.

“We do go through rigorous training at the beginning of the year,” Robert says. “Being an RA is a serious job as well.”

RAs must be available to help their residents in emergencies, which means they’re always on the clock.

“Anything can happen in a split second,” Robert says. “If something comes up, you need to be able to react. I can be sleeping at one a.m. and someone knocks on my door for a serious situation, whether I’m on call or not. I have to get up and go respond. And sometimes it means not getting to bed until three hours later and having a class at eight a.m.”

As you can imagine, a certain amount of stress comes with being an RA. Knowing you might have to help a fellow student with a serious issue in the middle of the night without warning could be intimidating, but Robert thrives on the unpredictability of the position.

“I become bored with repetitive tasks, but what I like about the RA role is that it affords me the flexibility to experience something new all the time,” Robert says.

As an RA, Robert is uniquely positioned to give advice to incoming students in terms of housing. What makes University Housing so great? Robert has the answers.

”Living in University Housing is a huge way to integrate into college life,” Robert says. ”It provides a lot of different resources that you wouldn’t have outside of Housing. If anything happens, you can literally just go out your room two doors down and knock on the door and get assistance right there. Off campus, that’s not always feasible.”

“[It’s great for] socialization as well. Coming to [a huge] campus like the University of Illinois—you may feel alone at times. But having so many people from different backgrounds and many identities within the hall allows you to grow yourself, build lifelong connections, and expand your professional and social networks.”

University Housing also offers Living-Learning Communities (LLCs), of which Robert’s hall, Weston, houses two. Exploration allows students to explore their interests and abilities and how they translate into academic goals, while LEADS focuses on self-development, communication skills, and becoming leaders. RAs help facilitate the programming for both.

Robert emphasizes that having access to these kinds of opportunities as an incoming student is such a great perk. “Just take advantage of everything that’s given to you,” he says. “You may not like it, but that’s the thing of the college experience—finding out what works for you and what doesn’t work for you.”

And if you have the chance at some point in your college career, Robert says you might want to take advantage of the RA position itself. “I strongly encourage students to apply. It’s a life-changing experience.” 

As a McNair Scholar, Robert plans to pursue doctoral studies, hopefully in higher education. Post-grad studies weren’t always in his plans, but the experiences he’s had at UIUC have prepared him to take that step. “I have always wanted to achieve the highest degree, and now I’ve been put in the place to do that.”

In just a single year, Robert has been promoted to senior resident advisor (SRA) due his outstanding performance as an RA. In addition to continuing to provide support and resources to a large number of residents in his new role, Robert also serves as a leader and coach to nine RAs. 

“It has definitely increased my level of professionalism and leadership,” he says. “I am more confident in my ability to lead, I’m confident in my ability to confront. Since it has increased my leadership and professional development, I’ve started encouraging my staff as well to be the best they can be. My residents as well. I’m increasing positively, and I want others around me to be, too. It has set me up to do good things in the future.”

What does the future hold for Robert? As a McNair Scholar, he’s looking forward to the next stage in his life—graduate school. He’s interested in the Education, Policy, Organization, and Leadership (EPOL) program, and eventually entering both the corporate and academic world. But, Robert acknowledged, plans can change. Just since coming to UIUC, his plans have evolved. He’s open to that; whatever comes next, he’s prepared to thrive.

“All the resources and support that I’ve had since coming here have definitely boosted my self-confidence as well as [shaping] the plan I have for the future. Definitely. Like I said, I’m a futuristic person … I’m glad to be here,” Robert says. “And I’m looking forward to the return on my investment that I’ve put into the world.”