MEDIA, Pa. — Before students move into Penn State Brandywine’s new residence hall in August 2017, a team of campus staff members will have put hundreds of hours into making the building a home. Spearheading that effort is Interim Assistant Director of Residence Life Iris Richardson.
Richardson’s background in residence life management includes experience with programs at Penn State Berks, Schuylkill and University Park; St. Peter’s College in New Jersey; and West Chester University. When Penn State Brandywine and Abington announced plans to open residence halls in 2017, Richardson jumped at the chance to take part in their efforts.
“I did my undergraduate degree at Penn State Berks, and I’m a residence life area coordinator at University Park. I’m also from Philadelphia,” said Richardson. “My supervisor wanted someone on the job who’s had experience with Commonwealth campuses, as well as exposure to University Park.”
Although residence hall construction is still underway, Richardson has been busy preparing for the big day in multiple ways.
“To get Abington and Brandywine’s residence programs up and running will take lots of behind-the-scenes, logistical work,” she said. “That includes hiring all levels of staff, making sure the halls and their contents are ordered and ready, working on staff manuals, and training residence assistants.”
Her favorite aspect of preparing for residence life — training the RAs — is already underway at Brandywine.
“I teach a three-credit leadership class here called Higher Education 302,” she said. “First, the students learn about their strengths and personality traits. Then we talk about the role of an RA. We teach them to wear the hats of a student, a counselor, and a campus resource person effectively. Then we talk about inclusion and diversity, policy enforcement, and dealing with crisis on their level.”
Of the 13 students enrolled in Richardson’s course, six or seven will be selected in May to return as RAs in August.
“We can only hire about half of them for logistical purposes, but all of the students are awesome,” she said. “They all bring something different to the table.”
In addition to training students to be leaders in the residence hall, Richardson meets with other branches of campus life to help each one prepare for a 24-hour student presence on campus. Although she works with multiple departments, she stresses that each one shares the same goal: to make the campus a home for new students.
“Whether students are coming from 10 minutes away, an hour away or across the world, when they step foot on this campus, I want them to feel like Brandywine is their home,” she said. “That’s why it’s so imperative that our staff, from the RAs to the coordinators, comes back in August with that same vision and passion.”