Activities Officer

Sophie McDermott

Activities Officer

Soph's Trip to the Windy City (and the Hawkeye State)

Back in October I got the exciting opportunity to visit Chicago with the University Accomodation Service. And wow, what an experience! 

Myself, Sharon and Christine were off on a trip to look at Residences Life models, and how we can bring this back to Newcastle to really support our students while in halls. 

After a long flight out to Chicago, leaving Newcastle at 5am, we arrived at our hotel in time for dinner. Typically, we hadn't planned ahead to where we may to eat so queue wandering around this capital city looking for a bite to eat for a few hours. 

Our first stop was actually Iowa University, so it was back on an early flight and off to the Hawkeye State for the night. We were looked after wonderfully and all I can say is that the food, was incredible! They basically had Fat Hippo in their dinning room! They also had awesome Nike merch which was cool. 

It was back it Illinois the next day to visit DeKalb, Nothern Illinois. This was a more undertstated University, in terms of the ones we were visiting on this trip but still had a lot to show us and talk about! 

Next was Northwestern, a very, very beautiful campus. Imagine your first year accomodation block having a multimillion pound view of Lake Michigan. Uh huh. We saw so much and this was really when we started to get to grips with what residences life was and what we could offer here at Newcastle University. 

Now, we couldn't go all the way to Chicago without seeing some sports! Friday night was off to the Bulls game, which I was a massive fan of! We spent the weekend writing up notes, being tourists and eating aaalll the food in the city, deep dish pizza - wow! 

Next, was Lake Forest, which was a smaller instiution but just as beautiful and informative. 

Our last day was a visit to Loyola which was much more city based and had a beautiful glass library - time to update the Robbo perhaps?? 

We flew back after 10 days of hectic, informative, fun travels. I was very sad to leave mostly because it's far less acceptable to eact mac'n'cheese for breakfast here in the Uk!! 

I saw so much, but here is a brief summary of what I recommended to the accomodation team as they set about planning their new Res Life Programme! 

Positives (in the eyes of a student)

? A lot of clear direction on where to go should a problem arise. This is probably the most important. As we see an increase in the prevalence of mental health being reported, it is vital that when in their own home, students know where to go. The idea of having a Residential Assistant who lives close to you, is close in age, and is trained to ‘triage’ any problems is fantastic. In addition, the 24 hour approach is good. 

? Practically – having some kind of ‘debit card’ on your student card at outlets. 

? Leading on from this, the online reporting system, and the reporting flowcharts demonstrated a clear pathway for all issues which is easily accessible, even to students. In my eyes Northern Illinois University had a very good reporting website. 

? The number of events blew me away. While I will recommend that use of the Students’ Union and their events would be a good way to lessen the workload and also engage students with the rest of campus, smaller events, such as the traditions we say in Lake Forest, one RA having to have one tradition a week/month is lovely! 

? Students are employed! This is a big thing, as all of the departments in some way had student employees, whether in the traditional sense i.e. on the front desk, working in maintenance, cleaning etc., but also in the RA role with a stipend and I think this is really good! 

? Massive amount of support on offer. 

? Residences Curriculum – All on board! I think that while initially I thought this was going to be quite patronising, it was actually quite a good way to teach students about the world in a nice way. I particularly loved the pillars at NIU – relationships, inclusivity, responsibility, academic success, healthy living. Everything student facing should be educational.

? ‘Restorative Justice’ is great. Working with student conduct on this one will be great.

? Having a pantry/clothing area for students who perhaps can’t afford it. 

? While I think it’s great to have faculty ties this is not the same as an LLC (see below). 

Overall, I think this is the right direction to move in, I think having a universal undergraduate is important and the biggest challenge will be reaching the point where every hall gets the exact same experience – and this is a signature experience. Students will feel safe, supported and successful. 

Probably not a great idea (in the eyes of a student)

? LLC’s (Living Learning Communities), this is too segregated. I don’t think I need to go into much detail here but simply putting people in groups based on either their course/identity doesn’t sit right with me. Even the broader LLC’s (which weren’t called that) seemed to either be irrelevant or not really worth it in my eyes. 

? The ‘all you care to eat’ model, no matter what they do with trays, seems problematic to me and others I have spoken to. While more choice would be great in terms of food variety (although practically, can we do an Iowa style, we would only have one dining hall until Castle Leazes is potentially redesigned and would this be for students not living there, e.g. I live in Park View but play sport so can I buy a meal plan?), I don’t think ‘all you care to eat’ is going to push a healthy lifestyle no matter what food education sits alongside it (which I did like). 

? The big commitment to the RA life might put people off and the difference in culture, so that students actually understand and want to apply, will be hard to overcome (but I’m not against it, I just think from a student point of view a lot of work will have to go into making them realise what it is and the benefits). 

 

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