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Residence Life: Training students to mentor students

August 9, 2017

By Abdullah Budeir, Intern, Campus Life Communications

Each semester, Residence Life’s student staff help to usher in new and returning Emory students. How do they get ready?

As each semester winds down, Courtnay Oddman, assistant director of Residence Life, and her team prepare to undertake the crucial task of training student staff on how to best provide support for the thousands of new and returning Emory students who will arrive the next semester.

Oddman’s responsibilities include training a small army of more than 200 sophomore advisors (SAs) and resident advisors (RAs), who help to guide new students through the transition to campus living at Emory and support returning students as they navigate their way through college. RAs are juniors and seniors and SAs, as the name suggests, are second-year students. These positions live in the residence halls and serve as mentors, helping hands, shoulders to cry on, and ears to listen to fellow students joys and struggles.

C. Oddman and D. Routzman discussing training manual
Oddman with Damon Routzman, an Emory senior majoring in philosophy and minoring in health. Routzman, in his third year with Residence Life, is a former RA serving now as a community coordinator who supervises six SAs in Alabama Hall.

Oddman, who holds a master’s in education from the University of Maryland, and her team make sure this cadre receives the training they need each semester to do their jobs. Winter and summer training for Residence Life’s student staff covers a range of topics. From role-playing potential scenarios that students may face, to team building and professional development, the training packs in an impressive amount of content.

Learning how to handle situations that arise with students is the heart of the training,said Oddman, adding that students challenges may be as serious as eating disorders and even suicidal thoughts. It's critical for RAs and SAs to quickly assess which issues they can handle and which need to be referred to university staff with more specialized training.

Sessions for RAs and SAs, led by department heads at Emory such as Wanda Collins, assistant vice president and director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), address many of the tough issues that students face.

Oddman and her team, which also includes more than a dozen Emory seniors serving as community coordinators and senior residence advisors who supervise SAs and RAs. The team pours days into planning and organizing their training sessions, ensuring each staff member is prepared to help students deal with the realities of life in college and beyond.

According to Elizabeth Cox, director of residential education and Oddman’s immediate supervisor, RA and SA student staff training is a core activity for Residence Life. “Our student staff are the lifeblood of our residential community,” said Cox. “Courtnay’s leadership and the work of our training committee are essential to making these critical weeks of training successful.” 

Photo credit: Tina Chang, Campus Life Communications