New apartments provide refreshing routine for RAs

Santa Cruz Apartments resident assistant Mario Arredondo signs out SpeedPAK moving crates and mallets to new residents during Welcome Week Move-In.

Photos by Ralph Freso

Three years ago, resident assistants came to the rescue of Grand Canyon University incoming freshman Mackenzie Patrick.

“It was absolutely chaos because my car had broken down that morning,” Patrick recalled. “And so we were trying to shove everything over and get to campus as quickly as we could for our move-in time.

“But as soon as I got onto campus, people welcomed me in and helped me unload my car, told me exactly where to go and everything that I needed to know for Welcome Week. It was just such a welcoming community. I knew it was the right place.”

Patrick, a senior prephysical therapy major from San Antonio, is spending her final undergraduate season at the new Copper Apartments, where she and several fellow RAs assisted students and their families with ease.

“This is a good way to get involved because I didn't really have a community my freshman year,” said Bella Diaz, a business marketing and advertising major from Central Washington. “So I really needed God to provide a community where I belonged, or a place where I was welcomed. And I think the RA role was a great way for me to do that.”

Diaz appreciates the opportunity to be part of the RA team in a brand new residence hall after spending previous years at Canyon, the oldest residential facility on campus, and then at Salt River in its second year of occupancy.

“I know it feels like a big privilege and a big responsibility, as well, just to be able to set the tone for kind of what the community is going to look like here and what the environment is going look like. So, yeah, it feels good to be part of the people.”

RAs earn their free rent. They undergo two weeks of training, covering the entire spectrum of their duties to prepare them for the calendar year, said Brittany Diatte, Resident Director at Copper and a former RA.

RAs for the new Copper Apartments (from left) are Bella Diaz, Davis Rey and Mackenzie Patrick.

Some of the duties are tailored for new buildings such as Copper and Santa Cruz.

“During training we did talk a lot about the opportunity we have when opening a new build to create a warm and welcoming environment, hoping to make this building feel like a home,” Diatte said.

A calming presence hovered over the Copper and Santa Cruz apartments on the east side of campus shortly after the first slot of residents were allowed to move in at 6 a.m.

Parents were directed where to park their loaded vehicles, and moving some booths away from the buildings alleviated any congestion. RAs quickly provided wheeled bins, and check-in lines moved briskly thanks to slotted times for residents to move in.

One student wisely placed a slow cooker at the top of her packed bin while headed to one of three elevators at Copper, and a new foosball table was ready for use adjacent to the elevators at Santa Cruz.

Monday was bittersweet for David Whetzel, who drove his son Bryce from Salem, Oregon, for the start of his senior year at Santa Cruz.

“This is a great university,” said David, who had an older son graduate from GCU. “We definitely have the routine figured out of how to off-load and learn little tricks about getting on campus and getting everything set up. I’m really proud of it.

“This Residence Life (team) has been really enthusiastic and welcoming. And each year, I think they just fine-tune little things and get it better and better. We got off-loaded in about 10 minutes.”

Santa Cruz RA Elise Maharaj remembered being nervous and excited when she arrived at GCU from Southern California two years ago but said the dorm experience helped her, and “being an RA has really changed my life.”

“I love that experience of serving and helping my residents, and I just love making people’s days,” Maharaj said.

Santa Cruz Apartments RA Elise Maharaj hands an incoming resident her keycard during Welcome Week Move-In on Monday.

Mario Arredondo, a senior majoring in entrepreneurship studies, admitted the difficulty of leaving his family in Los Angeles to attend GCU. That apprehension, however, quelled thanks to the comfort provided by RAs.

Serving in a predominately upper classmen complex at Santa Cruz presents a different setting for Arredondo after helping freshmen at Canyon Hall the previous two years.

“It's definitely going to be a challenge transitioning from that freshman environment to the classroom environment, but I'm honestly just super excited,” Arredondo said. “This has come very fast.

I've always said if the opportunity presents itself, then I would take it.”

Davis Grey’s older brother served as an RA when he enrolled at GCU and moved into Juniper Hall two years ago, but he didn’t know anyone else at that time.

“The RAs were super friendly, and I told myself I could do this,” said Grey, a hospitality major. “To be able to create that experience for other people is super cool.”

Haidyn Hinz, accompanied by her parents Tracy and Chad and boyfriend Cullen Ackerman, was grateful to be admitted to Santa Cruz after spending her freshman year at Ponderosa.

“It was tough to say goodbye to the RAs there,” Hinz said. “But I feel more like an upperclassman on this side of campus.”

Senior Writer Mark Gonzales can be reached at [email protected].

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