Over 13,000 students live in residence at UBC, at both the Vancouver and Okanagan campuses. Between the two campuses, we have 17 residence communities – and each year we open a new residence or house to accommodate the growing campus population.
But within UBC Student Housing, our Residence Life teams go way beyond just providing students with a room to study and sleep in. They help make campus home – for first year or grad students, whether from North Vancouver or Sri Lanka. Residence Life builds vibrant communities and provides critical, 24/7 support to students who are at one of the most exciting, but also challenging, periods of their lives.
We met up with Ivan Yastrebov, a Residence Life Manager (RLM) at Orchard Commons, to discuss more about what he does and how the Residence Life team works to support our amazing residence communities.
Ivan has been with Residence Life since 2011, working as a Residence Advisor (RA), Senior RA (SRA), and Residence Coordinator (RC) in Totem Park, Marine Drive, and Place Vanier, respectively. After a year’s hiatus following his graduation with an interdisciplinary degree in visual arts and biology, he returned to Residence Life as an RLM in June 2016.
A highlight of working in Residence Life is watching our residence communities blossom. It’s a great reward to see students arrive from all over the world and go on to make (potentially lifelong) friendships, support each other, and have a great time. – Ivan Yastrebov, Orchard Commons RLM
One of the fundamental ways that Residence Life supports residents is by empowering over 250 student staff (RAs, SRAs, and RCs) to help students transition to life in residence – often their first time living away from home – and to support their ongoing needs throughout their time at UBC.
Ivan explains that Residence life student staff are hired each spring, and then they go through an immersive 10-day training program in August. You can check out some highlights from the 2017 Advisor Orientation Instagram – including a mystery character known as Dr. Y, who may or may not be our very own Ivan Yastrebov….
Advisor Orientation lays the foundation for RAs to successfully respond to the range of situations that can emerge in residence. And it sets them up to successfully help students find friendships and build community. Skills that they learn at this orientation include everything from active listening, assertiveness, team building, peer networking, and a host of other tools for responding to conflict, sexual assault disclosures, and emergency situations.
A really unique aspect of the support that Residence Life provides is that it’s available day and night. Not only do students have access to round-the-clock residence front desks, there are overnight on-duty RAs and RCs – and RLMs are available to students 24/7. If something happens at 2:30 am, there is a whole team ready to step in and help out.
But beyond emergency support, Residence Life also provides a range of programs for residents in the evenings and on the weekends. RAs are encouraged to plan fun community building activities for their floors to meet emergent needs. And there’s also programs like Professor in Residence, Prof Chats, Grad Outings, and Nurse in Residence, among many others.
Professor in Residence, for example, is a flagship program that is designed to bridge the gap between classroom and living room. In other words, it exists to help students connect with professors and their peers in a more casual atmosphere, where the professor is there to help lead students in discussion instead of delivering a lecture. Dr. Michael Griffin, a Philosophy professor, has led this program for several years, and last year Drs. Celina Berg (Computer Science) and Jay Wickenden (Chemistry) were added to the roster. This program is a prime example of the many ways that Residence Life helps get students out of their rooms and into their residence community.
I did my doctorate at the University of Oxford, which features a college system that houses professors, grad students, and undergraduates across all disciplines in the same residences. That was a great opportunity for me to connect with researchers and interesting peers outside my area of academic interest and comfort zone, and I think the Professor in Residence program at UBC has a chance to do the same thing. – Dr. Michael Griffin, Totem Park Professor in Residence
What’s happening in residence now?
“Right now is when our first year residence communities really come together,” says Ivan. “In October, we begin to see residents really starting to find their place and community. It’s the beginnings of that transformation that they’ll go through in their first year at UBC.” Ivan also tells us that they start to recognize which students may need that extra support, whether that’s just extra encouragement to take part in social opportunities or perhaps a referral to a campus resource for more specialized assistance. “We have a lot of layers of support, so we are well set up to recognize warning signs and do our best to connect students to the help they need,” adds Ivan.
Upper Year and Family Housing
Of course, we don’t just have first year students living in residence. We have upper-year undergraduate students, masters and doctoral students, and students who need housing for their young families. Acadia Park, for example, is our family housing community. It’s supported by one Residence Life Manager and a team of Community Assistants who coordinate a full program of activities, including Lego nights for preteens, dance classes, gardening clubs, family hikes, and a Parent-Infant Group that meets weekly to discuss topics like infant sleep or play and development. There sure is a whole lot going on in our residence communities!
Ivan also indicated how important it is for Residence Life to measure its success and look for opportunities for improvement. He explained that each November they circulate a Community Evaluation Survey and ask residents to provide feedback on their experience in residence. Then, later in Term 2, they ask students to complete an external benchmarking survey called Sky Factor.
The results of these surveys provide Residence Life with detailed information about the student experience in residence and help set the path for the year ahead. Similarly, Residence Life staff are trained to regularly take the pulse of their communities through regular community meetings, nightly rounds and informal interactions, and they discuss what’s working and what’s not on a regular basis throughout the year.
“This is really the heart of Residence Life,” says Ivan, “helping students navigate this transformative period of their life and guiding them towards next year’s challenges and opportunities with greater confidence – and maybe even being inspiring them to become an RA!”
The Whole Team
It’s important to note that the work our Residence Life teams do is supported and enhanced by a host of other amazing people across Student Housing.
For example, the Administration teams at both campuses provide fundamental support and assistance to students. Administration staff look after residence applications, room assignments and transfers, meal plan and housing payments, and much more. Plus, they work with and help out students in-person, over the phone, and by email every day.
And our Residence Front Desk staff perform a crucial role. They are key touch points for students and provide 24/7 support. Not only do they process an incredible amount of student mail each year, they help students who have maintenance requests, who want to borrow equipment like pool cues or ping pong paddles, or who are locked out of their room. Truly a team effort!