Tackling challenges of first-year residential life

The area coordinators (ACs) who are in charge of first-year buildings are faced with the greatest challenge of all. They are required to handle every issue that the RCs cannot handle alone. In this respect, ACs Kristie Miller and Shelly Perdomo might qualify as first-year housing goddesses.

This second feature about Amherst’s ACs focuses on these two diligent and dedicated women. Miller is in charge of the freshman dorms (excluding North and South Colleges), and Perdomo is in charge of North and South, as well as upper-class dormitories Pratt and Morrow. Charri Boykin-East, Acting Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life, joins Miller and Perdomo to oversee the residential life of every freshman.

Their task is difficult, to say the least. In addition to working with the RCs, Miller and Perdomo are the liaisons between the Office of Residential Life and the residents in their buildings. They communicate information from the Physical Plant and the Office of Residential Life to the RCs, dealing with issues ranging from workshops that take place in the dorms to storage procedures.

Together, Miller and Perdomo work with a total of 26 resident counselors and approximately 600 students. Without their hard work and ceaseless dedication, RCs and students alike would lack the essential information they need to keep their dorms running smoothly.

Kristie Miller comes down from the frozen North to serve the first-year dorms

Kristie Miller comes down from the frozen North to serve the first-year dorms

Kristie Miller is a recent graduate of Bowdoin College. “I’m undecided about where I want to go in the future. I was 80 percent of the way through being pre-med but I was not positive that it was what I wanted to do,” she said. “[The AC position] seemed like a good [opportunity] to see if it’s something I love and want to pursue or if it’s something I hate and want to find something else.”

Not being an Amherst graduate has not been an obstacle for Miller. “Bowdoin is a similar school, but still different,” she said. While Miller is familiar with the administration of small colleges, she brings new perspectives to the College.

Miller oversees James, Stearns, Valentine and Appleton Halls. The four dorms house a total of nearly 300 freshmen, over two-thirds of the class. “I am the liaison between the RCs in my buildings and [Boykin-East],” she said. “We also get all of the information that Physical Plant wants to get to the students by telling the RCs,” she said.

This communication network works in both directions. “We also get the concerns of the students, who go to their RCs, who come to us. We take [the RCs’] problems to the administration,” she explained.

Resident counselors are extremely appreciative of the exchange of information. Stearns RC Laurel Kilgour ’03 was especially appreciative of Miller. “She’s been great. She’s really good at taking in different points of view and keeping things from being tense when there are disagreements,” she said. “I think being an AC could be a really hard position to be in between the administration and the RCs. She’s doing really, really well.”

Miller also serves as an assistant health educator. She works in the health services with Director of Health Education Denise McGoldrick and Assistant Director of Health Education Gretchen Krull. “I work with the Peer Advocates of Sexual Respect and the Student Health Educators. I train them and help organize programs and events,” she explained. “It’s great to work with them as an AC since a lot of their messages are filtered through the residential life staff to get to the students.”

Miller helps organize “health education awareness and different group workshops like sex and chocolate workshops, orgasm workshops and the Monday night health sessions,” she told The Student.

Health education and residential life are very closely related. “In addition to dealing with dorm damage, I will check different resources on campus to see which one would be the best in any individual student case,” Miller said. “Basically, ACs troubleshoot. Any kind of issues that come up, basically any and everything that could possibly come through a college, comes through us.”

Shelly Perdomo brings flair, enthusiasm and balance to Amherst

Shelly Perdomo brings flair, enthusiasm and balance to Amherst

Although Shelly Perdomo is not a graduate of the College, she certainly is familiar with the area. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College and currently is a graduate student in the School of Education at UMass, where she is studying higher education administration. It was in a graduate studies class that Perdomo fell upon the advertisement for her current position.

“For one class, I was told to go to The Chronicle of Higher Education and to look for a post-graduate job that I thought I’d like and which I would be qualified to apply for,” she said. “When I was looking, I found an advertisement for the area coordinator position,” she explained.

Perdomo had no idea how the application process would proceed, or if she would even be considered for the job, but she promptly received an interview opportunity. “I enjoyed the interview with [Boykin-East] and Vanessa Olivier [’01] so much that I left my full-time position as the assistant director of the multicultural office at UMass and took the position here,” she said. “I loved what I did at UMass but I thought the job here would be a wonderful way to diversify my résumé and my experience as well,” she explained.

This is Perdomo’s first experience working in residential life. “Residential life is a challenging job. Situations and concerns come up that you would never expect. I get to apply various skills that I have and I learn from students at the same time. The job forces me to think outside the box in certain situations,” Perdomo said. “It is definitely time consuming, but it is very rewarding. I am definitely enjoying the position.”

Althouh Perdomo is new to her field, she is extremely successful. “I find [Perdomo] really helpful. She helps me to balance my ideas and problems. She is a final resource and a final point of authority on issues in my dorm,” said Pratt RC Maura Klugman ’05. “She also helps to tie together what everyone on staff is doing, and she helps bring us together as RCs on staff.”

Perdomo might be the AC in charge of the substance-free dormitories, but being responsible for buildings where there is generally less partying does not make her job any easier. “Each AC faces different experiences,” she said.

“First-year RCs generally are more concerned about their residents abusing alcohol than the RCs in the social dorms, where students have already experienced college. Overall, though, the interaction I have with my RCs is the same as the other ACs with their RCs,” she added.

Like the other area coordinators, Perdomo has numerous responsibilities outside of residential life. She is still working as a research assistant at UMass at the School of Education. She also joins Olivier to work as a co-diversity educator. In addition, she is a special assistant in the Career Center. “I help categorize summer internships, job banks and the Amherst College Notes,” she said.

“I meet with students about internships, and I go over their cover letters and résumés. I also am the dorm liaison, so to speak, because I do dorm presentations. I am also working on a database for internships and fellowship opportunities for students of color,” she added.

Clearly, Perdomo is a very busy individual. “Balancing life is very important. Sometimes not everything can get done. It is important for me to take things one step at a time and to take time out for myself. It keeps me going and rejuvenates me,” said Perdomo. “It is great for me to be at both institutions. I can see the similarities and differences and how leadership plays itself out at different levels.”

Just last weekend, Perdomo was recognized for her outstanding achievements at the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) conference. NASPA is one of the biggest organizations for professionals in the department of student affairs. “I received the outstanding graduate student award for the state of Massachusetts,” Perdomo explained. “It was definitely a blessing to be recognized at that level for the work I have done in my field. I had a big Kool-Aid smile on the whole time,” she said.

An AC does not have an easy job. However, Perdomo’s co-workers make it much easier. “Working with Vanessa, Todd and Kristie has been exceptional. We all have different personalities but we balance each other out. We communicate well and we respect each other,” she said. “They are absolutely wonderful colleagues. I wouldn’t change them for the world.”