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Living where you work; working where you live: For BSU Resident Assistants, life in the dorms is both school and a job

Monte Draper / Bemidji Pioneer As a resident assistant, Bemidji State University senior Kaity Lyons will mark her third year assisting Honors students living in Tamarack Hall on the BSU campus.

BEMIDJI -- Today marks move-in day for Bemidji State University, when hundreds of students begin settling into their dorm rooms.

For some students, though, they've been planning and prepping for this day for weeks.

More than 100 BSU students are serving this year as RAs (resident assistants) or PAAs (peer academic assistants), working to help fellow students succeed socially and academically while living on campus.

"We train them really well, but the one thing we can't train is a positive attitude," said Nathan Meints, residence hall director, on what staff looks for in a successful RA. It varies each year, but this year, about one of every two applicants were hired for the positions.

Meints said Kaity Lyons is a great example of a successful hire.

"You can tell she loves it," he said of Lyons, who this year is serving as RA to the 12th floor of Tamarack Hall and helping with the 11th floor.

Lyons is a senior from Hutchinson, Minn., majoring in English with a double concentration in humanities and language, minoring in Spanish. She is entering her third year in a leadership position through Residential Life, having served as a PAA her sophomore year and an RA last year.

An admitted introvert, Lyons said she entered college as an Honors student assigned to the Honors housing program in Tamarack Hall and she never really thought about serving as an RA until a faculty member's suggestion.

She did, and she was hired. She served that next year as a PAA alongside David Teeples, her "co-PAA" to 40-some Honors students, mostly freshmen, living on the 11th floor of Tamarack.

"(PAAs) make sure people are doing what they're supposed to be doing academically," she said. "I really liked being a PAA. I really liked helping people."

The next year, she became an RA, again working with honors students at Tamarack.

"One of my favorite parts (of the job) is building relationships with the students," Lyons said. "I really enjoy getting to know and connecting with the students."

The hard part, she said, is not necessarily dealing with the incidents that arise, but with the fatigue that comes with being at work all the time

"You live where you work," she said, noting that even running an errand at Target can be difficult as she runs into residents who want to discuss an issue or simply visit about their campus experiences.

One of the benefits of serving as a PAA versus an RA is that you're not working all the time,, Lyons noted.

Both positions are, of course, compensated. RAs have their room and board covered while PAAs have just their room charges covered. Both also receive nominal stipends.

When asked if she's had easier experiences serving as an RA/PAA to Honors students instead of typical college freshmen, Lyons, describing herself as a bit of a "nerd," said those students go through their own growing pains their first year of college.

Typically, high-performing high schoolers, they often enter the university setting unaccustomed to having to study or ask for help, she said. They, too, can be hard to draw out of their shells and get involved on campus.

"This is a good place to be," she said of dormitory living, especially in early years of college. "We take care of you."

Her Residential Life experiences also opened other opportunities for Lyons: She will serve as a teaching assistant for the fourth time this fall.

"I never would have thought I would be in these kind of leadership positions," she said.

As for what comes next, once she graduates in spring, Lyons said she will have a flexible degree providing her plenty of options.

She interned this summer at her hometown newspaper but found out it probably was not the best fit. She is considering public relations, human resources or publishing.

But also hasn't ruled out working professionally in a Residential Life setting.

"It is something I have considered," she said. "I have really enjoyed my experience here."

To follow along with BSU students' move-in activities, search for #BeaverMoveIn on Twitter.

First day of classes

Bemidji State University/Northwest Technical College: Monday

Oak Hills Christian College: Tuesday