When Casey Wall talks about her role as assistant dean and director of residential services at WPI, her description isn’t one most people use when they describe reasons they like what they do.
“Residential life and student affairs is a lifestyle, not just a job,” she says. “You are just thinking about things 24/7.”
Wall, who has been at WPI since 2014, recently was named one of Worcester Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 recipients after being nominated by Bonnie Walker, WPI’s former executive director of diversity & inclusion strategy. “I appreciate very much that she nominated me, and I was touched by what she wrote,” says Wall, who worked closely with Walker on many diversity, equity, and inclusion campus initiatives. “I had no idea she did that, and it was awesome to find out I was even a finalist from over 200 submissions.”
Residential Services – An Early Passion
Her entire career has been in the area of residential life, although her roles and responsibilities have changed quite a bit. In fact, she discovered her passion for res life before she graduated from college. As an undergrad at American International College (AIC), she was a residential advisor and also worked in the res life office, finding the pace and the tasks a combination of what she liked to do and what she was good at.
After covering the office while the director was on vacation one week, she knew her career path had begun. For someone so detail-minded, organized, and energetic, residential life offered the ideal objective. She could directly impact her community by planning for better outcomes. “When the director came back,” I asked, ‘How do I do this as a job?'"
Her recent recognition highlights the significant impact she has on WPI and the larger community—and all the ways she makes a difference. “Part of the job is dynamic and relentless, but it is always something different,” she says. “And at the core of it is always the student experience.”
Wall takes the student experience to heart, especially as to how WPI can have a lasting impact on students long after they graduate. “I think about how I can provide students with opportunities to get them prepared and ready to be leaders,” she says, “to be on their own, to survive without the support of their parents.”
Planning for Years Down the Road
She interacts less with students than when she was first hired as associate director of residential education; she focuses more on the long-term planning (including a 10-year capital plan) and making decisions now that will impact students who have not yet arrived on campus. “I always think of how anything we do impacts students,” she says.
Wall believes a real learning opportunity comes with each year a student spends at this university, and the university has an active role in providing the structure to present intentional learning with a purpose.
When she arrived at WPI, she was tasked with developing an initial residential curriculum that honed in on that kind of intentional learning, and she has enjoyed watching it change. Current variations include giving residential advisors a more on-on-one responsibility with students. “We might hear about students staying alone in their rooms a lot,” she says. “This change makes it easier, more natural, for the RA to check in on them.”
Each step in res life is analyzed because of its potential impact. “We talk a lot about the negatives, the positives, and the consequences of anything we do,” says Wall. She says team members always think about their approach—they do not continue to do something for the sole reason of “we’ve always done it that way.” Maybe there’s a better way, she says, and they are open to trying something new if it makes their process better.