Leadership Skills Honed as RA, Which Also Takes “Heart, Brains, and Courage”

December 09, 2013

Luke Perreault ’15 is majoring in biomedical engineering, with a concentration in biomaterials and tissue engineering. A resident advisor (RA) in Riley Hall, he’s also a member of the Biomedical Engineering Society and Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society, and he volunteers in Professor Glenn Gaudette’s lab group at Gateway Park. Like every WPI student, Luke completed an Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP). His was at the London Transport Museum (LTM), where his team collected and assembled information on the engineering history of the London Underground and other aspects of London public transportation. Using that information, the WPI students helped the LTM develop lessons and activities about transport engineering for school groups visiting the museum.

Luke knows how to take advantage of the balanced life and education WPI offers, noting, “When all the science and engineering starts to drive me crazy, I’m trumpet section leader for the WPI Concert Band and events coordinator for the WPI Jazz Group—I also play in the WPI Stage Band.”


“Your job as an RA is a lot like living on your own: you decorate your place, you call the right people if there’s an emergency or something breaks, and you look out for people living with you. Your RA life is your home life. Not a bad gig, right? Sure, there are staff meetings, some paperwork, and hall programming responsibilities to think about, but it’s all about prioritizing. I keep a schedule, and if it looks like I’m going to have a conflict or won’t be able to meet a deadline, I address it ahead of time. Work smart, not hard. I live in Riley Hall, on the second floor, with my awesome co-RA Angela, and legions of freshmen.


“An RA, still a dear friend of mine, encouraged me to take the job. When I was a freshman I was painfully shy; I was much, much happier hiding out in the library than I was in a big group. I was very close to several of this RA’s residents and when she got to know me, she thought I had potential. I suppose that’s what inspired me; I wanted to be someone like that, someone who could be so encouraging to people. I figured it couldn’t hurt to apply, see what happens, you know? Two years later, here I am.

“Living with my residents is the most inspiring part of the job. I’m an RA for a freshman residence hall, so my job has the added responsibilities of assisting in Insight, the orientation program to help freshmen acclimate to college life. As an RA, you get so much out of that experience; you’re guiding your residents through their first WPI terms, watching them adjust and get involved on campus, and just getting to know them. You’re in a position to really help someone through a major transitional period in his or her life. That’s empowering and very, very gratifying.”


“I really try to encourage my residents to live with consideration for others. We live in a big community – over 50 people live on my floor. With that many people, you need to live with respect for others, or its pandemonium. But there’s a bigger picture to that; support and compassion for each other can make all the difference living away from home. It’s something I stress to my Insight group, because I want them to appreciate how good it is to have a “family” away from your family. And I really hope they see each other as family, because I certainly do.”


“This job definitely helps prepare for the future. Any career you get into is going to involve working with people and, as you advance in your profession, an element of leadership in one way or another. Being an RA is awesome training for that—you have to work closely with members of your building staff to manage your res hall, and you’re in a significant leadership role on your floor, monitoring the well-being of your residents. You learn the responsibilities of a leadership role through doing that; for example, your residents look to you to see how to act, and leading by example is something the RA program really stresses.”


“Living on campus gives you access to a lot of amenities. You’re living within a close distance to all your academics, activities, and public transportation. Most of Worcester is still just a walk down the street or a bus ride away. But beyond that, you have access to Residential Services and the RAs: we’re here to help you if something in your room or apartment breaks, if you need assistance in an emergency, or need help mediating a conflict with a roommate. College life can be tough; our job is to make it easier.

“I’d definitely encourage anyone considering the job to apply. You learn to love the RA staff like family, and you count on them for support and friendship. And you develop relationships with your residents, who count on you for help and encouragement.

“Jobs that thrust you into student leadership roles, like being a resident advisor or community advisor, have a unique way of pushing you, ever so gently, into finding strengths you didn’t know you had. There are a lot of challenges associated with the RA role, conflicts you’ll face, and somehow you get through them. And you’re a better person because of it.”