In August, the Division of Student Life (DSL) and Residential Life and Dining welcomed five new staff members who serve in the newly created Area Director (AD) position. After a two-day interview process in July that involved meeting with Housemasters, students and Residential Life and Dining staff, the top Area Director candidates were chosen, joining the House Teams in Burton Conner, McCormick Hall, Maseeh Hall, New House, Next House and Simmons Hall.
“The Area Directors will complement and enhance the many services already offered in the residence halls,” said Christina Davis, director of residential life programs (RLP). “The Area Directors are all trained and have a variety of experiences in facilitating educational and social programming, advising students in crisis, building community and providing overall support to students.”
The ADs are professional staff members who live in and serve as active members of an individual House, living and working alongside the residents to help cultivate a strong sense of community for all. Working collaboratively with the House Team and students under the direction and guidance of the Housemaster, the AD is responsible for strengthening the network of support for students; helping the Housemasters, GRTs and students in their roles as community leaders; fostering a diverse and welcoming environment by encouraging the highest standards of citizenship and respect for others; facilitating the resolution of group and individual conflicts; and upholding expectations for conduct aligned with MIT policies and practices. The ADs provide guidance and support to individuals and groups around personal and social issues, with the goal of promoting personal and academic success. They’re also there to help students understand and navigate the many support resources at the Institute.
As another member of the residence hall House Team, the ADs help Housemasters with administrative tasks so that they have more time to focus on advising and counseling students.
“Housemasters and GRTs have day jobs on campus that keep us very busy during business hours,” said John Essigmann, Simmons Housemaster and professor of biological engineering. “The AD has been invaluable to us, because he is available during the day to the students of Simmons. There are many offices and folks on campus who are only accessible during business hours, so our AD is increasingly becoming the “go-to guy” to make sure that student issues are addressed quickly and smoothly and nothing falls through the cracks.”
Linda Seymour ‘14 of Next House said that “as a house that formerly had an RLA, the transition to an AD has been smooth and a great improvement on the previous program because now we have someone dedicated to Next House, instead of someone being torn between several roles. Our AD, Laurel, has helped us revamp existing programs, such as Residential Based Advising (RBA), and fostered our development of new events within the dorm.”
By expanding the support resources in the residence halls, MIT hopes to provide a better overall experience for students living on campus.
MEET THE ADs
Michelle Lessly — Burton Conner
Michelle Lessly served as a Residential Life Associate (RLA) for eleven months at MIT before assuming the new Area Director role. Prior to MIT, Michelle served for three years as the Assistant Director of Residence Life at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. During her tenure at Pepperdine, she focused on student leadership, the sophomore experience program, and alcohol and other drug issues. She also created and served as an adjunct faculty member for a First-Year seminar based on transition issues and student success. Before living in Southern California, Michelle worked at her alma matter, Abilene Christian University, as a resident director. Michelle earned a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Text with a minor in English and a Masters of Education in Higher Education with an Emphasis in Student Affairs from Abilene Christian University. She is a self-proclaimed movie aficionado, enjoys supporting the local arts, and loves cooking.
Lauren Piontkoski — McCormick Hall
Lauren Piontkoski came to MIT in July from Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., where she served as a residence director for two years. In this role, Piontkoski managed a seven-building complex that housed 510 first-year students, recruited, trained and supervised 22 resident assistants, participated on a campus-wide duty rotation, counseled students, taught a first-year seminar course, and assured maintenance of custodial and facilities concerns. Piontkoski earned a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Suffolk University and a Master of Science in College Student Development and Counseling from Northeastern University. In her personal time, Piontkoski enjoys running, kayaking and walking around Boston to discover hidden historical treasures.
Rebecca "Becky" Kjaerbye — Maseeh Hall
Becky Kjaerbye served as an RLA at MIT for two years before starting her new role as an area director. Kjaerbye hails from Long Island, N.Y., and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Franklin Pierce University and a master’s in post secondary education from Salisbury University. She enjoys watching the latest movies and traveling to the Caribbean, while also spending time with MIT students at meetings, late-night chats, during study breaks or while hosting froyo events in her apartment.
James Reed — New House
James Reed comes to MIT with student life and residence life experience at Harvard, Brown University and Boston College. Reed has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University in psychology and Africana studies, a Master of Social Work degree with an emphasis on clinical mental health from Boston College, and a Master of Education degree that focuses on higher education administration from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Reed enjoys reading (fiction and non-fiction), writing, keeping up with pop culture and current events, exploring the Boston/Cambridge area, and reconnecting with friends and colleagues in the area.
Laurel Dreher — Next House
Laurel Dreher joins the MIT Area Director team after spending the last three years working as the Coordinator of Residence Education (CORE) at Roger Williams University in Bristol, R.I. Dreher completed her graduate work at The University of Vermont where she held an assistantship in Campus Programs, while also serving as a resident scholar for the VT Gamma Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity. Laurel earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ithaca College (with minors in Spanish and English). In her free time, Laurel enjoys painting, crafting, photography, and discovering fun adventures.
Joshua Gonzalez — Simmons Hall
Joshua Gonzalez is originally from Bridgeport, Conn., but spent the last two years in Chicago where he served as a residence education coordinator for the University Center of Chicago. Gonzalez earned a Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Studies from the University of Connecticut, as well as a Master of Education in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration from The University of Vermont. In his spare time, Gonzalez enjoys being active in football, baseball, basketball and running.
These six professionals have already started forming strong relationships with the students and House Teams within their communities and said they are looking forward to the creative and exciting new programs that are going to come out of these collaborative partnerships.
To learn more about or to contact the Area Directors, visit the Residential Life & Dining website.
Photos: Jessica Bolandrina