Towers Talk is a WVU podcast featuring Residence Hall Coordinators Angela Delfine-Mechler and Patrick O’Donnell. Each week, the hosts bring you an interview with different members of the WVU community to help you get adjusted to your new campus home!

Want to know more about engagement in the residence halls? Join co-Hosts Angela Delfine-Mechler and Patrick O'Donnell as they interview Associate Director for Residential Learning, Tyler Gailey. Tyler talks about the challenges with connecting to residents during COVID-19, shares words of wisdom for our first year students, and explains what it means to have a residential curriculum in the halls!

Transcription: 

Hi, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Towers Talk. I'm Angela. I’m Patrick. Welcome back to another week. Towers Talk is brought to you by Lyon and Braxton Towers. Towers. You can live anywhere, but when you're here, you're home. All right. So today we're very excited to, bring one of our bosses in to talk to us.

You've heard us mention him a whole bunch of times. If you've listened to our episode, we've made references to in the past today, we have Tyler Gailey. So Tyler is an associate director for Residence Life here at WVU. He oversees all of our residential curriculum, which again, we've mentioned in passing at various times here.

So. Well welcome Tyler. Thanks for joining us. Thanks for having me happy to be here. So, Tyler, first question we have for you is can you tell us just a little more about yourself, where you went to school, where you worked prior, before you came to WVU those kinds of things? Yeah, the hardest question of the day, um, So, you know, going back and forth to undergrad, I did my undergrad.

Yeah. Work at Clemson university received a Bachelor of Science and political science. The reason I bring that up is because like a lot of us, you go into this field. I never thought I would go into it. I was planning to go to law school. That was my journey coming into college. And I really was up until my senior year.

Uh, but during the middle of the L sat, I realized I did it and he wants to do that anymore. And that was a fun experience to have. Um, and so of course I went through that little bit of a senior crisis of thinking about what do I actually want to do with my life now? Um, I always like to share those with our students staff that's in housing, but, uh, I've been called on multiple occasions, more of a unicorn when it comes to our work because I never was an RA.

I was the resident who could not wait to move off campus. Uh, when I lived in the residence halls during my time at Clemson and I was a student leader elsewhere, student government orientation, other student organizations, and, uh, those experiences really, you know, showed me that. That's what I wanted to do.

I wanted to live that somehow. Um, my supervisor and orientation had received his master's degree in higher education and was talking to me about that's a career you can go into. Cause most of us don't come into that, knowing that that's a career. And so that was something I wanted to do. And so I applied.

Yeah. Uh, over winter break and my senior year to humorous South Carolina for grad school, higher education. Got accepted, uh, like, uh, like a lot of schools, they have a big recruitment weekend where you go and meet peers and then have an opportunity to interview for jobs. And when I went to their recruitment weekend, I had a chance to interview for a few different housing positions while I was down there.

Ended up being offered a hall director position as a grad student. Again, having never done housing before, that's not necessarily what I was seeking, but I was interested in a different experience. And so I went that route. And, uh, well, if you can do anything for two years and after that really a move on to something else, you know, that you're interested in.

And, uh, here I am over a decade later, uh, still in housing and, and loving every minute of it. I think you could. Say I drank the Kool-Aid. Uh, after two years of grad school as a whole director, you know, I did a national job search and, uh, was looking for housing because by that time I knew that's what I wanted to do.

Uh, if you ever do a podcast in the future on job searching, I'd be happy to come back. Cause that's a, that's a story. Uh, but when I did that national search. I ultimately decided and had an offer to stay at my current grant or at the grad school. I was at university of South Carolina to work there. And one of the main reasons why I chose to stay was because they were transitioning as a department from a programming model towards a curriculum model.

And in my mind, No, it's something I'd never done before. And I saw that as working for two different departments and I wanted to stay. And so I stayed there for a couple more years as a hall director, full time, and then had an opportunity do to know if you need to head back to my undergrad, Clemson, to work in their department and housing as a hall director did that for a year.

While I was there, the department decided they wanted to move towards a curriculum model. Uh, and so I also, during that time, moved up from a hall director position to an assistant director. And so in that, you know, had the opportunity, whereas South Carolina and curriculum, I was working with the RA staff and helping navigate that for our building.

At Clemson, I was helping navigate that model, uh, with the rest of the hall directors that I was working with. Uh, and then the student staff and residents that I had. And so I was in that position for a handful of years, and then I really, for a variety of reasons, confer and even different experience for myself and yeah.

I had the opportunity, uh, you know, to come interview and, and be a part of the, the West Virginia university residence life team. And, uh, that was a leap of faith for me. You know, I, I didn't know anybody here, not only at the institution, but the state. Uh, so it was a, it was a great experience. And you know, what really drew me here was, you know, the people, the.

Uh, the students and really just the culture that I was used to coming from the institutions that South Carolina. I see a lot of that here. Um, and really the comment, I mean, a position that again, was looking at how do they, they build academic enrichment and engagement with students and here at WVU, that's also through a curriculum.

And so I share this, they say, I don't know how many people in our field right now can say they've worked at three institutions that we're all building curriculum by. They were working there. Uh, but I can, I'm sure I'm not alone in that, but it's always, yeah, my, uh, uh, two truths and a lie type story, I guess, to share out there.

And, uh, and now that I'm at WVU, I'm also pursuing my doctorate in higher education here and not too far from being done with coursework and focusing on dissertation. And, uh, so it's been a great journey so far and you know, really happy to be here, talking with you all today about the model we'll utilize.

Awesome. Thanks so much, Tyler. I we've been working together for almost four years now, and I did not know that you studied poly side. I didn't know about the L sat story. I mean, I just learned a whole bunch. Um, I'm not far behind you. I've been at two institutions while I was there. They help them to transition to new to the curriculum model.

So maybe that's my goal. The next step is to go to a school that's still programming. Patrica Donald the next Tyler Galey I love it. So thanks for that. Again, Tyler. So as everyone knows, we've had a really challenging semester so far. Um, let's just, you know, we're in the middle of a pandemic, so there are some challenges that come with that.

What are some of the greatest challenges that you've seen with programming and connecting with the residents in the halls during COVID-19 you're right. It really has been a year that, you know, no matter how long or how short you've been in higher education, uh, you know, none of us have. Experienced this before.

And so, uh, I know all of us are learning day in and day out, you know, how we can continually adapt, um, you know, coming into this, even backing up before, you know, our hasn't arrived. You know, my mind when we started planning for the fall semester was, you know, I, of course was thinking of a wide, a wide variety of different things, but I really felt.

You know, we would be successful because of the model that we utilize as a department. And there's other reasons why I felt we'd be successful too, because our not all. And I know we'll get into this in a little bit. I mean, our model is really built around the individual residents and the opportunity to.

Uh, create and, and think through a wide variety of different engagement opportunities and strategies to connect to our students. Um, I know you, you mentioned programming and of course program is one of those ways, but even thinking about, uh, the, you know, the different ways that we can do that. And over the last few years, you know, I think we, as a department have continually grown and thinking through different ways that we can make those connections.

Um, starting of course, with the fantastic student staff that we have. And of course the two of you and your peers and colleagues across campus, and, you know, I think one of the, you know, it's definitely something that's not necessarily a shock to any of us. But I think with everything being virtual for so long, and even for a time, every single thing, pretty much at a hundred percent having to be virtual.

I think the challenge of course has been number one, just the fatigue of being virtual. I think the fatigue is there not only for our residents, but it's also there for our staff. Um, I think just the fatigue of COVID, um, and it's not necessarily barely a place to where, you know, we wouldn't have expected that, but it is, it's been a long year and it's hard to believe.

Uh, you know, when it comes to COVID-19, especially in our country, that we haven't even hit the year Mark. And it really has been a lot that's been going on not only in our professional lives or our academic lives, but also in our personal lives, uh, and being really mindful of that too. And I think it's also, you know, looking at for a while out of our students, you know, a lot of their senior year in high school, specifically thinking about students, living in our residence halls, uh, it got disrupted, um, you know, with COVID-19 and a lot of the experiences that I think, you know, a lot of us associate with the senior year in high school didn't necessary. You really get to take place the way that they always did. So there's that sense of loss that some sort of, you know, morning to a certain degree, and then you come to college and it's really exciting life journey that you're on.

And then to a certain degree, we're still in that pathway. You're not as, it's harder to make connections sometimes, uh, with peers, you know, not only just in the building or even another halls, but even sometimes with residents on your own floor, uh, when, you know, when you're potentially in your room and, you know, obviously doing the best you can to take care of yourself.

And so I think all of that has really. Uh, presented a of wide variety of different challenges that all of us are continuing navigating. But I think in that challenge, you know, one of the things that, you know, continually keeps me moving forward, I'm not gonna speak to the two of you, but hopefully the two of you as well is every single day, you know, we're all in this together to try and figure out how we can support one another.

Port our residents moving forward. Um, I would be remiss if I didn't say our students staff have been absolutely amazing this year and will continually be so, uh, they are continue continually thinking of ways to make connections with residents. They're continually thinking of ways to advocate for their residents.

Our residents are sharing with us what they need and, and for us to navigate and think through how we can provide that, whether it's in person or, or not. Um, and I really do feel like we're in this together to support one another and. And hopefully create the best experience we can while also, so providing, you know, a sense of safety to our residents, but also to our staff.

Great. Thank you so much, Tyler. Yeah. It's funny that you mentioned the morning. Part of that. We just did a mid-semester, like checked in for, it was just me and Ann's like, this is like three episodes ago now for our listeners, our loyal listeners. Uh, but a lot of what you said and actually set like exactly that as well.

She talked about. Like mourning the things that we've lost. So it's just this cool. You know, it's been, you know, it's good to hear that. I listen to that podcast right before this one. Oh yes, of course, of course. Copier Thailand. So you, everything for our listeners, everything that happens in the residence halls in some way, shape or form peers on Tyler's desk, like every event that is put on by us or our RAs, our community councils in some way, Tyler gets reported that knows about those events.

So Tyler. The question for you then as what are some of the best like campus or residence hall events that you've seen put on over the last few months? No, no pressure to say anything from Braxton or lion Tower, such a loaded question there, Patrick. I really appreciate that. Ah, You know, to be honest, and this is probably the political scientist to me coming out, uh, you know what I have appreciated and connecting with our RAs, a lot of them on a one on one basis.

And even, you know, uh, part of my work too, is working with our living learning communities. And so having the opportunity to connect with RAs, you know, through those meetings as well. It is, I've heard a lot of different strategies that our staff have been trying to do to, to connect with residents. Um, and I think that's just fantastic for me to hear.

I mean, even this podcast that the two of you are doing right now, uh, you know, people may not think about it. I mean, it is a strategy of information that you're trying to disseminate out there, not only to our residents, but of course, uh, to staff and others across the institution. And I think that's fantastic.

You know, this, this pandemic has really challenged us to think outside the box. Um, outside of the box we've been in, uh, you know, you put on a program, you, you develop whatever it is that you're developing as an idea. And then hopefully you have people come and. You have some type of activity and then it's over.

Um, this is really getting us to think through, okay, if we're not doing much in person or if we are, it's very limited. Um, how can we disseminate information? And, you know, in another year, what we have potentially done a podcast in our department, like the two of you are doing right now, maybe, maybe not, but here's the way that you're, you're trying to work through that.

Uh, you know, we're still thinking through, you know, the use of, you know, emails and newsletters and tabling and all kinds of different strategies. Uh, to really engage. I think the other thing that I've also really appreciated is a lot of our staff have thought through, you know, traditional programs that we've always done in halls.

You know, whether it's, uh, an annual event or, or some other type of forum. That we're rethinking of. Okay. How can we repurpose that maybe in a virtual way, or how can we repurpose that, that it's a small group activity that we replicate a few different times, and that's been really exciting for me to see, because truth be told no matter what happens for the remainder of this fall into the spring.

Um, we're not going to necessarily go back to the way things always because we're, I mean, we're going to continually learn, adapt and have some new ways to deliver. Uh, you know, uh, opportunities to engage for our residents as well as for each other. And so I think all of our staff are really trying to navigate that for themselves.

The last thing I would say, and I always highlight this as a positive, uh, I'm not somebody that gets hung up on numbers, and I know, you know, sometimes it can be really disheartening, you know, for anyone to put something on and you have maybe one person attend or a handful and, you know, you're trying to make the best of it.

What I think, you know, I've seen this year is staff who are like, even excited just to have the opportunity. You need to engage with one or two students at a time because that maybe that for that particular program or for that particular resident, those, uh, you know, you're able to take something away that is either an impact on you or potentially could be a trickle-down effect that you're sharing that, you know, with peers that live on your floor roommates, or, you know, anyone else that may be.

Um, I think, you know, we continue to hear from our residents, they want to engage them. They want to have some in person activities, and we're continually doing our best to, you know, to navigate that, but a great partner for us in residence life this year, I really do believe has been our colleagues in student life and across the institution.

Uh, you know, I, I imagine a lot of your listeners check out the refresh website, but you know, to put that shameless plug in there, of course, uh, I think it's been fantastic. Uh, they brought in a lot of different means and programs to try and engage students with, uh, some people, you know, that are more national, uh, you know, uh, affiliated stars and different things to really come in and engage with our students, which we can do virtually.

Whereas maybe before we wouldn't have had that opportunity, uh, I think has been really great. And I think there's some potential here, no matter what happens in the future, uh, to continually think of ways that we in residence life can partner with other units across campus with their expertise. You know, to come into the hall and help engage with our students as well.

So that was my political way of not naming a single hall center. No, that was good. We couldn't agree more. I think that, um, you didn't get anyone in trouble or make any of us feel really bad for our programs? No, I'm just kidding. Um, but I think definitely you spoke to the creativity that our team of RAs RHCs and.

Student life partners have really pulled together every possible resource could. And, and I think that, um, totally agree. We've, we've come up with some new ideas and I definitely helped some of these stick once the pandemic is over. So thank you for them. So we use this term a lot in residence life. I'm not sure.

I think it's come up a couple of times with Tyler. Uh, can you explain to our listeners what a residential curriculum is and why it makes a residence hall special? Sure. So you know, the best way that I can describe it in a very short, abbreviated way without completely taking over your podcast is. Uh, you know, really the word intentionality and intentional.

And so, you know, when you think about a curriculum, typically that word is associated with academics. It's associated with maybe class or a set of courses, or potentially even a department. And so for us, you know, it's really thinking through an intentional way of how we engage and interact with each of our residents.

And so, you know, I think what really makes us special and, uh, going back to my, uh, journey. You know, in my career, when I was at the university of South Korea, we had one particular meeting that's okay. Our executive director asked us, you know, what separates us? What makes our experience different? And all of us, you know, really struggled with that answer.

Cause again, at the time we didn't quite know what we were getting them to. And what she challenged us to think about is what separates the work that we do versus the work that maybe, uh, you know, our private entity or anyone else could come in and, and kind of try to replicate and what we, what we were able to articulate.

And I believe this to this day is really all of us as people and staff coming together with that common purpose to move forward, uh, on how we want create transformational experiences for our residents. You know, I shared, uh, in my journey that when I was a poly PSI major, you know, I thought I was going to go to old school.

Like a lot of our residents, you know, the two of you maybe had this experience as well. You know, you kind of get single track focused on this is what I know I'm going to do, and I'm gonna do everything in my power to get there. And when I look back on my undergraduate experience, I don't remember a lot of the classes I went through.

I don't remember a lot of the assignments or, or different engagements I had in the classroom, but I still remember, you know, the, the opportunity that I had on different nights to engage with some of my peers on the floor. I lived in a communal style residence hall. So I remember brushing my teeth next to other residents on the floor and the conversations that we were having of the day or an end of the time.

Uh, in all these years later, that still resonates with me and not knowing it at the time. But knowing that now I recognize it. Some of the transformational experiences were taking place even though as a department or as an institution, nothing was really happening to help foster that it was just the environment that I was in.

And so what really separates, what we're trying to do is we're really trying to create what's that intentional pathway that we know those experiences are taking place, but we can really continue to help our residents along on that journey, uh, at that individual basis and that individual level. And so when you really look at residence life as a whole, you typically see a programming type approach, and then you see, you know, the approach that we're in.

And I know I've talked about strategies a few different times. Uh, already, but in a programming model, you're just thinking to yourself, okay, I want to put something on, what is that idea? And then deliver it. And then maybe you come up with something that you want your participants to take away from. Um, what we're trying to do is think about what do we want our participants to gain from an experience.

And then once we know what those are, Then we start thinking about what's the best delivery mechanism to reach that? Is it a program? Is it that traditional thing to where, you know, right now, you know, getting students together and, and go through some type of activity, cause that's going to meet our goal or is it a no, I want to have a, uh, I've really, do you want a one on one basis?

I want to get to know you, I'm going to help. You want to plug resources for you. I want to do a podcast so I can disseminate information out or. I want to have a newsletter, the highlights, a few different things, or I want to, you know, go outside and, and, you know, build the connection and record myself doing a campus tour so that you have, you know, kind of a takeaway for that as you're getting to know campus in a completely different way.

Um, and so what a curriculum allows us to do, uh, is really. Set a prescribed approach as a department that's intentional, that also allows us to really tailor the experience at the end of the Juul. And so every month we have a different theme in residence life. Uh, this month that we're in right now is our major exploration and career exploration, a little bit in that as well.

And so what you're seeing in the halls is really taking that overarching theme and really tailoring that to how we develop our bulletin boards. How do we develop. Um, you know, maybe some of the four meetings we're having or some of the different programs that we're going to try and put on. And what we're trying to do is recognize where, uh, historically our first-year students are every given month, uh, during their first year living on campus and really trying to target some of those particular themes, uh, to help them along in that journey.

You know, what's unique for us compared to some, the rest of fusions is, you know, our students live with us mostly for the first year, and then they move, they move away, you know, they, they moved to university apartments or potentially off campus. Whereas some other institutions, you know, you may stay on campus for more than one year.

Uh, so we get an opportunity to really try a lot of different things that sometimes we don't even know the. The fruit of our labor, uh, until many years later. But, uh, it's a know that you're making a difference and an impact of with our students' lives. Um, you know, really is a, uh, a special thing to be a part of.

Awesome. Thanks Tyler. A whole bunch of things resonate it from that, like the right there at the end, you mentioned that we get students for one year. My undergrad, uh, housing was guaranteed four years. I lived in those halls for three and a half before or two and a half before I was hired to be an RA. Um, you didn't say what your, you know, you gave the political science answer about your favorite program, but you did just mention like a video tapes of campus tours that sounds awfully familiar with doing an event that some Braxton RAs did just saying Hannah ma he did something about that.

So, um, I figured I'd make a shameless blood there. So, and then the last thing I wanted to add before we get back to the questions, um, what you all, just what you described about the curriculum model and the intentionality, um, you know, for our listeners too, you know, Something that you a phrase, you know, uh, like, uh, I don't know what this is exactly, but it's just common, common saying you've heard at some point in your life is, you know, people forget what you wore or what you said to them, but they never forget how they made you feel.

And then that's kind of like, what we have to do is we try to, you know, we want our students to feel like they belong along here that we reach each and every one of them. So. Um, thanks Tyler. That was, that was great. Um, you kind of touched on this, this next question, a lot through all of your different various answers.

So, but if there's. You know, what are some of the goals of the residential curriculum and connecting with residents for like, let's just talk about the rest of the semester, the rest of this year, those kinds of things. Yeah, no, um, you know, I think big picture wise, you know, moving forward is, you know, even though this year is very challenging and it's different than anything we've experienced before, uh, there there's a great and golden opportunity for us as a department to continually look at from a big picture, you know, the 30,000 foot view, um, you know, what's working, what's not working.

Assessing that, um, as we continually build, as we move forward, I think that's gonna be really important for all of us. Um, as we navigate this, you know, you go back to a curriculum, one of the, one of the key, you know, touch of the, the step by step process and developing one is that it's really driven by first and foremost.

Uh, our professional staff or professional staff, our educators. And I believe that our students staff are also educators. And I believe that in my whole heart I, and so an opportunity to learn, not only from our professional staff, but from our students staff of, you know, where are we at? What's working, what's not working as we continually grow and develop our program.

Moving forward, I think is gonna be a, a key takeaway for us, um, for the remainder of the year and even into years to come. Um, but I think as we go, you know, every month we're going to transition into a new theme, we're still gonna, you know, Continually working on ways that we can target that we're actually incorporating those things more and more into the work we do with our outside residence, life partners and stuff.

You know, student life is getting more knowledgeable about what we're doing here in Residence Life with our themes and trying to help us tailor some different programs. We've had some opportunities to work with, uh, the crude center and, uh, well WVU and other campus partners to. To help us along. And some of them, things that we're trying to work towards, uh, you know, we're also looking at ways that, uh, you know, whether the restrictions on how many in person activities we can have in terms of who can group together or not, you know, exists or not in spring, I'm still thinking of ways that we can provide, uh, those connections for our students, because we know, uh, you know, when they come back in January and we'll be excited to have them back on campus that they're going to want.

Still more of these experiences as we, as we navigate it. And so thinking through some of that as well, and then I think, you know, one of the most important things, you know, at least from where I sit moving forward is I, and I say this a lot, you know, Patrick and Angela, you've heard this. If any of your peers listen to this though, they've heard it too.

I believe one of the most important things I can do is. Is provides you the tools for your toolbox to be successful? Like I never, uh, I never want us to, you know, uh, completely, you know, throw a wrench in the cog in the wheel to completely derail us. I want to help. So if there's something that you all need, you know, no matter how big or small that it is, I want to make sure that I'm continually working to meet that.

Because the interesting thing about working in student affairs and student life, Is the further up you go, the less student interaction. Can you get a, which is an interesting concept that I didn't really understand when I first started my career. And so I always seek out opportunities where I can. Um, but I also recognize that the impact that I can have now with our students is also making sure that you, your student staff, you know, your desk staff, whoever else, it may be our student leaders through RHA community council.

Have what they need, because you are delivering to our residents, that transformational experience that I was talking about. So as we move forward is continually about how can I help you be successful? Uh, cause then in the end, all of us are gonna be successful. Very true. Definitely. Great. Thank you, Tyler.

So to wrap us up our final question, do you have one piece of advice or words of wisdom that you would like to share with our first year students here? So one of my favorite TV shows is the office. I could watch that a nonstop, a lot of the repeats, you know, of course, you know, Netflix or, you know, whatever it may be.

Uh, there's this one particular episode, and I've always loved the quote that I'm about to say to you both. But, um, I, now, when I say this quote, I only think at the office, I don't actually think about the, uh, where the quote originated from. And so the quote is. You miss a hundred percent of the shots that you don't take, Wayne Gretzky, and then underneath that, Michael Scott.

Uh, so that's what I always think about. Um, but you know, I've, I've always loved that quote, you know, growing up, uh, you know, I thought to myself, you know, especially when I went to college, uh, that it was an opportunity for me to try a lot of different things. I never had the experience doing, uh, growing up and now the community that I was in under the friend groups that I had.

And so I would say to our first years, No matter what for the remainder of the fall and even until the spring and for the rest of your college career, uh, you know, college is a great opportunity and, and, you know, the university provides so many different avenues, uh, to be engaged, to participate, uh, to learn from peers and, and make some of those connections that maybe otherwise you wouldn't have thought you would make.

So I would say, you know, Take a shot, you know, try something of a that maybe you've never done before, you know, try out, you know, go into, you know, I'll play. If you've never participated in the arts before or go to a musical or, you know, had the opportunity to, you know, go to the rec center or, you know, maybe play on an intramural team in the future.

You know, have that opportunity to join that student organization that you've been thinking. What about, uh, you know, as it goes, because, you know, I feel like when, when I look back at my college career, uh, you know, I had the opportunity to participate in a lot of different things. I had the opportunity to really put myself out there, but I've wanted to do it from a place of that would move back on it and have some regrets of, I wish I would have tried this and even still, you know, for myself, I never studied abroad.

And that was something that I, when I look back on it, I wish I would have done it. You know, that I wish I had that opportunity. I wish I was knowledgeable about what that really entailed, uh, that I could have had that. So I would say for any of our students is thinking about what are maybe some of those experiences for you and, uh, taking that because you never know, you may make some really lifelong connections and friendships, uh, over some of those that you made.

Great. Thank you so much, Tyler. That's great advice. I couldn't agree more. So that's a wrap, everyone. Thank you all so much for joining us this week. And thank you again, Tyler, for your time today. Tune in next week as we interview another member of the WVU community.