Part mentor, educator and event planner, dons support students living in residence in being happy, healthy and successful.
The majority of those living in residence are first-year students who have left behind a familiar high school routine, lifelong friends and oftentimes, their support system. Although friends and family are a phone call away, many students require a different kind of support while they’re at university.
For the 2,400 residence students who choose to make Brock’s campus their home, this support often comes from residence dons.
“We try to create a sense of community,” said Zach Harrietha, Residence Don in Village Residence Court 6 and a third-year General Science student. “Beyond interacting with students to get to know them on a personal level, dons organize fun social events like board game and movie nights so students can interact with each other outside of an academic environment.”
The Residence Life team is primarily comprised of upper-year undergraduate students in various roles. Head residents each oversee one of eight residences, dons of activities facilitate large-scale social programming, residence education dons support the residence curriculum and residence dons are each responsible for about 40 students within one area or floor of a residence building. Dons often spend their time facilitating meetings, having one-on-one conversations with students and taking turns making the rounds in their communities.
For the past several weeks, Residence Life staff, which includes 10 head residents and 72 dons, have been in intensive training to prepare for their important roles. Although the training isn’t new, the way dons will facilitate programming has changed.
“Most residence systems operate with some sort of programming model, often a wellness wheel. Recently, there has been a shift and some campuses have moved to a curricular approach,” said Residence Life Manager Amanda Ziegler. “Instead of asking dons to plan and organize educational events, we have intentionally developed consistent programming and lessons to focus on three main pillars: independence, resilience and emotional intelligence.”
In addition to sessions facilitated by dons, campus partner workshops will be held to inform students about timely and relevant topics, such as healthy relationships, alcohol use and harm reduction.
A pilot project of the new curriculum model was tested from January to April in four different residence communities.
“It involved a lot of growing and learning how to adjust educational tactics for our target audience,” said Head Resident of DeCew Residence Jenna Freeland, a fourth-year Business Economics student. “It was a really great opportunity to see how the new model could make learning moments intentional.”
After feedback was received and implemented by staff, the new model will be officially launched throughout residence in September.
“It’s been a few years in the making, so it’ll be really neat to see how dons and students respond to it,” said Ziegler. “A set curriculum will allow our staff to focus on facilitating key learning for our students instead of feeling like they need to reinvent the wheel every week. We hope this will provide our students with the best residence experience possible so they can be successful in both their academic and personal lives.”
Brock’s head residents and residence dons will be among hundreds of Brock staff and 600 volunteers who will welcome the 2,400 mostly first-year students to campus on Sunday, Sept. 1 as part of the University’s annual Residence Move-In Day.