Grace Ellis didn’t really think about it. She was staying.
When the University of Nebraska–Lincoln announced a transition to remote learning, Ellis knew she could be of service as a resident assistant to students who needed to stay, and she wanted to protect her parents by limiting their exposure.
“The work that I do as an RA is pretty vital to making sure that housing is running smoothly,” said Ellis, a sophomore in secondary education from Waverly, Nebraska. “I knew we were going to have quite a few people stay on campus, especially international students, and I’m actually really proud of UNL for not closing down completely.”
Ellis was also able to maintain her student work hours by moving from the C-stores to a desk assistant position in University Suites.
As a resident and desk assistant, Ellis helped University Housing facilitate the movement of nearly 780 students into suite-style housing, which allows for more social distancing than traditional dorm-style units. She checks students in and out when they move and has been a purveyor of toilet paper, which is still running short in most stores.
“A lot of students who lived in traditional housing didn’t have to deal with that before, so we have some on hand for them,” she said.
Ellis is also in charge of sorting student mail, which she said is the most daunting task because of the precautions needed.
“Whenever we get mail in, it’s masks and gloves to handle all of that, because mail is gross,” she said.
And she serves as a sounding board for the 11 students assigned to her.
“Instead of doing in-person contacts like we normally would, we’re doing virtual check-ins,” she said. “Calling them, Skyping, Zooming, emailing to make sure everything’s going OK and that they have access to everything — that they’re still eating, that they know what times meals are, making sure they know that there is some online social stuff happening.”
Most residents are keeping a good attitude, Ellis said, but she’s there to help if needed.
“I try to keep in mind that we’re all in the same boat,” she said. “Everybody’s trying to figure out everything. And I know there are a lot of people who are frustrated, but we are all going through the same situation.”
Her days look radically different than they did just a few weeks ago, but like everyone else, she’s managing. Ellis said she considers herself an extrovert, so the isolation has been jarring, and studying in her room is something she rarely did before. She’s staying connected with Zoom, phone calls and more — but it’s not something she’s mastered yet.
“Weirdly enough, my sleep schedule is more normal now than it was,” she said. “The transition to online classes hasn’t been as easy. I feel like I repel technology.
“Having a public speaking class online has been interesting, to say the least, but I also have an instructional technology class. The basis of the instructional technology class is that we are learning how to incorporate technology into teaching, and that has been really interesting to get to expand on that a bit in real time.”
Ellis isn’t sure yet how or where she will spend the summer months. Originally, she was enrolled in classes and planned to live off campus with her friend and younger sister, who is a freshman, but those plans are up in the air. What’s certain, though, is that she’ll be back for the fall semester as a resident assistant, ready to help a new group of students make sense of a new normal.
“As an RA, I have made so many connections across campus,” Ellis said. “I am so grateful for my residents. I’ve gotten to see a lot of people really grow and figure out who they are here, and that’s just been something that I really appreciated throughout this year.”