As Student Fellow applicants begin interviews and offers hit students’ inboxes, I wanted to use my personal experience with the program to showcase all the benefits that the job affords. Whenever anyone asks me about the position, their first question is “How hard is it?” By sharing my story, I hope to offer a little insight for all those who wonder about what it is like to be a StuFel. Like most StuFels, I applied to hopefully provide my assigned first-years with a wonderful experience and a warm welcome to Vassar. While some students apply because they loved their StuFel and want to recreate the same experience they had with their fellow group, others apply in hopes of creating a better environment for the next class year
than the one they experienced. All these reasons, and many more, are valid. Vassar’s Student Fellow program is unique because everyone comes in with different backgrounds, passions and experiences. This diversity creates a fulfilling experience, both for incoming students and for StuFels.
Being a Student Fellow is much more than just a job. You are the first person with whom first-years are in contact before they even step onto campus for their first semester. This responsibility carries a lot of weight. I say this because you are instrumental in forming their impression of Vassar. After being here for at least a year, you have adjusted to the school, its environment and college life.
My StuFel experience emphasized the fact that while you already have an opinion of Vassar, first-years do not. It is important to let them formulate their own opinion of the school and all that comes with it. Your job, as the Student Fellow, is to be supportive and create an environment where your fellowees can explain what they love about the school, as well as what they think needs to be changed. Actively listening to your fellowees forms a huge portion of your duties as a StuFel, so you have to be prepared for that.
Another consideration to make about the role of a Student Fellow is that you exist as part of a support system, not as a parent. Sometimes you want to jump in and guide your fellowees in the right direction, and while you can try, first-years are adults and are going to make decisions for themselves. It can be difficult to let people find their own way, especially when you think about your previous experiences and what worked best for you.
In this moment, it is important to remember that your fellowees are going to need to figure some things out for themselves. Tactics that got you through your first year might not be effective for people who function differently from you. This is why creating an open environment where people can share and bounce ideas off each other is of utmost importance; it allows your fellowees to benefit from an array of strategies to solve a given problem.
My favorite part of being a Student Fellow is the fact that I have met so many
first-years. When I applied, I never imagined that I would meet so many other first-years besides my own fellowees. As a StuFel, I have met so many of their friends, as well as other first-years. You can never have enough friendly faces around campus in general, but being a StuFel lends the added bonus of preexisting familiarity with the new faces even before syllabus week.
While the Student Fellow position is an amazing experience, it does come with considerable stress. As part of your responsibilities, you might be forced to make tough decisions. In case of an emergency, Student Fellows are expected to act, not stand idly by like some of us might be accustomed to do. Situations that require quick responses could be when one of your fellowees is sick and they need medical attention or when you go into the bathroom and find someone passed out on the ground. Seeing someone in a state of distress is scary and time sensitive, which adds pressure to daily life as a StuFel. Sometimes you have to make the tough decisions and accept that people might be upset with you afterward, even if you did what you thought was best.
Another part of being a Student Fellowthat I have found particularly rewarding is getting to know other StuFels and House Team members from houses other than the one in which I live. The summer training and other bonding experiences serve an important purpose. These events allow you to meet people you might not have met before on campus. Not only is it great for you to bond with other House Team members and StuFels across campus, it is also a fantastic way to introduce your fellowees to other first-years in different houses.
While being a Student Fellow comes with a lot of responsibility and expectations, it is also incredibly fun. It may seem like a daunting task at first, but everyone adapts in their own way and brings something special to the job. You also are not alone. Your role revolves around collaboration with not only your peers and fellowees, but also with the administration. Juggling all of these different perspectives is challenging, but ultimately rewarding. Truly, the Student Fellow position allows you see Vassar through a different lens.