Fourth-year Alec Douglas enjoys a chilly winter beach earlier this year. Photo by Alec Douglas.

Alec Douglas is a fourth-year mechanical engineering student, who, when you can’t find him playing disc golf or four-square, works as a second floor Resident Assistant (RA) in Somerset Hall. Offering up a lens into how to stay involved, happy and healthy during an otherwise stressful beginning to a new semester during the COVID-19 pandemic, Douglas has stayed grounded and optimistic. 

On Tuesday, Aug. 18, Douglas began his third year as an RA, a little apprehensive before seeing the reality of the University of Maine’s campus life. 

“Coming back from a small town to a place where people are congregating, obviously, I was a little worried,” Douglas said. “The longer we’ve been here, the more I’ve relaxed. The big concern for those living on campus was the number of cases on campus, and surprisingly, they’ve been really low so far … I’ve been talking to my residents, and everyone wants to be here, so they’re going to follow the rules. It’s my senior year, too, so I want to see good things happen.”

Douglas’ move-in process was smooth and regular, though there were rules such as maintaining social distancing, mask wearing and allowing no more than two guests to help students move in. The next day, he began training for the upcoming first-year student move-in week by attending Zoom lectures, and working in safe, in-person small groups.

Now, with roughly two weeks under his belt, Douglas conveyed how social distancing has changed the way students interact, highlighting his residents’ commitment to empathy and respect. 

“For the most part, it’s the rule of, ‘if you have your door open, you have to have your face mask on.’ Obviously, because it’s so hard to make friends during this time, we had to talk to a lot of people about remembering to keep them on,” Douglas said. “Four people to a room is another new rule — if you’re in a standard double-room, you’re only supposed to have four people, and while they’re in there, everyone is supposed to have face masks on, even if it’s your room with two other guests.”

In addition, bathroom and common room policies have changed to allow for the best social distancing and safety possible in these spaces. Douglas has found that his residents show great empathy and respect toward each other regardless of any strain on emotional well-being. 

Aware of these missed critical connections students have during their first year of college, Douglas noted that there will be considerably more programming than in years past in order for residents to meet their neighbors, make friends and develop relationships which will holistically support their unusual beginning to their university education. 

“It’s so much harder for people to meet people now, but we’re trying to counter that through doing more programs. Some are outside — today we just had a campus trail walk that a few people came to that one of my other RA’s put on. We’ll have newlywed games, most likely in the common room, appropriately spaced out. I’m looking at doing a lot of Zoom programs — on an average week, we’re doing three to four programs, which is nice, because it’s helping people meet people,” Douglas said.

For those interested in becoming more involved in residential affairs, or possibly working as an RA in the semesters to come, Douglas offered advice on how to work with others and maintain one’s cool while taking the time and care being an RA requires. 

“I’ve been doing it for so long, I don’t think it really takes much — just someone who really wants to be an RA because the position is so diverse,” Douglas said. “Teamwork is a really big thing since you’re working with seven other people besides yourself. Communication is key, too. You want to make sure that you’re communicating with your residents, staff, supervisor — you need to be comfortable enough to [work through uncomfortable situations].” 

In the following weeks, Douglas will work toward meeting all his residents by holding Zoom meetings and hall events, while also looking forward to the announcement of his prospective capstone project, which is to work on 3D printing air filters for classrooms to create a safer environment to learn.