The First-Year Experience Through the Eyes of a WUSA

Washington University Student Associates (WUSA) are perhaps the staple of the WashU first-year experience. WUSAs are sophomore students that visit first-year floors each week during “WUSA hours,” bringing activities, snacks, and a sense of community to the floor. WUSAs serve as academic and personal resources for first-year students throughout their entire first year. WUSAs are also present at both residential community events and events sponsored by the First Year Center, interacting with students outside of their weekly visits. WUSAs co-program events with faculty members, Resident Advisors (RA), and other WUSAs to provide their first-year floors with a variety of activities and events.

To better understand the function of a WUSA and their role in the first-year experience, I will walk you through a typical week in my work as a WUSA for Lien, a first-year residence hall in the Brookings Residential College:

Day 1: Monday

My COSA (Co-WUSA) and I grab breakfast to discuss the events we hope to provide to our floor for the week. Looking at the WashU master calendar, we notice that there are Calculus and Chemistry exams this week that many of our residents may be taking. We decide to host an “Exam Slam” event where residents can come take a swing at a piñata during a study break. We also make a reservation for the two of us and six of our students at Ibby’s, WashU’s on-campus restaurant. Ibby’s dinners occur monthly so that my COSA and I can get to know our residents outside of WUSA hours and events.

Later in the day my COSA and I send messages in our floor group chat encouraging our students during exam week and informing them of our “Exam Slam” event.

In the evening, the entire team of WUSAs from each floor in Lien meets for a team debrief. We share the details of our planned program with the other Lien WUSAs, inspiring them to host study-break events as well.

Day 2: Tuesday

One of the residents on my WUSA floor invites me to grab coffee with her after class and chat. She tells me that her academic interests have changed and she seeks my advice on switching classes. I help her switch classes on WashU’s online registration website and connect her with other first-year students that I know in her new classes so she can catch up on any missed material.

Later that evening my COSA and I take a trip to Walmart to purchase supplies for the Exam Slam program. We learn that you can buy an official piñata stick! We load our shopping cart with piñatas and candy and submit our reimbursement receipt to the First Year Center.

Day 3: Wednesday

My COSA and I meet with six of our residents for dinner at Ibby’s. We laugh and talk about our first-year experiences and how they differ from our high schools. We enjoy a delicious meal of ribs and salad and I encourage my residents to try bananas foster for dessert—an Ibby’s delicacy.

Day 4: Thursday

The day of WUSA hours has arrived! My COSA and I arrive on the floor ten minutes prior to the start of WUSA hours to stuff the piñatas and hang them from the common room ceiling. We turn up the music on our speaker and inform residents that the event has begun. The common room quickly fills with floormates, cheering each other on as they each take a swing at the piñata. One of the first-year football players takes the final swing and the piñata bursts open with candy flying all over the floor. Residents rush to the candy, cheering and laughing. Most residents stay for the remainder of WUSA hours, eating candy, talking with one another, and taking a peaceful study break for the day.

Day 5: Friday

WashU’s social programming board hosts a semi-annual concert called WILD, featuring artists from all genres. This semester’s concert featured rapper Lil Dicky. The whole campus comes out to Brookings Quad for the occasion and my WUSA floor was no exception. During the concert, I spot my residents and immediately go over to greet them. We dance to the music for a few minutes and I wish them a good weekend.

Being a WUSA has allowed me to impact the first-year experience of my residents in a multitude of ways. As a WUSA, I am always ready to assist my residents in any way they may need—even if it is just a smile and friendly wave when we pass on campus. My priority is to create a first-year experience for my residents that is equally impactful as the one my WUSAs created for me.