Staff Writer: Madison Mataxas
When up-and-coming graduates think about their future career options, higher education and working with university residence life organizations are often overlooked. That was the case for Ali McGrath, the newest ResLife Area Coordinator at Wingate University. After graduating in 2015 with a degree in Psychology from Framingham State University in Framingham, Massachusett, McGrath began a path that was less linear than that of most grads in student affairs programs. During her time at her undergrad institution, she was very involved with the university’s alternative spring break programs which got her involved in the area’s Habitat for Humanity focusing on development and working with Americorps, which is the National Peace Corps.
“I probably was not well suited for that job, to be totally honest,” McGrath admits. The work that she was doing with Habitat for Humanity was mostly grant writing which, looking back, she feels is now a useful skill to have. “It took a lot of self-motivation and as a post-grad that wasn’t necessarily there for me,” McGrath said.
While this was not exactly the type of job she wanted, her involvement with Americorps brought her to Charlotte during the week-long Buildathon. “I really enjoyed being in Charlotte and when Americorps announced that they were hiring I thought it would be fun to stay in the area because I was really enjoying what I was doing there and didn’t really know what my plans were,” McGrath said. She ended up being at Habitat Charlotte for around 4 years in their home repair program, became an apprentice, and then her work shifted to becoming a volunteer coordinator creating tangible solutions and progress.
While McGrath enjoyed being out in the field for Habitat for Humanity, she knew that it was not something she wanted to do long-term. “For me being out in the field for 30 years didn’t seem like something I wanted to do…it’s fun when you’re in it at 24 but I didn’t want to be 50 and doing this,” McGrath recalls. This made her realize that wanted to look for something to settle down with which made her think about her college experience and who she was coming to in her freshman year versus who she became by the time she graduated through her personality and values developing. “I was somebody who lied about my community service hours in high school and didn’t really think about anyone else and by graduation one of my core values became helping people,” she recalls.
Before going to graduate school, McGrath had about 4 or 5 years to continue to develop her core values and come to terms with who she was and what she wanted to do to help the world become a better place by helping others develop themselves. “These values weren’t developed in a vacuum, they were developed because people invested in me and believed in me,” McGrath said.
These investments led her to the student affairs program at Clemson University as a Graduate Community Director which is a position similar to that of Wingate University’s Residence Directors. McGrath recalls “I felt like the old lady of my program…I felt worldly almost because I had life experiences that a lot of others didn’t have,” because of her more nonlinear path, but she feels thankful for the experience because many people from her grad program that came into it from straight from undergrad have since left student affairs.
Once McGrath left, she knew that she would be searching for more location-bound jobs and ended up back in Charlotte because her partner is an electrician there.
“I’m grateful to be in it because after I graduated, a lot of jobs weren’t actively searching but ResLife was something that was always needing people, you can’t leave it unfilled and hope it goes well,” McGrath said. When choosing where she wanted to be, she weighed small institutions against larger institutions because she had experience with both.
When thinking about her time at a larger institute, “it was so structured and almost political…you couldn’t make waves and it was more impersonal, but here (Wingate University), me and the Dean of Students are on a first-name basis and that was something that I really valued from my undergrad experience,” McGrath said. The sense of community that comes with being at a smaller institution has been impactful for her. “Even in my first couple of months, I had stronger connections than I did at a larger institution because there I had 1,000 plus students so being able to say that I know my students by name and recognize their names on a piece of paper is really important to me,” McGrath said.
She continues that being at Wingate has allowed her to take on other responsibilities outside of being just an Area Coordinator and that there are so many opportunities that she has the chance to be a part of without being turned away because of her position as an AC.
As an Area Coordinator at Wingate University, McGrath is in charge of the JM Smith and Alumni residence halls. This means that she has a team of Residents Assistants, or RAs, that help her with the small day-to-day operations in the area. The RAs are students at the university so having them on the ground in each community makes McGrath’s job a bit easier and having her there for them as a support system gives the students the confidence needed to fulfill the RA role. When the RAs are asked about their new supervisor, they feel strongly about how her first year at Wingate has been.
“She did a really good job stepping in after Michaela. Ali brought really good ideas along to the residence life department.” JMSA RA Taniya Elliott said. “Ali really assists when planning events for our residents. Community builders and involvement are important for not just freshmen but all students on campus,” JMSA RA John Ellison said. “I appreciate her stepping in and helping us out whenever we run into a situation,” JMSA RA Allie Sessions said. McGrath has been a good addition to the ResLife team at Wingate and has already started spreading her core value of helping others throughout her team of RAs as well as to everyone she interacts with on campus.