Director of Residence Life
Division of Student Affairs
Becky Bell is the university's director of Residence Life. With bachelor's and master's degrees from Auburn, she is a part of four generations of family who have graduated from Auburn University. Bell began her work in Residence Life with an internship while completing graduate course work. Twenty-three years later, she remains committed to the educational role and benefits of on-campus living. Bell is active in the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International as well as regional housing and residence life organizations. An advocate of lifelong learning, Bell's current project, when she's not working, is traveling to Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, exploring Mayan archaeological sites and pursuing her goal to become fluent in Spanish.
1. What led you to Residence Life at Auburn?
After working for eight years as a youth counselor, I realized that I most enjoyed working with college-age youth so I returned to Auburn to do further graduate work in the specialty area of college student development. At the end of that course work, I needed to do a yearlong internship and the Department of Housing and Residence Life was hiring for a new position that would focus on residential education, the educational component of living on campus. It was a perfect fit for me; my roles within the department have changed but the driving force for me, in terms of my passion for what I do, is the educational potential of the residential experience.
2. What role do you think on-campus living plays in the education of students?
In general, living in a residence hall provides a student with enhanced opportunities to become connected with the university, to meet and develop relationships with a greater variety of people, and to participate in a living experience that is unique to university life. Group living exposes students to a wider variety of experiences and established guidelines provide structure for the development of cooperative community living; where else do students have that educational opportunity? More specifically, personal and academic growth is intentionally facilitated in our residence halls by providing out-of-the-classroom activities and opportunities which address academic success, leadership development, diversity, wellness and community service. A major factor in what makes living in a residence hall different from other forms of student housing is the involvement of our Residence Life staff - resident assistants, hall directors and area directors.
National research shows that students who live on campus, as compared to those who live off campus, have higher rates of retention and graduation; achieve greater academic success; utilize campus resources more often; are more involved in campus life and report higher satisfaction with their collegiate experience; have a higher level of personal development; and develop relationships with a more diverse group of people. These findings make a good argument for building more on-campus residence halls, don't you think?
3. What are some of the things you've enjoyed most about your work?
Having the opportunity to work with a diverse group of students is one of the things that I have enjoyed the most. I also enjoy the positive energy of our residents and our Residence Life staff. Experiencing, and maybe even being a small part of, the growth and development of students has been particularly rewarding. I also very much enjoy being a part of a university environment; I enjoy attending lectures, cultural activities, taking classes of all kinds like fly fishing, Spanish, Italian film and Mexican history. The opportunity for friendships with people from all over the world would probably not have been as possible for me if I had not been working in a university environment. My life has been enriched by these friendships as well as by the students with whom I have had the privilege to work. And, of course since Auburn has been a part of my life since I was born, it has been an especially meaningful experience to work at Auburn. In addition to the four generations of Bells who have graduated from Auburn University, my mother grew up in Auburn and my maternal grandfather was an Auburn businessman.
4. In your position as director of Residence Life, you've been instrumental in coordinating projects like Sustain-a-Bowl on campus. Why is sustainability a priority for you and Residence Life?
Sustain-A-Bowl is a partnership between the Office of Sustainability and Residence Life and that is another aspect of my work that I enjoy - the opportunity to partner with departments and colleagues on campus. SAB is a great example of connecting on-campus living with the educational goals of the university. Our residents, particularly in the month of February, are actively involved in learning about sustainability through SAB activities, programs and bulletin boards in their residence halls. In addition, their participation in energy, water and waste reduction connects the principles of sustainability with actual results. It is great to see our progress regarding sustainability and what sustainability actually encompasses; years ago, when I was the campus chapter advisor for Habitat for Humanity, I would be on campus on weekends hauling away bags of recycled cans from the residence halls (a fundraiser for Habitat). Now, in addition to our partnership with the Office of Sustainability, Residence Life has partnered with the Committee of 19, Auburn's student-led War on Hunger initiative. Last year, our residents raised money which was donated to a non-profit group in Guatemala which provides water filters for Mayan communities without access to clean water. This year, during our October Hunger Awareness Month, our halls donated money which will be used to provide two mobile food pantries, which residents will operate, in a local community. So for us, contributing to and supporting human sustainability, locally and globally, is important as well.
Viewing sustainability as a broad and encompassing concept that covers not only the ideas of "reduce, reuse, recycle," but improvement in the quality of life for people is something that is a priority for me, personally, as well.
5. You've taken part in some pretty amazing experiences in your mission to be a lifelong learner. What other activities do you enjoy outside of the office?
Whenever I am not working I enjoy heading out of town and out of the country. But, I am always thinking about how these experiences can connect to my work. For example, I recently had the privilege to participate in a quilting workshop at the Gee's Bend Quilters' Collective. This was a pilot project, developed by Sheri Shumacher, associate professor of architecture, to encourage community based and educational tourism with the aim to make Gee's Bend a viable arts center. I am excited about the potential for a Residence Life partnership with this project and the people of Gee's Bend. Likewise, I continue to investigate ways in which I can connect my interests in travel to Latin America with our Residential Education program, possibly through language and global initiatives theme housing. I have made connections in Guatemala and Mexico but right now there are some restrictions on travel to those areas. So, in the meantime I have planned a second trip this summer to the Amazon region of Peru!
To read more about Bell, check out the Office of Sustainability's new feature, Sustainability in Action.