Student Feature

Graduate Student Reflects on Residential Life Experiences

When Natalie Murdock began her first on-duty shift as a resident assistant, she was understandably nervous.

Natalie Murdock

The weight of responsibility that comes with supervising a floor of students as well as some doubts about how her personality would fit with the rest of the RA staff were the source of her anxiety. Fortunately, it was then that Georgia Lawlor, a fellow RA in Windsor Halls, offered Murdock some encouragement that would change her mentality and set her up for success.  

“She told me that when people are hired on different staffs, there’s a reason why they are taking you,” Murdock says. “There are traits that you bring that may be different than other people on staff that they want. If everybody wanted the same type of RA, we wouldn’t be able to support all types of students. When she told me that, it really encouraged me and I have carried that with me my entire time in Residential Life.” 

Since then, Murdock has spent four years in Residential Life, first as an RA in Windsor Halls for two years and now as residence education assistant (REA) in Hawkins Hall. Murdock’s interest in becoming a RA was the result of her mentality to seek the next opportunity for growth, which has characterized her time at Purdue. After living in Wiley Hall for two years, she says she saw becoming an RA as a logical next step to growing as a leader and making an impact on campus. 

“My family is very hard-working so it was kind of in my flow and I’m used to consistently being involved,” Murdock says. “I knew I wanted to be an RA. Obviously, there are dynamic financial benefits but I also wanted to grow in leadership and learn more in that avenue.” 

Windsor Halls have a long tradition of being the home of accomplished and driven women students as well as being a convenient and beautiful place to call home, which Murdock says catalyzed her strong interest in serving as an RA there. She was able to make connections with Windsor staff during the interview process and her interest was rewarded with the RA position. She says the strong culture of sisterhood, work ethic and creativity in Windsor was everything she hoped for. 

“People speak highly of Windsor and I think that’s right on target,” Murdock says. “They have high standards and I think being surrounded by other women who cared about their residents and leadership helped me learn a lot.” 

Some of those lessons learned include time management, how to use creativity as a communication tool and as a leader, developing an empathic approach to relationships and how to be a strong member of a community and staff. These lessons connect with her studies in public health.  

“In public health, we create programs and interventions that successfully serve the community and their health,” Murdock says. “In Residential Life, if we’re not doing things that are benefitting the health of our residents, what are we doing? Helping mental, emotional and physical health through de-stress events or giving our residents a breather from classes translates as public health work in my mind.”  

In addition to her RA duties, Murdock was heavily involved in extracurricular activities as an undergraduate. Her father’s connections with the Black Cultural Center helped set the stage for important relationships with friends and mentors that have been a significant part of her Purdue experience. She was a member of the Black Voices of Inspiration choir, serving as student coordinator, and developed friendships around her faith that led to membership in a local church choir. Murdock served as a research honors scholar in the College of Health and Human Sciences, where she worked under Dr. Andrea DeMaria, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health. Murdock’s passion for service and creating change also led her to a position as the vice president for service for the Barbara Cook Chapter of Mortar Board and involvement with the Students at Purdue Against Racism Coalition (SPARC). 

Developing time management skills and tools for self-care were challenges, but an important part of Murdock’s ability to stay involved while completing her course work.  

“When you’re doing what you really enjoy, it gets harder to turn it off and take a break,” Murdock says. “The weight of responsibility can sometimes be hard to turn off because you want to do it right and do it well. That is definitely how I feel about the work that I’ve done here.”

After earning a Bachelor of Science in Public Health in 2020, Murdock set her sights on completing a master’s with a concentration in family and community health. As with her previous interest in becoming a RA, seeking the next opportunity in Residential Life became part of her graduate experience, which led her to the REA position in Hawkins Hall. 

“What’s next?” Murdock says. “That was my attitude towards my education. I thought that if I stayed at Purdue, I’m already in Residential Life and have connections. What is the next level of leadership to pursue that can help me grow as a leader? I had people encouraging me and it just ended up working out.” 

As REA, Murdock serves as a supervisor for RAs and student staff. With COVID-19 impacting relationships and opportunities for community engagement, email communication and consistent one-on-one meetings have been an important part of developing relationships with her staff. With her previous experience as an RA, Murdock can anticipate some of the struggles her staff might have and offer constructive encouragement and timely reminders. She says her staff has shared how those messages have resonated and have even gone on to share those messages with family members and friends. 

“That’s such a gift,” Murdock says. “I think those moments really stand out for me as being able to grow and that’s what I love about the position.” 

Another important aspect of her relationship with her staff grew out of a challenge she gave to each member to give a presentation on social justice. Murdock shared her own presentation as well, which she says gave her an opportunity to be vulnerable and share personal experiences in a way that educated her staff and strengthened her relationships with them. 

“Being able to do that for them and offering the education that I and my supervisor had was a privilege,” Murdock says. “I was able to show them my heart about things I really care about and help them grow or affirm what they already knew.”  

When students approach Murdock for advice on becoming an RA or becoming involved in any type of leadership, she tries to pass on the advice she got on her first shift as an RA – and encourages anyone to be their authentic self.  

“When you get hired, they’re going to expect you to be that person you are in your interview,” Murdock says. “Just be you and trust and believe that, when you get hired, they’re hiring you for who you are and they see something in you. You may not see it sometimes, but what they see is needed to build up the community that you were placed in.”  

Murdock will graduate with a Master’s of Public Health in May 2022, after which he hopes to join a seminary with the goal of leading others towards faith-based growth. The lessons she’s gained in leadership as part of her campus experiences are sure to serve her in her next endeavors.  

“At the core of it all, Residential Life is an opportunity to serve a community and hopefully translate that passion that you carry to that community and support them so they can grow,” Murdock says. “I think that, at the core of any type of leadership, you’ve got to know how to do that. You’ve got to know how to support the people that you’re called to lead and serve.”  

Writer: Matt Vader | Editors: Elizabeth Hartley, Tammy Loew, Danielle Fawbush

Editorial Board: Barb Frazee, Tammy Loew, Elizabeth Hartley | Inquiries Contact: studentlifemarketing@purdue.edu