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'It was intense': How one U of T undergraduate helped fellow students departing residence amid COVID-19

Juliette Melchor Rodriguez, a fourth-year student at U of T Mississauga who had been working part-time in residence, stepped up to help fellow students as the COVID-19 outbreak unfolded (photo courtesy Juliette Melchor Rodriguez)

Juliette Melchor Rodriguez, a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto Mississauga, was focused on completing her final year while working part-time in residence when, as was the case for most students, COVID-19 changed everything.

Suddenly, Melchor Rodriguez found herself fast-tracking her career training and stepping up to help fellow students in residence as the COVID-19 outbreak unfolded.

The linguistics major, who also has a minor in education studies and professional writing and communications, says that on the day the university announced exams would no longer be written in person, “everyone shot into overdrive.” Students, she says, were given a deadline to move out of residence unless they had nowhere to go.

Melchor Rodriguez was called into the student housing office during off hours to help with the accelerated check-out process.

“It was a busy week,” she recalls. “We were condensing an extensive process into a week. It was intense.”

Not only was Melchor Rodriguez helping other students navigate the changes, she was also adapting to taking her own classes online and practising new social distancing norms. Like others, her daily life had been dramatically altered.

“It was very challenging, personally, to go through this transition all at once,” she says, adding if she ever had any doubts about balancing priorities and working under pressure, now she knows she can do it.

While the university had to make difficult choices, it was good to see everyone come together with the students’ best interests at heart, she says.

Roy Ivor Hall Residence

Roy Ivor Hall Residence at U of T Mississauga (photo by Stephen Dagg)

Once classes are over, Melchor Rodriguez will step into a temporary full-time role with student housing administration, which she hopes will last over the summer. It’s a role within the department she’s been working at since she discovered there’s a rewarding career to be had in student housing.

She started working with U of T Mississauga’s student housing when she was in second year. For two years she worked as a residence don, where she was responsible for community development, social and educational programming, referrals and overall well-being of the residents.

This past year she shifted from her student-facing role to work behind the scenes in an administrative role. She says she had expected a more gradual transition, but she had to “step into the professional role earlier than anticipated” due to the impact of the pandemic.

Her recent experiences have only bolstered her desire to pursue a career in student housing, where she can support and encourage students transitioning to university life in an impactful way.

“It’s a career path I’m passionate about pursuing,” she says. “I definitely enjoy it. I’m challenged enough and it’s a place where I can thrive.”

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