If you think STEM majors are awkward and geeky, just wait until you hear the stories that Arroyo Vista resident advisor and fifth-year computer science major Alex Meng has to tell about her residents who love filmography and knitting.
“My residents are great — they’re really lively people,” says Meng. “It’s interesting to see how one major connects people even though they are different in so many ways. Seeing that spectrum of people is the best part [of being a resident advisor].”
Meng is a two-year resident advisor for the engineering and computer science houses at Arroyo Vista. She came into this role after being inspired by a peer during her first year of college.
“I got really close to an RA through a club,” says Meng. “Her personality was amazing. She was a fantastic RA and she just cared about her residents so much … she actually told me in the middle of my freshman year, ‘I think you would be a really good RA. You should consider it.’”
After two years of thinking about that suggestion, Meng applied to be a resident advisor with a friend at Arroyo Vista during her third year of college. When she accepted the role, the COVID-19 pandemic had hit in March 2020 and brought along a variety of challenges for 2020-2021 housing.
Because of last year’s housing being set at half capacity, limited in-person interactions and residents experiencing Zoom fatigue after a long day of class, Meng had to think of creative ways to keep her residents connected.
“I would buy physical crafts and I would leave them out in the kitchen. I’d be like okay, ‘I have stuff out in the kitchen for you guys whenever you want to come down and grab it,’” says Meng. “It was definitely a lot of innovation and creativity, more than I expected for sure.”
Now that this year’s 2021-2022 housing is set at full capacity with two residents in each room, along with various requirements and procedures to keep students safe and healthy, Meng has been able to host more in-person activities and socialize with her residents. Her favorite activity so far has been her Halloween program, where Meng and her residents decorated their houses, watched scary movies, played Cards Against Humanity and baked pies with real pumpkins (not the canned stuff).
“I bought several mini pumpkins … a bunch of [my residents] came to help me bake,” says Meng. “They made dough and cut out shapes, Halloween symbols, and we baked it and then everyone ate it. It was super delicious … a lot of people loved that one.”
Meng’s role as a resident advisor has helped connect her with new students each year, but outside of this position, she’s been involved in the Video Game Development, Virtual Reality at UCI and Women in Computer Science (WICS) clubs.
“I really like to socialize and I really like to be in environments where I can meet new people,” says Meng.
Meng adds that being in multiple ICS clubs has helped her find clarity and direction. When she first took an introductory computer science class taught by one of her basketball coaches in high school, Meng knew she wanted to study computer science. However, it was difficult to pinpoint what she wanted to do with a computer science degree because there are so many different careers and paths out there.
“You can literally do almost anything you want [in computer science], as creative as you want or as mathematical and theoretical as you want,” says Meng. “When I went to WICS, I could see the different types of people and the different types of things they were interested in. Joining clubs here definitely helped me narrow down, ‘okay, this is what I’m interested in.’”
With so many responsibilities and extracurriculars on her plate, Meng turns to her hobbies to de-stress. She likes to draw and play the ukulele and guitar, and one of her newest pastimes is collecting keyboards.
Meng also enjoys playing video games. In fact, with her graduation set for June 2022, she’s been job searching. She hopes to work in video game development at an indie studio and continue living in Orange County.
“I’m from the Bay Area — San Jose,” she says. “I moved out here because I was like, ‘I don’t want to be in the same place. I don’t to be too far.’ But I love it down here; the weather is so much better.”
As Meng reflects on her college career, she has a few words of wisdom to share with Anteaters. “For students that want to be RAs, I would say go for it. I think it’s one of the few roles on campus that I’ve had where I feel fulfilled. I feel I’m making a difference,” says Meng. “You get to interact with a lot of students, and a lot of these students are feeling the same way that you have felt throughout your college career. They feel the imposter syndrome; they feel the uncertainty.”
The support and guidance that resident advisors provide their residents is another reason why Meng believes that finding a close-knit community on campus that you identify with is important.
“Don’t be scared of things. Try new things; try out the clubs here,” says Meng. “The clubs are amazing. Just show up to one meeting … and see what’s going on. Something great will always come out of it.”
— Karen Phan