Students find community in college life

First slide

It’s easy for sophomore Michael Sullin to recall the first time he truly felt at home at The Catholic University of America in Washington. A few months into the fall semester his freshman year, Sullin was the stage manager for the Department of Drama’s production of “Picnic.”


During a dinner break at one of the rehearsals, Sullin remembers an actor asking if he wanted to join him for dinner or if he wanted any food. That small gesture meant a lot.

“After a long day of me telling the actors what to do, it was really nice that they were still coming over to make sure that I was getting everything I needed,” he said. “It showed me that they cared just as much as I did.”

As a drama major, Sullin spends a lot of time in the Hartke facility in classes, building sets in the scene shop or helping out with rehearsals. Though he is only in his second year, he’s already worked as a stage manager for two plays and as assistant director for another. But it's the friendships he has formed that matter the most to him. He loves having a space to learn where he feels comfortable and at home.

“One thing that’s nice about the department (of drama) is you know everyone,” he said. “Everyone says it's a family, and it’s kind of true. You spend so many hours with these people working so hard because it takes a village to put on a production.”

Senior Cai Li Pleshe, a business management major from Salt Lake City, said she has found her niche at Catholic U. through her many club involvements, including Habitat for Humanity and the Student Government Association, as well as her job as a student coordinator within the Office of Campus Activities.

“While college is definitely a time to focus on academics, it’s also this time where you get to find yourself,” she said. “You can figure out what you like and find these people that support you when you don’t have family around.”

One of the things Pleshe says she likes best about Catholic U. is its size — the campus is large enough that you can meet new people, but it's still small enough that you can run into people you know during your walks to and from class. She says the friends she has met here have been a great source of support.
“It’s good to have people who can relate to you right now, who are in it with you,” she said. “My friends have been the best thing about college. These friends I think are the ones I’m going to continue to build and grow with even after college.”

While academics and clubs have helped some find their place on campus, other students, including Caroline Winn, a graduate student in architecture, have found belonging through residence life. After a rough transition during her first year in graduate school, Winn said she loves working as a resident assistant for upperclassmen and graduate students in Seton Hall.

“I love living in a community of women and I love planning programs,” she said. “The R.A. community on campus is a group of responsible students, but also very down-to-earth, empathetic and fun-loving students. I feel like they really do try to make campus a more welcoming spot.”

Whether it's having people to celebrate with or even just friendly acquaintances to make small talk with in the hallways at night, Winn believes the friendships students make as young adults can have a “very profound impact on your outlook and your ability to succeed in college.

“I think it’s really important for students to find some place where they feel comfortable, somewhere where they’re going to flourish and somewhere that supports them as they grapple with different challenges in college.”

A culture of connection

With approximately 100 student organizations on campus, Catholic U. students can choose to pursue their interests in a variety of ways — whether that means writing for The Tower newspaper, volunteering with Best Buddies or DC Reads, or even dancing with the CUA Swing Kids.

“Every single day we have multiple events throughout campus, from small events from a student organization focused on a specific group of students to giant large-scale events that are open to all,” said Steve Kreider, director of campus activities. “That gives students a chance to really get involved and feel a part of campus and discover where their passions lie.”

In addition to overseeing student organizations, Kreider and his team also have an interest in helping students grow as leaders, with a variety of workshops and retreats that aim to help students improve their leadership skills and grow in confidence.

“We’re not assuming that every student shows up here without any leadership ability whatsoever, but we’re helping them hone their own skills to be the best leaders they can be.”

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018