By Travis Huskisson
Where will you go? What will you do? Once you've earned that degree, where will life take you? Josh Cleveland, '01, and April McGonigal, '01, graduated not knowing where life would take them either. Now, seven years later, they have found themselves at Whitworth working to give back to others what the university gave to them.
Like most students around them, Cleveland and McGonigal graduated with degrees in areas they found most interesting. Also, like most students, they both had no idea what they were going to do with those degrees. McGonigal earned her B.A. in speech communication and Cleveland got his B.A. in religion. During their time at Whitworth, Cleveland and McGonigal were resident assistants together, responsible for the wellbeing of students on their halls. Now, both are resident directors for two of Whitworth's dorms, Arend and Duvall, and trying to give their RAs the guidance they once received seven or more years ago.
"I love when students ask the hard questions. It is so rewarding to be able to listen and watch how they are learning and growing," said McGonigal.
As an RA, McGonigal says she learned a lot about being a leader.
"My RA training was extensive. I feel as if it really prepared me not only to be a leader at Whitworth, but in other parts of the world too," she said.
McGonigal said she first realized she wanted to be an RD while working as an RA, but had no idea to go about doing it. After working at a camp with her husband for a year in California, she decided to attend Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Penn., earning a master's in higher education after two years. When an RD job opened up at Whitworth, she decided to jump on it.
"Whitworth strives to grow adults. They give the students choices and opportunities to learn from those choices. I wanted to be a part of that," said McGonigal.
Dick Mandeville, who oversees the practices of the student leaders, is involved in the hiring process of all the RD's. He said that aside from the requirement of having a master's degree or full-time professional experience in some area related to student development, they look to hire someone who understands and is excited about Whitworth's mission.
"We want individuals who will bring new talents and abilities to our existing team," said Mandeville.
For Cleveland, the road to being an RD was one he didn't discover until he was nearly done with seminary. In his last semester at Princeton Seminary, the RD job for Arend Hall opened up in early March.
"I wanted a place that would help me grow on my way to being a pastor. I knew Whitworth was both a safe place and an unfamiliar enough place that would allow me to do this," said Cleveland.
By "unfamiliar" Cleveland means that he understands Whitworth and its students have changed after seven years, offering a new environment in an old setting.
"Josh comes to us as only one in a hand-full of people that have master's of divinity instead of degrees in student administration. I think his unique personality and practice of what he learned at Princeton has proven to work well for him so far at Whitworth," said Mandeville.
Cleveland is in his first year as an RD, while McGonigal is finishing up her last year. Typically, RDs are given the opportunity to return the following year for up to four years. Both agree that they love how personal they can make the job.
"I really try to focus on relationships. I'm both at the center of building relationships and on the outside looking at others build relationships," said Cleveland.
McGonigal has made it her main goal as an RD to focus most of her energy on her RA's.
"If I invest in them, they will do the same to others," she said.
Although this might sound like a dream job to many, it doesn't come without challenges. McGonigal has found the issue of conduct, such as enforcing the "big three," to be difficult in administering, as well as many of the hard situations students come to her about. Some of these situations include late night phone calls from students having personal issues. Though Cleveland's journey as an RD is just beginning, he's already seen how hard it can be.
"This is often times a 24/7 job. For me it is essential yet extremely difficult to find life outside of Whitworth as a 29-year-old," he said.
Both of these alumni discovered that it isn't necessarily what degree you get in college, but how you go about getting it that makes for the best education. While they may not know what the future holds for them, for now they are happy with trying to guide students towards the best education possible at Whitworth.
Editor's note: Since this article was written April McGonigal has taken a position as Whitworth's assistant director of conferences and special events.