New Director of Residential Life discusses position’s challenges, his goals


Photo by Hadel Abdelkarim

Lindenwood Director of Residential Life Ryan McDonnell stands in his office at Lindenwood University.

Hadel Abdelkarim, Reporter

Ryan McDonnell is in his first semester as Lindenwood’s Director of Residential Life. 

McDonnell had worked at several schools before coming to Lindenwood and ever since 2013, he has had experience in the residential field.

Below, McDonnell goes over some of the goals he has in the new position, what he’s looking forward to, and how he plans on dealing with COVID.

Q: Where did you get started?  

A: I was an RA, as a student in 2006, and then I stayed in residential life as a student and moved into it professionally as a hall director at the University of Central Missouri, moved out of the hall director role, and went to East Central College in Union Missouri to be their student Involvement coordinator. 

I have a background in Student Involvement planning events and programs for students. Left there to go to Maryville University just down the road and served in their Residence Life Department for almost a decade and was their assistant referee and became Director of Residential Life there. 

Q: What do you do as Director of Residential Life? 

A: My time there helped to kind of rebuild that program, adding just student leadership opportunities, taking focus on being student-centered so that way you know when students live on campus, it feels like home.  

Making sure all of our initiatives were just focused on what does that student experience look like when living in the halls and how do we make sure it’s comfortable in a place where they can learn and grow as individuals. 

Q: Any goals that you have for the school year? For dorms or anything like that?  

A: I’m excited just to continue to breathe life into what Lindenwood was already doing and looking at our programming and just engagement opportunities with restrictions that we do have.  

Obviously, we’re both wearing masks right now. But there’s still now more opportunity to just engage students.  

When students come to Lindenwood, whether they’re coming here for their academic reasons and then to grow as individuals outside of the classroom experience.  

Q: What are you most looking forward to this year? 

A: I am most looking forward to learning Lindenwood’s culture, and the students here, and so I am fortunate to be in an office that is very student-facing, so we have students coming and going all the time. So, looking at all of those facets and how do we get into the student experience and make that better and so I’m really looking forward to evaluate what’s currently being done and then adding to, and again like I said breathing life into more and more programs that are within regular residential life. 

Q: What are the challenges faced this year? 

A: COVID is a challenge in itself, everyone is used to hearing about that, but there is a bigger impact to COVID because now you have students that their past couple of years have been COVID-related.  

Our first-year students and second-year students and maybe even our third-year students at this point have all been impacted. Their college experience has been impacted by COVID and they have yet to have a true year of what it means to live on campus without COVID, and so keeping that in mind as we look at the development of students and the programs, and different needs that we can provide in the halls is a challenge. 

When I look four to five years ago at the standard college experience, it looks very different than it does right now, and that’s all COVID related but on top of that, you just have the growth in the world when we look at how technology impacts our student.  

Even when we’ve got crises and challenges, mental health is a part that we want to take really seriously and look at our students, one of the needs there.  

COVID has played a big part into students and how they’re getting those social experiences and just kind of a break, and so being really intentional in the programming that we’re doing based on the situation that we’re in. 

Q: What are the measures taken when it comes to students quarantining?  

A: We have an entire team set up to monitor and navigate the entire quarantine process and so there’s a number of different ways you can be in quarantine whether you’re exposed to it directly, whether you have tested positive and so we have different things in place regarding each one of those and whether you quarantine in place in your living spot depending on that type of quarantine that you go through.  

Whether you’re going to be moved into isolation, which is in our Linden terries, the houses that we have on campus. We have a number of those set aside for isolation, specific housing and that’s for our COVID students that test positive for COVID.  

Then we work with a number of campus resources to make sure that the student is taken care of in that space, whether it’s meals or just check-ins and things like that. Residential Life, along with a number of other campus partners are involved in that entire process. 

Q: What are the rules or different restrictions this year with dorms?  

A: We did a slight change we made prior to this year there was the ability to check in your guests, was a requirement so if you’re going to have a guest into your space, we had a check-in process this is all before I got here. 

We are looking at holding our students responsible for who they let into the building and so we have our own security in place, we have front desk workers, we have 24/7 live in professional, and then 24/7 there.  

We have student workers that work in live in the halls as well, so have our team in place to be there to monitor and navigate with any issues but we also looked at students to take care of.  

If you’re a host, you’re responsible for the guests that you bring in, and so there isn’t a need for us to have a check-in process because we’re going to look to the students to monitor their own guests.  

All of our buildings stay locked 24/7, so you have to have a key access and so your host would have to let you in. Therefore, we hold the hosts accountable for who they’re letting in, and then we have staff in place to step in if we were needing to need to form a safety standpoint, but we look at our Lindenwood students and say, you can handle this here. Adults that we trust in these spaces and to own your space and take care of it and take care of the community around you.