What would it be like to be Queen for a day? How about for a year? Hofstra University senior Nicole Burke could tell you all about it. As the first ever Fall Festival Queen, she wears her crown proudly.
"Hofstra completely changed my life," she said. "Before I came here, I was shy and introverted. Hofstra helped me break out of my shell."
In fact, if you’d asked Burke four years ago if she’d be applying for Fall Festival Queen, she wouldn’t have even given it a thought. The idea of being on stage wasn’t only mortifying, but intimidating and foreign.
Ironically, what kept her in the background all these years is what put her in the spotlight this past September; namely, her position as Senior Resident Assistant of the Netherlands Complex. Her experiences molded her into the leader they look for in hopeful Queens.
"I felt like I was ready for more experience," she said about the SRA position. "I wanted to make a career out of Student Affairs and I knew this would be a step in the right direction."
Taking her Resident Assistant position to the next level wasn’t about the title or the glorification of being looked up to. Burke wanted to be there for her staff and residents in a new regard – a selfless regard that would not only open up possibilities for her future, but for herself.
She never could have imagined that the position would have played such a large role in being chosen as Fall Festival Queen. Burke held a position the Student Conduct Board, works with Resident Safety, participated in the Vagina Monologues, is an active member of She’s the First, and as of this year, she’s the co-chair of the Senior Class Challenge alongside Fall Festival King, Senior Public Relations major Nicholas Schweers, who is also an RA on her staff. But it’s her SRA position that most defines who she is.
"Nicole is a great friend and always offers an ear if I ever need to vent or need advice," Schweers said. "I think being my SRA has made her even closer to me in that aspect, especially being my Queen. After winning, we work together even more and it’s been a pleasure because we usually see eye to eye on things and can come to compromises really easily."
Aside from these attributes, Schweers also said that Burke really brings the staff together which is what’s most important to her role as SRA. The staff must work well with one another in order to flourish in administrative, social, and programming aspects.
Burke’s responsibilities extend far beyond uniting the staff though. Administratively, she’s responsible for sorting the mail, making schedules for duty shifts, handling the paperwork and programming for Hall Council as their advisor, attending weekly meetings, and maintaining an updated roster for the complex.
Assistant Resident Director Erica Serrazina is humbled by just how well Burke has done in these regards.
"The biggest thing is that Nicole cares about her role and her responsibilities,” she said. “She’s also pretty well organized and can definitely see what her administrators and supervisors need so she’s able to be proactive."
Burke’s position is more than just supporting her staff, having her paperwork in, and getting to meetings on time. She may be the Senior Resident Assistant, but she’s also a Resident Assistant, meaning she still has to be there for her residents regardless of her additional responsibilities. She accommodates their needs by putting on programs that play into their interests and habits. In February, Burke and her co-RA, Senior Philosophy major Gareth James, put on a New Zealand program in order to shed light on international students and what it takes for them to get here.
The two constructed a game of Jeopardy, indulged in New Zealand foods, and showcased photos of the beautiful country to keep their residents engaged. The program was so successful, in fact, that it landed them the award of "Program of the Month."
"Nicole and I made a great team," he said. "She’s easy going but very hard-working which makes her ideal to work with."
Aside from planning these monthly programs, Burke writes weekly reports, makes herself available to answer questions and alleviate concerns, and makes rounds of the complex while documenting incidents as they come up.
Her duties keep her busy, but she doesn’t let it get in the way of the relationships she forms with her residents. Freshman Christine Brazeau, a Broadcast Journalism major, is a resident of Burke’s and appreciates all she’s done.
"Nicole has always been there for me in any time of need,” she said. “She’s more than just a resident assistant, she’s a friend."
As if her extracurricular responsibilities didn’t keep her busy enough, Burke maintains an impressive GPA and still keeps a social life.
"It’s definitely been hard participating in so many things but I always remember that my studies come first," Burke said. "I came to Hofstra for a degree but at the same time, I’m so glad I was able to have the ‘college experience’ because it’s made me well-rounded."
Burke hasn’t had the opportunity for much ‘me’ time but her involvement has put her in a good place for her future. She’s off to Rutgers in the fall for graduate school where she’ll be pursuing a Master’s degree in College Student Affairs. And she certainly has the background for it.
Her boss and mentor, Resident Director Jessica Havery, can’t believe how far Burke has come and what the SRA position has done for her.
"Her ability to manage her responsibilities, work professionally and balance a variety of obligations has been such a blessing to the Netherlands staff," she said.
Havery is so impressed by Burke’s capabilities that she nominated her for the "SRA of the Month" award in September. Residential Programs believed she was deserving of it, and deemed her the winner.
"I was humbled by it," Burke said. "I didn’t think I’d get it, especially only a month into it. It’s just nice knowing that after putting everything I have into this job, it finally paid off."
With bigger and better things ahead, it’s likely that Burke’s perseverance and mentality will bring her to royalty yet again – higher education could certainly use a Queen in its midst.