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Justin Tarbell & Carson Rader-Bell: Life as an OPA

For this week’s Campus Celeb we actually have two fantastic Orientation Peer Advisors (OPA) that have impacted many students in such a way (myself included) that I want to share the amazing things they do for the JMU community with all of you! There is something special about these two people. They have selflessly inspired so many people and are always making sure to keep making JMU a better place for everyone else around them. I had the honor of spending 1787 August Orientation with them and was so excited to interview them for this fabulous recognition! Ladies and gentlemen, Justin Tarbell and Carson Rader-Bell… 

Kathleen (HC JMU): What’s your major, and what other involvements on campus, and where is your hometown?
Justin Tarbell: Spanish Major, Secondary Ed and HRD minors, from Holland, PA, Junior standing, SGA, SA, Club Tennis, Orientation, SDC.
Carson Rader-Bell: Health Sciences Occupational Therapy, Minor: exceptional education and art; involved in: Orientation, JUMP, Alpha Phi Omega, CEC/EXED exec member, Triathlon club; off campus: Big Brothers Big sisters, Special Olympics, other community service: OCP, Gus Bus etc; Hometown: Purcellville.

Kathleen: What made you want to become an OPA?
Justin: I like helping people, and I didn’t get a great group relationship as a first year (FY) but I loved my FrOGs and their energy so I applied to be one.  But then my FrOG experience was lackluster so I applied for OPA as a second chance with Orientation and to make sure no one else felt the way I did about my FrOG experience! I also just love JMU and want to spread that around!
Carson: I became an OPA because i wanted to inspire others to believe in their own potential and find a family at JMU. I wanted to help people find their “aha” moments at JMU, through selflessly serving and being a resource to the incoming class. I wanted to help create the best environment for the incoming class of 2016. I also wanted to learn and grow myself, while getting to know and understand the diversity and perspectives of my peers.

Kathleen: What has been your favorite moment about being one?
Justin: Facebook status from a first year saying that “I just received an email from my OPA at JMU and he made my day.”
Carson: Too many to count! Overall, seeing others crack their comfort zone and going out of their way to be uncomfortable and vulnerable in order to inspire that in others. The most uncomfortable and open we are with others the more likely they are to reciprocate and that’s when the most personal growth occurs. I enjoyed watching my first years, FrOGs, and co-workers open up to each other creating a community that they felt comfortable in and making others feel the same way too.

A moment that sticks out to me, was when I watched the first years watch their FrOGs do the FrOG dance. The FrOGs really put themselves out there, but the light in the first years eyes, no matter if the messed up or not, was so proud. Another, was just hearing how much the experience has changed them (whether FrOG, FY, or co-worker). Feeling like I helped someone believe in themselves and feel a little more at home at JMU was my overall goal.

Kathleen: Why do you recommend people signing up to be one?
Justin: It is so much more than just helping others! It is very self-fulfilling and it gives you a wider appreciation for yourself, and what others go through! It also teaches you a lot about this campus!
Carson: To be a FrOG: You get to be the first consistent face that the first year students will get to see and look up to. As much as some don’t like to admit it, first year students really utilize their FrOGs from logistics to comfort. Having that impact on a person is an experience you can’t get anywhere else. 

To be an OPA: Having the opportunity to be a resource. As much as its a “glorified” position, you really stand behind the scene (more so during 1787) and act as a resource. However, during Springboard, the impact you make on individual first year groups was worth every hour I put into it. I think just ensuring that these students made the right choice of coming to JMU is a feeling that I’d want everyone to experience. 

Overall for either position, I would recommend applying just for the experience. It’s one you can’t get anywhere else. It’s one that will change your life. It’s one that will help you and others grow. And it’s definitely one that will change your life.

Kathleen: What is the hardest thing about the job?
Justin: Comparison. In every sense of the word, whether it be comparing your team/FrOG family to another one, or comparing yourself to another OPA or FrOG.
Carson: Personally, feeling like I was in the spotlight. I was blessed and humbled that others were looking up to me as a role model, but I didn’t like how many “eyes” I felt were on me. As an OPA you have great opportunities to meet some influential leaders around JMU and have real conversations with them. But I sometimes missed blending in. I was really scared throughout the experience, I’d neglect what I had before I became an OPA. So I made a conscious effort to not let that go, but I know that is something that I struggled with and some other OPAs did as well.

Kathleen: What would you tell anyone who is considering applying for the position?
Justin: Apply! I have no regrets from this position and only positives to say, and it can give you a completely different view of not only JMU but yourself and community as well!
Carson: Do it with absolutely NO expectations or comparisons because there is no experience or Orientation Team that is the same. Don’t come in with predisposing ideas of how it should or could be, go in with a blank slate and let yourself be molded into whatever your personal experience is with it. And go in it with whole-heartedness. Open yourself up to those around you, but remember everything you came from and how much it means to you. Also, just don’t hesitate. If a part of you wants to be an OPA or a FrOG, just apply and do it. There’s nothing bad that came from trying! 

Have you ever thought "Am I the only one who..."? I'm sure you have, and I promise you're not. Live the life you love. I don't take things too seriously, because life is too short to be so obsessed with what everyone thinks of me. I became a writer so I could say what everyone else is thinking. I believe that treating others the way you want to be treated means you will never have to regret a decision you make. I make mistakes, but that's what makes great articles!
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