When she is not conducting cancer research, writing her senior thesis or working as a teaching assistant, fourth-year Linnea Lungstrom puts her creativity and problem-solving skills to work as a resident assistant in Phoenix House in International House. University of Chicago resident assistants (RAs) work together with other members of the housing team to create and maintain a supportive, inclusive and fun community for all who live in UChicago’s residence halls.
Lungstrom’s eagerness to become an RA was sparked early on in her first-year. After completing the Chicago Academic Achievement Program, Lungstrom became an intern with CAAP the following year, planning trips and supporting the residents.
“I really enjoyed my experience, mostly because my transition to college was super stressful and very foreign to me,” Lungstrom said. “I am a first-generation, low-income student, so I was the first one in my family to go to college, which meant that I had no idea what to expect. What’s a small fish in a big pond?”
Her time as a CAAP intern helped Lungstrom recognize she could contribute her unique identity to UChicago’s residential community, so she applied to be an RA.
“I recognized how important and supportive my RAs were toward me. So, I knew that I wanted to be that for someone else,” Lungstrom said. “I knew that by becoming an RA with the identities that I have at this university, I would have residents that feel comfortable coming to me as a resource. I do want to have fun and host House trips, but I recognize the importance of having those differing experiences.”
“Linnea is precisely who Housing & Residence Life wants to have in the Resident Assistant role,” said UChicago Executive Director Housing & Residence Life Sophia Chaknis. “She is smart, focused, mindful of her own experiences and wants to ensure that other students have opportunities to thrive in our dynamic residential communities. Her passion, enthusiasm, and leadership serve as an exemplar, and Housing & Residence Life is enriched by her care in creating and fostering the community of Phoenix House.”
As part of the Phoenix House leadership team, Lungstrom has a hand in everything: she hosts study breaks, goes to House meetings, leads House trips and is always available as emotional support for her residents. Some of her planned trips have included going to Christkindlmarket, visiting a cat café, attending an opera house performance downtown and arranging a dinner on Valentine’s Day.
“When you’re in lab, you take off your coat and you’re fine, or you clock out of work and you’re done,” said Lungstrom. “When you’re an RA, you’re at work while at home, but because I really love my House, unironically, it doesn’t feel like work because I genuinely enjoy being the RA. While I support [my residents] and try to make their days better, they’re always doing the same for me.”
Lungstrom’s priority is her residents’ well-being, and they come to her to discuss issues regarding roommate conflicts, dropping classes, interpersonal relationships and more.
“Usually, it’s just about listening to them. I genuinely care about my residents so, whenever I do it, it feels like I’m having an honest conversation with one of my friends who’s asking for advice,” Lungstrom said. “I always try to reassure residents that they’re not alone in what they’re feeling and validate them in a way that doesn’t diminish their worries.”
In turn, Lungstrom’s life has been unexpectedly impacted by her residents. From making her laugh to saying “hi” on campus, they always brighten her day.
“There was one time where I did really poorly on a physics midterm, and I was just going through it. I remember my residents saying, ‘You know what this doesn’t affect, Linnea? How great of an RA you are. We don’t care about how well [you] do in school.’ They just support and accept me.”
On campus, Lungstrom works in two labs. In Assoc. Prof. Yu-Ying He’s lab, she assists with skin cancer research, which is helping to inform her senior thesis on how a specific protein (YTHDF2) affects UV-induced apoptosis in keratinocytes by regulating apoptotic pathways. Additionally, in Prof. Mark Westneat’s lab, Lungstrom studies the morphometrics of goatfish. Lungstrom is also a teaching assistant for a lab section of “Fundamentals of Genetics,” as well as a lecture TA for “Animal Behavior." She worked two consecutive summers at a cancer research program called Chicago EYES on Cancer, which trains high school and college students in careers in biomedicine. The program also funded her travel to two conferences in the fall to present her research—ABRCMS in Indianapolis in 2018 and SACNAS in Honolulu in 2019.
After graduation, Lungstrom will take a gap year to continue her work with Westneat. She recently received a grant to become a certified scuba diver, which will aid her research on goatfish on the island of Moorea in French Polynesia.She ultimately hopes to attend graduate school and become a researcher and professor—goals that were heavily inspired by her experience as an RA.
Looking back at her past two years as an RA, Lungstrom says she recommends this position to people of all different backgrounds and personalities. “I don’t think you have to have a specific personality—as long as you’re excited about being part of a community and being a mentor, and as long as you have enthusiasm.”