Family feel: Meet those managing Avondale’s (full) student residences

Avondale University residence managers Sean Berkeley, Peta Tams and Kahlia Harders with some of the students in their care. [Credit: Marta Rutkowska].

Keep family and friends informed by sharing this article.

The offer of free accommodation and a larger investment in fostering the on-campus Avondale experience has helped fill the university’s student residences. About 270 students now call the Lake Macquarie campus home. All rooms in women’s residence Ella Boyd Hall are full—with an overflow of students into Andre Hall. All but a couple of rooms in men’s residence Watson Hall are, too. So, we asked the new managers Sean BerkeleyKahlia Harders and Peta Tams why.

Peta: The energy from last year has helped spread the word. The vibe on campus is back.
Kahlia: And our students know they meet lifelong friends in here. [We are talking in the foyer of Ella Boyd Hall.] Not just from all over Australia, but New Zealand and the world as well.

What are you most enjoying about working in the residences?
Sean: Getting to know the boys. They become like family—I know many of their parents!
Kahlia: I enjoy the girls coming into my office and asking, “Can I distract you?” Good conversation often follows.

How do you define success in your role?
Sean: Doing life with the boys, helping them develop academically, socially and spiritually.
Kahlia: A willingness of the girls to be a part of the team and work with us towards a goal.
Peta: The nature of our connection with the students—natural not forced.

What’s one thing we wouldn’t know about what you do?
Peta: I’m a part-time cleaner. Please don’t ask what I was cleaning. [I did not.]
Kahlia: Wildlife handler. Handy person.
Sean: Whatever it takes to create an environment that’s like home. For a lot of our students, this is the first time they’ve lived independently.
Kahlia: We want them to look back on their time in the residences and say, “That was one of the highlights of my Avondale experience.”
Peta: You’ve got to do the mum—and dad—thing but without the nag.
Sean: Same message—“Keep your room clean”—but different tone.

Name something you’re learning from students in the residences.
Sean: They have a lot more energy than I do after 10pm.
Peta: Same. I don’t have quite the same amount of energy as I did when I was last here. [Peta graduated from Avondale in 1994.]
Kahlia: A new language. Someone told me I had rizz [charisma]. I thought it had something to do with my hair.
Sean: The other thing I’m learning is the students are very willing for you to be part of their journey.
Peta: Yes, they appreciate an older person speaking into their lives, encouraging them, championing them. What we think they want to do themselves just doesn’t happen that often. The truth is, we need each other.

Promote on-campus living. Why should every student have a residential hall experience?
Sean: It’s part of living your best life. In Watson, that’s living your best life with 100 other brothers.
Kahlia: In high school, you had your parents for support. At university, you’re likely out of home and it can feel you’re on your own. But not if you’re living in a residence—we have 170 girls between Ella Boyd and Andre. If you want to cry in May because you’ve left it late to complete an assessment task, it’s OK—others are feeling the same way and you can support each other.
Peta: You get to work out who you really are in a much gentler environment.
Sean: Look, there’s a lot of unplanned fun that happens here. And that’s what you’ll remember. I’ve got two children who’ve just graduated from Avondale and their experience has been worth every cent. They could have done uni at home—nowhere near as good.

Related Stories