By Steve Vivona
St. John’s University built its first three residence halls four years ago and has since added three more as well as a dining facility. The University has swiftly developed a national reputation in the ensuing years, and new Residence Life Director Gary Bice Jr. wants to bring a greater awareness of the residence halls into the forefront of that reputation.
In a recent interview with Web Monthly Mr. Bice described his goal as “fine tuning a diamond that’s already been cut.” Meeting the specific needs of the resident students is of paramount importance to Mr. Bice. “They need a comfortable place to live that’s as close to home as they can get. It has to be a place where they can study and interact with their peers.”
Community living is part of the college experience, Mr. Bice noted. While it offers challenges it also offers many benefits. All freshmen are living three to a room with some limited singles and doubles,” Mr. Bice added. “Retention rates are proof that we’re not losing them,” he said, adding that this year approximately 2,200 resident students will be living on the Queens campus.
A Resident Assistant (RA) himself for three years Mr. Bice has a Biology degree but his heart was not in teaching and a former supervisor encouraged him to become a Resident Director by earning his Master's degree in Student Personnel Administration.
He served as a Resident Director (RD) at three institutions before becoming Director of Residence Life for Mount Saint Mary College, Newburgh, NY, as well as Head Coach for their Division III women's volleyball team in 1994, where he worked until coming to St. John’s.
Mr. Bice is also very active with the Northeast Association of College and University Housing Officers (NEACUHO), having just completed his term as President. He also chairs the Small College Network for the Association of College and University Housing Officers-International (ACUHO-I) and serves on the Foundation Board.
The Association serves as a network for housing officers to share ideas and issues facing them. “I knew three or four of the Residence Directors and both Associate Directors (at St. John’s) just from the different conferences we attended. It’s a very small tight-knit community.”
Responsible for overseeing Residence Life programs and services, Mr. Bice supervises a staff of eight professionals and 59 paraprofessionals and support staff. He explained that an RA is assigned to each floor of a residence hall. “They’re the primary contact for all the students, and there’s one on each wing.” Mr. Bice explained that the Resident Assistant’s primary function is programming and supporting University policy. They also serve as a sounding board for students when a problem arises or they just need to talk to someone.
Each building has a Residence Director who lives on the premises, and their job is to supervise the RAs. Supporting the efforts of the Resident Assistants and Directors are the Residence Hall Association, made up of residents themselves, and the Resident Campus Ministers. Two Associate Directors supervise the Residence Directors and an “invaluable” support staff comprises the rest of the office, Mr. Bice stressed.
St. John’s is the largest institution in which Mr. Bice has worked and the second largest Resdience Life program, and he is eager to embrace the challenge and help shepherd St. John’s through this period of unprecedented growth.