As a Resident Staff Leader, this ChemE Wanted to Make COVID’s Unknowns More Livable

A confluence of challenging events in August 2017 led Anna Winter, a chemical engineering major from Houston, to apply to be a resident advisor in her second year. She went on to become a co-chair of the resident staff program, helping to guide resident advisors and senior residents through a year like no other.

Anna Winter, B.S. in chemical engineering, 2021

Anna Winter, B.S. in chemical engineering, 2021

Why did you become a resident advisor at the University of Virginia?

I became a resident advisor because I had a very difficult first few weeks of college. The majority of this graduating class arrived on Grounds right after the (Unite the Right) events of August 11-12, 2017. There was so much emotion and anguish that I was not yet able to identify with because I did not understand the impact that it had on the University and Charlottesville community. My main thoughts were focused on being a first-year who did not know anyone else coming to UVA besides a few other people I had met briefly in Houston beforehand. A week after I had moved into the dorms, Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. I was sitting in Rice eating a bagel right outside of Einstein’s when my best friend’s street was displayed on the monitors completely flooded. I was in a place that did not yet feel like home that had just experienced some extreme trauma, and I was also over 1,000 miles away from my hometown and unable to do anything.

That night, my RA held my hand as I checked in with my parents for the first time since they had gotten cell reception back. I wanted the chance to be someone else’s rock when the first year of college may be just a bit too overwhelming.

Where were you a resident advisor?

I was RA in Courtenay second year, senior resident of Faulkner third year, and co-chair fourth year, although I lived in 17 West Lawn.

I applied for a promotion to become a senior resident for my third year. A senior resident is responsible for an entire association and being the leader of a team of resident advisors. I then applied to be one of the co-chairs of the resident staff program. I served alongside Ja’Mel Reed. My role as co-chair has been to lead 22 senior residents, as well as serving as a student representative on the development of future housing efforts on Grounds, and other University committees, with a focus on public health in response to the pandemic.

What was the job was like this year? How was it different because of COVID-19?

As I did not live in a traditional dorm, I can only speak to what I have heard from senior residents and resident advisors. I know that it has been much more difficult to connect with residents this year due to the restrictions, but other than that, the role has remained much the same. Virtual get-to-know-you and other programs were still held.

As a co-chair, my role has been very different than it has been in the past. It is our job to respond to University announcements and restrictions and to understand how they apply to the dorms. I have had much more consistent contact with Student Health and Wellness this year than co-chairs of previous years. My partner, Ja’Mel, and I have been quite vocal about the needs for increased diversity, equity and inclusion training for resident staff, as well as housing and food security for resident staff.

Anna Winter, B.S. chemical engineering 2021, on a mountain peak

What kept you going?

My support network, knowing that the work I do matters, and a whole lot of ice cream.

But on a more serious note, this semester has been incredibly difficult. Recognizing that has been huge in facing the challenges in both the resident staff program and in my personal life. Whenever I needed to clear my head, I would get outside somehow, whether that was walking, playing beach volleyball or having a socially distant meal with friends. Being optimistic and focusing on what I can control, and then adapting to what I can’t, has been key.

What was hard about how COVID-19 affected your time at UVA? How did you make the best of it?

Not being able to celebrate my fourth year in the way that I expected. I have always been someone who was a part of many different groups and loved to spend time with all of them, but this year forced me to limit those get-togethers.

Why did you choose UVA Engineering?

I knew that UVA would give me the technical capabilities expected upon graduating with an engineering degree, but I also saw that UVA Engineering emphasized things beyond the technical. I knew that I could learn/see what it means to be a leader as an engineer. I wanted to be more than just a degree or a job title when I graduated. I wanted to be someone who could work with others well, create interesting solutions, and focus on the impact of my work beyond just the technical, and I believe UVA Engineering, specifically chemical engineering, has given me the opportunity to do that.

Why did you choose a degree in chemical engineering?

First year, I was debating between systems and chemical engineering. In short, I knew that it would be easier for me to switch into systems from ChE than the other way around. Also, in the conversations I had with Professor [William] Epling first year, he was very persuasive about the potential of a ChE degree.

The reason I stayed, though, is because of the people in it. I have genuinely enjoyed getting to know the other students in my major and working with the professors. While much of the content itself has been challenging, I have never felt at a loss for where I could look for help or for reassurance.

Why are you glad that you chose a degree in chemical engineering?

The potential of where I can go from here, and knowing that I have the technical knowledge I need to make a change. Climate change is real, we need people dedicated to facing this fact and coming up with solutions.

Anna Winter, B.S. chemical engineering 2021, behind home plate during a softball game

What are some of your honors, awards and activities during your time at UVA?

Awards: Alvin Hurd McNeilly Scholarship recipient, David Lee Preddy Award recipient, CHE Faculty Award recipient

Activities: Club softball, president second and third year, starting catcher; Trigon Engineering Society, member; Omega Chi Epsilon, president; American Institute of Chemical Engineers, second- and third-year representative; avid participant in UVA intramurals (innertube water polo, flag football, slow pitch softball, kickball, beach volleyball, indoor volleyball)

Internships/employment: Shell Chemicals process engineering intern, Geismar, Louisiana, summer 2020; ExxonMobil data architecture and operations intern, Spring, Texas, summer 2019; Kickapoo Kamp for Girls camp counselor, Kerrville, Texas, summers 2017 and 2018; volunteer, Louisiana Youth Seminar counselor and involvement session leader, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 2017-present

What are your plans after graduation?

Johnson Matthey Graduate Program, 2021 cohort, quality engineer for the Clean Air Sector

Where is your favorite place on Grounds? Why?

During COVID especially, it has been O-Hill trails. I have spent so much time behind the computer for class and work that to be able to go get semi-lost in the woods and get some exercise has been a blessing. Before COVID, I would have to say the Park at North Grounds. It is where I played softball on the club team. My favorite things are when my family and friends would come to see me play and we would just be able to have an incredible time.

Where/what is your favorite local spot or activity to get away from the pressures of work and school?

Skyline Drive. One of my favorite things to do is go up to Skyline Drive and find a lookout, especially at night. I love getting lost in the stars, and that is my favorite place to do that in the Charlottesville area.

Do you have a favorite UVA memory?

National basketball championship, easily. Being able to watch all of those March Madness games after the devastating year we had first year was incredible, and will always be a memory I cherish.