Guiding Students Toward Getting the Most out of the College Experience

Aug 10, 2023
Sydney Maiden, a young, African American woman dressed in a beige, button-down short sleeve shirt. She also wears black glasses and hoop earrings. Her hair is swept into a side ponytail.

Sydney Maiden

Sydney Maiden often advises students that in order to get the most out of the Westfield State University experience, they need to “be comfortable with being a little uncomfortable.” 

As Area Coordinator for Westfield State University’s apartment complexes and Dickinson Hall, Maiden works within Residential Life, advising, counseling, and building programs which aim to create a rewarding, productive experience for students who live on campus. 

Nearly 60 percent of full-time undergraduate students live on the University’s 256-acre campus. Ten residence halls provide both traditional-style living and apartment/suite-style living options.

Born and raised in Bakersfield California, Maiden received a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences in Interdisciplinary Studies from San Diego State University with concentrations in Biology, Nutrition, and Africana Studies. She recently earned a Master’s Degree in Biomedical Sciences from Elms College.

One of her passions include collecting sneakers. “My favorite shoes are up-tempo, 90s-style chunky, graffiti-style. Anything by Scottie Pippen, Allen Iverson, that’s what I gravitate toward.”

Maiden describes herself as being a “big family person” who “loves to cook” and started at an early age. “I’ve been cooking since I was around 4 years old,” she said. She also enjoys watching cooking shows.

Additionally, Maiden loves music and is a huge basketball fan. “I’m a Celtics fan in the Eastern Conference, but a Thunder fan in the Western Conference.”

In describing her responsibilities within Residential Life, Maiden says, “One of the most important duties is being an advocate for students, making sure their needs are heard and properly addressed, and also being a support system. Students might not get the support they need from an outside party, but when students are in their hall and they need something, we’re here 24/7,” she said. 

Maiden thinks students have more pressure put upon them than students had in the past.

“A lot of our students are facing various mental health issues, coming from COVID when basically they were home by themselves for long periods of time. Being immersed back into a community of different people, who look different, speak differently, and have different ideals, can often be overwhelming. Some experience depression and anxiety so we must have programs or coping mechanisms for students when they arrive.”

Maiden also says social media also has a strong impact on students. Instead of conforming to the status quo and going along with trends, which may cause stress, she says, “You don’t have to be like the next person. College is a time when you should learn about yourself and challenge beliefs. Be comfortable with being a little uncomfortable, you might learn something about yourself. You don’t have to compare yourself to the next person and unfortunately that’s all you see on social media these days.”

When asked how Residential Life can build a better sense of community on campus, Maiden says, “By doing a little bit of everything. It starts as soon as students walk into our halls. We let them know this is not only a safe space, but this is also a brave space, where they can be brave enough to be whoever they want to be. We emphasize that when we do our programs, they are inclusive. All programs are devised based on student feedback. It’s not all about what we think, it’s about what the students need, what are they looking for. Do they need a ‘stress reliever’ program? Do they want a movie night? We want to make sure their voices are heard.”

Maiden stresses students need to be social and participate in campus events and programs as there is much to be gained by joining in the Westfield State Experience.

“We challenge our students to go a little further to get out of their comfort zone, be comfortable with being a little uncomfortable, and be open to other world views,” she said. “Being open to participating in a Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion program, for instance, which aims to show not all people are a certain way even though they’ve been taught a certain way all their life. Just changing one little perception can do a mountain of good.”

For students having a challenging time getting acclimated to a life on campus, Maiden advises students to “get out of their room,” and participate in a group or club, or even sitting in the lounge for a while.

Westfield has more than 70 active recreational, social, and academic student clubs and organizations in which to choose.

Maiden emphasizes her personal approach to reach and connect with students is to show care and empathy.

“We need to make sure every conversation we have with students is intentional. Showing care when you plan a program, showing care during every interaction, whether positive or negative one, showing that, yes, this is a job for me, but I’m doing this because I really do care.”