Do you remember when Greg and Marcia Brady both tried to move into the attic and it took a meeting of the minds between the Brady parents to make a decision? Even though Illinois State University has a rich “Brady” history (alumnus Gary Cole played Mike Brady twice in the 90s popular movies), we are more than happy to instead be able to turn to Assistant Director of Residential Life Guadalupe Montalvo to solve those types of tricky room-swaps and reservations here on our campus.
Montalvo started with University Housing Services (UHS) more than 11 years ago, noting during our conversation that she was expecting to be here on campus for just two of those before moving elsewhere. She has served as a residence hall coordinator, an area coordinator, and in an interim assignment in administration before officially taking on her current role four years ago. Her team provides oversight and direction for those aforementioned room requests, as well as managing the University’s housing and dining portal, where they keep busy by researching how to take advantage of additional functionality and in turn make the portal simpler to use for both students and staff. They also manage the day-to-day operations of phone calls from students and families inquiring about access, rules, logistics, and occasionally some life questions.
“The process starts in February for the portal. As the students are admitted, the questions generally center around when they will be able to sign their housing contract or see their dining plans,” Montalvo said. “February through August is our busiest time of contact with the prospective students and families, and then in August that is generally handed over to their hall staff during check-in.” This year that hand-off will see UHS implementing a new residential curriculum to further help with those “life questions” as well as offering developmental opportunities and intentional conversations beyond the first impression.
Check-in has really changed over the years since Montalvo started at ISU. “On my very first move-in experience, I was a hall coordinator and went to the window to see over 100 families lined up on both sides from the circle drive at Watterson Towers,” she said. “Scheduling was a little looser at that time, and probably tougher than what was the procedure for tracking the check-in. Coordinators would have cards to write the student’s essential information on, number each one on the reverse, and finally tally the number of cards and report to the assistant director the totals at the end-of-day. Now that we have the ability to check-in via mobile phone and device, we are able to quickly look-up each student, merge in the demographic and essential data, and provide real-time reporting more accurately on a regular basis throughout the experience.” Montalvo noted that the technology has also played a role in better communicating with families and students before and during the experience. Now that incoming students can download the Illinois State University app and view resources on their devices, everyone is able to find out information as they need it, and communication can be pushed out to all populations on an as-needed basis.
Beyond the technology, Montalvo credits better traffic patterns, increased training, and staff involvement with helping to make the move-in experience go more smoothly. She is quick to add that after the initial migration of our “new birds” to campus, the staff involvement and volunteering does not stop.
“I love how each area team is responsible for staffing and assisting with the logistics, greeting, tickets, travel, and other logistics at our UHS-sponsored cultural dinners. During my stint with area staff, we were responsible for Lin Manuel Miranda’s visit to campus, but one of my favorite memories of these events was actually one that was unexpected. Actress and author Diane Guerrero came to Bloomington/Normal to speak on campus, but her luggage did not. She was so down-to-earth and approachable, and I was selected to escort her around town to shop for wardrobe and get her hair done, since she was without any of the items she planned to bring.”
Montalvo’s favorite one-on-one interactions, however, come sometimes as unexpected opportunities where she can offer individualized attention to students and families. “We are with these students 24/7, beyond the classroom experience, and get to see students at their best and sometimes at their lower points. I recall getting summoned to a floor to speak with a student who was thinking seriously about leaving college early. It just so happened this was the same student who I had walked across campus during her family’s first visit to Normal. After a long conversation with the student and her mother, she instead went home and picked up some additional items to bring back to her room. Those are the types of relationships and encounters that explain why I am here going on nine years longer than anticipated. I had that same experience with key people in my life at just the right time, and I appreciate being able to be there similarly for others in that way.”
Director of University Housing Services Stacey Mwilambwe called Montalvo “an insightful critical thinker and problem solver,” adding “Lupe’s contributions have made the daily difference for thousands of students over the years.”
If campus staff are looking for an opportunity to volunteer and answer questions, there are few better opportunities within that first crucial six weeks than by partnering with a UHS staff member for a program called House Calls. Look for an opportunity to sign up coming soon. You may even wind up with a free cookie out of it from her friends and colleagues at Event Management, Dining, and Hospitality, which Montalvo highly recommends…even though she is allergic to chocolate. “They are just THAT good!”