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Hall Wardens - "a tremendously positive impact on hall life"

by Wendy Raeside

Living away from home, parents and close friends, and getting used to a totally different lifestyle as a first year student, can be quite a daunting experience.

To help new students cope with this, we have a team of wardens at Imperial College, who live in every hall of residence to help students settle in, make friends and, generally, get the most out of their new way of life.

The majority of wardens are young academic staff who volunteer for the role because they enjoy close contact with students.

To give you an insight into their activities, two long-standing wardens — Elaine Maibaum and Anthony Kucernak — describe their roles:

In constant demand

Beit Hall Assistant Warden Elaine Maibaum is in constant demand. She combines her wardening role with being a postdoctoral researcher in biomedical sciences and bringing up tiny baby Ben with husband Michael.

image: Elaine and family

Elaine has been a warden at Imperial for the past five years, since joining Imperial as a PhD student in electrochemistry. At Beit Hall, in the centre of the South Kensington campus Opens in new window, Elaine works as part of an eight-strong wardening team. Beit Hall is home to 320 students, mostly first year undergraduates.

For Elaine, an important part of her role is helping with individual student concerns, from money worries to not getting on with a room-mate. "We have a rota system," says Elaine," so that students in any sort of difficulty can get in touch with one of us at any time of day."

It's not just about dealing with problems though and a fun side of wardening is arranging social activities for students in each hall. In Elaine's case, this can range from hall breakfasts every Sunday to ice skating at Somerset House and a day trip to France.

"We try to have a broad range of events to cater for students of different nationalities and different interests. One of our nicest social get-togethers recently was to mark Diwali, where we gave students the money for ingredients and they cooked lots of different dishes to share with others in the hall."

Beit Hall accommodation

One of the best aspects of wardening for Elaine is seeing former residents celebrate their graduation-especially those who had been ready to leave due to homesickness. On the flipside come experiences such a accompanying students to hospital — but, to help prepare for this, all wardens have first aid training, and full support from College Tutors, counsellors and the Health Centre.

"To be a good warden," says Elaine "you have to be an outgoing person, but also caring, approachable and trustworthy. It's definitely something I'd recommend to anyone with these sorts of qualities. It's a big commitment, but you get a lot back."

She adds: "Personally, I've really benefited from it. When Ben grows up to be a teenager, there'll be nothing I haven't seen before!"

First weeks are most important

According to Linstead Hall Warden Anthony Kucernak Opens in new window, the first weeks of term are the busiest, but also the most important.

Linstead Hall

"Students are arriving here at one of the most difficult periods in their life-the transition to adulthood-and we try to make it as unstressful as possible for both them and their parents. I firmly believe that if you put in the effort at the beginning, the rest of the year tends to go well."

Anthony, a Reader in Physical Chemistry, has been a warden for the past five years. He lives at Linstead Hall campus with his wife Lynn and two year-old daughter Zara.

Linstead Hall in Prince's Gardens Opens in new window is the only catered hall at South Kensington-its building was funded by an anonymous benefactor who wanted to create a collegiate atmosphere on campus. The 187 students, mostly first-year undergraduates, join together for a meal on campus every weekday. There are also numerous social events, from paintballing to boat trips, activities like table tennis and film shows, and the hall's own weekend football team.

"In the first few weeks," says Anthony, "we try to build a strong 'esprit de corps' amongst our students-encouraging them to get along and look out for each other. If we get that right, and we usually do, it has a tremendously positive impact on hall life and benefits everyone."

A real sense of community at Linstead is reinforced by offering rooms each year to a number of handpicked 're-apps', students in the hall for a second year. There is also an active group of 'ex-Linsteadians'-students who used to live in Linstead and return for social events.

The hall's busy social calendar is, for Anthony, one of the big pluses of being a warden: "You have a very full social life and many of the students really do become your friends," he says. "The downside is being woken up by, for example, a fire alarm at 02.00 and dealing with complaints from local residents." To help keep complaints like this to a minimum, the hall has a clear set of ground rules which Anthony and his team ensure are followed as far as possible.

Around half of Linstead's students are from overseas, which creates its own challenges. "We try to be as inclusive as possible," says Anthony, who himself originates from New Zealand. "For example, we have transformed the hall bar into a café area where, instead of just drinking, everyone can get together."

The high proportion of overseas students also means that many stay in the hall during vacation times. However, those lucky enough to be in Linstead Hall at Christmas are in for an antipodean treat. Whatever the weather, Anthony normally shares a BBQ roast lamb with everyone on Boxing Day.