Featured Stories

Peer Chaplains in the Commons

Written by: Kaleb Loomis, Assistant Chaplain in the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life

In 2021, the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life launched the Peer Chaplain Program as a new Peer Leader Position within the Residential Commons. This year, four student leaders worked within the 11 Residential Commons to help create spaces for students to reflect on their spirituality and explore their religious lives. Through programming and one on one conversations, Peer Chaplains cared for students, offered opportunities for belonging, and encouraged students to grow in their understandings of themselves and the world around them.

Serving and Learning

Throughout the entire 2021-22 Academic Year, Peer Chaplains had the opportunity to provide unique programs and events for students that centered around their spiritual lives, mental wellbeing, and community building. From ice cream socials to arts and crafts nights, Peer Chaplains hosted 24 distinct events within the Commons. Additionally, they started initiatives such as the weekly Peer Chaplain Monday Message and the Candy Basket Program to provide encouragement and raise awareness of on-campus resources for their students. The Peer Chaplains immersed themselves within their Commons community by participating in Commons Leadership, attending signature events, and investing in the lives of students and staff through intentional relationship building. The Peer Chaplains Program serves as a model for providing spiritual care to the Commons. In fact, Kathy Crow Commons honored their Peer Chaplain, Stella Cho, with their Community Engagement Award at the end of the Year Banquet.

“As a Peer Chaplain, I loved meeting students and planning fun programs for their spiritual life. As I met students in the Commons, it was meaningful to show that there is always a presence who can communicate and help them, and provide the religious resources they might need.”

Master of Divinity
Peer Chaplain for Kathy Crow, Loyd, and Ware Commons

Though they provided community service to their respective Commons, the Peer Chaplains also reflected on the value of serving in the position for their personal growth and learning. They gained skills in event planning, teamwork, and community organizing by hosting programs. Working with a variety of students from diverse backgrounds challenged them to think creatively about inclusive programming. They valued the opportunity to adapt their unique skill sets to different communities in order to offer care to students and unique programming efforts. Through this experience, the Peer Chaplains were able to connect their interests in offering care with their vocational aspirations.

Growing and Expanding the Program

This year’s cohort of Peer Chaplains demonstrated the potential for the program, and provided valuable feedback for how to build upon their work. The Peer Chaplains highlighted the value of being involved in the regular life of the Commons and engaging with students in a residential context. They see opportunities for further collaboration not only with other Peer Leaders but also among Peer Chaplains. Amidst these successes, the Peer Chaplains recognized some of the difficulties of helping to launch a new program. Providing adequate attention to 11 different Commons with only 4 Peer Chaplains proved challenging. Because the position was so new, other students weren’t always quite sure the role or purpose of having a Peer Chaplain. Despite these circumstances, the Peer Chaplains saw these challenges as an occasion for continued creativity and enhancement of the program.

“Providing care to students as a Peer Chaplain involves being active in your designated community and the community, knowing why you’re there and spreading awareness about the resources that the Office of the Chaplain Provides. It also involves sitting and listening to students about the issues that they face and helping guide them in a positive direction or getting them the help they need from other resources that are on campus.

I love getting to hear students talk and work towards their future, watching them mature and accomplish more as they learn to navigate the academic environment. Also, I value getting to hear their struggles and supporting them to move in the direction of a healthier and happier life.”

Hunter Barnett, ‘23
Master of Divinity
Peer Chaplain for Mary Hey/Peyton/Shuttles, Boaz, and Virginia-Snider Commons

As a result of what we learned this year, the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life is excited about changes and updates for next year. In order to better define the purpose and role of the position, we have changed the name from Peer Chaplains to Spiritual Life Mentors. We made a concerted recruitment effort in order to expand our team from four students to nine students so that more time and attention can be given to each Commons. Finally, we outlined guiding values to help lead the program forward: Care, Belong, and Grow. The work of the Peer Chaplains this year laid the groundwork for the Spiritual Life Mentors to offer intentional care to students, create spaces of belonging, and offer opportunities for students to grow in their spiritual and religious lives.

Featured Stories

Engage Dallas Announces Sixteen New Dallas Community Partnerships

In January 2022, Engage Dallas announced sixteen new partnerships with organizations in the Dallas community, with a continued focus on the South and West Dallas communities. Over the course of the fall semester, Engage Dallas committees recognized the need to expand their network of community partners to benefit both the community and SMU student needs. Work for the spring semester begins in February with group and solo service opportunities for students to get involved. Read the entire announcement and view the list of new community partnerships on the Engage Dallas blog site linked below.

Engage Dallas is a place-based community engagement initiative via SMU’s Residential Commons to address community needs focusing on South and West Dallas. The initiative is a long-term, university-wide commitment led by students to partner with local residents, organizations, and other leaders to positively impact the community. There is equal emphasis on campus and community impact stemming from the initiative.

Photos from Fall 2021 Engage Dallas events

Featured Stories

Brock Rigsby Demonstrates Courageous Leadership while Learning to Focus on the Big Picture

Meet Brock Rigsby. He is a Psychology and French Studies Double Major from Hot Springs, Arkansas and a self-proclaimed convert from “somewhat of a control freak” to “less of a control freak.” Alexander Rentz, Residential Community Director for Virginia-Snider Commons, has watched and supported Brock as he has stepped up to serve his residential commons in various roles. Of Rigsby, Rentz told us:

Brock currently serves as the Chief of Staff for the Virginia-Snider Commons Council. Brock has been invaluable with the overall success for the council with overcoming any obstacles they have faced. In fact, Brock served in an interim role of President when the acting president had to take a leave of absence. Additionally, Brock has done a great job with responding to complaints from the residents of Virginia-Snider and making sure the concerns of the residents are being addressed in a timely manner. Simply put, Brock has been instrumental towards providing a quality residential experience in Virginia-Snider. In the future, Brock plans on obtaining a PhD with the hopes of serving as a child psychologist.

We asked Brock, “What have you learned (either about yourself or in terms of new knowledge/skills) and how have you changed/grown as a result of your involvement on Commons Council? Here is what he had to say:

During my time on Commons Council, I’ve been exposed to a variety of situations and issues that provided opportunities for learning and growing. I learned first and foremost that I have a tendency to over-extend myself and have to take a step back sometimes… and that that is okay! There is an entire team of qualified individuals on our council, and an entire building of eager residents that are ready to help them. Learning this about myself led to positive changes in my life as I have transitioned from somewhat of a control freak to less of a control freak. Everything takes time, right? In all seriousness, though, our programs have similar or even greater success when they are spontaneous as opposed to having months of planning, and that fact has helped me stop stressing over the little things and look more at the big picture.

Brock Rigsby (’20) is a Psychology and French Studies Double Major. He is from Hot Springs, Arkansas and his Residential Commons affiliation is Virginia-Snider.

To learn more about Residence Life and Student Housing, please visit


Madison Mucci-Ferris co-authors article focusing on the impact of parental support on college students during the COVID-19 pandemic

Madison Mucci-Ferris, Residential Community Director in Residence Life and Student Housing, recently co-authored the article, College students’ mental well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic: The role of relational turbulence and social support processes in relationships with parents. The article, on which Mucci-Ferris collaborated with Dr. Timothy Worley of Penn State, focuses on the impact that parental support has had on college students in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The full text of the article can be found here.

Featured Stories

Mustang Spotlight: Isabel Costian (’21)

Photo of Isabel Costian standing in front of a colorful brick wall. She is looking at the camera, smiling, and is wearing a black and white floral shirt.


Isabel Costian (’21) is not lacking for ways to be involved on the Hilltop. She is a Hunt Scholar, Undergraduate Admissions Ambassador, a Stampede Orientation Guide, and holds numerous other leadership roles and memberships in communities all over campus. Of particular note, Isabel is also a profound contributor to SMU’s Residential Commons. She recently took a moment to reflect on her experiences within Residence Life and Student Housing.

In Boaz, I served as Vice President and currently serve as the Commuter Ambassador, a position I created because I felt that commuter students (who are automatically affiliated with Boaz) needed more opportunities for community. In Program Council, I’ve done everything from Internal Development Chair (running weekly meetings) to Programming Chair (planning everything from a Bob Ross painting event to a pool party) to Digital Communications Chair (currently running social media). Through these and other leadership opportunities on campus, I’ve learned that it’s never too late to try something out of your comfort zone, which is why I just joined Mustang11 and am excited to revive it for this upcoming year! I’ll also be interning in the Marketing department at Southwest Airlines this summer.

I’ve always been involved and active in whatever I participate in, but I feel like I’ve had unique experiences at SMU that have allowed me to go deeper and accomplish more than I ever could have imagined. When I was selected to be Vice President of Boaz, I was a second-semester freshman who had never even lived in the building, as a commuter affiliate. I doubted myself and my abilities, but instead of letting that hold me back, I threw myself completely into it and revamped the process of submitting fund requests within Boaz, making it a more interactive experience where everyone’s voices could be heard. I was forced to make a lot of tough decisions alongside my President, but we ended up leading our commons to victory by winning the Commons Cup both years that we served on Exec. That initial experience showed me that I could do whatever I put my mind to, which has propelled me forward both here at SMU and off-campus with amazing internship opportunities where I’ve learned more than I’d ever expect to as a student. My main takeaway is to dream big, but don’t stop there: actually take the steps toward achieving it, because you might get farther than you’d thought.

Isabel Costian (’21) is a Marketing Major with Minors in Advertising, Arts Management, Psychology, and History. She is from Richardson, Texas and her Residential Commons affiliation is Boaz Commons.

Featured Stories

Wren Lee Selected for NASPA Undergraduate Fellows (NUFP) Program

SMU junior Wren Lee has been selected as a NASPA Undergraduate Fellows Program (NUFP) fellow.

The NUFP is a program that allows students to “increase the number of historically disenfranchised and underrepresented professionals in student affairs and higher education” and “have opportunities for scholarships, on-campus mentorship, and professional development events.” Fellows and mentors apply to the program as a pair. Residence Life & Student Housing (RLSH) Director of Academic Initiatives, Dr. Dustin Grabsch, will be Wren’s mentor for the program. 

Wren looks forward to being a part of the NUFP, and setting the foundation for making an impact on college campuses – starting here, at SMU. 

“I’m most excited about working with my mentor Dustin Grabsch to learn more about working in student affairs,” Lee said. “It’s a career you don’t learn about until you’re in college, so I have a lot I want to learn about.”

Congratulations to Wren Lee for becoming a NUFP Fellow! 

To learn more about Residence Life and Student Housing, visit or the RLSH blog.


Featured Stories

Managing a Move in the Middle of a Global Pandemic

It is often said that moving is one of the most stressful life events. Imagine, if you will, having to move during a global pandemic when you are halfway across the country. This is the exact situation that our residential students found themselves in shortly after Spring Break 2020. In this time, Residence Life and Student Housing (RLSH) staff were tasked with creating a move out process to enable students to gather their belongings safely and efficiently. We knew there would be challenges, and we knew we would not be able to create something that worked for everyone. However, we planned a process to meet the needs of most students. From that point forward, our staff worked with diligence and compassion to support students through their unique and personal situations.

As we approached this challenge, we quickly thought through the situation and created moving options for those students with travel restrictions, health concerns, or financial hardships that prevented them from returning to campus to collect their belongings. These included the option to choose a moving company or identify a proxy to help move belongings on their behalf. Additionally, we had to think through options for those students who had nowhere else to go or were unable to leave campus during the pandemic. In the midst of all of this, we were able to create a pathway that allowed these students to remain in their on-campus home. Our hope for both of these processes was to provide all residential students the ability to choose what was best for them based on their own personal needs.

We want to thank you for creating such a safe and efficient move out process. [We] had multiple flights cancelled on our way from Charleston to Dallas, but you and your team supported us all along the way. Thank you for being flexible as we made requests to change our move out time. When we made it to Dallas, the move out was simple and easy. I can’t even imagine the hours you all have put in to manage this process. We just want you to know that we appreciate your efforts, and it is a job well done!

-SMU Parent

While the dust settled from students moving out and our team transitioning to a limited number of residential students, Residential Commons Directors, Faculty in Residence, and their leadership teams worked together to create virtual programs and initiatives that kept students engaged in their community and with one another. One such success was the Virginia-Snider Trivia Night. Trivia Night is a wildly competitive, semesterly program that attracts multiple teams, and the Virginia-Snider leadership team wasn’t going to let a global pandemic stand in their way! They utilized their technology skills to pull off a well-attended and successful virtual experience that allowed students to feel connected to a commons’ tradition while remote.

During this time, RLSH didn’t operate as an island unto themselves; our staff collaborated with multiple campus partners to help support our students through these unprecedented and ambiguous times. Whether it was connecting with the Dean of Students office for an emergency fund request or working with Associate Provost for Student Academic Engagement and Success, Dr. Sheri Kunovich, and her team to support students in their remote learning experience and retention efforts, RLSH staff made sure to connect residents to all of the SMU resources available to them.

Residence Life and Student Housing is a unit equipped to handle the most obscure and random emergencies you can imagine; yet, a global pandemic was not something we had ever imagined. As we reflect on the processes developed to safely close our communities during these ever-changing and unprecedented times, we would say the RLSH staff rose to the challenge of meeting the needs of students and providing the same level of care and support they would have found if they were still living with us on campus.

For more information about Residence Life and Student Housing at SMU, please visit

Featured Stories

HUB Leaders | Leadership that unifies

The Housing Unification Board (HUB) is a group of nine undergraduate students who work to support and enhance the residential experience, and the Residential Commons system. Accomplishing their mission through advocacy, training and development, inclusivity, and programmatic opportunities, the HUB benefits and impacts all residents of SMU.

Photo of Stephanie DodgenOne of the first interactive experiences I had on campus was through Commons Cup. You might ask, “Well, what is Commons Cup?” It is opportunity on SMU’s campus wherein each Residential Commons comes together in a friendly competition throughout the year. There are four categories with multiple events and programs that count towards the Commons Cup. One of my favorite events is Battleship in the Pool, which involves three canoes with four team members in each who attempt to sink the other canoes. Through Commons Cup, we try to reach all students within the commons system by providing various types of programming. For example, we include intellectual opportunities like a trivia night in an event called QuizBowl, creative ones such as a Talent Show, service-oriented experiences including The Big Event, and physical activity-related competitions such as RC games and intramurals for athletics. Every event requires planning on our side but also the drive of each commons to show their spirit.

The Housing Unification Board (HUB) started my sophomore year at SMU and I was given the opportunity to be a part of its charter year. From these experiences, I’ve learned what it takes to make a successful program through meticulous planning and active marketing. This year is my second on the HUB, and as the Executive Director and the past Director of Community Collaborations, I’ve had many experiences and opportunities to learn how to program on a large scale.

I first joined HUB to become active on campus and to be able to make an impact on the residential experience for all students. This leadership position unites the different commons and fosters a culture on campus where students can participate in a safe campus life experience. Together with the other directors we worked to represent resident issues on campus and provide Hall Improvement Funds to build more community within each Residential Commons. One of our goals is to provide opportunities for each of the commons to continue to build community through Community Development Funds.

I’ve learned many things from this leadership experience, but the main one would be self-discipline. Although it takes time to set up the events, I’ve learned to plan ahead and schedule around classes to ensure that programs are successful. Serving as Executive Director on the Housing Unification Board has been a wonderful experience and a great opportunity for me to develop my interpersonal and leadership skills.

Written by Stephanie Dodgen, Executive Director of the Housing Unification Board

Photo of Madi Tedrow wearing a blue shirt, she has medium length brown hair and is smiling with her head slightly tiltedMy involvement with Student Affairs, specifically as HUB Director of Marketing, has pushed me outside my comfort zone in two main ways.

As an engineering major, I don’t often have the opportunity to flex my creative muscles, but the HUB has challenged me to think in different and out-of-the-box ways with graphic design and advertising. I try to incorporate this creativity into my work in ways that also allow me to learn new skills like stop-motion animation, PhotoShop, and various audiovisual editing platforms.

HUB has also made me incredibly passionate about building community—something I didn’t realize I cared so deeply about until I became more involved with Student Affairs. I think the HUB opened my eyes to the incredible spectrum of people on campus and how important it is that we are connected to one another. As a result, I’ve become very invested in listening to people’s stories, experiences, and ideas and making it a part of not only my position on the HUB, but my everyday life to make those things heard.

Written by Madi Tedrow, Director of Marketing for the Housing Unification Board

For more information about Residence Life and Student Housing, please visit