Optimizing living experiences for the University’s students

Rob Wild loves the daily challenges in the Office of Residential Life

Rob Wild loves Washington University so much, he just couldn’t leave. At least not for long. Wild, a 1993 Arts & Sciences graduate, worked for a few years at the University of Wisconsin after graduating and is now back as an associate director in the Office of Residential Life. He could not be happier.

“I really love my job,” he said. “No two days are ever the same.”

Rob Wild, associate director of residential life, leads a recent program for students.
Rob Wild, associate director of residential life, leads a recent program for students. “Students love working with him, and his warm personality and well-known sense of humor make him approachable and fun to be around,” says Justin X. Carroll, assistant vice chancellor for students and director of residential life.

That’s a bit of an understatement. Wild oversees nine residential college directors (RCDs) and 109 residential assistants (RAs), and he deals directly and indirectly with most of the nearly 4,000 students who live in campus housing.

It can be a bit overwhelming, but he loves the challenge.

“My job is really to understand what is going at all times in all of the areas of residential life,” Wild said. “I’m mainly concerned with what is happening with our students and what we can do to make their living experience here the best it can be.”

He’s been interested in helping students for a long time. After his time as a WUSTL student — having rowed on the club crew team and having earned dual undergraduate Arts & Sciences degrees in biology and in African and Afro-American Studies — Wild joined Teach For America. He was assigned to teach eighth-grade earth science in the Bronx, N.Y., for two years.

Originally from the East Coast, Wild was happy to be heading home. He thought he’d never come back to St. Louis because he had no particular ties to the city.

His then-girlfriend, fellow Arts & Sciences alum Angie Borel, joined him in New York, and they married after Wild’s Teach For America experience. Then it was off to graduate school at Wisconsin, where Wild earned a master’s degree in higher education administration.

“I reached a crossroads after Teach For America,” Wild said. “I really had an amazing experience but knew I didn’t want to teach forever. I had no idea what I wanted to do.

“I was an RA at Washington University and had worked with Karen Coburn (assistant vice chancellor for students and associate dean for freshman transition) and Justin Carroll (assistant vice chancellor for students and director of residential life). I had worked in the alumni office as well. But I also had an interest in meteorology while I was teaching.

“I was trying to decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life at age 25 — work in student affairs or meteorology.”

Rob Wild, wife Angie and son Jack relax at home with the family dogs, Morgan (left) and Bailey.
Rob Wild, wife Angie and son Jack relax at home with the family dogs, Morgan (left) and Bailey.

He finally decided that he really wanted to work with students. While his wife worked on a doctorate in biology at Wisconsin, Wild took a job in the residential life office there, working as a hall director in the dorms.

After his wife earned the doctorate in 1999, the couple began to look for a new place to live. Needing references, Wild called Carroll, with whom he’d kept in touch since graduating.

“Justin said I could use him as a reference on the stipulation that I’d interview for a job at Washington University,” Wild said. “I agreed, but I really wasn’t thinking I’d come back. I was interviewing more on the coasts at that time, and I wasn’t thinking St. Louis was were I’d end up.”

He quickly changed his mind when he returned to campus.

“I couldn’t believe how much residential life had changed since I was an undergraduate,” Wild said. “The staff who were there and are still there were so dynamic. It was amazing.

“I thought the emphasis on faculty involvement in residential colleges was so positive and something I was really interested in working with. I wasn’t finding that at other schools and was very excited about the possibilities here.”

He interviewed, loved it and decided to go for it.

“My wife got a job doing a postdoc in cell biology at the (Washington University) medical school. It worked out great,” Wild said. “I started as an RCD for a couple years and now work as an associate director, which involves supervising all the RCDs and working with RAs and all the students on the South 40 — which is just a dream job for me. I love it.”

Carroll, with whom Wild now works very closely, welcomed him back.

“Early on, I knew Rob possessed exceptional leadership skills, and my opinion of him was widely shared by other administrators, faculty, coaches and importantly, his peers,” Carroll said. “He had many special gifts, and I knew he was well-suited for a career in education, particularly higher education.”

Wild sees his position as being more of a coach.

“I help set priorities and deal with issues when they arise,” Wild said. “I also spend a lot of time working with our campus partners like University Police, the University counseling office, the Office of Student Activities, The Career Center, etc. I am so rarely in my office because I do a lot of relationship-building.”

In fact, that relationship-building is the reason he loves his job so much.

“There are so many opportunities to work closely with other departments,” he said. “We are so fortunate at this University in that we are able to foster those relationships with people outside our own departments and really learn from them.”

Though the job can be stressful at times, Wild tries to maintain his sense of humor.

“Sometimes you have to look at the things students do and laugh,” he said. “Otherwise you can really get emotionally burned out.

“Perhaps the most challenging and potentially humorous situations involve roommate relationships. On several occasions since I’ve been working in residential life, I’ve had to deal with a roommate disagreement where the conflict involves one of the roommates wanting to be naked while they’re in the room. Sometimes it’s hard to keep a straight face when mediating a conflict like that.”

Rob Wild

University position: Associate director in the Office of Residential Life

Family: Wife, Angie; son, Jack

Hobbies: Biking, hiking, reading, taking care of Jack

Special recognition: Wild won a W. Alfred Hayes Award at the Eliot Honors ceremony his senior year at WUSTL. The award is given each year to graduating students who have distinguished themselves as both exceptional athletes and leaders in the community.

His efforts are appreciated by his colleagues.

“As a skilled administrator now, Rob is a dynamic individual,” Carroll said. “Students love working with him, and his warm personality and well-known sense of humor make him approachable and fun to be around.

“The serious side to Rob includes an incredible work ethic, great insight into the students’ experience, thoughtful problem-solver, ability to juggle multiple issues at the same time and wonderful compassion.”

Coburn added, “Rob is committed to enhancing the quality of life in the residence halls and promoting the success of all undergraduates. It was always a pleasure to work with him when he was an undergraduate here, and I’m thrilled that he has returned to us as a young professional in such an important role.

“He’s bright, thoughtful, organized — and not only that, he has a great sense of humor and is a delightful colleague.”

When he isn’t working, Wild is most likely at home helping Angie take care of their son Jack, who was born in June.

“That’s been a big life change for us,” he said. “It’s really an exciting time.”

Wild also enjoys reading and outdoor activities, including biking, hiking and walking in Forest Park.

He hopes to continue working with students for a long time.

“The thing about this job is that you have to see the humor in it, and I certainly do,” Wild said. “I always talk about writing a book of all the hilarious anecdotes I hear and see every day. I’m sure it would be a best seller!”

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