Richardson Finds Leadership Opportunities in Residence Hall Organizations

Burton Richardson

Burton Richardson was no stranger to leadership positions when he came to Purdue University, having earned the rank of Eagle Scout during high school. However, earning a leadership position wasn’t immediately on his mind upon arriving for his first semester at Purdue.

That changed during his first week on campus, when Richardson received an email inviting all residents of Shreve Hall to apply for positions on the executive board of Shreve Club. He answered the call-out and, on somewhat of a whim, applied for the position of club president. Weeks later, he was named club president and began taking advantage of the first of numerous opportunities he has found to serve as a leader in University Residences. 

“I came to Purdue for school,” Richardson says. “Extracurriculars weren’t really on my mind at that point, but two weeks later they told me I was Shreve president. I thought ok, let’s go.

“I really draw towards leadership positions just because I feel like I can learn something from them,” Richardson continues. “I don’t know what I’ll learn, but that’s the fun part. I enjoy holding a leadership position because it gives me something to do. I get to meet a lot of people and learn things from them that I can adapt.”

Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic during the 2020-21 academic year provided Richardson with unique challenges and a rewarding, though somewhat limited experience in comparison to a typical school year. He says he met his core group of friends in Shreve and enjoyed helping the residents there. While he enjoyed his experiences in Shreve, Richardson began to think about other opportunities that would be a better fit for the type of environment he enjoyed most.

“I just felt like I was missing out on something,” Richardson says. “I like larger communities. I like bigger crowds – that’s just where I find my most excitement.”

Filling in for Shreve Hall’s Residence Hall Association (RHA) senator during an RHA meeting opened Richardson’s eyes to a new opportunity. His visit to the meeting coincided with RHA elections and he says he was inspired to get involved after listening to what the students running for office had to say. Richardson quickly got involved, initially serving as the national communications chair. In this role, he served as Purdue’s RHA liaison to regional and national residence hall club organizations and participated in the Great Lakes Affiliate of College and University Residence Halls conference, held virtually over Discord and Zoom.

Richardson currently serves as vice president of RHA. His primary duties include presiding over RHA Senate meetings, working on legislation and advising committees. He also stepped in to serve as marketing director during the fall semester, advertising RHA and the organization’s events to students in residence halls.

RHA hosts and supports numerous events throughout the year, beginning with RHA Day. Typically held near the beginning of the school year, RHA Day is an annual carnival that brings together all hall clubs from the residence hall system to advertise, network and recruit new members. This year’s event was well-attended and helped mark the full return of the residential campus experience after many events had to be scaled down or presented in alternative formats in accordance with the Protect Purdue plan during the 2020-21 school year.

“It was really awesome to see the community come together just because it was the biggest event I’d seen to that point,” Richardson says. “The previous year, all the events we could have were where people would just walk by and couldn’t stay. People were staying and doing things and it made me really excited to see.” 

RHA also hosts an annual talent show for students in the residence halls, known as Res Halls’ Got Talent, and numerous other events. The organization awards funds to residence hall clubs and student organizations for events and initiatives as well.

This year, RHA hosted Alexi Pappas, an Olympic runner and award-winning actor and writer, who shared inspirational messages with students in Loeb Playhouse as part of Mental Health Action Week. Pappas also joined members of RHA for a morning run. Richardson met Pappas and says he found her messages both helpful and inspiring.

“One of the things she said that stuck with me the most was that it’s ok to just calm down and take a break,” Richardson says. “Once you reach a high, like she did when running in the Olympics, you often think, ‘what’s next?’ I didn’t know that a lot of athletes have depressive episodes after they reach great feats because they don’t know what’s next or how they can top it. You can apply that to any situation. The way she spoke and perceived her situation was just very real.”

Richardson plans to stay involved in RHA, whether he is successful in a re-election campaign for vice president or pursues another position. He cites current RHA president Claire Schnefke, administrator Lynlee Rice, events director Megan Reger and former vice president Omair Choudhry as having a significant impact on his experience.

While serving in RHA has been a rewarding experience, Richardson also says it’s been a reminder that there are other ways he can lead and make an impact – which led to his interest in becoming a resident assistant. After applying last year, he was successful in obtaining an RA position in Shreve Hall for the 2022-23 school year.

“RHA has taught me that I should focus on a larger community, but that I also want to have a smaller group to go back to and lead,” Richardson says. “I’m excited to have a floor that I can be really close buddies with and lead because most of the people at Shreve are freshmen, and I want to lead them to having a good opening experience at Purdue. I think it will be awesome to see them grow.”

Richardson says he’s looking forward to meeting the rest of the Shreve RA staff in the coming weeks and start thinking about both how he can lead with his existing skills and further develop his leadership style for future endeavors.

“I focus mainly on communicating,” Richardson says. “I want to focus on leading people because I want to get to a point, especially after Purdue, where I can hold a variety of leadership positions to really make a change because that’s what I want to do. I just want to change people’s lives – maybe not drastically, but just small changes that make people happier, have an easier life and help them enjoy things more.”

Richardson notes that his mother, numerous high school teachers, parents of friends and community members from his hometown, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, have had a positive influence on his attitudes towards community and leadership. Currently part of Purdue’s first-year engineering program, he plans to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering and stay involved in the residence halls during the rest of his time at Purdue. 

Writer: Matt Vader | Editors: Tammy Loew, Renee Kashawlic, Danielle Fawbush

Editorial Board: Barb Frazee, Tammy Loew, Renee Kashawlic | Inquiries Contact:

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