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C.R.E.A.T.E. Approach to Apartment Programming: Six keys to a successful program

By Brian L. McGowan, Residence Life Coordinator at Rutgers University

Are you looking for a new way to approach programming in your apartment area? Are you tired of looking at traditional residence halls programming models and tweaking it to fit an apartment community? Many institutions have begun to answer these questions based on their apartment communities. One commonly used framework is based on the perspective of Ernest Boyer’s book: Campus life: In search of community. The book provides an overview of the framework for creating community on our campuses. Using Boyer’s principles of community and utilizing the Community Development Curriculum (CDC) from my staff I developed the “C.R.E.A.T.E. Approach to Apartment Programming”. Although we enjoy catchy acronyms, I feel it is important to have an easy guide to approach programming, especially in the apartment areas where students often are looking for something different. I tell my staff, “You have to C.R.E.A.T.E. a successful program”. This approach presents six key elements to creating a successful apartment area program. One benefit of this approach is that it can be modified to fit within your institution’s programming plan or model.

Before looking at the C.R.E.A.T.E. approach, adequate program planning is critical. Many programs are thrown together at the last minute and ultimately are unsuccessful. Planning helps you identify pitfalls that could exist in advance. Furthermore, it allows everyone to be on the same page. Although not an exhaustive list, here are some things to consider while planning:

  1. Identify your audience and their interest
  2. Decide on a program goal
  3. Identify the best means to reach your goal
  4. Develop the program.

The C.R.E.A.T.E. Approach


Collaboration is critical in apartment areas given the community dynamics. Utilize apartment government members, RA staff members, student leaders, and other offices at the university or within the division such as health services, career services, intramural athletics…etc. Collaboration produces higher quality programs while continuing to nurture relationships that Residence Life has with other offices. Additionally, collaboration increases program attendance. Overall, the residents will benefit from successful collaborations.


All programs need to be appropriate and relevant for the apartment community. Students choose to live in university apartments for a variety of reasons including residing with friends outside of a traditional residence hall and being able to live in an independent setting. It is important for RA’s to identify community needs while making sure the programs are relevant to this population.


Education is a key component of a program. Learning goals and outcomes should be incorporated into every program. It is our job to educate students beyond the classroom setting. Educational programs should line up with the residence life departmental mission, values, and goals statement.


Advertising is important. Placing an 8 1⁄2 X 11 piece of paper on a wall isn’t always the best way to advertise. Creative advertising is a must. Multiple advertising methods should produce more students. Think outside the box and meet students where they are. My staff has to advertise using two methods for every program (programming website, door hangers, evite, Facebook, flyers…etc.)


It is important to make sure the program is at the appropriate time of the year. Having a BBQ in December in the Northeast may not be a great idea. Again, it is important to know the needs of your community. Some programs may have to be created as a result of some things going on in your area. Timing is always critical.


Assessment and evaluation goes hand and hand. Assessment is one key component in improving programs. Once the program is adequately assessed, evaluation becomes critical. Evaluating programs help you determine the strengths and weaknesses of the program from beginning to end. Consider creating an effective evaluative tool for programming.

About the Author

Brian McGowan is a Residence Life Coordinator at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey – New Brunswick. He earned his master’s degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs from The Ohio State University and his bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Old Dominion University. He co-developed a model to incorporate student engagement into an apartment area. Currently, he oversees an area of approximately 1400 students while aiding students in their overall development. He has presented at various conferences on issues regarding residence life, male identity development, and minority students.