To say Brian Gaida is a leader at Plattsburgh State would be an understatement. Between student teaching, being the residence director of Banks Hall and being involved with fraternity and sorority life, he has certainly made his mark at PSUC.
Gaida is a childhood and special education major in his second year of the graduate program at PSUC. He said it’s really rewarding to seeing the progress of the children he works with.
“Especially with the preschool (children), I worked in a self-contained classroom so there was a lot of children there with special needs,” he said.
Gaida completed his practicum placement through PSUC, where he taught nonverbal children how to use the pec system, which is an alternative communication for people with autism or other special needs.
“I only had to do it for six weeks, but I did it for the whole semester and volunteered,” he said. “It’s amazing to see how much these kids have progressed from where they’ve started and how thankful the parents were with their progress.”
Gaida said it was probably the most rewarding out of all the places he has worked.
Before his junior year, he planned on living with friends off campus. However, he said he changed his mind after joining hall council, which led him to apply for a residence assistant job. Originally, he was waitlisted.
“It was a bummer at first, but then one day, I came home and was hanging out with my friends in Burlington, and I got a call saying, ‘Hey you want the job?’ and I said, ‘Heck yeah, I want that job,’” Gaida said.
Since then, he has been a community advocate and a residence assistant for Whiteface Hall, and he currently works in Banks Hall.
“He’s warm hearted, fun loving, charismatic and definitely one of my best friends,” Scott Sheehan, the residence hall director for Macdonough Hall said.
Sheehan met Gaida through residence life, but they worked together over the past summer during orientation.
“He’s doing a great job and puts on a lot of programs. His RAs really appreciate his approach to the job,” Sheehan said.
Banks Hall RA Maggie Griffiths met Gaida at the end of last year and bonded with him during their training. Griffiths said when she first met him, he was soft-spoken, but always felt comfortable around him.
“He’s one of those people you feel like you know him, even if you don’t know him. He’s easy to talk to and accommodating,” Griffiths said.
She said he never got frustrated with her.
“He was always like, ‘We’ll figure it out. It’ll come naturally. We’ll figure it out together,’” Griffiths said.
She also said Gaida is good at listening to other people’s problems and giving good advice.
Gaida said he had great mentors to help him along the way. He said he still calls his old director, Nichole Goodwin, for advice. He said when he first started, it was helpful to have other resident life members reassure each other.
Gaida said he didn’t expect to go into fraternity and sorority life when he first came to PSUC.
“I just kind of wrote it off in the beginning,” Gaida said. “It was the last thing on my to-do list.”
He said many of his friends dropped out or transferred during his sophomore year, and he decided to branch out and make a new group of friends. He went to different rush events and decided to be a part of Sigma Tau Gamma.
“It was the best decision I’ve ever made, next to joining reslife, because it not only helped me learn about myself, it helped me grow,” Gaida said.
He said he was able to gain more leadership by holding executive board positions.
In his first semester of joining, he was elected to be the vice president of membership, where he was in charge of recruitment for their chapter.
Gaida said there is a stigma that fraternity and sorority life is about consistent partying, but there are also many community service opportunities.
Last year, Gaida went on Alternative Spring Break, spending one week in Florida and one week in South Carolina.
“That’s where I did Habitat for Humanity, and it just showed me that there’s a lot of poverty there and it’s so awesome to see how appreciative people were,” he said.
Most recently, he led Alternative Winter Break this past winter, where he and eight other PSUC students traveled to Naples, Florida, and were part of a crew working with a state park to decrease an invasive plant species. They used special herbicides and a Brazilian pepper to take down the forest.
Gaida said that even though student teaching is rewarding, he wants to continue to pursue a position in residence life and fraternity and sorority life.
Gaida will graduate in the spring, but he applied for the student affair education program in hopes of staying at PSUC for another two years.
“Taking the plunge is nerve-wracking,” Gaida said. “The bigger the splash, the better it is.”
Email Kavita Singh at firstname.lastname@example.org