For Damian Waite, newly hired Area Coordinator for Rand and Kildahl Halls, working at St. Olaf College was a bit unplanned. Growing up in Jamaica, Waite never expected to attend college, let alone move to the U.S. Yet here he is, a newly minted hire sitting in his Rand office, his cheerful smile and welcoming demeanor lighting up the room.
A whirlwind of chance events landed Waite on the Hill, starting with his journey to the U.S. for college.
“College was really very incidental,” Waite said. “I was very studious in high school, and I went to one of the top high schools in Jamaica. Even though I did very well in high school, no one ever told me that college was my next step.”
College first surfaced as a real possibility when Waite traveled to Minnesota with the Key Club, a service organization associated with Kiwanis International.
“I was on the district board and came to the U.S. for conventions, and had friends in Minnesota, and they said, ‘Have you thought about going to college? Let’s do some touring.’” Waite toured and applied to Bethel University and the University of Northwestern in St. Paul, and eventually decided to attend Northwestern after receiving a generous scholarship.
From there, Waite received his B.S. in marketing with a minor in finance from Northwestern, earned a Master’s of Public Administration from Hamline University and received a Master’s of Social Work from Boston College. He also spent several years on J1 research scholar visas at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor and Virginia Tech.
“At Virginia Tech, I did an IRB-approved research project on what were the characteristics of global citizenship as it relates to how we are educating college males,” Waite said. “It’s a long-term interest of mine, this idea of global citizenship.”
After Waite’s J1 visa expired, he moved to New York and applied for asylum. As a member of the LGBTQ community, Waite faced the threat of violence and discrimination in Jamaica.
“If you know about Jamaica, there’s a lot of homophobia. It’s still evolving as a country as it relates to the rights of its citizens. When it comes to crime and violence, that’s a number one issue.”
Waite’s asylum was granted, and he began working in the hotel industry in New York as a night auditor and manager. He was especially involved in scrutinizing the finances of the hotel, forecasting occupancy rates and paying the bills.
While chance encounters brought Waite to the U.S. and eventually to St. Olaf, the job of Area Coordinator seems to be a natural fit, in line with what Waite enjoys most.
“I’m sort of coming back home in terms of a career change. I made a conscientious decision that I wanted to return to student affairs, which was where I felt most comfortable in terms of my own skill set.”
It is evident the Waite is deeply passionate about working with college students to create social change, and hopes to help foster community at St. Olaf. As Area Coordinator, he is charged with that very goal, in addition to the more day- to-day tasks of supervising Resident Assistants and Junior Counselors and coordinating Hall Council.
“I’m hopeful that my own impact on residents in Kildahl and Rand is that we can engage in a community where we will be civil with each other, where we will learn from each other and where we will draw the best out of each other,” Waite said.
St. Olaf’s global focus also appeals to Waite, given his long-term interest in global citizenship.
“St. Olaf is a global-minded college. The majority of the students will travel overseas during their academic years, and so what better university to rejoin than a school that has a global-minded focus?”
So far Waite has been enjoying his new job. While he approached the residential nature of St. Olaf with some initial hesitation, he now sees the benefits.
“I think residential campuses have a really neat opportunity to really foster strong communities, that when turbulence comes, it can withstand that turbulence because the people are so interconnected.”
Waite was impressed by the early enthusiasm for Hall Council, appreciating that so many people wanted to get involved and has enjoyed overseeing such different dorms. Even though he arrived on campus after most of the other staff had moved in, he has been “pleasantly surprised” by the welcome he’s received.
“I always say that you can know if you’re going to succeed in the first few weeks of any job just based upon how people receive you, how people welcome you, and the reception here has been much greater than I ever imagined.”