A Shark, a Raspberry and a Panther Walk into a Conference…


Ten Florida Tech students—all members of the university’s Residence Life staff—headed to Sarasota, Florida on Jan. 19 carrying a shark costume, a digitized mailbox, Pete the Panther pens and the desire to gather ideas and best-practices for Florida Tech ResLife.

Their destination was the Florida Resident Assistant Seminar (FRAS)—an annual conference where resident assistants from colleges and universities across the state come together to share ideas and learn about what RAs are doing at different institutions.

Every year the seminar has a theme. This year’s theme was “Under the Sea”—and each institution was assigned a sea creature.

Florida Tech’s delegation became known as The Sharks.

Nashaita Patrawalla and Connor Nelson after winning first place for their digitized mailbox

The eight delegates from Florida Tech included Jamison Burch (a second-year RA majoring in Biomedical Engineering), Katie Chastain (a first-year RA majoring in Biomedical Engineering), Marc Kanneh (a first-year RA majoring in Aeronautical Science with Flight), Karly Lorenzini (a first-year RA majoring in Astronomy and Astrophysics), Jack Mueller (a second-year RA majoring in Ocean Engineering), Connor Nelson (a second-year RA majoring in Astronomy and Astrophysics), Nashaita Patrawalla (a first-year RA majoring in Astrobiology) and Marifer Sagastume (a first-year Community Director (CD) and third-year ResLife staff member majoring in Biomedical Engineering and STEM Education).

The Sharks at FRAS

These RAs were accompanied by two Resident Directors (RD): Warren Pittorie (a fifth-year ResLife staff member studying for a master’s in Aviation and Human Factors) and Peter Zappala (a sixth-year ResLife staff member studying for a dual master’s in Engineering Management and System Engineering with a graduate certificate in Energy Systems Engineering).

During FRAS, select delegates give presentations on various topic categories. But FRAS also involves a philanthropy project that is to be completed before the seminar; the creation of a roll-call video to introduce the university and their delegation; the design of a mailbox in which each university can leave mail for the other during the two-day seminar; and a swap shop with items such as shirts, cups, pens and buttons from each college in attendance.

Six Florida Tech delegates gave presentations on resident engagement, community development, diversity and inclusion. Lorenzini won first place in her programming category.

The digitized mailbox that won first place at FRAS

The Sharks took home three other awards: first place for mailbox, third place for roll-call and second place overall in spirit. 

Nelson and Patrawalla’s “high-tech” mailbox was designed using a raspberry pi, so that mail could be left electronically. A fish tank containing a battery-operated fish and a plastic shark formed the base.

Burch and Kanneh led the production of Florida’s Tech Shark Tank-themed roll-call video.

Florida Tech’s ResLife team spent over 51 hours collecting and drilling holes in 8,000 oyster shells for the Living Shoreline project to help the IRL.

Sagastume and Mueller took the lead on philanthropy. They stuck to the ocean theme—and ended up spearheading two projects.

First, Florida Tech’s ResLife team collaborated with the Indian River Lagoon Research Institute (IRLRI) to help the ailing Indian River Lagoon. The group as a whole volunteered 51 hours over the span of one weekend to drill holes into over 8,000 oyster shells for the Living Shoreline project.

Resident Director Lexi Miller drilling holes in oyster shells for the Living Shoreline project


The second philanthropy project that The Sharks took on with the help of the whole Florida Tech ResLife team was fundraising for OCEARCH—an organization that tags sharks and other marine life in an effort to lengthen their lives. Florida Tech ResLife raised $250 for the organization by selling blue jello cups, cupcakes and chances to pie an RA in the face.

In the end, The Sharks continued Florida Tech’s legacy of placing first or second in overall spirit at FRAS for the past several years.

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