Getting to Know Stiles Hall From the Student Perspective

Making the transition from living at home to sharing space in a dormitory can be daunting for many newly enrolled college students. Questions like ‘Will I get along with my roommates?’ or ‘How will I cook for myself?’ or ‘What if I need help?’ are likely to arise for anyone embarking on a new educational adventure. We sat down with two PAFA students—Resident Advisor Chesley Ledesma (BFA ’24) and first-year student Christopher Reaves (BFA ’26)—to learn more about living in Stiles Hall, plus some tips they have learned along the way.

Q: How did you first come to PAFA?

Chesley: I hadn’t heard of PAFA before applying. It was 2020 and I was trying to figure out what was really possible with the pandemic going on. My AP Portfolio instructor told me about the school and encouraged me to apply. It was close to home and gave me the best financial aid, but it really ended up being an ideal fit for me. 

Christopher: I found PAFA by researching art schools. There was a virtual portfolio day and afterwards I applied really last minute. I work in admissions now, so I understand more about the flexibility they can have with the deadline. After I was accepted, I went to the admitted students’ day. I was really impressed by the school, but I wasn’t sure I could afford it. So I talked to admissions and they were very generous with financial aid. I’m glad I pursued it.

Q: You both live in Stiles Hall now. What were your first impressions of dorm living?

Chesley: I knew nothing about what I was getting into when I moved in my first year, but it ended up being a great experience. I was super excited about the fact that I had my own bedroom and that it was so large compared to the dorms I saw from people I graduated high school with. I hadn’t had the chance to visit Philadelphia much, so getting to know the surrounding area took some time, but it was very simple to understand the procedures, things like your ID card, and the roles in the building itself. 

Q: What about living with roommates? Has that been an adjustment? 

Christopher: I’m cool with both of my roommates. I met everybody’s family when we got here and everybody was setting up their room. It was a nice time. It’s interesting—everybody’s schedule lining up differently—but we all have a mutual respect for our space. 

Chesley: When you sign up for housing, they ask general questions about ‘Do you want to live with the same gender?’ or ‘Would you be okay if they had a pet?’ and about general interests. They use that information to help match people. My second year, I was going to be housed with somebody and they ended up flipping the arrangements to better suit a student. It turned out to be a very nice girl. I still talk to her!

Q: How have you found a community within the dorm?

Christopher: It’s a fairly open community. 

I know everybody on the floor and my closest friends on campus live in Stiles with me. 

I would encourage incoming students to do something with your shared living space. I met people here by hanging out in friends’ living rooms. Just having a space where people can hang out in your dorm is really nice. I value that.

Q: Do you have any other favorite spaces in the building?

Chesley: As an RA, I live in a single-style apartment here. I feels so nice to be able to do what I want and make it my own space. 

Christopher: There’s a pool room on the first floor. It wasn’t the greatest when we first got there, but we encouraged the building to get it fixed and they did. At the start of the year we would go down there and play every day. That was a really fun time. 

Q: Do the RAs also coordinate community-building events to supplement these casual pool games? 

Christopher: Chesley and the resident director have been putting events together. They had one with hot chocolate and one where we went to the PMA. I’ve met people in the dorm that go to Drexel and they’ll be like, “Oh, it looks like you’re having fun down there,” because some of their RAs don’t really do stuff like that for them. I appreciate Chesley going out of her way to have little events for us.

Chesley: When I was first becoming an RA, I was nervous that everybody would isolate themselves in their room because that’s how it had been the first two years that I lived here, due to COVID. So it was great finally being able to switch that up and build up an interactive feeling. Residents have been really great and appreciative of the work that the Resident Director and I have been putting in. 

The students are really receptive and open to conversation. I feel like I got really lucky this year. 

Q: Do you have a favorite event from this year?

Chesley: I’d say the one right before winter break. We had gingerbread houses for them to make. 

Christopher: Yeah, that was fun!

Chesley: Some people went off the rails with their gingerbread houses and were making really obscure things! But it was just fun seeing everybody come down and participate. We got almost everybody on the floor. 

Q: Chesley, why did you want to become an RA?

Chesley: I had lived here a year and a half at that point and I saw they needed a new RA. I was working a job outside of school to pay for my housing. I’m fortunate that the scholarship I got covers my tuition, but it doesn’t cover fees outside of that. I would constantly need to work whenever I had any time free and I found it wasn’t sustainable, especially with how much time art takes. I’m really happy I ended up getting the position. I love it. In high school I had leadership positions on sports teams and it was really fun and rewarding to help out my peers. It feels nice that I can help residents when they come to me for advice on what class to take and I can see them take that and use it.

Q: Are there any tips for living in Stiles Hall you can share with incoming students?

Christopher: Having to go to the grocery store and pay for everything myself was definitely a change for me. I’m young so that’s just new to me. Do some exploring—there’s always some hidden little place with deals. I try to get my friends to go to ALDI right off Broad Street. Even when it comes to art supplies, just shop around a bit.

Chesley: Some of the stuff is a little dated around here. Make sure you put those work orders in when you really need them and they’ll help you.

Q: To finish up, what is your favorite thing about living in Philadelphia?

Chesley: I grew up in Lancaster County, so it was different that anytime you walked outside there was another person. I’ve really grown to like that. And how close some parks are! I love going to Fairmount Park. It’s a really beautiful way to get away from pavement everywhere.

Christopher: Being able to walk everywhere is so amazing. It’s such a virtue. The streets are so vibrant too. The people are really characters. Being in the city, it feels like it’s constantly moving and it kind of makes you want to be like that too. 

Chesley Ledesma (BFA ’24) is a resident advisor in Stiles Hall, where she has lived since entering PAFA in 2020. Originally from Lancaster County, PA, she holds the Donald R. Caldwell Scholarship and is studying Illustration. 

Christopher Reaves (BFA ’26) entered PAFA in 2022 and currently resides in Stiles Hall. He came to PAFA from his home in Baltimore and is pursuing general studio studies. Christopher is the recipient of the James J. and Frances M. Maguire Artistic Excellence Scholarship. 

PAFA offers coordinated student housing with Drexel University within a dedicated floor of Stiles Hall, conveniently located within walking distance at 325 N. 15th Street in Philadelphia.


Two students stand side by side in blank gallery space
Christopher and Chesley are both undergraduate students living in Stiles Hall.

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and a world-class collection of American art. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.