The aspiring actor provides confident, friendly assistance and keeps things running smoothly
By Erasmo Guerra
One recent afternoon at The Commodore at the start of the fall academic semester, one residence hall keycard worked on every second or third attempt. Another didn’t work at all. “Even, like, after 20 times,” said the incoming freshman who was checking-in to her residence hall.
Amid the questions and chaos of orientation week, Fualama Mila, 20, Academy of Art University campus host, was reassuring students, referring them to resident assistants, calling maintenance and handling other requests with quiet control and cheery confidence. All the while, she greeted students and their parents—even complimenting one mom on the color of her nail polish.
She handled all the first-day jitters like a veteran, even though she’s only been on the job for a year. Not to mention that she was only assisting at Commodore to help with the crush of check-ins. Her usual post is at the School of Architecture academic building at 601 Brannan. And she is just one of the many designated campus hosts who are posted in every Academy academic building and residence hall to assist students throughout the year.
Fualama, who goes by “Lama”—no, not like the animal—is an aspiring actor who has loved Anne Hathaway from her “Princess Diaries” movies to her most recent role in “Ocean’s 8.” Identifying as Samoan and Filipino, Mila explained the roots of her admittedly unique first name. “I’m named after my dad’s grandmother. They told me that the first part ‘Fua’ means to grow, like, bloom, in Samoan. And “lama” means ‘lightness.’”
She first heard about the campus host job last year, when she was a student at City College of San Francisco, majoring in theater arts and art history. “Acting has always been my passion,” she said. And a friend who was already working as an Academy host told her to apply. “She said, ‘It’s front desk work, greeting people. Checking IDs. It will help give you experience.’”
A typical day at 601 Brannan? “Quiet. Mellow,” Mila said, adding, “There’s a basketball court there and so I have to take IDs from students checking out basketballs and we also get employees from Pinterest next door.”
Before taking the Academy job, she was working as a customer service supervisor at Marshall’s. Despite the flurry of activity at the start of the academic year, Mila says being a campus host is still not as stressful as retail. “This is a different kind of customer service,” she said. “And in retail, you’re all by yourself. Here, it’s a team. In residential, the RAs can help you. In the academic buildings, you have lab techs, staff, and faculty who can help.”
That said, she knows how to handle a lot on her own. Which she learned early in her personal life. When her parents moved back to the Philippines five years ago to work as ministers (her dad’s a pastor), she and her seven siblings stayed behind in San Francisco. The middle child, Mila helped her other siblings (the oldest was 22 years old), raise the younger ones. “I was 15 and I felt like a parent. They depended on me to handle all the school stuff. It made me grow up.”
And she’s still growing into her role as a campus host. She said, “People are always telling me ‘You’re too nice.’ And people might want to take advantage of that. So you have to be vocal and firm. With the whole ID thing, residents come in and I’d be like, ‘Hey, guys, can you get out your IDs’—using my soft voice—and now I’m like ‘Okay, you guys need to keep your IDs out. Always have it with you. Be ready when you enter the building.”
Still a student herself, she mentioned the possibility of applying to the acting program here at the Academy. Currently, she’s at San Francisco State University, studying business administration with a minor in theater arts. “I want to work as an agent,” she explained, “or start my own business working with people to get their own careers going.”