Because of changes to the state’s higher education governing structure, students now have a vote on each public university’s Board of Trustees. Nearly without fail—and definitely for our winners—the SG president of each nominated school was praised for his role on the board, gaining the respect of its members, including the campus president. That is the kind of student leadership we like to see, honor, and uphold here at Florida Leader.
In the same time period came the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Florida Leader commends how each winning SG handled the crisis on its campus, serving the needs of its students at a very difficult time.
“Having a full-time advisor helps,” says Vicky Owles, SGA advisor. “I live in the SGA office, so I live and breathe this all day long. [The team] is absolutely amazing.”
President Victor Romano agrees. “Our advisor is absolutely great…She’s really supportive of us,” he says. “She’s ‘hands off’ in the way she lets us make our own decisions.”
Beyond having a new advisor, consider SGC’s strengths. Students are now informed of SGC’s efforts—and where their money goes—through the SGC Quarterly distributed in the school newspaper, The Beacon. Since each public university now has the student body president serve as a voting member on a newly formed Board of Trustees, “Victor is in there with the president of the university making decisions, which I think is amazing,” says Owles. “He absolutely rises to the occasion. Everything he does he has students in mind. He’s so not self-serving.”
Romano, who serves with Vice President Diego Martinelli, gives credit to his group, saying there is a sense of team spirit, with no hidden agendas and no showboating, unlike in the past. They’ve had several retreats and participated in enough activities together to develop great friendships. “When I first met [Victor] and Diego,” Owles says, “they had their list of accomplishments and list of goals posted on the back of their door.”
That kind of camaraderie carries over to their work. “I go to the council meeting once a week. [The members] are not always agreeable, but they don’t scream at each other, they don’t yell, they make moral and ethical decisions based on the good of the student body,” she says. “I’ve never seen students rise to the occasion like this group. And that says a lot because I’ve been [advising students] for 13 years.”
As Sharon Hart, associate director for administration and finance, says, this group is “absolutely wonderful, a delight to work with. We’d like to clone them!”
“They’re so student-oriented,” Owles says. “They passed 36 resolutions their first semester. That’s an incredible amount of work. It’s not just about marketing, but it’s about really getting out there, knowing your constituency, and representing the students. And all the resolutions have to go through the representatives, which tells me our reps are out there being busy.”
The SGC team has been involved on a state-wide level, too, attending FSA meetings in Tallahassee “all the time,” Owles says. “They come really charged up or with mixed emotions with the things that are going on at other schools,” she says. “But the one thing I know about this group, is that no matter what, their personal feelings aside, they always band together to make something happen.”
Back at home, SGC lets students know what it’s doing for them and how it’s spending their money—hence, the idea of the quarterly. “We sat down and put our heads together and decided we needed a venue to share with students the information that’s coming out of SGA,” Owles says. The result was the SGC Quarterly, a full-color newsletter that informs students of SGC’s accomplishments, ways to get involved, and lists upcoming events. It’s a model for SGs everywhere. SGC Director of Technological Advancement Annette del Aguila set up a web page, and then they came out with a newsletter, “all in terms of letting students know that we’re accessible by e-mail, by web site, by newsletter,” Owles says. “So, it was a very intentional campaign to let students know what this SG was there for them.”
Romano believes the newsletter will “definitely be the legacy we leave behind.” He considers it his administration’s greatest accomplishment because it successfully answers a great need: effectively communicating to FIU students. Even SGC candidates currently running for office want to continue it and are even considering publishing it weekly, if they get elected, of course.
Accomplishments noted in the SGC Quarterly include extending the ticket “grace period” for parking, giving new students more time (three weeks instead of two) to get acclimated to finding hard-to-find spots on campus because of enrollment increases and construction. On the personal side, SGC did its part to reduce unplanned pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases by installing eight condom vending machines in both men’s and women’s bathrooms in all residence halls and student unions.
To confront student apathy and just have fun, SGC hosted FIU’s biggest on-campus party ever—aptly named “Level 5”—on top of the parking garage, featuring celebrated Miami DJ’s Tracy Young and “DJ Irie,” a former SGA member, and performances by dancers.
The result of SGC’s efforts? “Student perception of the [SGC] administration is that they’re helpful,” Owles says.
Even The Beacon, which is partially funded by SGA, appreciates this SGC. “We’ve taken our hits in some small, tiny issues, but for the most part, they come and they write articles before our programs, now, and not afterwards,” Owles says. “But we’ll call them and say we’d like them to do an article on ‘SGA Week,’ and they’ll come up and interview all the people involved. Then, the article comes out and it’s accurate and Student Government’s happy, the administration’s happy, because it’s reflective of what really happened, and they don’t put a spin on it without having our insight.
“From what I’ve gathered from the past, [bad press] used to be every week, there was always something in The Beacon. And this year, we get so much positive press—it’s the first thing they do when the paper comes out. They go skimming through it really quickly,” Owles says. “I never used to give much credibility to campus newspapers, just based on my years of experience, but I read the articles and I go, ‘OK, this was good. They did a good job.’ If I’m saying that, I’m hoping that students are saying that as well.”
“The relationship with The Beacon has incredibly improved this year,” Romano says. “I’ve had several meetings with the editor in chief, and I think it’s fair now.” As a result, Romano and his team funded an office on the Biscayne Bay Campus so that the paper could report news from all of FIU, not just University Park.
What sets this SGC administration apart? “These students truly serve the students here at FIU,” Owles says. “They aren’t motivated by anything other than being the best. And I think that in itself says a lot about the character of these students. They work so hard to represent [the students of FIU].”
For example, Felix Rodriguez is the director of student lobbying. Single-handedly, Owles says, Rodriguez managed to get all six of the Miami mayoral candidates to FIU for a debate that was televised on the local news channels. “So when I say that they stand out, they don’t just do the normal,” she says. “They always do these above-and-beyond things.”
As noted in The Beacon, its editorial board agrees: “Though the event didn’t include all the candidates or touch on every issue, that is to be expected. When an election features 10 candidates, including a standing mayor who has steadfastly snubbed any organized debates in the past, this turnout was a positive one. The Student Government Council and Department of Campus Life deserve credit for making the event a reality.”
Finally, even the administration’s perception of this year’s SGC is “very positive,” Owles says. “I know Victor has a tremendous relationship with the vice president. I know she respects the work that he does as I know we all respect hers...Everybody [in the administration] has a high regard for this Student Government. And I kind of go on the ‘no news is good news’ premise and we don’t hear anything.”
“This [group] is the best by far that I have seen in my three full years of being UNF's president,” says Dr. Anne H. Hopkins, president. “The people are the best, the leadership is excellent, and there has been excellent programming.”
“I’m impressed with the amazing way the group has worked as a team. That just doesn’t happen in many instances in Student Governments,” says Dr. Mauricio Gonzalez, vice president for student affairs. “This is particularly impressive since members of the cabinet and senate were somewhat divided at the start of the year due to having supported opposing candidates in the elections. They really have come together for the good of their mission. Like the former administration, too, they have shown a great amount of leadership at the state level in FSA.”
This SG administration sponsored a series of ongoing events as a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They kicked it off with a Q&A panel of eight professors two days after the attacks. A 150-seat auditorium was packed with students looking for answers and who were thankful for SG’s leadership.
Helping students is what this SG is all about. It’s piloting free student legal services as recourse to students in resolving issues such as parking tickets, defective products and services, and eviction problems. It helped generate spirit at athletic events with its “C U at the Game” initiative. And it helped new students and their parents with its “Freshman Move-In Weekend” event that gathers the muscles and know-how of more than 170 volunteers: athletes, Residence Student Association members, SG reps, Greeks, and even UPS workers, the expert box movers who supplied trucks as well.
While adding new programs, this team continues sponsoring successful events such as “Club Fest” where SG gathers all UNF’s clubs together to orient students and Wake-up Wednesday” to boast voter registration, signing up even more students in an off-election year—a notable feat following the famous 2000 presidential election.
Dr. Gonzalez attributes SG success this year to the teamwork of President Lindsay Hodges and Vice President Hank Rogers.
“What makes them stand out is that neither Lindsay nor Hank seems to have a personal agenda,” Dr. Gonzalez says, “but rather continue to look for ways to make UNF a better place where students want to come and want to stay. The president and vice president seem to have keen insight into their respective responsibilities, a sort of natural differentiation of duties. Lindsay and Hank complement each other by playing to their individual strengths, allowing them to execute SG’s priorities in a fashion that, at least from my perspective, seems very well synchronized.”
The campus newspaper editor concurs. “I think [the SG members] have done a tremendous job this year,” says David Johnson, editor of The Spinnaker. “They have some of the most dedicated people who go out of their way to be involved in many events.”
“This year’s administration has done a great job in a number of areas. But there are a couple of areas to me that say something about the maturity, professionalism, and uniqueness of this administration,” says Tommy Shavers, assistant director of student affairs and SGA advisor.
Those areas include accomplishments such as the opening of the Recreation Wellness Center; establishment and opening of the Multicultural Student Center (MSC); and the SG presidential elections that “were on time and went smoothly (for the first time in years as far as we can all remember),” says Heissam Jebailey, co-publisher of The Central Florida Future. Team SGA also published a widely-distributed “Who’s Who” magazine to honor the top 100 UCF students—25 each selected from the areas of academics, athletics, community service, and leadership.
This team gave UCF its own “Safe Ride” program. “Any organization that works towards the safety of the campus and making sure everyone has the opportunity to arrive home OK is a big plus in our book,” Jebailey says.
“This administration has done a great job in getting the things done that they set out to do,” says Dr. Sharon L. Ekern, assistant vice president, SDES (Student Development & Enrollment Services). “I’ve also been impressed with their fiscal responsibility and stewardship. They’ve taken their roles very seriously.”
“They set goals that would better the future of the university for students, even if only the foundations of these goals were laid during their term of office,” Shavers says. “This perspective sets the standard for future administrations to follow… [They’re] arguably the best SG in the great history of our university thus far.”
Through its annual “Big Argos/Little Argos” program, SGA invites area eighth-graders from low-income families to spend a day on campus participating in planned activities to catch a vision of what they can become through higher education. It also reminds the community that the university is available to them.
“I’ve been extremely pleased with our SGA,” Says Dr. Morris L. Marx, president. “They have a commendable dedication to serving those who elected them and the community as well. Their ‘Big Argos/Little Argos’ program is a model of students leading the university in concern for others.”
SGA also is working with the administration to curb the presence and pressure of credit-card vendors and to get a more reliable class offering and sequencing system so that students adequately plan for graduation. It also has begun efforts to maintain the 1,600-acre nature preserve that is the UWF campus.
Overall, this year’s SGA has had a productive, fun, tradition-setting year that inspires the admiration of UWF’s administrators.
“This group is by far the most exemplary group that I’ve had the pleasure of working with. This group has consistently put the student first,” says Dr. Douglas Pearson, associate vice president for student affairs and SGA advisor. “One of the main things that set this group apart is that they continue to have fun and enjoy each other’s company. This is a group of genuine and caring student leaders who haven’t lost their sense of humor.”
“Having worked with Student Governments for 35 years, I rank this group among the top two or three that I have seen,” says Dr. Linda O. Dye, vice president for student affairs. “Their professionalism, servant-leader approach, and can-do attitude make them the best in the state in my view.”
“Student Governments exist to give students the opportunity to learn what good government and careful management are. This SGA completely fulfills my faith in this hope,” Dr. Marx says. “They have behaved in ways that some of our political bodies would do well to emulate. When our students can come together in a spirit of cooperation, purpose, and altruism, then they have learned lessons that equal those of the classroom. I’m proud that this year’s SGA is a model for student leadership.”
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