“All [executive board members] have been and are continuously motivated, self-starters, and initiators and require very little managing when it comes to follow-up and completion of projects,” says Richard Walker, director of student life/University Center.
Upon election, Johnston and the new executive board went to work getting the administration to expand the formerly inadequate Hecht/Stanford Dining Hall to accommodate students with meal plans. The 4,000 sq. ft. renovation was completed over the summer in time for the new school year. Who says government moves slowly?
SG also expanded the on-campus convenience store hours to round-the-clock, helping students find a safe place to find food and caffeinated drinks during late-night study sessions. Plus, commuter students can grab breakfast before morning classes.
How about a food court outside the Cox Science Center? How about increasing the hours of operation at the on-campus Burger King and Jamba Juice? Or maybe painting large murals in both main dining halls, including Hecht/Stanford, to reflect UM spirit and its alma mater? TVs, anyone, for news (C-SPAN and CNN) and sports (ESPN)? Perhaps two ice machines (a real necessity in sun-baked Miami) in each of the five residential colleges, with SG-emblazoned ice buckets handed out by exec board members to every resident? They even bumped cable channel choices from 24 to 63 to go with students’ now cool, iced drinks.
Not to be left out, the university administration got a new faculty club courtesy of SG, using space from the University Center Food Court.
Get the picture? This SG administration looks at every aspect of student life and makes it better, fulfilling their motto of, “Making UM Great!” And that’s just their “Dining and Vending Services Initiative.” Through their “Wellness and Recreation Initiative,” SG increased hours of the Wellness Center until midnight each weekday to make amenities available to students with night classes and late club meetings. SG’s successful free shuttle program, “Ibis Ride,” was expanded to go beyond just the club scene to include a shopping venue and also has two student employees on the shuttle at all times.
Helping an already A-1 athletic program, SG introduced wireless internet access at the Hecht Athletic Center. This way, student-athletes don’t have to run back and forth to the library between practices to do homework, class research, check e-mail, etc.
Finally, as part of their “Health and Security Initiative,” SG passed a bill to create a 25-foot, smoke-free buffer around each of the five residential colleges, while providing covered smoking areas. In regard to safety, SG implemented “Row Patrol,” wherein any organization can have a police officer provided free-of-charge at its parties. “This year, our projects have been truly student centered. No project or issue was too big or too small,” Johnston says. “We’ve made great projects that in the past were deemed unfeasible come to fruition.”
How do they accomplish all that on such a small budget (only $10 per student)? It starts with a great working relationship with the university administration, from President Donna Shalala and Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia A. Whitely—whose office funds most of SG’s programs—on down. “Mike Johnston has been extremely proactive,” Whitely says, “and the SG senate has worked with the administration to make strides in many areas on campus.”
Not content to just improve campus life, SG took a look at itself as well. The administration split its chief of staff position into two, creating an internal one and external one to represent SG and help on projects beyond SG’s scope, respectively. SG also created an executive-at-large position to handle public relations. To inform students of their efforts, SG now sends out a senate newsletter, and every SG member mans the table at the University Center under the slogan, “Speak Up, Speak Out.” All this is supported by its web site—it claims—via mass e-mails from SG and the university and through coverage in the campus newspaper, The Miami Hurricane—which gave front-page coverage to SG’s smoke-free buffer zone bill. SG’s web site, however, is woefully out of date (Johnston is still listed as speaker of the senate), still “under construction” (a message saying “come back in a few days” apparently means a few years), and just lacking, overall (the only active link is that senate one!)—worthless and inexcusable for the state’s top SG and certainly not capable of being a communication channel as they claim.
Beyond campus boarders, SGs at UM and Florida Internatioanal University coordinated a day at a play performed by both institutions, Mouth of the River. And SGs at UM and the University of Florida jointly published a letter in each respective school’s campus newspaper, ensuring that the rekindled rivalry remained friendly.
On-line voting is a no-brainer at UM, with 10 years of successful implementation overseen by an 18-member election commission. While others consider it, UM’s SG is doing it.
Johnston has served with three SG administrations at UM in important roles, but he knows SG can’t always count on that kind of consistency. So, transitioning from the current SG administration to the next is handled through parliamentary procedure books, senator mentoring, one-on-one guidance by exec board members, a mini-educational retreat at the beginning of the fall semester, and a new spring semester retreat. It’ll be hosted by three keynote speakers touching on topics such as leadership, time management, and stress management.
“They’ve impacted the life of students at UM to a much greater extent than any of the other administrations I worked with,” says Dr. Perri Lee Roberts, vice provost for undergraduate affairs. “And they’ve provided for the next group of leaders by documenting what they’ve done, how they’ve done it, and what goals they might suggest for the future.”
If they succeed in instilling the kind of SG that Whitely honored with the “Troubleshooter of the Year Award,” future UM students will be blessed indeed.
“Our greatest strength is our diversity,” Johnston says. “Our executive board is composed of students from every facet of campus life. This has been a tremendous help in identifying projects that would benefit the greatest number of students—many of whom are often ignored. Not only has this helped in identifying projects, but it has made our SG open to all students on campus. I think our diverse executive board has challenged others to challenge us. We have a united goal that’s pro-student, and there’s no confusion on that issue. Our executive board is aware that we’re still students, and not administrators.”
Although the past two administrations tweaked the constitution, this year’s SGA decided that it still needed a document that allowed it as a government to get things done when needed without legislation hindering its efforts. Along with that, they reworked their structure, operating procedures, workspace, by-laws, and budgeting procedures, to ensure a strong government with strong elections. They also reestablished their relationship with the university administration. “The pinnacle of our administration will come from the ties that were formed with the university administration and the trust it generated which will enable future student leaders to accomplish more tasks more easily and successfully,” Guevarra says.
The results of these changes and ties are evident. “All aspects of SG are achieving at high levels and representing the students extremely efficiently,” says Kelly M. Austin, assistant director of student activities. “Their ability to address the concerns of the students while working with faculty, staff, and other administrators has garnered them campus-wide respect.”
To help get new students oriented, SGA worked with the Greek community and campus departments such as career services, developmental departments, and others to ensure that information and services were available to them and to help ensure they began a college experience that goes beyond just getting a degree.
To make sure student needs were met and critical issues confronted, SGA embarked on tailored forums. For instance, to address a parking crunch due to new construction and building changes, SGA had the head of the parking and safety office meet with students in the cafeteria. It provided information, dispelled rumors, and created a better working relationship between the parking department and SGA. The same thing worked for concerns about tuition increases. SGA voiced their concerns to the Board of Trustees who in turn had the ERAU president and chancellor put on a joint presentation entitled, “Where Do Your Tuition Dollars Go?” and “Where Do Your SGA Fees Go?”
These forums resulted from surveys which SGA conducted. The surveys also led to the formation of new university-level committees such as one to address beautifying the campus and creating a more socially appealing atmosphere at a technical university, leading to the construction of various “hang out” spots. This also led to implementing a previously non-existent recycling program.
“I’m most proud of the strong accomplishments of our executive team's successful efforts in having the students’ concerns voiced and actions taken by the university administration in order to build a better campus community,” Guevarra says. “For example, we now have students on every university committee; we have completely renewed our constitution and bylaws including budgetary guidelines with all of our divisions.”
To communicate to students and let them know of available services, SGA now requires each representative board member to hold office hours at a table in the cafeteria. It increases SGA’s visibility and makes it accessible to students who often don’t know that SGA provides services such as “Safe Ride.” They augment communication through advertisements and articles in the campus newspaper, The Avion, e-mail addresses for representative board members, and a web site. Their web site is informative with links to the programming board (with an entertainment calendar), newspaper, and yearbook, but it’s limited by a lack of meeting minutes and e-mail addresses for executive board members (though representative board members are covered).
SGA is considering on-line voting, though without it voter turnout reached a record high 14 percent last year. SGA hopes to double that to 30 percent using new marketing techniques and methods, university staff, and communications resources.
To keep the momentum of this strong SGA going beyond this year, they’ve not only held retreats and used transition manuals, but they also created advisor manuals for SGA as a whole and for its many divisions.
Beyond campus, SGA has strengthened relationships with local schools such as Bethune-Cookman College and Daytona Beach Community College. SGA is planning a conference much like the 1998 Student Government Interaction Conference (SGIC) that a previous administration initiated. And they’ve taken the step of full participation in the Independent Universities and Colleges of Florida (ICUF), even recommending creation of a student trustees council.
“This particular administration has strong leaders and a positive team attitude by which they derive strength through commitment to a common goal,” Austin says. “Their relentless dedication to the overall improvement of the campus raises them above all others. Their representation in ICUF will benefit the entire state of Florida in years to come.”
“This year’s SGA has been the first to embrace, in theory and practice, the collaborative and transformational ideals of leadership,” says Cara L. Meixner, director of student involvement and leadership.
As it is every year, their biggest program was the annual “Lip Sync” show, where nearly 100 percent of Rollins’ student population participates—from SGA to Greek organizations, residential life staff, clubs, and impromptu groups formed in order to compete.
But SGA implemented something new this year: “First Year Dinners,” an initiative to have Rollins President Rita Bornstein orient students through three nights of roundtable dinner discussions. In turn, it allowed students to provide feedback, express concerns, and discuss areas of improvement while giving the administration a feel for the new students and their perspective.
As they’re known for, SGA seeks to involve campus representation through the inclusion of Greek and non-Greek members, Resident Assistants, minority students, and every club and organization at Rollins, promoting various activities and weeks of events to honor women, the disabled, Native Americans, and others. “Every student at Rollins College feels like they matter and has a place on our campus through the support of student government,” Haynes says.
“This year's SGA has a more complex, integrated understanding of how issues related to leadership, service, and multiculturalism intersect,” Meixner says. “As such, I’ve found their programs, services, and advocacy efforts to be more inclusive of the needs of at-large students.”
SGA communicates to students through regular “installments” of its newsletter, The Toilet Paper—providing weekly updates in bathroom stalls—and its e-mail version, 2-Ply Toilet Paper, along with a weekly article called “SGA Corner” published in the campus newspaper, The Sandspur. This is augmented by senators at each on-campus residence, member involvement in clubs, a meeting of club presidents called “Council of Leaders,” use of bulletin boards, and more. However, for a consistently first-rate SGA, their web site leaves much wanting, providing little but e-mail addresses and the constitution on the home page, with the rest of the site looking like a work-in-progress. There’s no excuse for such a poor showing in this area.
Successfully implementing on-line voting for the president and vice president positions, SGA is still holding senator elections the traditional way. They believe doing so provides SGA an opportunity to reach out to new students and to make this representative election accessible to on-campus students. They must be on to something: Rollins has a requirement for a 40-percent voter turnout for presidential elections, and 30 percent for senator elections, which was exceeded this year with a nearly 50-percent voter turnout. This kind of true SG representation is unprecedented at any school.
To keep SGA strong year-after-year, members get training through the LeaderShape Institute—a national student leadership program—and IMPACT—Rollins’ peer education group on issues related to diversity, leadership, and service—at the executive retreat. It was during LeaderShape that Haynes developed his vision for the dinners. SGA also holds a more intensive Senators Retreat, assuming members have little to no prior experience.
“SGA has always been able to start each administration with the momentum of the last year’s administration,” Haynes says. “But this year, we’ve been able to analyze the structure of the executive board and adapt it to the environment around us. We’re starting training sessions for next year's exec board so that they may know the many details of the position that cannot be written in by-laws.”
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