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Behind the Scenes: Vice President Academic
It is a very exciting time for the Students’ Union; this year we celebrate our 75th anniversary. The SU has seen an abundance of amazing student leaders enter, leave their mark, and go on to pursue even greater ambitions. Each has an unique story to tell. As I near the end of my term as the Vice President Academic, I am inclined to reflect on the opportunities, learning moments, and experiences in this role. Therefore, I reached out to two of my predecessors, and we reminisced on our memories with the SU and the impact this organization has had. Enjoy.
Kenya-Jade Pinto, 70th Vice-President, Academic
Kenya-Jade Pinto completed her Bachelor of Arts in International Relations at the University of Calgary in 2013. She then went on to complete her Juris Doctor at the University of Ottawa, graduating in 2017. Today, she’s an articling student at Level, a charity whose mission is to disrupt prejudice, build empathy, and advance human rights. She is also a documentary photographer and has worked on projects documenting HIV/AIDS education initiatives in Uganda, as well as the experiences of internally displaced peoples affected by post-election violence in Kenya.
Stephan Guscott, 73rd Vice-President, Academic
Stephan Guscott was VPA Academic of the 73rd Students’ Legislative Council. After his term, he served the next year as the 74th SU President, which he says was one of the coolest and most formative experiences of his life. He then graduated from the Faculty of Kinesiology with a Bachelor of Science in Exercise and Health Physiology and spent the next six months backpacking through 19 countries in Eastern Europe and Asia. Now, he is preparing applications for medical school and engaging in volunteer work while recovering from his travels.
Tina Miller, 75th Vice President, Academic
I am currently completing the final semester of my degree in Biological Sciences, and I will be pursuing an after-degree in the Werklund School of Education next year. Aside from my passion for student government, I have been involved in numerous leadership programs, participated in SU clubs, and volunteered at non-profits across Calgary. During the remainder of my student experience, I aim to get involved in teaching and learning research, to travel abroad, and to continue my work in student advocacy.
Q: In your opinion, what was the best part of the VPA role?
Kenya: “It’s hard to describe one thing that made being VPA so meaningful or impactful. There were so many parts of the job that I found rewarding: chairing committees (Teaching Excellence was my favourite!); respectfully disagreeing with university administration who were twice and three times my senior (important!); and finding innovative and exciting ways to improve the student academic experience (championing Arabic language to the course calendar, creating opportunities for students to engage in ‘de-stress’ week with the VP Student Life (Hayley), and stepping into the shoes of interim ombudsperson for a period when the position was vacant).
I think the best part of being VPA is the skills you gain as a leader and a listener. You can’t stop listening to others once you’ve gotten elected and your platform is formed; that duty is ongoing.”
Stephan: “The absolute best part of my time as VPA was working with the faculty representatives. Each executive dedicates a chunk of their time to guiding their group of faculty reps to achieve their goals. It’s incredibly rewarding helping someone discover the best way to implement a new initiative, acquire funding, or propose a new process in their faculty. And when they report back on their success after a good meeting with their dean or ask for your advice on an incredible proposal they drafted, it makes you feel really, really proud!”
Tina: “The best part of the VPA position is the breadth and potential of the role. In one day, I can go from sitting on an advisory search committee to hire a new Vice-Provost, to discussing access to educational materials with library staff, to consulting on academic appeals with the Students’ Legislative Council. I am able to work with students, professors, SU staff, and University administration all in one day. There is unending potential to become involved in up and coming initiatives in the areas of teaching and learning, research, experiential learning, scholarships, and study spaces, among others. In all honesty, there is never a dull moment.”
Q: What is your fondest memory of the SU/best day in office?
Kenya: “During my second week in office, my dad passed away from lung cancer. Naturally, I was crushed. But everybody at the SU was so supportive, kind, and patient with me. That year I worked closely with Nikhat [a full-time staff member at the SU], and she became my person. I’m so thankful to her and for her.
In October, our VP External (Raphael) and some of our faculty reps (Ben) [and student staff] (Minnie) planned to shave their heads to fundraise for cancer. Hardave (70th SU President) spotted me standing in the crowd, and, half-teasing me, suggested I step up to the plate. Before I knew it, we had raised $800 and Hardave had students running to the ATM in the hopes that donating would encourage me to shave my head. I did. It was one of my favourite days at the SU. And it was a cold winter.”
Stephan: “It was a Monday, right after Levi (73rd SU President) had returned from a week-long conference. Naturally, he’d left his door unlocked while away and with the help of some faculty reps and an air compressor from the facilities department, we’d inflated a few hundred balloons to completely fill his office. It took us a few hours, but his reaction was totally worth it. He couldn’t even reach his desk! Plus, it was hilarious watching him trek back and forth between his office and the shared faculty rep office all morning, ferrying inflated balloons in retaliation. I think there’s a photo of that somewhere…”
Tina: By far, my best memories at the SU have been the connections I have made with the staff and students who work here. I am so grateful to come to work and spend every day with my fellow Executives and the Elected Officials. I have the privilege of mentoring faculty representatives and I get to watch them achieve their goals and realize their potential in the role. When I am finished at the SU, I will look back and remember the dinners shared after a long SLC meeting. I’m sure, though, that I won’t know what my fondest memories are until I have finished my term and moved on to the next thing.
Q: What advice do you have for a candidate running in the election?
Kenya: “Running in an election is tough.
1) Know the issues. Spend time listening—really listening—to students. What’s missing? Where’s the disconnect? Then make sure you talk to the outgoing VPA. Talk to the VPA from the year prior. Talk to the president. Talk to the staff. Understand the portfolio and then form your platform. Do as much research as you possibly can before you come up with potential solutions, and make sure you involve all the right stakeholders along the way.
2) Grow a thick skin. You won’t be liked by everybody. Get comfortable with that. You are stepping into a leadership position—even just by running—and some of your opinions and ideas will be controversial. That’s okay. If you’ve done the research, believe in your platform (and can back it up!), then trust in the process and stay positive. Be open to criticism, but don’t dwell on it.”
Stephan: “Surround yourself with supports. Campaigning for two weeks is a marathon, so having the support of friends and/or family throughout your campaign is an asset (and sometimes the only thing that keeps you fed, watered, and where you need to be). It’s also incredibly heartwarming, and a lot more fun when you have people to share the experience of a campaign with.”
Tina: “Learn to rely on others. As someone whose first response when tackling a challenge is to approach it independently, reaching out to others for assistance and support did not come naturally. However, an election is not an individual pursuit. Behind every successful candidate is a team of friends who will lift you up when you are discouraged, volunteers who share a common vision, and fellow students who will spend hours designing campaign materials, taking photos, and encouraging others to vote on your behalf. The selflessness that I witnessed during the campaign process was humbling and it pushes me to make the best of every day in this role. Speaking from experience, you don’t need to be the most popular, or most accomplished to get involved in student government. You need to have a vision and put in the work.
I have so much more advice to share, but I will limit myself to these three points:
1) Build a community by connecting with other candidates. It is motivating to know that others are going through a similar experience.
2) Put yourself out there. Speak to a class of 300 people. Approach a table of rowdy students in Mac Hall. Whether you win or not, you will grow as a person.
3) Listen. You do a lot of talking about yourself during an election. Remember to do more listening than talking. Students want someone who is receptive to their concerns and opinions.”
There you have it! Three completely unique, but paralleled experiences within the SU. I hope this has provided a glimpse into the progression of the Vice President Academic portfolio and the everyday life of an SU Executive. One of the best parts of working as an Elected Representative, is the ability to take ownership of your role and to shape your work to serve students in the best way possible. Each role oversees an expansive array of issues, and you get the ability to determine the impact you want to make. The needs of the student body are dynamic and ever-evolving. It is this prospect that makes me so very excited for what the future of this organization, and its student leaders, holds.
Tina Miller is our 75th Vice President, Academic