With Campus Kick-Off behind us and the first week of classes underway, thoughts turn to the normal business of running and attending a university—teaching and taking classes, reconnecting with friends, maneuvering around a congested campus under construction on many fronts.
Student leadership and governance is another aspect that moves to center stage. Not that Stacey Lucason, USUAA president, and Jolaine Polak, vice president, haven’t been hard at it all summer. The two met several times weekly from May through August, and the governing body, USUAA Assembly, met every other week. They say they’re setting the stage for an active USUAA for the coming academic year.
“Last year there were plenty of ideas, but they’d peter out. But we see the potential for student government,” Jolaine said. “We’re both pushy people, so we can help get things done.”
I recently met up with Stacey and Jolaine in Student Union 201, USUAA’s leadership offices. My goal is to introduce them to the campus community at large, including staff, faculty and students. They also share important initiatives they will champion this year.
At 25, Stacey is a transfer student from Pierce College in Puyallup, Wash., where she earned her associate degree. Born in Fairbanks, she is of Alaska Native descent. Her great grandmother, Nattie, an Aleut, spoke only Yupik after developing dementia. She was orphaned in the influenza epidemic of 1918, Stacey said, and ended up in a Dillingham orphanage. She married a Native man who died falling through the ice; her next husband was Swedish, hence Stacey’s blond hair.
In Fairbanks, she remembers growing up around Fire Station No. 3, where her dad worked. She rode her first bike there, and remembers celebrating her third birthday party there, too.
The fire station made a big impression. All she ever wanted to be was an ambulance driver. But when she told her dad and family, they advised against it: you’ll see rough and sad things, they said; people will be angry and upset around you; besides, you’ll ruin your back.
Huh, she thought, taking it all under advisement. As she moved through high school in Washington, she got word from her grandparents in Anchorage that her grandpa had kidney cancer. Despite college acceptance to both University of Washington and Harvard, Stacey decided she needed to be in Anchorage. “I didn’t want to miss out on knowing them,” she said. Today she lives just one mile from her grandmother in Fairview.
She started part time at UAA while she worked full time at the Alaska Native Medical Center as an aide in the operating room. Nursing was her goal, that is until several of the nurses at ANMC, after watching her curiosity and interest in medicine, suggested she shoot for medical school and become a doctor.
That is Stacey’s aim today. She plans to pursue a master’s in public health and will be applying to WWAMI.
She served last year as the USUAA Speaker of the House, running Assembly meetings. From that experience she developed a finer sense of how she’d like to improve student government this year.
West High graduate Jolaine is a sophomore this year, pursuing a biology degree and potentially a minor in an area of personal rather than career interest. She took out a petition to run for USUAA senator her freshman year, and won.
Then last spring, after working together on USUAA Assembly for a year, Jolaine and Stacey decided to team up and run together as this year’s executive leadership team. They prevailed.
“Basically, we want to be a high-functioning team,” Jolaine said. She smiled: “We both have slightly different temperaments, so if one of us starts to get out of hand, the other one can calm her down.”
As vice president, Jolaine will oversee all USUAA’s student-led committees, making sure they are functioning well and getting information or resources they need for their work.
Already they have altered the support infrastructure for USUAA. Instead of two student workers in public and government relations, they’ve combined those positions into one and reallocated resources toward a business manager for USUAA. They hope to support their governance administrator and also contribute to forward momentum on their ideas.
Initiatives they expect to champion
“Transparency is a big one for us,” Jolaine said. “Whether it’s a whiteboard outside our office where we post our agendas, we want it to be easy for people to be aware of what we are doing.”
Stacey: “We might even have something like a little C-Span that shows our meetings. We own a screen out there (in the Student Union), so we’re working on how to make that happen.”
Rather than a virtual drop box for suggestions from students, they plan frequent tabling and availability in the Student Union and around campus, so students know how their leaders are and find it easy to offer feedback, suggestions and even complaints. They plan to wear their student government name tags, and encourage other student leaders to do the same.
They also plan to forge a strong connection with student media, sharing information and changes coming to the campuses from Statewide, and using student media to both inform and solicit student feedback.
A key concern for them is seating a student on every single campus committee making decisions about life at UAA. Internal transparency with the UAA administration and external transparency with students is their primary goal.
The redesign of the Wells Fargo Sports Complex is top of mind at the moment. “Are there students on that committee?” Stacey asked. “I’m emailing about that this afternoon.”
They would have liked an observer role in the prioritization process, she said. “We realize there is information we can’t necessarily be privy to,” Stacey said, “but we would have liked a student forum for both the academic side and the function side, giving students an opportunity to talk about what they think is important to prioritize at UAA.”
But it’s not just having students on those committees. These two plan to build accountability into representation. “We want (any student representatives on campus committees) to meet with the (USUAA) Assembly. Come and tell us what’s going on. Or at least meet with (the USUAA leadership team), and we can share that information with the Assembly,” Stacey said.
Speaking personally, Stacey said she would like to see more pre-professional tracts on campus for students who know they want to be a doctor or a lawyer. “We are hearing about mandatory advising, talk about developmental education, prioritization. This would be a very good time to consider these pre-professional tracks…if you want to be a doctor, here’s the classes you need to take, and when.”
She credited UAA’s extensive offerings, like the Justice Center and an Ethics Center, and even the new affiliation with Willamette Law School. “But where is the pre-law tract?” she asked.
Fees are a topic of big concern for students, Stacey said. “We had the green fee a couple of years ago. People are coming to us all the time with ideas for fees, like a new fee for outdoor recreation.”
Sometimes, student leaders said they just want more information about precisely what a fee actually pays for.
Stacey noted the upcoming facilities maintenance fee students are tagged with system-wide, with moneys collected remaining on each individual campus
“That will eventually be $90. That’s chunky,” said Stacey. “I get it, it’s the adult thing to do to take care of your investment. But I’ll never see the benefit of that fee. It will be valuable in 10 years when there’s enough there to pay for things.”
Stacey noted that at a recent Board of Regents committee meeting, the topic of fees came up among the regents, some of whom expressed interest in learning more about them. She supports the BOR being better informed on every fee college students are paying, even in classes. If just one or two regents got up to speed on the details, they could share it with the full board.
“They need to know that kind of detail when they consider tuition increases for students,” she said.
Written by Kathleen McCoy, UAA Office of University Advancement