I Cannot Sit Idly By

Sarah Lilly, ’17, Information Systems, is Speaker of the UMBC Student Government Association Senate.

sarah-lillyThe most common question I hear from other students when talking about UMBC’s Student Government Association is, why do you do it? That, or the more frustrating what’s the point?

Well, I am so glad you asked.

Yes, I have a lot on my plate. Occasionally, it’s even overflowing. I work full time at a government agency, attend school full time, try to have a social life, and am heavily involved with student government.

Whoa. 

Right? That’s quite a bit of responsibility.

Out of all of these commitments, by far my favorite is the one I have made to SGA and to the UMBC community. Throughout my undergraduate journey, the one consistent theme that has emerged in many ways at UMBC is this: If you don’t like something, change it. It is honestly that simple.

Yeah, right.

No, but, like, for real. For 50 years, students have been a part of every decision making process. Soliciting student feedback is expected here. For students not to be included in campus changes would violate our norms. Everything from making choices about food services to planning new buildings to developing policies – you betcha students have had a hand in them. Case in point: I am currently passionately on fire about Title IX issues both at UMBC and across the University Systems of Maryland. Student government gives me a network of fellow students, faculty, staff, and partner organizations to help me address my concerns. All it took for me to get all of this rolling was (1) having a concern (2) talking to other people about that concern and (3) gathering the concerned people to talk about what we can do.

But SGA is where baby politicians go to practice.

L O L. Did you forget that I already have a job beyond UMBC? While #SGAisLife may be true, SGA does not necessarily mean a commitment to being a professional politician after college. Our current SGA President is a music major and our Vice President is an aspiring engineer. Yes, we are socially and politically and *insert adverb here* active. But we’re not politicians. We’re students with a real desire to make effective change on this campus. So we get together and do that thing.

Okay fine. But adults don’t listen to you.

Wrong again. Wanna know why? Spoiler alert: we’re adults too! Adults listen to other adults. We don’t whine to get what we want, we have meaningful discussions. It would be very easy to cry and say “The dining hall doesn’t have the specific chocolate cake my great-great grandmother used to make, therefore I am never going there.” Well, I’m sure your great-great grandmother was a lovely person, but if you don’t talk about that concern, how will it ever get addressed? And you’ll never get the joy of a delicious omelette from Omelette Guy on the weekend. It’s a give and a take. You bring more to the table than you recognize.

Great, but I don’t care about dining or Title IX.

I am going to pretend I didn’t hear the Title IX comment. But SGA has a ton of different departments including Environmental Affairs, Health and Wellness, Diversity and Multicultural Affairs and more. It’s really, really cool to be a part of a unique collective of students who just care about stuff. We keep each other on our toes with new updates, initiatives, ideas. I get to be an active member of an organization that represents 11,000 people. That is insane! I absolutely love my SGA family. We laugh together, we cry together, we learn together, and we grow together. Sure, it can be frustrating at times, but at the end of the day we are always a team.

Nice ad for SGA.

Thanks! I’m our biggest fan, aside from my aunts, who love my SGA-related Facebook updates. SGA just so happened to be where I found my home. I feel as though I’ve been “called to serve” or whatever in this community, and in all of my communities. If SGA isn’t your home, there are over 270 other organizations you can join. I cannot sit idly by with all of this passion and all of these feelings and just hope something will change. I need to be an active part of the change. I am empowered in this organization and I hope that I empower others too, growing with peers as we better our institution. That’s why I do it.

Contact the author, Sarah Lilly, at slilly1@umbc.edu.

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All That Power

Bentley Corbett-Wilson, ’17, Music Education, is President of UMBC’s Student Government Association.

BentleyA friend came up to me last night and asked me, “How’s it going with all that power?” I thought for a second, and I said something along the lines of “You and everyone else who’s a student here are the ones with all that power. I’m just a primary voice for the power.”

I want everyone to know that YOU as students are the ones who can make this campus better. It is your ideas and passions that help drive this campus community, and I want you all to feel comfortable and inspired to use SGA to make those visions become reality. We want to do the work WITH you all, not FOR you.

So far, it has truly been an honor representing the student body, and SGA as an organization has started off the year on an AMAZING note. The SGA retreat was incredibly successful, and full of motivated and empowered student leaders. We welcomed new students to the campus by hosting Bubble Soccer. I had the honor of speaking at the Convocation, and (hopefully) inspired new students to make UMBC their home and pave their own ways to success.

I want to thank everyone who helped this summer to make sure that SGA started off on the right track this 50th anniversary year, and to everyone has shown their support and continued to have faith in me. I’m excited for all that this year has in store for myself, SGA, and UMBC!

Contact the author, Bentley Corbett-Wilson, at bcorbet1@umbc.edu

A More Open Fee-Setting Process

Collin Wojciechowski ’13, political science and media and communication studies, served as the sole student member of the University System of Maryland’s governing Board of Regents, 2011-2012. Saqib Ashraf ’13, chemical engineering, is a member of UMBC’s new Student Fee Advisory Board (SFAB).

Collin WojciechowskiWhen I began my term as the student member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents in July of 2011, students from nearly every campus in the USM understood that they paid mandatory fees but had no idea what this money was actually paying for. A student would stop me when I was visiting their campus and say something to the effect of, “I just saw my bill! I just saw my athletics fee! What is this money paying for?” It was with this issue in mind that I worked for the majority of my term to amend the Board’s policy on student fees and create what you know today as the UMBC Student Fee Advisory Board (a similar committee exists now on each campus in the USM).

My intention in creating these committees was not to freeze or reduce student fees, which are a necessary part of our education. Without them we would not have buses that run properly, computers that turn on, and the SGA would have no money to distribute to student orgs. Instead, my goal was to make students an active part of the conversation by making sure they understood their bill each semester and had a say in what was on it. Effective shared governance is shared governance that has open lines of communication, and that is precisely what my policy changes aimed to foster.

I am proud to say that at my last meeting as a Regent, in June 2012, the fee amendments passed, but that is simply the beginning of the work that needs to be done. It is now up to the student body to take advantage of this opportunity and speak up about the fees.–Collin Wojciechowski

Saqib HeadshotThis academic year, full-time undergraduates pay $2,679 in mandatory fees, and part-time undergraduates pay a prorated share based on the number of credits they take.  These fees support athletics, technology, the Commons, transportation, auxiliary facilities and student activities.  Fees for full-time undergraduates are projected to increase to a total of $2,772 for the next academic year, but the increase and its components are not set in stone.

The Student Fee Advisory Board (SFAB)–the committee created by the UMBC administration, Student Government Association and Graduate Student Association through Collin’s initiative–already has met with administrators overseeing each of the six mandatory fees. Now undergraduates have a chance to weigh in through an online survey that includes detailed information about the fees and the programs, services and facilities they support. If you’re a UMBC undergraduate, please take a few moments to share your perspective! The survey closes March 25th. Survey responses, which are completely anonymous, will inform the SFAB’s recommendations about fee levels and uses for next year.Saqib Ashraf

Contact the authors: Collin Wojciechowski at cwoj1@umbc.edu, Saqib Ashraf at ashrafs1@umbc.edu.

Voting and the Election Night Extravaganza

Meghan Carpenter ’14, American studies and political science, is director of community and governmental affairs for UMBC’s Student Government Association.

If you walk down UMBC’s main academic row and ask people if they’re sick of politics, many will say yes without skipping a beat. Understandably, it’s easy to be disenchanted with politics when candidates are constantly asking for contributions so that they can run more attack ads in swing states. In a state like Maryland where our votes don’t often appear to matter, it can be hard to believe that anyone’s solitary vote can make a difference.

On the contrary, voting cannot be more important. Throughout our nation’s history people have died, gone to jail, and spent countless hours protesting in hostile environments in order for everyone in America to be able to vote. Because of the sacrifice of many, we generally have the privilege of being able to discuss issues and vote on them, without intimidation or danger. Voting is vital because of the feeling of energy that comes from being able to push that button on Election Day, knowing that one second can make a difference in the country’s future. When young people vote, we make it more likely that public officials will pay attention to our priorities.

The UMBC Student Government Association is going to do everything it can this election season to make voting anything but a solitary act. Our campus strives to make elections into a community experience. We’re working with a lot of student organizations and [Read more…]

Learning to Make a Difference, By Making a Difference

Craig Berger is Coordinator of Student Life for Campus and Civic Engagement.

From the day I became the staff advisor to UMBC’s Student Government Association (SGA) last October, I often have experienced moments that clarify for me how fortunate I am to be working at this institution and with these students. One of these moments occurred a few weeks ago in the mountains of Frederick, at SGA’s annual retreat.

During the retreat, facilitated by students, the 50 participants learned about themselves and the organization, and considered strategies for applying our passions, talents, and skills to engage others in co-creating campus life. On the first day, we explored our own lives for “crucible moments”—instances of great significance and deep learning in our pasts that inform who we are and what we do today. The group spent the majority of the following day becoming familiar with SGA history, structure and people, its philosophy, and its approach to taking action. As the retreat came to a close, members tapped their collective histories and new knowledge as they identified community problems and conceived focused, ambitious and collaborative initiatives to solve them. [Read more…]

A Greater Purpose (video)

UMBC senior Kaylesh Ramu is President of the Student Government Association for 2012-2013. Here she shares insights based on her own transformative experiences, explains SGA’s groundbreaking engagement work and encourages students to get involved, get connected and start making a difference.

What is the ‘greater purpose’ of a college education for you? Add a comment to share your thoughts.


Contact Kaylesh Ramu at kramu1@umbc.edu.  Video by David Hoffman for BreakingGround.

Right Place, Right Time, Right People

David Hoffman is Assistant Director of Student Life for Civic Agency at UMBC.

When I came to UMBC I had no idea how lucky I was. I had arrived at just the right place, at just the right time, and among just the right people to work on projects with the potential to help renew our democracy. Now, nine years later, UMBC is in the national spotlight for its creativity and cross-campus commitment to civic engagement.

At a White House event earlier this year, UMBC and its Student Government Association were celebrated as models for “next generation” engagement initiatives. BreakingGround builds on this important work, and its potential impact is immense.

Two reports released at the White House event describe a revolution in thinking about civic education on U.S. college and university campuses. The reports urge schools to embrace civic education and engagement across disciplines and departments, and to help students prepare to be creative problem-solvers rather than merely participants in civic life. UMBC has been deeply involved in the civic education revolution reflected in these two reports, and 2011-2012 SGA President Catie Collins was an invited speaker at the White House event celebrating their publication.  [Read more…]