In an effort to highlight the people who are leading graduate universities across the nation, we at Watch The Yard reached out to Fairleigh Dickinson University and did an interview with Maame Mensah the Student Government Association president.
The position of SGA president of a is a highly respected role and there is a special pride that one takes. Mensah, who is majoring in Psychology, is a current junior.
We interviewed Mensah, and talked to her about her position, goals, future and what it means to hold this type of leadership position in 2020.
Read the full interview below.
What is the biggest thing you’ve learned as an SGA president so far?
Throughout the entire year I found myself falling in love with the Student Government Association. Not only because of the glorious moments spent with you all, such as building relationships with senators, implementing new traditions like walking across campus to support breast cancer awareness, or our amazing SGA week, but because SGA pushed me to be a better person.This intricate learning process taught me effective leadership, communication, and problem-solving tactics, yet I also learned how to get back up when it felt like I had fallen. I grew in, and with, a community I honestly consider family, from all the clubs and organizations, different offices on campus, to our different student populations including athletes, international students, those involved in greek life, commuters, and residents. Throughout this year seeing the obstacles that was overcame, and the heart everyone showed in their unique ways was warming. SGA pulled me out of the black and white picture I thought the world was captured in and pushed me to step inside the shoes of those who’d many different perspectives. All of this showed me that I don’t belong anywhere else but the position I have right now as Student Government Association President. Not because I deserve it and I am better than anyone else but because I see FDU for what it really is. I see the potential that, if tapped into correctly, can push us as individuals as well as a family to be the best we can be.
What made you decide to attend Fairleigh Dickinson University for undergrad?
Initially Fairleigh Dickinson University was not one of my first choices. To be honest FDU gave me an immense amount of scholarship money and got my attention right away. However, after I visited and saw the family like community that FDU had, I knew it was the place I could be comfortable in. Comfort is extremely important for me and FDU reflects a huge living room for all of us who attend the university. It is a welcoming, friendly and supportive community that I was comfortable in calling my second home.
How has Fairleigh Dickinson University molded you into the person you are today?
Fairleigh Dickinson has encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and challenge myself to not settle into mediocrity. FDU has opened doors of opportunity and showed me hat I deserved to be in the rooms I found myself in. I have grown as a leader, a sister, a friend, a girlfriend and a role model to all those who look at all the things I have accomplished and are proud. Encountering so many different people at FDU has given me a guide to navigate through the real world in which I will encounter so much more. I believe Fairleigh Dickinson was the destined place for me to be not only because of the beautiful relationships I have made here but the growth this institution encouraged me to step into.
What specific initiatives have you headed up this year and how do you think they will improve the school and surrounding community?
My goal for this academic year focused around rebranding SGA. Together with my Executive Board, we were able to set goals centered around creating, enforcing, and progressing tradition. SGA has served as the umbrella organization for our student clubs, an advocate for student voices, and a student liaison to campus departments for over 50 years at the Metropolitan Campus. However, as we look to the future, we realize we need to recalibrate some of our methods to meet the current needs of our students and be progressive in our strategic plans.
Therefore, we took the following steps toward transition. We opened up the SGA Office to both Senators and E-board members allotting time slot for their specific office hours. Office hours consisted of completing SGA or specific Senator goals, and provided an extra platform where students were able to speak to the representatives about any concerns in the campus community. We had an open-door policy during office hours to create a more welcoming and informal platform for students.
In the process of wanting to rebrand SGA, we wanted to create some traditions that would continue in the future. We started by highlighting different social issues according to the month. In September, we highlighted Mental Health Awareness Week by creating informational videos that we posted on our social media platform, keeping the student body engaged throughout that week. In October, we highlighted Breast Cancer Awareness month by organizing a breast cancer walk walking through the neighborhood and across campus.
A tradition we felt important to revive was inviting monthly leadership speakers to meetings.Class meetings are another tradition we felt necessary to revisit. Lead by the class representatives, class meetings were organized to hear feedback from each class and gain understanding of expectations each class had for their representative. We hosted SGA week themed, “Battle of the Orgs”. This week of programs focused on “UKnighting” our community through social media engagement and interactive programming. Our goal was to bridge any perceived gaps between SGA and other campus organizations.
With the help of our Student Life Office ,members of the executive board we were able to put together our first ever Black Student Union. This Union was something that a lot of students were interested in and with the aid of numerous members of SGA this was made possible.
For the month of February, the Student Government Association wanted to highlight black History Month in many different ways. First starting off with a social media campaign, each week, the Executive Board highlighted both male and female African American student leaders in our FDU community. We also broke the senators up into groups and allowed them to pick different African American sitcoms to recreate. We hosted a Black Solidarity Day in which we encouraged students to dress in black in support of Black History Month. On our Black Solidarity Day, we invited Associate Professor Dr. Martha Pitts to discuss her journey as an African American woman in the workplace and in the world.
We are currently in the works of creating a freshmen mentoring program in which upperclassmen would adopt a freshmen and mentor them for thee year. This program will aid in the transition of freshmen into the college culture. We were also in the works of establishing relationships with the community FDU is located and bridge together volunteering opportunities for students. Although our semester was cut short, My executive board and I are ready to end the semester off strong and brainstorm on ways we can continue to be a strong umbrella for student organizations.
How is your school currently responding to the coronavirus and what is your SGA administration doing to help students?
When COVID-19 was starting to be taken seriously by our society, students were away at Spring Break. Administration started off by cancelling spring sports and then encouraged students to stay at home. The Administration reached out to all of their students and informed us that campus would be closed for a couple of weeks. They allowed students to come and get some of their things thinking that school would resume in a couple of weeks.
However once our school saw that many campuses were closing down for the remainder of the year and the severity of the situation increased, our campus officially shifting to zoom university and urged students to stay home. The campus allowed those who had no where else to go to stay on campus, however those who left personal items in their rooms wEre informed that they would not be able o obtain these items until social distancing measures eased.
Our campus also gave students the option of choosing a pass/fail route for their classes. Deadlines were pushed back immensely and students were given ample time to figure out what they wanted to do academically. Students who were residents and left the campus are also eligible for a refund that the campus is still trying to put together for the students.
As a SGA, we have bene keeping our student body informed and encouraging students to not dwell in the negative state of our world but encourage positivity amidst the crisis the world is now in. We are promoting the continuation of student activities with highlighting using our social media platforms. We are encouraging organizations and students to program online and be creative with different ways to stay active during our time in quarantine.
How is the coronavirus affecting SGA elections for next year?
At Fairleigh Dickinson University, Student Government Association usually holds elections in the end of March so that students elected are able to attend a gala put together by SGA. Our Parliamentarian who leads elections put together an application and was able t o meet with all those who were interesting in applying. Then we had Spring Break which was followed by self quarantine which had many people confused as to what was to be done in terms of elections. Our elections consist of students first getting a petition signed by a certain amount of their student peers in order for them to b eligible to run. In addition to this, students must fill out their application and those applying for Executive Board positions would have to give a speech at one of our weekly open meetings.
Due to COVID-19, students were not able to get signatures from their peers so we had to eliminate that portion. Some students were also negatively affected by the shift the virus caused, disabling them to continue running. We joined the global movement of shifting to zoom and was able to allow candidates to give their speeches while their peers were able to hear it and see them. Students were also able to promote themselves on social media. Voting was all online, anonymous and was sent out to students via email. Although elections this year was not how it was usually done, SGA was able to fill most of the senate and executive board spots, however we are holding zoom interviews for the remaining open spots.
What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership represents a space for growth. Not only in the leader but the area in which that individual has been selected to lead. Growth in maximizing our potential and pushing yourself and those around you to be at their personal best. Leadership shines a light on emphasizes strength but working on our weaknesses as well. Leadership stands for creating a better tomorrow while uplifting, encouraging, and supporting those around you as well. Leadership synthesizes a sense of unity in addition to making sure values and morals are strongly stood on and reflected in all that is done. Leadership can be defined in so many diverse ways but leadership essentially means paving a way for those who can not do it on their own and being an example to all those who look to you to pave that way.
We now live in a digital world, what do you think schools need to do to represent themselves online in 2020?
I believe one of the important goals for universities in this time is to update their websites. In updating their websites, there needs to be more of an experience. This includes easier navigation through the websites and allowing those looking at the school to gain more of an idea of the opportunities the school has to offer. This entails virtual tours, pictures of organizations and societies, and diverse ways of representing the school beyond academics. In our current world state, schools should also focus on expanding heir social media engagement between the students. This is not something that should be a one and done but carried out in the following years to come strengthening the relationship between students and their school spirit through social media.
Why do you think Watch The Yard is important to Black students and college culture?
Watch The Yard is vital to black students and college culture because of the single word, inspiration. Watch The Yard allows for black students integrated into the college culture, to see that many other students who look and think like them are undergoing similar experiences. Watch The Yard stands as a representative of the black excellence rising in our community and the ability for young minds in this same community to rise above obstacles and take charge. Using a social platform to help educate and uplift students and future world leaders, Watch The Yard has been essential in pushing the perspective of a black college student to a more positive outlook.
What do you plan on doing after graduation?
After graduation I plan on getting my Masters degree in the category of Student Affairs/Engagement. I would also like to get my PHD in Higher Education Administration. I am a junior so I am sill looking at places in which I will pursue my graduate degree but I am happy to go wherever the Lord takes me. All my life, I have wanted to work with young minds and aid in their social, educational, and professional advancement. My goal is to one day be the head of a higher education institution. However directly after undergrad, I would like to work as a high school counselor or in the student affairs department of a higher education institution.
We at Watch The Yard would like to commend Maame Mensah for her work as the SGA president of Fairleigh Dickinson University.
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