Learning to lead at SSU
By NICK WALDEN / Rohnert Park Correspondent
Back-to-school time can be challenging enough for students, but how much harder is it when you represent 9,000 students and oversee an annual budget of more than $1.5 million?
For newly elected Associated Students President Mac Hart, Executive Vice President Anthony Gallino and Vice President of Finance Matt Dougherty, the new school year brings challenges that will outlast the current crop of Sonoma State students.
The trio will deal with such issues as a notable lack of student cohesion, deficient state funding, complaints by residents of Rohnert Park’s M Section neighborhood about student parties, and a registration process that can cause headaches for students nearing graduation.
On a happier note, they also will be in office when SSU’s new $62 million student center opens in October. The Associated Students is a stakeholder in the center.
“It should have a huge positive impact,” said Hart. “The center will provide a lot more social opportunities for the campus.”
The student center will be a centralized hub for activities and social events that now are held off campus. It will contain restaurants, retail space and a 12,000-square-foot ballroom, the county’s largest.
Associated Students is a student-run nonprofit organization designed to enrich the lives of students through programs, services, events and activities.
It’s a distinctive corporation that is owned and governed by students and run by five full-time staff members and more than 100 student employees. Each SSU student pays a $97 membership fee to belong.
Hart, 21, campaigned with Gallino, the incumbent executive vice president and a third-year political science major. Their platform was “Visibility, Accountability and Collaboration.”
“We want to help build a sense of community within the college,” said Hart. Their goal is creating the structure to host more large-scale events, encouraging students to stay on campus during the weekend.
They also want to encourage groups that might normally run small social events to combine them to create a bigger draw. An example is the upcoming “Big Night” event, a huge back-to-school festival with multiple campus groups represented.
One roadblock student leaders face is the campus rule that prevents on-campus events after certain hours. Some students and student groups believe this rule leads to more off-campus gatherings that can create community disturbances.
“How we conduct business on campus directly relates to things that happen off campus,” Hart said, noting that community relations and the community’s perception of the college are important.
He would like to see the rules changed to take advantage of the campus’ assets.It has its own police force, for example, and has enough space to create a natural buffer between on-campus activities and residential neighborhoods.
Asked what one thing he would like to accomplish this year, Hart responded, “A unified campus built around school spirit that respects the surrounding community and embraces collaboration.”
Another hot-button issue for Hart and Matt Doughtery, a financial management and communication studies major, is the registration process.
Students often find that classes they need to graduate are full by the time they are allowed to register, forcing them to enroll for additional semesters.
This year’s student leaders also want to raise the organization’s visibility among students who may now know all that it offers.
Associated Students produces events, assists with childhood education, provides funding and accounting services for student clubs, aids with short-term loans and provides student health insurance.
By working together, Hart says, the school can combat apathy and create enough cohesion to make Sonoma State a thriving, vibrant and engaging university with its own identity.
“We are investing heavily in the idea of bringing a community campus together,” he said. “We have to put the structure in place first, but that will allow future leaders more opportunity.”