Inside USD

New AS Government Encourages Student Representation, Voice

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kelsey Chase’s first visit to the University of San Diego served an individual purpose. After playing on a high school state basketball championship team his senior year, the 6-foot-6 prospective student-athlete took a campus tour and had aspirations of catching on with the Toreros’ program.

“I was still pursuing the idea that I’d be playing a college sport,” said Chase, who saw three of his teammates at Santa Ana (Calif.)-Mater Dei High earn Division I basketball scholarships. Chase, meanwhile, sought a non-scholarship, walk-on opportunity in 2007, Coach Bill Grier’s debut season.

Though Chase’s bid to play college basketball was unsuccessful, it didn’t deter his interest in being a USD student. “I fell in love with the school. It comes down to the fact that I’m a southern California kid. I enjoy water sports: surfing, kayaking, fishing, diving and stuff like that so San Diego had a natural appeal for me,” he said. Chase decided to ditch his basketball jersey and focus on school.

Today, Chase (pictured, right, with USD President Mary Lyons) is completing his degree in political science and minor in business administration and will graduate in May. The 21-year-old enjoys Mission Beach, where he’s lived since his sophomore year after spending his freshman year in the Maher residence hall.

Life may be a beach when he’s not at school, but Chase isn’t slacking off. As the 2010-11 Associated Students President, Chase is on a mission to provide USD students with a stronger voice.

Chase directs a new leadership team that shares the common goal of creating a more focused student government. “AS, in the past, was not fully representative of the entire campus,” he said. “It was mostly focused on event planning and programming.”

Two years ago, a consulting group was hired to assess efficiency and how well AS was representing students. The group’s recommendation was to chart a new path. An extensive drafting process took place last year, Chase said, and the new direction for student government was unveiled in the spring. Three key results were:

Event programming split off from the new student government’s responsibilities.

• Elections held to determine 30 student senator positions. Fifteen spots were voted in last spring and candidates represented a diverse number of academic majors; the other 15 were voted in last week and featured candidates who live on campus and who commutes to diversify that voice.

• New leadership model created. Chase is joined by Vice President Zach Flati; Avery Durnan, communication chairperson; Lexie Malchione, finance chairperson; and Diana Rodriguez Agiss, speaker of the Senate, which is a new position, in the top roles.

The changes help Associated Students “really have a representative voice for students. This has the potential to lay a foundation for all future groups,” Chase said.

By creating student senator positions in the new model, he adds, “we want to reach out to students to get more involved. The more you get to know your school, the more you’ll take pride in it and have a better experience overall. As a student representative this is a chance to make the (college) experience better for the whole group.”

Chase admits to “setting the bar high” for a successful transition. “I’ve pushed my executive team pretty hard since May but I really think we’re doing some good things and we’re already getting some good feedback.”

He said 100 students applied for the fall election’s 15 student senate positions. “Our target was 40, but the fact we had 100 speaks a lot to Zach and the team’s efforts. It also shows that students truly feel it’s a chance to have their voices heard. We feel having the senate opens a whole new line of communication for the school.”

Durnan put together a media campaign about the changes in student government through television, radio, social media and a column in the student newspaper, The Vista. USD TV is carrying AS Senate meetings live on “T-Span.” Flati or Chase will give a weekly address on the online USD Radio. The AS Facebook and Twitter accounts provide instant information for the campus community.

Chase said Rodriguez Agiss’ role as speaker is a good fit. “This position needs someone who can lead and direct those who are going to contribute to better representing the students’ voice. I feel her personality is a really good fit. She’s a meticulous, detail-oriented type of person who will set the agenda on what needs to be accomplished.”

Chase says his role as president is twofold. “My first priority is making sure we’ve set these goals and to keep everyone on task to achieve them. Secondly, I want to be the liaison between the student body and administration, faculty and staff and take the position of president in a new direction.”

Laying the foundation is important, but moving it forward is will be equally significant. Chase might see the latter firsthand as he’s applying to law school at USD. If he stays for law school, it would add to his own educational fulfillment and his personal development.

Chase’s leadership training was sharpened through USD’s Emerging Leaders program, participation in courses with a community service component and his work with AS last year as director of transportation. In the latter role, he organized a beach tram to address parking issues and promote sustainability, was the judge for USD traffic court and served on the student issues board.

“The opportunities available at USD have really shaped the way I’d like to move on in my life,” he said. “They sparked my interest in seeking higher positions.”

He’s now got the top student position. He has a corner office on the third floor of the Student Life Pavilion, a LEED-certified building that’s the first of its kind on campus. Perhaps it’s not really a surprise that another first — a more representative student government — could emerge.

— Ryan T. Blystone

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