Ever wonder about the responsibilities of being Student Body President? The position sounds prestigious but what comes with the title? Imagine a whole university looking to you for representation and leadership. What does that feel like? We interviewed Claire Donelan, the Student Body President for the University of Tennessee (the largest school in the state) to learn more about what the position entails.
Read on for some valuable insight from her experience being an SGA president.
Q: What inspired you to run for office?
CD: I was inspired to run for office by the people that came before me. I saw what the executive teams were accomplishing my freshman, sophomore and junior year. I knew that I had to be a part of it. I wanted to see change on our campus and it was so clear that this would be the most effective way to accomplish some of my goals.
Q: If you could be remembered for one accomplishment during your time as President, what would that be?
CD: I would love to leave this position having made SGA more accessible and open to all students. There was a stigma around the Student Government that we were not truly here for the student body, that we weren’t doing work that mattered. If I could leave the office knowing that I have changed the opinion of some of the student body, really having made an impact on their experience here at UTK; I would feel good about that.
Q: Do you have any aspirations to run for any political positions after graduation?
CD: I do not have any aspirations to run for any political positions after college. I will be going into professional selling after college.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about becoming active in their student government?
CD: My biggest piece of advice for someone who is thinking about becoming active in their SGA would be to ask questions! There are so many different terms used within SGA that are not used anywhere else. I felt embarrassed at first not knowing any of it. But, I later found out that no one else knew either- so it can be intimidating asking that first question but I promise, other folks in the organization are more than willing to share that information with you!
Q: How difficult is it to manage your time between student government and your studies?
CD: It definitely is a challenge managing being a full-time student, a leader within student government, all the other clubs, orgs and aspects of being in college. It can be difficult to stay on task when every direction you can go feels important. But setting intentions early and keeping an organized calendar really has helped me manage both my studies and being in a leadership position.
Q: What is the most difficult part of being Student Body President? (other than time management)
CD: The most difficult part of being Student Body President is making sure that you are speaking up on behalf of the student body. There are times where I am the single representative for the entire student population, that can be intimidating. But, knowing how important it is for students to have a voice in those high-level conversations I always make sure that I am speaking up and being active in order for the students to get what they need.
Q: What is the most rewarding or exciting part?
CD: The most exciting part of being part of SGA is being able to have a real impact on students. Throughout my time in Presidency there have been some challenges and when I or SGA Exec, have spoken up about what the students want, folks who are not involved with SGA will come up and tell us how much it meant to them to be represented. That is a really cool feeling to know that your actions have changed how students feel about the situations happening on campus.
Q: What skills or lessons have you learned or developed from being Student Body President thus far?
CD: The biggest lesson I have learned from being Student Body President is to listen twice as much as you speak. Listen to the people you are representing. Listen to the administrators who can help you get what the students need. Listen to your team when they tell you what is and is not working. When you can actively listen and then respond with meaningful comments and questions you are able to get so much more information and get so much more accomplished.
Q: What kind of work and time went into your campaign?
CD: A lot of work and a lot of time went into our campaign. Our campaign was based on intention, progression and connection in order to move our campus forward. We wanted to develop a strategy that would allow us to be relatable and accessible to the student body while still being professional student leaders on our campus. We spent a lot of time listening to students who were currently in SGA and students who had never heard of SGA. We wanted to make sure that we were going to work towards the needs of ALL students.
Claire Donelan’s Tips for Running for Office
- “My first tip would be to talk to students and figure out what is something that we have not talked about in SGA before. Find something that is currently on the minds of the student body and then figure out how to fuel that need.”
- “I would also say that the best way to gain the trust of the student body is to listen to them wholeheartedly and follow up with what they tell you. Find creative ways to connect with students. Don’t just send them the link to a resource or say that you will follow up and never end up emailing them back. Make sure you are connecting with them on a regular basis. This will make you a better advocate for the wants and needs of the population.”
How to Connect with Claire:
Email: [email protected]
Twitter and Instagram: @claire_donelan