Raising the bar
ANN MARIE JAKUBOWSKI | Friday, December 13, 2013
Since taking office April 1, student body president and vice president Alex Coccia and Nancy Joyce have checked off items left and right.
Recent initiatives included supporting University admissions policies to welcome undocumented students to campus, a week of awareness for mental health issues facing students and a coffee cart installed in DeBartolo Hall, all of which were goals included in their campaign platform. Though they have made progress through the concrete to-do list, Joyce said they are most proud of their success in engaging students who were not typically involved in student government.
“I’m really proud of the fact that we’ve gotten a lot of involvement from people, even outside of any sort of formalized committees,” Joyce said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job of trying to involve people who have opinions but who aren’t necessarily interested in being involved with student government, and that’s really what we wanted to do from Day One.”
Coccia said personal, one-on-one interaction with members of the Notre Dame community has been key to his administration’s policy-making.
“Even at the very beginning, we focused on how we approach one-on-one meetings and making sure we’re doing a lot of those with students and administrators, to not only get initiatives going, but also to build important relationships,” he said. “We do that every week with both administrators and students, and that has just come in immensely handy and has just been a powerful, powerful method for really working with students to get change going and build trust.”
Setting a standard
Engaging in social media and working to reach students where they are has been a crucial aspect of the administration’s leadership, Coccia said. Joyce said during their term, they have been trying to “raise the expectations of what student government should be on campus.”
“I think we’ve made a very concerted effort to engage freshmen, which is really important because now, for the next four years, the expectation of that and of every successive class is for a student government that reaches out to them and gives personal invitations to various invitations, a group that is known to them,” she said. “On a more macro level of what student government is, we’ve really tried to make it something that people can expect a lot from, and that we deliver on it.
“Hopefully going forward, that bar has been raised a little bit.”
Juan Rangel, chief of staff for this year’s administration, said he has been “pleasantly surprised” by the level of student involvement and cooperation on campus.
“Students are really engaged on campus, not necessarily in a formalized way, but even just in the ways that we can reach them, whether through social networks like Facebook and Twitter or in events that we host,” Rangel said. “Students are more aware that student government is active and that we’re actively trying to meet their needs in any way. I think that’s definitely something to be proud of.”
‘Using the momentum’
Coccia said he attributes much of the group’s success in tackling the initiatives on the platform to the constant connection and interaction between members of the executive cabinet and with students outside the organization.
“If someone sends us an idea, we’re typically going to follow up on that and try to get a better sense of what their thoughts are and how they see student government fitting into that,” he said. “I think the sexual assault [initiatives] are a great example of that. We definitely had that on our platform, but as something that we wanted to work on in whatever capacity we could.”
Joyce said when examining ideas and reviewing priorities, at the end of the day, they “always go back to the platform.”
“But at the same time, I think there’s been a lot that’s come up since we’ve been in office that had been generated by people coming up to us and saying ‘Look, I have this idea’ or ‘I see this happening this way,’ and I think we need that,” she said. “We make that a priority.”
The relationships built between administrators and student government have proven “really encouraging,” Coccia said.
“Ultimately, I think administrators are impressed by student ideas, and so when we bring something to them like the coffee cart idea, more often than not, they want to get it done,” he said. “Where student government comes in is just to be the best partner we can.”
Rangel said their work often opens their eyes to the inner workings of the University, providing a unique view on the behind-the-scenes action. Coccia said he finds the activity across the strata exciting.
“It’s certainly been encouraging for me to see on all levels of the University the number of moving parts on various initiatives,” he said. “It really does become kind of a team effort across the University, because as students, we’re all here to have a great learning experience and learning environment, and the administrators know that students are the reason they’re here as well.”
Reviewing the semester
Although the group members are pleased with their work to date, Joyce said they will revisit and review their remaining agenda items to pick up after winter break.
“When we started, we had this huge platform of things we wanted to get done, and we have gotten a lot done, but we certainly think that there are more things for us to accomplish,” she said. “Part of being efficient in the next three months will be picking some of those things and prioritizing some of them.
“I think that we may not get every single thing checked off of our platform, so we want to make sure that we’re getting as much done as we can and doing the most things that students feel are important.”
Coccia said he hopes the recommendations made in the Oct. 17 report to the Student Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees will help sustain some of the long-term projects beyond the one-year time frame in which they will hold office.
“Hopefully, this and the next board report in May will lay a blueprint of recommendations for future administrations,” he said. “Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is address the issues and bring the conversation up in a way that is going to prolong it and make sure it is sustained.”
To increase the scope of projects, collaboration with groups outside student government has been a “huge success,” Joyce said.
“We’ve really tried to reach out to lots of different people, in the dorms, all the clubs and the administration,” she said. “I think it’s important to realize that student government can work with other people.”
‘Above and beyond’
In addition to representing the student body, Coccia was a 2013 Truman scholar and a finalist for both the Rhodes and the Marshall scholarships. Joyce said his leadership so far has exemplified “setting the tone at the top.”
“Alex would never say this because he’s too humble, but the leadership comes from the top, and his get-it-done attitude and his ability to really go out and figure out what it is that we can be doing is where the inspiration comes from for everybody else,” she said. “I doubt that there are very many people on campus who don’t recognize Alex, and I think that really says a lot.
“He’s done such an incredible job of getting out and talking to people one-on-one and making people feel like their concerns are our concerns, because they are. I know as a team, there’s a lot that we’ve done, but it certainly would not be the same without him, so I hope people know that.”
Coccia said the group is “enjoying every day” and is excited to return to campus in January to finish the term strong.
“We’re loving it. We’re having a lot of fun,” he said. “There are certainly frustrating days, and I think we recognize that things sometimes take more time than what we want, but it’s been really fun.”
The Coccia-Joyce administration has exceeded their goal of “raising the expectation of what student government should be on campus,” as Joyce said. Having enacted tangible changes, they have already left a unique legacy on Notre Dame and have set a new standard of excellence in the student government office. The accessible and energetic leadership style exemplified by Coccia, Joyce and their cabinet makes them effective leaders and connects them to their constituents’ needs.
Contact Ann Marie Jakubowski at email@example.com.