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Shappell walks path of predecessor

Mary Kate Malone | Monday, December 11, 2006

Last year, Vice President for Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman was one of then-student body president Dave Baron’s biggest fans.

“These people have not been sleeping, I want you to know,” Poorman said in an Aug. 31, 2005 address to the Student Senate. “In seven years, no administration has hit the ground running as well as David [Baron] and Lizzi [Shappell].

So when Shappell took office last April as Baron’s successor, she knew she had big shoes to fill.

“It was inevitably difficult to take over Dave’s position, given his success and reputation as a dedicated student body president,” Shappell said. “He was able to connect with South Bend and the administration with a level of respect that I can only hope to create this year.”

Her efforts to do so aren’t going unnoticed. Shappell has continued to strengthen relations between students and the South Bend community, thanks largely to her and Baron’s efforts last year to create a forum for dialogue between the two groups. Though in many ways her administration’s goals are reflections of Baron initiatives, she has taken her identity as a female student leader to address important issues – like eating disorders -that a male leader might be less likely to pursue.

Baron’s efforts to connect his office with the University administration was a turning point for student government. The University’s Board of Trustees had been very critical of Baron’s predecessor, Adam Istvan, for his ambitious off-campus transportation project, SafeBus. Baron, however, consistently impressed both the Trustees and administration with his ability to articulate and advocate the interests of the students.

Now a law student at Harvard University, Baron still affects Shappell’s approach to her position. The lessons Shappell learned from Baron are key influences in how she approaches her position as the student body’s chief leader.

“Dave served as a great role model, given his dedication to the job and ability to connect with many different constituencies,” she said. “I think he influenced my leadership style, maintaining a team-like atmosphere in the office and utilizing collaborative decision-making whenever possible.”

Though Baron and Shappell clearly mastered the best way to work with the administration and ensure student voices were heard, Shappell is still grappling with the real effect student government can have on University policy.

Her doubts about Student Union decision-making were reinforced after Student Affairs asked the Student Union Board to allow graduate students access to the student ticket lottery for the Notre Dame-USC football game Nov. 25.

“I cannot say that I have finished learning about the level of autonomy that the Student Union holds,” Shappell said, “as I think it will be a continuing conversation amongst student leaders and the administration.”