You couldn’t get a cup of coffee at the Bistro, listen to bands at Wulapalooza, enjoy dances at the annual lu‘au or go on a Take a Break service trip without the work of Willamette’s student leaders.
According to Lisa Holliday, associate dean of campus life, Willamette is unique among other universities its size in the number of student organizations offered — more than 100 — and also in who runs them. Students, as opposed to staff or administrators, created and steer many of Willamette’s co-curricular programs.
Dozens of leadership opportunities exist on campus, and plenty of students step up to take them on. As one leader, Josephine Reeder ’13, says, “Willamette students don’t just get involved on campus, they get really involved.”
So just what does it take to run these programs? We asked four student leaders to give us a glimpse of what they do.
Elizabeth Calixtro ’13
- Major: Politics and American ethnic studies
- Hometown: Woodburn, Ore.
- Position: President,Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU)
Ask any elected official, and they’ll likely tell you that their perception of the position changed significantly from the time they were campaigning to when they were actually in office.
Elizabeth Calixtro ’13 has discovered this during her tenure as president of Associated Students of Willamette University (ASWU), the undergraduate student government.
“You come into the position with an idea of what you would like to see happen, but in the end it’s not about you — it’s about who your constituency is,” she says. “It can be hard to reconcile your own goals and values with those of the student body.
“Also, it’s been hard communicating to the student body the potential that the student government has to be a resource to them.”
They’re valuable lessons for a student activist who aspires to public office after she leaves Willamette.
Calixtro leads an organization of 20 senators and three vice presidents as they tackle an array of issues, from running a shuttle program between campus and the Portland airport, to helping the university create an honor council to address plagiarism and cheating. She frequently serves as a spokesperson for the undergraduate student body.
It’s not her first time leading on campus. Among other projects, she co-founded a WU CAUSA chapter dedicated to immigrant rights advocacy.
“Being a leader here gave me the confidence to believe in myself and pursue my goals,” she says. “It provides you with the skills to be a leader outside of Willamette.
“But it also gives you a chance to leave your mark at this institution. There are many ways for you to explore your talents while giving something back, which reflects our university motto: ‘Not unto ourselves alone are we born.’”
Kyle Flowers ’14
- Major: Economics
- Hometown: Seaside, Ore.
- Position: Coordinator, Opening Days
Kyle Flowers ’14 will never forget his Opening Days orientation experience. Everyone he met during those five days went out of their way to make him feel welcome, he says.
“They made me feel like a part of this campus rather than another face in the crowd,” he says. “Being able to have that same impact on other students’ first-year experience and their transition into a new chapter of their life is awesome.”
Flowers went on to become an Opening Days (OD) leader and worked his way up to coordinating the entire program this year. When the class of 2017 arrives in August, they’ll experience the result of nearly 11 months of work by Flowers and the four members of his lead team.
The team will interview about 150 students to hire 80 OD leaders, train the leaders, plan and implement events, prepare documents and complete a host of other tasks to make the program successful.
The work is good preparation for Flowers’ planned career as a university student affairs professional.
“Willamette has had such a positive impact on my life, and I want to be able to give that back to students by showing them that there are all these different resources for them,” he says.
“David Douglass (dean of campus life) likes to say that your co-curricular experiences at Willamette are just as important as your academic experiences, and I agree. My academics here have made me more of an intellectual, but my co-curriculars have given me the confidence to become the leader that I am today.”
Sveta Krishna ’13, MBA’14
Krishna meets frequently with other Take a Break leaders to plan their service learning trips.
- Major: Economics, BA/MBA dual degree candidate
- Hometown: Cupertino, Calif.
- Position: Program director, Take a Break(TaB)
Five trips, 10 student facilitators, 10 faculty and staff advisors, four program coordinators and 50 participants. As program director for Willamette’s Take a Break service learning program, Sveta Krishna ’13, MBA’14 has quite a bit to organize.
“A lot of what I’m doing is people management,” she says. “I have regular meetings with all the different groups to make sure they’re communicating and that they have the resources they need.”
During spring break, TaB participants will head to Denver; Tucson, Ariz.; the San Francisco Bay Area; Seattle; and other parts of the Pacific Northwest to participate in service projects while learning about poverty, immigration and youth homelessness.
“It’s pretty to say the impact is on the people that we serve — and obviously our goal is to serve them — but I think the lasting impact is on the participants who have their mindset changed,” Krishna says.
“A lot of the issues we discuss in TaB aren’t black and white, and that’s been the hardest part of my position — learning how to initiate conversations a certain way.”
These conversations also sparked a new interest for Krishna: working against injustice. She is earning her BA and MBA at Willamette, but is considering going to law school.
No matter where she ends up, she says she’ll carry many lessons from her TaB position.
“I’ve learned about things like people and project management, and working with numbers,” she says. “But I’ve also come to understand how to be open-minded and patient with people. Time and time again, I have recognized what it is to have grown up in one world and have one mental schema, and then having to expand that and allow myself to be wrong sometimes. It keeps me in check.”
Josephine Reeder ’13
- Major: Exercise science
- Hometown: Medford, Ore.
- Position: General Manager, The Bistro
What do you do when The Bistro’s espresso machine breaks while students are lining up for lattés?
Or when an employee scheduled for the opening shift — a prime time for sleepy customers seeking caffeine and scones — wakes up with a cold and can’t come to work?
You call Josephine Reeder ’13. As The Bistro’s general manager, it’s her job to make sure things run smoothly at the campus coffee shop — and to handle crises when they arise.
Her list of duties is so long, she has to write them down to remember: hiring and training employees, scheduling workers for all shifts, managing coffee service orders, acting as a liaison to other university departments, making sure the employees are doing their jobs and doing them well.
It might sound stressful to get texts during class about mechanical breakdowns, but Reeder wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“Being the Bistro manager has taught me so many skills I’ll use in the job world: organization, how to be an effective communicator, conflict resolution, dealing with unexpected situations, teamwork, how to motivate other people to do their jobs.
“School gives you information, knowledge and critical thinking skills, but leadership positions give you the skills that you’ll need to apply that knowledge.”
They can also give you new career ideas. Reeder came to Willamette thinking she wanted to be a doctor, but her Bistro work led her to consider another side of health care: hospital administration.
“One of the best things about student leadership is that you get to try out something and see if it’s what you really want to do,” she says. “I’ve been able to hone in on so many skills that I didn’t expect.”