Student governance and success: Incoming Students’ Union president shares vision

Faculty of Science alumnus Joel Agarwal shares his vision for Fall 2020 as incoming Students' Union president.

Andrew Lyle - 28 August 2020

Faculty and staff across the University of Alberta campuses have been hard at work this summer on preparing for the Fall 2020 semester, helping to ensure students receive a quality education and experience even in the face of COVID-19. Many students are also working to ensure Fall 2020 is a success, including incoming Students’ Union president and Faculty of Science alumnus Joel Agarwal.

Agarwal graduated with his bachelor of science in biological sciences in 2019, and is now pursuing open studies. As incoming president, he shares what he sees as the challenges of COVID-19 to be faced in the year ahead—as well as the opportunities to help build community and improve the student experience.

Hear from Joel Agarwal.

How did you get involved in the Students' Union? What led you to run for president?

I remember being dropped off at Lister Residence in my first year, eager and nervous—for being away from family for the first time is often a time of challenge and growth. Over the next few years, I had the amazing opportunity to engage with many facets of the campus experience—living in Lister Residence and St. Joseph’s College, playing trombone with the University of Alberta Concert Band, volunteering across campus, and learning great things through undergraduate research. UAlberta became a home for me, where I learnt from my peers, faculty, staff, and through the invaluable experiential learning opportunities available both in and out of the classroom.

Nevertheless, I never thought I would take an interest in student governance. My supervisor, Professor Dilini Vethanayagam in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, with whom I was doing summer research suggested I run to fill a Science vacancy on the General Faculties Council (GFC). At the time, I didn’t really know anything about GFC. Little did I know that experience would thrill me, and lead me on to running for Students’ Council, then the next year Vice-President Academic, and now President. 

What are your priorities as incoming SU president?

This year, COVID-19 has brought many challenges along with the existing hurdles we must overcome. In these uncertain and unprecedented times, the University of Alberta Students’ Union (UASU) exists not only as a predictable and dependable force, but one that is flexible to the ever-changing winds we are all facing together. The UASU has and always will be at the forefront, ensuring student leadership reflects the student body, and that our values keep students at the core of what we do. Academic quality must be high. Mental wellness remains a priority. And we will find innovative and creative ways to foster our campus community. 

How are you planning to support students and build community remotely in the fall?

Building a community virtually will pose challenges, but I am committed to ensuring that it remains a priority as students return and start classes this fall. The Students’ Union has already begun to move many of the services online, such as the Peer Support Centre to better meet the needs of students who may not be able to come to campus. New Student Orientation is well on its way to being fully offered in an online format with modules, podcasts, and community-building groups. 

What are you looking forward to in the fall?

I am excited to be part of the conversations in creating a better U of A for Tomorrow—whether it be in the classroom or out. There are certainly challenges, but also new opportunities to ensure that students have the opportunity to thrive in an intellectually stimulating and innovative environment. 

Any messages of encouragement for new and returning students?

Back in my first few years I never thought I would be where I am today. I believe strongly that each experience I had has shaped me into who I am. For those who are new to campus, or returning—take advantage of the incredible opportunities here at the University of Alberta. Whether it be joining one of the 400+ student groups on campus, volunteering at the hospital, taking part in undergraduate research, or joining the concert band, there is something here for everyone. 

The Students’ Union offers many supports for you to take advantage of as well whether it be the Exam Registry, the Tutor Registry, the Peer Support Centre, the Landing, emergency funding, the Campus Food Bank, or any of the other services we offer, know that the Students’ Union will always have your back. We are the voice of students, ensuring that while you are attending a top Canadian university pursuing academic excellence, your needs are being met and advocated for.