Be a leader! How to get involved with student governance

Kathryn sits down with Nathan Perez, GFC councillor and OASIS vice president, to gain insight into the life and roles of a student leader.



YouAlberta is written by students for students.

Kathryn (she/her) is a third year Political Science major. Kathryn is an avid reader who always has a New Yorker magazine in her bag.

Something students often hear in their undergraduate careers is “get involved.” Student leadership roles are a great way to start, but entering such a role can be easier said than done. Leadership can require you to step outside of your comfort zone – a rewarding yet daunting task. It can be overwhelming to have your name on a ballot and campaign posters and even risk defeat; however, there is also so much to be gained from any participation in leadership. OASIS, with which Nathan is an executive, is an organization for arts and interdisciplinary students that advocates for and provides services and events to these students. In order to share firsthand insight into the realities of a student leader, I sat down with Nathan for an interview.  

What motivated you to pursue student leadership?

I started out as a director for events and outreach for OASIS. For me, it was about fun. As an events coordinator, it’s all about delivering events and services that make people smile. As I have progressed from an events coordinator to focus on more advocacy issues, I have become invested in making sure that student concerns that might be unheard are brought to the table. Learning more about the current situations of students fuels me to stay involved in student governance and ensure that student voices are heard.

How would you describe your campaigning experience?

When you navigate student governance, especially as a first-timer, there can be a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. You are putting your name on a ballot and really putting yourself out there. What are the chances that you might lose or win? What I found out while campaigning was that when you campaign with other students, you build connections. The idea of opponents is really all on paper. Even if you don’t win that particular position, collectively, you can work together. My team and I collaborated on poster ideas based on fun and current trends to speak to the student collective. 

Another aspect of campaigning is that many people make promises to bring immediate change, but this can seem unrealistic given the busy nature of student life. Making sure that the campaign culture is fun and attractive makes it easier for students to realize that student governance is approachable. My team was not very stressed about the results of the campaign. We thought it would be best to just celebrate in the end, regardless of the results. I was super lucky to have my team. 

What are your responsibilities in each leadership role of yours?

I am the vice president for outreach and events at OASIS, which is an Arts faculty association. In this position, I oversee all the events that OASIS runs. If we have councillors who want to submit an idea for an event, I will oversee it. I also chair a committee that finalizes these events. If another executive decides they want to host their own event that is more related to their portfolio, I look over the proposal, give them the go-signal, and act as a secondary party to that event. 

My role as a General Faculties councillor is more difficult to describe. I sit alongside students and professors alike, as well as the president of the university, and we vote on issues that we think are the most relevant to students. As a councillor, my main responsibility is to do research in order to understand student concerns. Councillors like myself provide an avenue for students to raise such concerns; we meet before the General Faculties Council, and we discuss these different perspectives. 

I know many students who are wary of joining student groups and leadership positions because of the added time commitment to an already busy student schedule. How do you manage your time?

In my first year, it was still COVID. Everything was online, and it was easy for me to get distracted. As we have transitioned back to in-person courses, it became apparent that classes, meetings and events can clash with one another. To manage my time, I use Google Calendar; seeing all the different colours is a reliable way for me to visualize my day and my commitments. “Commitment” can sound like a really big word but if you are committed to something, you have to prioritize. For many of us in student governance, we are driven by our passion to fulfill the role. Also, remember the basics: eat, drink! If you do not take care of yourself well enough, you will not be able to manage your time. 

What have been the most rewarding aspects of your leadership roles?

For me, it was when someone came up to me and said, “hi, you’re Nathan from OASIS right?” Students from the Faculty of Science have even recognized me from OASIS. These experiences show the result of outreach. Having my team’s work recognized, especially from other faculties, is very rewarding.

What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about student leadership? 

I think the most clichéd one is that people only take on these positions for clout or to enhance a resume. For many of us in student governance, we are often in power because of our passion for advocacy. We are always doing research on student perspectives that might be unheard of and dedicate time to prepare for meetings. 

A second misconception is that all we do is complain. Student leaders are harsh critics because we are immersed in student perspectives, and we live the student experience ourselves. We have to think critically in order to propose solutions—this can take a lot of time. 

What advice would you give to a student who is interested in taking on roles like yours?

If you have interest, I say just go for it. If you are passionate about something, go for it. University is a time to discover yourself; this discovery starts with taking a leap of faith. You might be a first-year student who is interested in student governance. My advice is to give it a shot. You have to start somewhere. When you have a passion, you have to pursue it in order to nurture it. You never know where it will take you. From my own experience, I started off as a director for student events, and now I am with GFC. You learn things as you go, and they will lead you to new opportunities.