- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 22, 2004

Kris Hart is on his way to being the next George W. Bush. Although Mr. Hart, 21, has a long way to go before he reaches the Oval Office, he is honing his leadership skills as president of the Student Association at George Washington University in Northwest. One day, he says, he would like to work on Capitol Hill.

“Students sometimes, in general, feel neglected or disenfranchised from their university,” says Mr. Hart, a junior business and public policy major. “The [student government’s] job is to make sure the university is listening to them … to stand there as a force.”

Student government associations provide a place for students to voice their opinions on college and university campuses. Many of the organizations have a structure similar to the U.S. government’s. Service in one of the groups can help students decide if they want to become politicians.

The groups allow students to affect the fate of the school at which they study, says Tim Miller, interim director of the student activities center at George Washington University. He advises Mr. Hart and other members of the Student Association on various issues.

“I think self-governance is a very important part of a college campus,” Mr. Miller says. “It can have a significant impact.”

Keith Oliver, 27, president of the Undergraduate Student Government Association at the University of the District of Columbia in Northwest, says he is taking every opportunity to improve the campus. He says his main goal is to eliminate the negative image associated with the school. For this reason, he organized UDC Pride Week, held last week.

“I want the people in the D.C. area to know how great the university is,” he says. “There’s a great opportunity here. The university is basically what you put into it. It’s a great place, but a lot of people who just listen to rumors can’t see that.”

It has been harder than Mr. Oliver anticipated to bring people together, however. His one-year term ends in May, as he graduates with an undergraduate degree in mass media.

“About the second week in office, I had people calling me, demanding a walkout on the president of the university,” Mr. Oliver says. “I thought being student government president was supposed to be about building morale.”

Protecting students against tuition increases has been a priority for Tim Daly, 22, student body president of the Student Government Association at the University of Maryland at College Park.

From fall 2002 to fall 2003, he says, tuition increased up to 21 percent. He anticipates another increase next fall.

“We’ve been trying to raise awareness and hold people accountable,” he says. “We’ve been lobbying in Annapolis on behalf of higher public education issues. We’ve actually gone so far as starting a political action committee and a 501(c)(4) foundation, the Student Citizens Actions Network, to raise money.”

Absentee-ballot streamlining in the state of Virginia has been important to Sarah Godlewski, president of the Student Government at George Mason University in Fairfax. A senior majoring in integrative studies with a concentration in peace and conflict resolution, Miss Godlewski, 22, has led trips to Richmond to address this issue.

“You can’t get an absentee ballot unless you follow a six-step process just to receive a ballot,” she says. “A lot of states are moving to filling out a form online. What turns off younger Americans is the level of bureaucracy. You can eliminate bureaucracy by simply filling out the form online.”

In addition to representing the concerns of students, Brian Morgenstern, 21, student body president of the Georgetown University Student Association in Northwest, has enjoyed meeting many international leaders. He is a junior with a major in government.

He has participated in events attended by CIA Director George J. Tenet; former President Bill Clinton; Cherie Blair, wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair; President Bush’s brother Neil Bush; presidential candidate Sen. John Edwards; and former candidate Howard Dean.

“Through meeting all those people, I’ve learned humility,” Mr. Morgenstern says. “I’ve had to learn to be confident and think of myself as representing the university and not being a wide-eyed college student.”

Participating in a student government association gives people a trial run at politics, says Nicholas Terzulli, 21, president of the Student Confederation at American University in Northwest. He is a junior with a double major in political science and public communications.

“If you want to work on campaigns, it’s much easier to work on it at a campus level than work on a national campaign in the middle of nowhere and realize you don’t like it,” he says.

Although Mr. Terzulli has enjoyed his experience leading the Student Confederation, he decided not to run in the elections tomorrow and Wednesday.

“You have to fight for the students without alienating the administration,” he says. “It’s a very difficult position. … In a regular government structure, you’re not working for both sides. On a college campus, we’re really the middlemen.”

Despite the challenges associated with office, Sarah McGrath, 20, academic vice president of the UndergraduateStudent Governmentof the Catholic University of America in Northeast, has decided to throw her hat into the ring for the March 31 election for president. She is a junior, majoring in politics.

“I have nine other roommates,” she says. “They are going to decorate their cars. I’m going to have T-shirts made up. I’m going to go around and knock on doors and meet as many people as I can.”

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