Virginia Tech alumni reflect on their experience as student representatives to the Board of Visitors
In the 20 years since Kevin Leclaire graduated from Virginia Tech, he’s had plenty of opportunities to consider what it meant to serve as the student representative to the Board of Visitors. Leclaire recalls the challenges and the responsibilities. More than anything though, he reflects on what was accomplished.
“The experience was incredible and I was able to make a meaningful, positive impact on the direction of the university.”
Rising tuition rates, out of state enrollment, and graduate student representation on the board were among the major issues facing the Board of Visitors in the mid-1990’s. Leclaire was the last student representative to the board to serve both graduate and undergraduates. He lobbied for change and following his term, the board added a position exclusively for graduate students, effectively doubling student representation.
“That was one of my proudest accomplishments,” he said. Leclaire, a 1995 Virginia Tech graduate who studied industrial and systems engineering and economics, went on to complete his MBA at Harvard, and now runs his own management consulting firm in the space industry.
The Board of Visitors is the governing authority for Virginia Tech. Its members are appointed by the governor. Board members select student representatives from a pool of applicants at their March meeting. Even though they are non-voting representatives, they are encouraged to represent the voice of students and others in the university community.
Former student representatives gathered recently for a reunion in Blacksburg as members of the William Preston Society.
Jennifer Jessie, a 2006 graduate who studied political science and sociology, owns a social media communication company in Woodbridge, Virginia. She is convinced her time on the board prepared her with a level of versatility and adaptability that contributes every day to her professional success.
“What the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors does really, really well is they make a decision, then adapt those decisions so they work in the context of what’s going on, on campus,” said Jessie.
The deadline for current students to apply to serve as a representative next year is 5 p.m. Feb. 12. More information is available on the Division of Student Affairs website.
Jessie encourages current students to consider applying for a position as a student representative, but only if they are serious about service and ready to stand up for students. “For me, being on the board meant that I could be a voice for people who didn’t feel like they had a voice. ... I didn’t want an incident where somebody could say they hadn’t been heard or they hadn’t been listened to.”
Roxene Thompson Kastens, who earned a master's degree and Ph.D. from Virginia Tech, says her time on the board helped lift her Virginia Tech experience to the next level of personal and professional development. Like Jesse, she was determined to be a voice for students. “I was able to be a representative of a certain constituency – the graduate student population primarily – but also a perspective as an African American woman in the College of Engineering. It gave me a lot of confidence, and it gave me the acumen when I was in the corporate world to successfully work with different representatives from within the company and with clients.”
Kastens currently serves as an associate director of facilities at the University of Maryland. She describes her experience with the Virginia Tech board as the perfect training ground for interactions with university administration.
Leclaire, Jessie and Kastens agree the networking opportunities, the contacts made and the relationships established have meaning long after their time at Virginia Tech.
“It’s a unique learning experience, and it’s an experience that’s invaluable,” said Kastens. “Out of the entire institution, you get to be that person who is a liaison between the student population, the administration, and the board. It’s a unique opportunity and it opens doors for you at the university to really make a difference, and help lead the direction of where the university is going.”
“The board was very supportive and genuinely interested in what the student body was concerned about,” added Leclaire. “They listened and helped with our issues. I remain friends with some of them to this day.”
Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.