Virginia Tech's Student Government Association works to bring positive change to campus
Students using the free VT Bus Tracker mobile device app may not know it, but they have Virginia Tech’s Student Government Association to thank in part for that.
The SGA funded creation of the app, which was initiated in a capstone software engineering course led by Assistant Professor Eli Tilevich in the College of Engineering’s computer science department, after hearing complaints from students about confusion over the Town of Blacksburg’s bus schedule.
The SGA is also responsible for setting into motion the move to make Torgersen Hall a 24-hour study facility so students would have a nearby spot for all-night study sessions, and they helped bring about the recent addition of metered parking spaces at Schiffert Health Center for students who do not have faculty/staff or commuter/graduate parking passes.
These are just a few examples of ways the SGA has been able to improve campus life for students. However, it takes students getting involved, as they did when they questioned the bus schedule, for the SGA to know what its constituents want.
SGA President Corbin DiMeglio of Dumfries, Va., a senior majoring in finance in the Pamplin College of Business, said students need to know that they do have a voice when it comes to enhancing their college experience.
“We are the voice of the undergraduate students here on campus. So, if there are ever any issues on campus, hopefully we’re the ones that students go to in order to voice those concerns, because we have a direct relationship with the campus administrators,” he said. “”If that’s just saying they want more buses heading to a certain place, or they want a 24-hour study facility, we voice those concerns to the administrators. The main goal of the SGA is to serve students.”
The SGA is structured similarly to the federal government, with executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The SGA also has directors for different issues, such as directors of transportation and sustainability. These directors work with their university counterparts to get things done.
“We put a lot of emphasis on bridging the gap between the students and the administrators and uniting other student organizations,” said Vice President Emily Wilkinson of Moneta, Va., a senior majoring in psychology in the College of Science. “Things don’t happen overnight, but we make sure we have relationships with administrators so we can talk to them candidly and make things happen.”
Serving on a director’s committee is one way students can get involved. They can also show up for any meeting, as most meetings aside from those of the judicial branch are open, or they can participate in the House, or run for a higher office or Senate. Elections generally take place in the last week of March, and are open to undergraduate candidates and voters.
The House is comprised of a representative from each of the 719 registered student organizations, and the Senate is made up of representatives from the individual colleges, depending on the number of students in each college.
For those not inclined to be part of the governmental process, there are many other ways to get involved and show support. One way is the annual Extreme Makeover: Campus Edition survey, which will be held this year Oct. 24-26 from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Owens and Library plazas. Questions are tailored to get students thinking about what they really want to see happen on campus. Wilkinson said the extra parking spaces at Schiffert were a result of this event.
Students can also interact directly with the administration through the SGA-sponsored VP Is In program, which features open forum sessions hosted by Vice President for Student Affairs Edward Spencer.
There are still others things students can do to support the SGA, like purchasing Hokie Effect T-shirts for football games. The shirts fund the student government budget.
“By buying the shirts, not only are you increasing Hokie spirit or making games more intimidating for an opponent, you’re giving back to the university,” Wilkinson said. “We like to tell students that if you see something you love or hate or want on this campus, you’re the ones to bring it to us and the shirts are the ones to pay for it.”
The maroon Hokie Effect game was Oct. 1. The orange Hokie Effect game is Nov. 17. Shirts can be purchased at the Dietrick General Store, the University Bookstore, Volume Two Bookstore, and at Lane Stadium during games. The cost of the T-shirts is $12.99 for the two of them if they are purchased together, or $5.99 for the short-sleeved T-shirt and $10.99 for the long-sleeved T-shirt if purchased separately.
One of DiMeglio’s and Wilkinson’s favorite methods of getting students interested in SGA, they said, is the yearly Hokie Day, when SGA officers take varying numbers of undergraduate students along with an equal number of distinguished Virginia Tech alumni to visit the state government in Richmond. They said it is a chance for students to impress upon delegates the importance of funding for the university.
“We maintain a close relationship with our state government. We’re constantly in Richmond. We’re constantly working to make sure the government isn’t decreasing funding to our universities so tuition can stay down,” DiMeglio said. “It’s really cool to see students going in to talk to the delegates and tell their stories, and then see the alumni telling their stories. We’re so proud of this because so many schools are so much closer to Richmond, within an hour of Richmond, yet we have the strongest lobbying day.”
DiMeglio said Hokie Day is a free event and usually takes places around the beginning of the year. Participation is not limited to SGA officers or members, but students must apply in order to take part. More information about Hokie Day can be found on the SGA website, as well as details about its other programs.
While it may seem politics is the SGA’s main theme, Wilkinson cautioned against viewing it as the heart of what the association does.
“One of the things about student government is a lot of people dismiss it as politics, but a lot of the things we do have very little to do with that and a lot to do with bettering an already amazing campus,” she said. ”It’s about speaking your mind and saying what you like and what you think could be a little bit different.”
DiMeglio said he agrees that the SGA is less about politicizing the campus and more about students understanding their own power to effect positive change.
“When students come in for orientation, a lot of professors and academics challenge them to leave their legacy,” he said. “This is a great way to do that.”