With the student council by-election coming up, you may wonder about the student council, what they do, and if you should run. The Voice Magazine got to chat with a few council members about their experiences.
I was joined by a Councillor, Cilhane Ahmed, the Vice President of Community and Wellness (VPCW), Natalia Iwanek, and the Vice President of Finance and Administration (VPFA), Dur-E-Najaf Syed. Councillor Cilhane Ahmed, a student from France, was elected in March of 2022 and currently sits on both the Finance and Awards committees. VPCW Iwanek has a wealth of experience; having been elected in August 2020, she was elected as Vice President External and Student Affairs before transitioning to Vice President of Community and Wellness, a position she has since held while also chairing the Equity, Diversty and Inclusion committee (commonly known as the EDI committee) and the Member Engagement and Communications, or MEC, committee. VPFA Syed was elected to council during a by-election approximately two years ago; in addition to her roles as Vice President of Finance and Administration, she also chairs the Awards committee and the Finance committee. Jodi Campbell, Executive Director at AUSU, organized our zoom meeting and offered insights.
I asked councillors to share what made them decide to run for council.
Councillor Ahmed saw an opportunity to gain experience, but she also spoke on how her unique experience as an international student was a driving factor “I believe my point of view might bring something to the association as a foreigner and because we also advocate for international students and having a new view of things might help.” VPFA Syed wanted to advocate for the changes for issues she saw students facing. “There were just a lot of things that I wanted to see differently at AU, and the best way to change it is to be in a position where you can advocate for the things you want.”
VPCW Iwanek added that while she was unsure of her decision to run because of concerns related to accessibility and accommodations, she saw things that needed to be addressed, “I noticed a great deal of things that were not working as well as they should on the university level, I also noticed some things that were maybe lacking a bit on the AUSU level as well, I very much wanted to get involved, but I wasn’t sure if student leadership was for students like me, and I was just a bit unsure, and I did step out of my comfort zone, and I think it was one of the best decisions I’ve made to date” she stated.
Many students often have a vague idea of what the student union and what student council does, which can be overwhelming if you are interested in running. VPCW Iwanek had a great way of explaining it “You can’t really explain this job in one sentence; council does so many things. We can simplify this by saying we advocate for undergraduate students to AU but also provincially and federally. We advocate for things like lower tuition rates; one thing we have advocated for is improved, updated and inclusive course content, more awards, more bursaries, improved communication with tutors, reasonable marking times, and so much more. And then I think on our end, as an organization, we provide student support, assistance services, things like the virtual food assistance program and a lot of community building events.” Executive Director Jodi Campbell added that council is the decision-making body; they are the highest level of governance at Athabasca University Student Union (AUSU),
If you are wondering how much time you need to commit to the council, it depends on what committees you are on. Most councillors commit about an hour each week, except the week of the monthly committee meetings, where councillors attend a two-hour meeting that, admittedly, can sometimes run longer. If you join a committee, then you may add some more hours; Councillor Ahmed added that she checks her emails once a day to make sure there is nothing time-sensitive she may need to attend to, especially as a member of the Awards Committee; where they have three days to decide if a student will receive an award. If you are in an executive committee role, such as a Vice President like Natalia Iwanek and Dur-E-Najaf Syed, you are working 30 hours a week as these are considered full-time roles.
And what do councillors love about being on council? “So one of my favourite things about being on council is how much support, assistance, and events that were developed for students in a pretty short time, and seeing how much we progressed as an organization. I have been here, I believe, for about two and a half years, and just seeing what we have done is actually pretty inspiring. I think our wins are exciting, especially when it seems like such a struggle sometimes,” VPCW Iwanek explained. VPFA Syed added, “The big wins are really good, but even sometimes the smaller ones, like just giving students awards, is really nice,” she continued, “The little things, they add up, like the big ones like tuition stuff, that’s great, but the little ones really make a difference.” Councillor Ahmed appreciates how diverse the council is “What I like is our team has really diverse experience, so every time we are going to advocate for something, we bring a different point of view.”
Councillors are really proud of everything they have achieved, from awarding bursaries to all the change and progress they have made within the organization. “We are just able to create a sense of community for students, which is something that I think has been lacking at our institution,” VP Iwanek commented. When asked what challenges they face, VPFA Syed answered, “I am going to go with time. There is never enough time.”
Another reason many students consider running for council is to gain valuable skills and experience; Exec Director Campell echoed that being on council helps when you are in an interview and can be a great addition to your resume “this is 100% something that should be going on your resumes.” All the councillors have gained many skills and experiences; Councillor Ahmed has gained an understanding of the Canadian culture, VPFA Syed is gaining career skills in managing finances and writing policy, and VP Iwanek appreciated how much she is learning from others on the team “I think they are pretty incredible people and really really glad to be able to share ideas with them every day, and you learn so much.”
Students may be asking themselves, is student council for them? If you are a student, then the answer is yes. No experience is required, and AUSU would love to see more students from a variety of programs on the council. VP Iwanek mentioned that student councils across Canada are often heavy with Faculty of Human and Social Sciences students in programs such as Political Science, but student council is for everyone, and students in all programs from business to science & technology should run, as all students need representation. And if students are concerned about time zones, the council is flexible to ensure that a student on the east coast isn’t staying up until 1 AM for a meeting.
Councillor Ahmed and VPCW Iwanek offered some last advice for students who identify as shy or introverted like themselves. “It is difficult because it is out of your comfort zone, and sometimes you think student leaders are just full of confidence, but you get that, you build that.” She continued, “I just think all backgrounds, all experiences have something really important to offer students. If you don’t see students like yourself on student council, please run.” Councillor Ahmed was afraid to join council at first as well, “I just want to tell people who would like to [apply] but are afraid, to just go for it, you won’t be asked to do things that you don’t want to or not at ease to do.” She added, “Being a councillor will bring you many positive things, so just try it; it’s only for two years.”
Self-nominations close on Sunday, February 26th, so this weekend is your last chance to apply. If you have any questions or would like to know more, visit the AUSU website or reach out to Duncan Wojtaszek, Governance and Advocacy Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.