Seven Universities, One Team

Written By | Lexi Byler, Vice Chair

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One of the most exciting aspects of my position is supervising the campus committees. I love working with my peers and this position allows me to do just that. Therefore, the campus committee retreat was something I was looking forward to. It would be difficult to find success without the hardwork and dedication of these individuals.

It’s not often we have them all in one room together, so we had to take advantage of the valuable time. We had a packed agenda but before we got into it, I met up with our office manager, Kalista Mangahas, and director of campus organizing, Justin Reuter, at the hotel to welcome the students to St. Paul. After giving them a warm welcome, we departed for Metropolitan State University, who hosted the retreat.

We started with dinner, where I encouraged the students to mingle with people from other universities. Students got to know one another over fried chicken, mashed potatoes, carrots, and black pepper tofu. We found out the coolest places people have traveled to, each other’s celebrity lookalikes, and some fun facts. One of our members from Winona was once number one in the world in Mario Kart’s rainbow road course. If that doesn’t impress you, I don’t know what will.

Following dinner, our Executive Director, Elsbeth Howe explained our organization’s structure. It’s important for students to understand that we are an organization that truly is led by students. I then went over our mission, vision, and values. After rebranding from Minnesota State Universities Student Association (MSUSA) to Students United, we also created new mission, vision, and value statements. Everything we do ties back to these three things, so it’s crucial for each member of the campus committees to understand each.

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After Justin covered each committee position’s job description and our three issue campaigns, we broke out into individualized sessions. Each committee member met with the staff person who most closely relates to their position. The diversity specialists met with our director of equity and inclusion, Abeer Syedah. Our legislative specialists worked with our director of system and government relations, Sarah Berns. The public relations specialists met with the director of communication, Aly Hagglund. The campus organizing interns went with Justin and lastly, the issue specialists met with myself and Elsbeth. This time was dedicated to connecting the students with the staff who are best suited to help them be successful in their position.

Near the end of the first day, our director of programs and alumni outreach, Carlee Diggins, informed the committees about the organization’s 50th anniversary. I could tell the students are excited to celebrate with us. I could especially tell they’re excited about the macaroni and cheese bar. I know I am!

We ended the day with state chair, Faiçal Rayani, uniting the students with our Students United cheer. Part of this year’s culture change includes creating a space where students are excited and energized about the organization. It’s important to lead by example, and with the state chair displaying his love and passion for the organization while shouting our cheer with the students, the energy quickly became contagious. We all left day one ready to come back for day two.

Day two was a more hands-on day. However, we couldn’t get started without Faiçal energizing the team. Not everyone is a morning person, but I think it’s safe to say everyone was awake after we did our Students United cheer with the state chair. After Sarah went over the Minnesota State committees and students chose which ones they’d like to be part of, it was Abeer’s time to shine. You would never know she’s only been working for the organization for two weeks after the diversity training she did. I loved how she used some of our universities in her presentation. Students were fully engaged. Many were taking photos of her presentation and asked her to share it with them afterwards. A lot of preparatory work for the academic year takes place over the summer. Abeer was really thrown into things and she’s done a spectacular job thus far. I’m so excited to have the perfect person on our staff to advance student-driven diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives for our organization.

Following the diversity training, Aly explained our strategic plan and had an activity where we were split into groups and assigned one of our five main pillars: advocacy, alumni, scholarships, equity, inclusion, and diversity, and process improvements. As a group, we discussed what we can do to improve in the area we were assigned.

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Justin then explained the importance of outreach and how to effectively table and do class raps. The students practiced their class raps with one another and a couple brave individuals practiced their class raps in front of the entire audience. Class raps are important because it’s a way to education a large audience on who we are. I’m glad everyone had the opportunity to run through it so that when the time comes to do it on their campus, they feel more confident.

We then moved into another activity where each campus committee had to plan an event and present their idea to me, Justin, and Faiçal, Shark Tank style. Events are important for increasing awareness on the issues we’re working on and for connecting students to our organization. The committees were creative with their ideas and did well at tying them back to our issue campaigns.

We wrapped up with Faiçal explaining the importance of partnerships. The issues we work on and the goals we hope to achieve relate to all Minnesota State university students. There are many organizations whose missions align with what we’re working on. There are power in numbers and partnering with organizations who share similar values and want to see improvements in higher education, will help us be successful.

Before letting everyone leave, we of course had to end the retreat with our cheer led by Faiçal. The first time we did the cheer on day one, I could tell there was some people who didn’t fully understand why we were doing it. When we did the cheer this time, right before everyone left, everyone was on their feet, chanting in unison with enthusiasm. It was in this moment I truly felt we became a team.  

This year, the issues we’re working on are students success and wellness, diversity and inclusion, and affordability. These issues, paired with our board objectives, has set us up for a year of hardwork and dedication. The campus committees are a crucial part in how we will be successful this year. They are the people on the campuses doing the groundwork necessary for progress to be made. I had a blast getting to know everyone and feel even more energized for the year! We have a great team this year and I’m excited to see what we’re going to do!