The Student Government Association executive branch started the Fall 2021 semester with one vacant position — student body vice president — but that role was recently filled by someone familiar to the position. Now, with a full executive board, SGA can continue its mission to enhance the experience of UCCS students.
Rachel Cauwels, a junior psychology major with a double minor in global politics and organizational and strategic communication, was SGA vice president last year and has been voted in by the SGA senate to resume the role of SGA vice president again.
Last year, Cauwels worked alongside the former student body president, Aiden Meadows. This year, she is the VP for Emily Gregory, the current student body president.
Cauwels spoke about her past experience as vice president and her goals for the organization.
What motivated you to take on this position again?
So, we had a different vice president elected, and for whatever reason they didn’t end up filling out the paperwork in actually solidifying the decision. And we had a new advisor this year. …We have our senate, it’s really young and it actually hasn’t worked in a time before the pandemic. What we really need is just someone qualified. And it was just more of like I’m needed, not like I have an ambition for this.
What are your goals for this year?
I have a couple of projects that I have been planning on doing next year, so I’m just going to move up the timeline for those and spread them into a two-year project. So, I’m taking that opportunity, but I’m actually going to be mostly focusing on external SGA things. So not Senate activities or the Judicial Board or anything like that, but administrator relationships. We’re in quite a few intercollegiate groups, like groups of colleges in Colorado. So, focusing on those, mostly because I know all those people from last year.
What can you do differently from last year?
Last year, Aidan, who was the president while I was working with him, we had all these plans and then COVID happened. In fact, the day we all got sent home was the day we found out we won. And at first, we were really disappointed, and then he said something to me like, “This is a great opportunity for us professionally to watch our university and help our university pull itself back together.” But it stopped us from being able to do a lot of the things we wanted to do. And everything was over virtual [communication] and it was just really quite a separate thing. So, I feel in some ways that I haven’t actually been able to be VP.
A lot of the stuff we get to do…we just didn’t last year. We got to do different things. So, they’re sort of actually going to end up being two different jobs, which is kind of cool.
How will the dynamic with the new president work?
Aidan and I, when we first decided to run together, we said “We’re doing this as partners. While we have two different roles in our constitutional and bylaws, we’re going to approach this together.” And we really found our footing, I would say around the October time period. We split everything and then we have meetings together, we know each other’s what’s going on. So, we essentially had all this new information, but we spread ourselves in different directions.
With Emily, our current president, she is going to be focusing a lot more in internal, and I’m focusing on the external. Mostly because external takes time to set up. It takes time to set up those relationships, set up those meetings, set up that dynamic…and I already have that. So, it’s a good time saver. And because I came in later because of the appointment process, she’s doing all the internal stuff already. So were doing a lot of time saving there.
I think dynamic-wise, Emily and I have worked together since…I think later fall of last year. And I’ve always had a really good working relationship with her. She has amazing communication skills and does a great job of something, which I think a lot of people of college age are not good at, which is setting expectations. Which has been really freeing for me to be able to say like, “Here’s my expectations, here’s your expectations, this is what we’re doing.” Instead of fumbling around trying to figure out how we’re going to do this.
What do you think will be the difference in the student body due to the impact of COVID-19?
I have no idea. And we really don’t know right now. I have yet to have my first meeting with Chancellor Venkat this year. But again, we’re just fighting to stay on campus right now. I don’t see us getting sent to online. People just need to keep wearing their masks, and be vaccinated, and get booster shots if we need to. But for now, I think COVID is just going to be a weird pain in our side of some things we’re not going to be able to do the way we want to, but we’re still going to get them done.
I’m on the Commencement committee and I’ll be speaking at the winter ceremony. I’m interested to see how we do that. I’m hoping it will be in-person at lower capacity, perhaps livestreamed. For example, I would not feel comfortable having my grandparents, who are older, come to a ceremony like that. They would love to livestream that.
So, things like that, that we can make accessible but still have an in-person component. It’s just really a step up of what we were able to do last year, with an in-person photo component but then it was virtual. So now we’re hopefully going to be able to do like mostly in-person but some livestream. And hopefully, hopefully, by the time I graduate, we can be back to being a normal school.
What was your greatest accomplishment or memory from last year?
I’m really proud of Aidan and I for finding things that used to be that kind of were tarnished or diminished and rebuilding them. For example, SGA used to have a relationship with the faculty assembly, and we didn’t know why they didn’t. We asked our advisor, there had been a bad interaction with the past president — I actually don’t know who it was — who came to the faculty assembly and said some really not nice things and then they were disinvited from those meetings.
But, especially in the time of COVID, we needed to be talking to professors about what students were saying. I remember saying, “You know, students don’t love when their class says, ‘synchronous’ and then you teach it asynchronously.” And they were like, “What?” Like, this is why we’re here.
So being able to rebuild that relationship, being able to rebuild our relationship with Boulder quite a bit. In ICSF which is all the CU schools meeting group, we’ve always had kind of a weird relationship with Boulder. And while we did have several disagreements with them, we did a good job I think of rebuilding a functioning, working relationship and I’m very proud of that.
What initially inspired you to run for office the first time?
I ran for office the first time in September of my freshman year. I went to UCCSlead and I was looking for ways to get involved on campus and they were like, “Run for student government!” and I was like, “Okay.” I applied. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I got through, and then I was really, really surprised by how much I liked it.
Being Senator of Public Affairs, it was incredibly fun, it was hard. I always tell people SGA is very much a grown-up job if you take it that way. You can be the kind of senator that just goes to your office hours and your senate meeting, and that’s totally fine. Or you can really turn it into kind of a side career… and I really enjoyed doing that.
And Aidan brought up, “Would you like to run with me for vice president?” And I was like, “I don’t know,” and then we saw who was running and we were like, “I think we want to do this.” And then I realized that I had all these ideas; it’s okay that I run. And I was really young, we had not had any female executives. In fact, this year we are the first all-female executive board, which is very exciting. And I was like, “I think I can do this… and I’m going to go for it.”
I often tell the freshman girls I meet, “I know you think this doesn’t apply to you, but I quite literally was you. Like you can do this. You think you can’t, it seems above you…it’s not. You can do this.”
How do you hope to use your experience with SGA for after you graduate?
I was going through some stuff last year, like I didn’t know what I specifically wanted to do after college, and our advisor at the time was like, “You know you can work in higher ed.” And I was like, “No, I can’t. I didn’t get a degree in SAAHE.” And he goes, “You basically did.” And I realized actually I could. And I can work in another school’s version of OIE, I can work in another school’s version of student government as an advisor.
Because I do want to go back and get my master’s, that does give me an option to go part-time to get my master’s and keep doing that. And it’s actually opened a whole other career path for me, and it has given me the chance to gain a lot of skills that you could only do in the workplace.
You know there’s that old joke of like, “I need to have experience to work here, but how do I get experience?” Well, this was it for me. And it’s been such a blessing, it’s been so unexpected. And not many young women get this kind of opportunity, and I’m really, really grateful for it.
What is your favorite aspect of being SGA’s vice president?
Surprisingly enough, interviewing. I love interviewing people. I think it’s so fascinating. I love interviewing professional staff. Sometimes we’ll have a position like for MOSAIC … and they’ll say, “Hey, can you give us a couple of students to sit on this search committee?” And I love meeting people and reading their resumes.
And what I love so much is that, working at a university, it’s not like a hospital where you’re like, “You need a medical degree to work here.” It’s so open-ended and I love meeting people from across the world. We had someone from Taiwan last year who we got to interview, and it was so, so fun. And I actually weirdly love doing it, and it’s something I’m looking for in a future job.