Student Government leadership will be changing hands as Austin Graber and Vishesh Bhatia take their places as student body president and vice president of Iowa State at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Graber, a senior in business economics, and Bhatia, a junior in genetics, ran on the platform of “Elevate. Educate. Connect.”
Their campaign focused on elevating Cyclone pride, educating on student wellness and connecting Cyclones by increasing awareness surrounding the Tree of Oppression and its purpose, conducting Fireside Chats and Reverse Town Halls to keep students informed, creating a mental health section in Destination Iowa State and bringing in lectures series that covered topics such as sexual assault awareness and prevention, mental health and sustainability.
Transparency and communication with students was also a big part of the Graber-Bhatia campaign, with Reverse Town Halls and Fireside Chats as two ways that they hoped to reach out to more students and talk about how issues on campus are affecting them.
During their campaigning, Graber and Bhatia had originally put out the idea for an “ISUCares” event, a day where student volunteer around the Ames community to give back and show appreciation.
“We took [ISUCares] down because we really hadn’t talked to anyone about that,” Graber said. “Bryan [Phillips] apparently saw that on our website and he was like ‘Hey guys, let’s work on that.’ So we are going to meet with him to discuss that.”
With the beginning of their terms starting Thursday evening, Graber and Bhatia are both starting and continuing to work on their initiatives during the end of the fall semester and into the summer.
“Even before we started running, we were having conversations with administration,” Bhatia said. “We met with Dr. Jeff Johnson, who is the president and director of the SALC to start the conversation of ‘Hey, how can we do this Homecoming idea?’”
They have had many conversations with administrators to determine the feasibility of their initiatives, make the connections needed to get them underway and get constructive criticism.
“The action steps aren’t necessarily happening right now, it’s more planning and building relationships,” Graber said. “That’s one of the things we focused on during our campaign, building relationships. Right now, we are focused on building our cabinet.”
Graber and Bhatia said all students will be considered for cabinet positions at the same level, whether they are a senator with years of experience or a brand-new student who has never been involved in Student Government. They said they were excited for new students to bring in new ideas and new voices.
“You never know, there is always a gem out there,” Bhatia said.
As Graber and Bhatia thought about their cabinet, they added in a few new positions and have had a lot of applications for them, as well as for existing positions.
“We just want people who are passionate about their certain area in Cabinet, it doesn’t really matter if you come from Senate, from wherever,” Graber said. “As long as you really care about your position and bettering students in general, it doesn’t really matter to us.”
One of the positions they brought back is called the Interpersonal Violence Information Coordinator. Part of the coordinator’s job will be to work with Green Dot and Assault Care Center Extending Shelter & Support (ACCESS) to educate students on what the programs are and how to use them.
The Student Organizations Relations Director is another new position. Their job is to serve as a point of information for students and student organizations who need to get in contact with and go through the trademark process as well as a liaison between students and the Trademark and Licensing Office.
“Obviously, trademark has been a problem this year, so we wanted to have student representation set in stone to focus on areas of helping students,” Graber said.
Looking forward to the next year, Graber and Bhatia both emphasize the importance of putting students first and having a student-oriented presidency.
“At the end of the day, we represent the students,” Bhatia said. “Yes, we have to work with administration but at the end of the day, we have to stand for the students.”
Bhatia said that when he first came to Iowa State, he didn’t feel like he belonged at Iowa State. One of his priorities is changing the mindset of incoming freshman and incoming graduate students to show them that Iowa State cares about them.
“How do we reach those students and change their perspective if they have had a bad experience here at Iowa State?” Bhatia said.
Graber and Bhatia said as they begin their terms, they are excited for everything.
“It’s been a blast,” Graber said. “We haven’t even been inaugurated yet and we will walk around and people will be like ‘Oh, it's Vish and Austin, how’s it going?’ It’s just fun getting to interact with people.”