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Making Change with SGA

By Grey Mangan

Before I even set foot on campus, I knew I wanted to hit the ground running in college through both academics and extracurricular activities. My goal was to seek out where I belonged and determine where I could make the most difference at the University of Tennessee and in the Knoxville community at large. I wanted to make my time in college a time of growth by interacting with the variety of communities available to me.

As a first-year student, I knew that it would be tempting to sit back and wait until it was “my turn,” but I did not want to allow that to inhibit me from further developing my leadership abilities. It was through this goal and a need for deeper engagement in the community that I came to realize how essential the Honors Leadership Program (HLP) is in shaping my college experience. From meeting the HLP cohort for the first time at Ignite this summer to participating in a leadership class this semester, my experiences within my cohort and working with the program director have challenged me to get inVOLved!

Grey and Mickey at a First Year Council meeting

The summer before I arrived at the University of Tennessee, I was introduced to the Student Government Association (SGA). SGA is an outlet for students to practice politics and governing while emphasizing inclusion, healthy environments, and celebrating diversity at the University of Tennessee. While attending Ignite Summit with my HLP cohort members, I had the pleasure of meeting the current vice president of SGA, Mickey Curtis. The excitement he exuded about student government and the passion evident in his voice only confirmed what I had already suspected: that SGA was a place where I could make change on campus. It was then that I decided to seek out opportunities in student government.

As a political science major, I was truly excited at the prospect of SGA because I knew it would offer the type of experiences that would deepen my classroom knowledge and strengthen my understanding of my field. Due to my leadership goals and a desire to push myself in getting involved on campus, I decided to apply for First Year Council and the Government Affairs Committee. After an extensive interview process, I was ecstatic to receive positions on both! In these roles, I am learning how to create and pass legislation, interact with the student body in such a way that I can assist in student issues, and foster meaningful discussions on campus, state, national, and international issues.

Through a series of leadership classes, volunteering, internships, and a leadership capstone project, the Honors Leadership Program provides every necessary step for a hands-on experiential learning process for young leaders. An essential part of this process is the 60 hours of applied leadership experience required by the minor. In my role on First Year Council, I leverage what I have learned through HLP to work alongside the Student Senate to create and expand legislation that benefits first-year students on the university’s campus.

This council is limited to 60 first-year students, and I am proud to be one of nine HLP members seeking to represent and serve our peers through First Year Council. Putting our leadership knowledge and skills to work, our position on the council enables other first-year students to have a voice in SGA. Joining First Year Council with other members of my cohort has made me realize that HLP does not just seek to build great leaders through requirements but to build a cohort whose members can work alongside one another to become actively involved.

I am proud to represent the Honors Leadership Program, because I wholeheartedly believe it has immense potential to help create a better and healthier campus environment. I believe in the program’s ambitions and the ambitions of the students within the program. Our access to resources and leadership opportunities within HLP helps us grow as leaders and students by providing safe spaces to speak freely and engage in academic excellence.

For me, the program’s ability to foster meaningful dialogue and create more thoughtful and innovative leaders for the university—and eventually for the workforce—is one of its most attractive aspects. In three short months, HLP has given me the confidence to step into my own as a person and as a student. I am thrilled to get to learn and grow with my cohort over the next four years.