Current, former ASUCD presidents weigh in on trials of position

With election season over, Armando Figueroa settling into his position as the new ASUCD president and former president Carly Sandstrom working as an ASUCD Coffee House (CoHo) employee, the two students respectively discuss and reflect on the presidency and the sacrifices that go along with it.

As dictated by the ASUCD Constitution, the president’s job is to serve as CEO of ASUCD and to organize the office’s operations. The president must serve as an ex-officio member of all commissions, and is the only member of ASUCD who is able to make treaties, memorandums of understanding or other legally binding contracts on behalf of the association.

He or she is required to lead and sit on various committees that require student membership and appoint the ASUCD controller and most ASUCD unit directors, with the exception of The California Aggie and KDVS. The president does not, however, have the power to introduce any legislation, except for ASUCD’s annual operating budget.

Adam Thongsavat, a UC Davis alumnus who majored in history and served as ASUCD president from 2011-12, believes that students do not always understand the nature of the position and the time and energy commitments that it requires.

“For whatever reason people think that just because you’re the president everything is so cool, and everything is so sexy and everything is so perfect, but it’s the complete opposite,” Thongsavat said.

Any student who has held a full-time job in addition to his or her studies understands that there are tremendous sacrifices that have to be made, he said.

During her term, former ASUCD president and fourth-year international relations and economics double major Carly Sandstrom sacrificed sleep, friendships, exercise and pay. As a current CoHo employee, she makes more money working the cash registers than she did as president of the association that oversees it.

With the current weekly presidential stipend at $119, the 20 to 30-hour work week Sandstrom and Figueroa, who is a fourth-year Chicana/o studies and sociology double major, report has them earning less than $6 an hour.

In her role as ASUCD business manager, Janice Corbett has worked with both Sandstrom and Figueroa. Corbett sees the time commitment of the position as the most pressing challenge to the officers.

“The President, Vice President and Controller all are involved in a variety of meetings throughout the day in addition to their course load of academic work,” Corbett said in an email. “Many of the students in these roles have historically held other student employment positions, as well.”

Figueroa, Sandstrom and Thongsavat all admit to putting their studies on a backburner during their time in office.

“It’s hard to feel like a student when you have to represent all of the students,” Sandstrom said. “Is it more important to go to class and sit and hopefully learn something, or is it more important to make sure that the students are being represented at every single conversation?”

According to Sandstrom, the only way that the student voice can be heard in administrative meetings is if the president shows up and speaks up to advocate on the student body’s behalf. For Figueroa, it is when he is doing just this that he feels he is able to use his position to make a positive impact.

As president, Figueroa believes that acting as the liaison between the administration, the senate and the students has proved to be both his most important and most frustrating role in the short time he’s been in office.

“I wish I could write a book about how to negotiate with the administration,” Figueroa said. “It’s a really hard balancing act.”

Sandstrom agreed. In furthering students’ interests, sometimes a strong arm is necessary in dialogues, she contends, while other times it is more important to be on the administration or the faculty’s side.

“It’s a really humbling job because you’re put in so many circumstances where you’re supposed to be a student expert in everything,” Thongsavat said. “But for the 22-year-old college student who’s just trying to figure things out like everyone else on campus, it can be overwhelming at times.”

It is important, Thongsavat said, that current and future presidents remember that they are students first, both at school and in the real world. From his experience, being open to learning new things and admitting to not always having the answer is one of the most important qualities of a successful president.

Additionally, all three stress the importance of cultivating a life outside of the position.

“ASUCD can eat you up and spit you out. But I think the strongest student leaders can take their leader hats off and just be students,” Sandstrom said.

SAMANTHA SPARGO can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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