The Student Government Association calls itself the voice of the student body. Following in the footsteps of Alyse Bender and Tony Gulla are SGA President Gabe Cronon, and Executive Vice President Melissa Koppenhoefer.
At 22, Cincinnati native Koppenhoefer is a traditional student. After briefly attending Marshall University, Koppenhoeffer transferred to Northern Kentucky University. She is a political science major who plans to attend law school after graduating in 2010. Besides being involved in SGA, Koppenhoefer is also a member of Phi Sigma Sigma sorority, the Political Honors Society, Northern Kentucky Forum and has also interned with Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement.
Gabe, 31, is a non-traditional student from Erlanger, Ky., and a communication studies major who plans to graduate in 2010, too. He previously worked as a paramedic and a firefighter, but, after Sept. 11, he decided to move back home near his family. He thought he was capable of more and, so, he wanted to improve himself in order to help others and get his degree. He is a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. He got his start in campus organizations by being involved in the Freshman Service Leadership Committee and Norse Leadership Society. Before becoming SGA president, he was a co-director of the Northern Kentucky Leadership Institute.
“The Northerner” sat down with Cronon and Koeppenhoefer to get the scoop on what they do and what they plan to do while they are in office.
What do students need to know about you and SGA?
Gabe Cronon: We’re going to be here for every student. So often times we are judged by our letters, not our character. The biggest thing we want them to know is that we really do care about their experience (at NKU), and we want to act as their voice to the administration and to the faculty and staff on behalf of the students.
Melissa Koppenhoefer: Yes, we are Greek, but . . . our letters do not define what we do in student government. We know that Greeks are only four percent of this campus, and if we only represented them, we would be losing out on the other 96 percent. It’s also important for students to know that we’re here. Monday meetings are open and I would really like to encourage more students to come to our Student Government meetings. If we don’t know what’s going on we can’t fix it.
What kinds of problems or concerns can SGA help students address or solve and what should students do to get SGA involved in those concerns?
Cronon: Contact us. Dr. Vortruba and his cabinet look to us to solicit or find answers to questions on campus. With any concern we can help guide them (students) in the direction or give them a voice to the administration.
Koppenhoefer: Students need to know that they can come to us about anything and we can help them. We may not personally be able to help them, but we can bring them to the people who will be able to.
How is this year’s SGA leadership different as compared to previous years?
Cronon: One of the goals we agreed upon was to not re-invent the wheel every year in SGA.
I think that when you live in the shadows of great leaders, you kind of have to create your own light and that our goal is really to have our own style of leadership that can equal theirs.
Koppenhoefer: I think it’s safe to say that we all miss Alyse Bender, she was a huge mentor of both Gabe and me. We are trying to live up to these great expectations of all these previous leaders. We are just trying to reach the greatness that they set.
So far, what is your proudest accomplishment?
Cronon: We’ve established a new office, and Melissa and I began to face rising issues of the study abroad fee, but our goals are a little more long term. It’s so new into the year to really reflect upon.
Koppenhoefer: We can’t really define how we’ve done until the end of the year to see how those goals play out. I think it’s an accomplishment that as leaders of student governmSenate, more and more people who are not as involved are starting to want to be in SGA and want to have a voice. I take great pride that Gabe and I are the leaders.
There are about 15,000 students on campus, yet each semester, election turnout is low relative to enrollment. What will you do to increase it?
Cronon: That’s actually one of our goals, to increase student participation in student government, and letting students know, first and foremost their, vote and voice counts. The only thing we can do is . . . let students know issues and give them the opportunity to have a voice and encourage them to vote.
Koppenhoefer: I think the fact that . . . we’re having a really diverse senate, more students are going to reach a broader crowd.
How do 30 SGA members find out what 15,000 students want or need and are they successful at it?
Cronon: They get out there. We encourage them to ask questions. There is no reason why a senator can’t solicit information. We looked for students that were diverse for the open seats (in the senate). Students that don’t normally get involved on campus should run for a senate position. It’s a two-way street though. We’re here, we have an open door policy, we try to do everything that’s possible but the students also have to come to us.
Koppenhoefer: I think, for students, there is a checks and balance system, like the government. We’re not doing anything that is not overseen by somebody else. We do the best that we can, and we’re trying to reach out to more students.
How has SGA made a difference for students in the past year and how will you make a difference this year?
Cronon: We were the only public university in the commonwealth to receive their tuition package as proposed. What we asked for they gave us. It was a collaborative effort with administrators, student government and students. We are students first, that is our number one role in every decision that we make in student government. Does it best represent the students? That’s the biggest challenge, to be the best voice we can.
Koppenhoefer: We impacted and got more students to participate. It was probably the first time on this campus I felt like students wanted to make a difference.ent we’ve started to attract a new type of