A graduating senior, Divya Aggarwal has championed the student voice as president of the Undergraduate Student Government (USG). While preparing to transfer power to president-elect James Hale, she recently sat down with me to reflect on the last year, from what the organization could have done differently under her leadership to her favorite role as the cheerleader of USG.
Tyler Hoffman: What compelled you to join USG?
Divya Aggarwal: I had a lot of role models starting with my orientation experience. A lot of the orientation leaders did a great job promoting USG. They embodied and radiated leadership. USG is really something that travels by word of mouth… It’s more than just a flier, and I got so much out of this organization.
TH: What was your first position with USG?
DA: I was a first-year representative on the first-year caucus. We had a really good group of people. I was very intimidated by the whole USG caucus, but I got a lot of value out of this experience so I stayed. It was a great way to build really great friendships.
I went into the Parliamentarian position as a sophomore. I stayed on the board, and I became [vice president] of Student of Life, [then] president. The experience compounded. A lot of people join with the intention that it’s a great thing to put on your resume…but people learn that it is so much more than that, it becomes a part of you.
TH: What has been your favorite role?
DA: President. It is a position that forced me to get out of my comfort zone. You can’t be intimidated by anything, and I had to develop the confidence to make decisions. There are a lot of personal skills involved, like confronting other members and telling them responsibly to get something done. It’s been a position where I get to experience everything.
I also get to be the cheerleader of the organization. Giving speeches, representing the students’ point of view, and being trusted to do that felt really good. I got to speak in front of the Board of Trustees, which was the most amazing experience. It’s these opportunities that help you build skills for the future. I think that without USG I would not have felt prepared to leave college.
TH: What has been the hardest part of being president?
DA: As an organization, garnering the trust of students and proving that we are on their side and what we are doing is really in their best interest. Responding to negativity has been difficult, but we work to find common ground with students.
I hope that the organization continues to build the trust of students. The finance issue was a problem, but the system was built to make it more transparent. Convincing students to trust us is something that our organization should strive for. Dealing with criticism is always something that happens, but I grew from that more than I suffered.
TH: What’s been your most memorable moment?
DA: Any time that our assembly is doing something together. When we represent our organization. I love it when USG is together and has our large presence. There’s no class division because we’re all one community.
TH: What would you have done differently as president?
DA: I think I was too much of an internal president. I could have made myself more visible, and I did a lot of things via email. I was very focused internally, but I could have made an effort to PR our organization to students on my own and gone out and more actively said that you could trust us.
TH: What has been your greatest achievement?
DA: I take great pride in recognizing representatives throughout the year. This is something we haven’t done before. Also, we worked on addressing our retention issues. One thing we did differently was changing our GA structure, making changes to accommodate our members so that we can keep them. We haven’t lost [representatives] since the beginning of the semester, which is great.
TH: Where do you see the organization going after your departure?
DA: I see us being an even stronger advocate for student concerns. I see us being an organization that even more administrators turn to for the student voice. We have a lot of trust with administration, and I see it growing even more. I see us improving our funding process. I know that the future boards will have a great vision for how to improve finance.
USG will remain the organization that funds student organizations with [Student Activity Fee] money. We understand that students don’t like CollegiateLink. We need to make it easier for students to get and use the money and are always actively looking for ways to reduce rollovers.
TH: What would be your advice to USG president-elect James Hale?
DA: Be ready to learn… Never think like you know everything going into this position. Be open to learning, because you’re going to learn a lot, and be open to the new experiences that will happen. Thinking you know everything is the biggest mistake that you can make. It’s really a learning experience, and it is completely different than any of the positions that I have had before. Be ready to learn; you’ll grow a lot from this position.
TH: And where will your future endeavors take you?
DA: I’m pursuing a Master’s degree in nutritional sciences and want to become a registered dietician. I want to earn my Ph.D. so I can become a professor of nutrition at a college campus, because I gained my love from professors. There is so much energy on the campus… I feel like it keeps professors young.
TH: What would you say to the next class of CWRU undergraduates?
DA: Don’t feel like USG is an organization that cannot be changed. It’s the members within that are USG. If you find a problem with USG, take that problem and make it your own to fix. At some point during your college career, attend one General Assembly. We’re not an organization that can’t be changed, so help us work to improve it, both externally and internally, so we can make it better for all students.