Richards: Be your own student ambassador

Jason Richards, Staff Columnist

Often times throughout your life, you may find your voice squashed in the expansive structure of an organization or large group. Whether it be your academic, personal or professional life, your contributions may go unnoticed or your opinions swept under the rug.

Sometimes you make it through half the battle. You try to capitalize on the opportunity to initiate great change—whatever that may be—but you’re simply directed to an ever-growing box of suggestions or feedback that probably will prevent your efforts from coming to fruition. You spend time reflecting and composing a solution only for it to be shot down, and sometimes the motivation to work toward change and improvement is extinguished with it.

You might find yourself in this situation in your first internship, co-op or job. A new person in an organization, especially if they are young or a person of color, is often overlooked when they try providing feedback and direction for improvement. You wonder if answering a survey will really initiate proper change. Does your feedback get noticed, your voice heard?

It does here. It does at Case Western Reserve University—as long as you know how to make your voice heard, that is.

At CWRU, it’s often underestimated how much of an effect students can have on a significant problem or issue. 

Sure, we students get our fair share of surveys sent to our inboxes where we can write optional comments and fill in bubbles about the meal plan or how useful your advisors are, but often some of the most important issues requiring attention aren’t the subject of a survey. Problems that would otherwise go unnoticed or are underrepresented benefit the most from your voice and diverse student input.

Most importantly, you don’t need to be a part of an organization pushing for change to necessarily provoke change.

I recently wrote in The Observer about the unreliability of WEPA printers on campus. As a result, I was pointed in the direction of John Landers, director of IT service management for University Technology ([U]Tech), who set up a meeting with me where we discussed changes being conducted in partnership with the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) to improve the reliability and accessibility of the wēpa print network. He also offered my suggestions to USG for new printer locations.

Similarly, I wrote about the Student Information Systems (SIS) my sophomore year, requesting that change be initiated from its then outdated user interface and counterintuitive design. I was subsequently contacted by Stacy Mitchell, associate director of SIS, who was looking for volunteers to join small discussion groups seeking input on the new SIS, which was in development at the time. I joined and offered suggestions and feedback.

As a writer for The Observer, it’s easy for me to say “just reach out and you’ll be heard.” I can throw out whatever concerns I have on an issue and may or may not receive an email discussing change going on in that realm and perhaps even an invitation to help with that change.

But my most influential changes happen beyond my articles. Expressing an opinion is one thing, but having one with a presentable solution and communicating with the right people is another. It’s the biggest step in initiating change. Sometimes, you just need to start small, clear up some questions you may have and find out where you can join in ongoing efforts, if anyplace.

A couple of weeks ago I noticed an issue with the wireless internet connectivity in one of my classrooms. The network was slow and hindered my ability to use my laptop, and with course materials and notes being referenced online in most classes now, I knew I was not the only one dealing with this problem. At first, I thought this would be a problem I’d just have to deal with, but then I wondered if anyone had even tried to solve it. I sent in a [U]Tech service request and, lo and behold, there were supposed to be internet access points located in that room that were not there. In just two weeks, three access points were installed in the room and the problem was solved.

You can make the change that solves problems other people are being affected by. Be your own student ambassador. Don’t wait for organizations or groups with more recognition to solve problems you see, because there’s no guarantee they see it too.

Take the initiative and be heard.

Jason Richards is a third-year computer science major. He enjoys programming, biking and spending his money on Chipotle.