Student leaders go all in
Thinking outside the box prevails at Texas A&M College of Dentistry. It seems no stone has been left unturned in an unprecedented 2020, including revamping the student council.
Perhaps D4 Paris Webb’s four consecutive years in student council—each year as class president—have given her an insider’s advantage and big-picture solutions. Already, this year feels different, she says.
Webb has been working closely with Kimberley Morgan-Thompson, director of student affairs, to explore new options. These range from reimagined social events to a new project spotlighting five people at the school each month—two faculty, one staff and two students—who will be posted on the school’s social media, starting Nov. 2.
During Morgan-Thompson’s first year in her new role, she says she realized the student council wasn’t fulfilling its purpose. Morale among both the council and students was “flat,” she says. Events were meant to bolster school spirit, and the council was supposed to be the student body’s voice. So she formulated a plan to empower council members to lead.
“The message was plain and simple,” she says. “We needed a positive culture shift, and the only way this could happen is if our students partner with administration and administration partners with the students.”
All six student council class presidents—Webb, DH2 Keely Ehlers, D3 Courtney Favaloro, D2 Yara Qubti, DH1 Daniele Messa and D1 Carlos Andrade—are now working diligently to bridge any gaps between the classes, moving forward as one unit and getting to know students in every class instead of staying within their own year. They are fully on board to help make
important decisions, Morgan-Thompson says.
As far as events go, Webb says she had no idea the student council was supposed to be heavily involved in planning the annual holiday gala because so much of the responsibility fell on Morgan-Thompson.
“She’s been doing a great job facilitating stuco (student council) and really making sure students are heard and our needs are met,” Webb says. “So I think it’s only right that the stuco now partner with her to help her run the gala or help her plan any event we may have in the spring.”
Although planning social events amid social distancing is nearly impossible, the student council is thinking long-term changes, such as adding a Six Flags outing, morphing the holiday gala into a winter dinner with a spring formal instead, and then maybe adding an art show, yoga sessions or karaoke, Webb says. This allows a little something for everyone with the end goal of engaging the whole student body.
She says Morgan-Thompson understands how things change as students’ interests shift over the years.
“Things aren’t like they were 20 years ago. Students are learning differently. They’re interacting differently,” Webb says. “I think Ms. Morgan-Thompson is doing such a good job of trying to adjust each school year to match the current students and their expectations.”
One positive change already afoot this semester seems so obvious in hindsight, Webb says.
Previously, students waited for the student council’s next monthly meeting to receive answers to their questions. Each month they presented their questions all at once and grew frustrated when faculty and administrators needed time to find answers.
“A lot of the time, this was the first time for admin to be hearing it, and often they didn’t have answers for us immediately. It would really just be a venting session and pounding them with a lot of complaints,” Webb says.
Consistent dialogue between students, faculty and the administration now generates both an information pipeline and much-appreciated results. Instead of letting issues pile up, the student council collects students’ queries weekly and submits them to admin and faculty to look into and get back to them within 48 to 72 hours, she says. Answers to pressing issues such as COVID-19 protocol safety updates or IT adjustments help students more easily navigate the day to day.
“With this new format, the faculty and the students are more on the same page,” she says. “There’s more harmony between the student body and the administration.”
Building a copacetic environment is moving right along, says Morgan-Thompson. The student leaders are “exceptional, and we are lucky to have them. They have a genuine desire to boost morale, facilitate discussions, improve school initiatives, and partner with the administration, faculty and staff. I know there are some awesome things to come.”