September 22, 2020

BY KRISTIN MILANI

Each year, someone is given the opportunity to lead Conestoga Students Inc. (CSI) and make a difference at the college. Starting this May, third-year marketing student Jason Wright will be that person.

Wright was elected as CSI president by current president Ciara Byrne, the board of directors and a new student elections committee in February.

CSI took a new approach to the election process this school year. Until recently, you had to be a CSI board of director to run for president. It was approved by the board last year to change that requirement, opening the position to all students.

“We wanted to open the opportunity for students as a whole because many students may want to get involved and may be a good leader as well,” Byrne said.

She said Wright will have an advantage, because he wasn’t a part of the organization as a board of director and will be coming in with a fresh eye.

“It’s all about new perspective,” she said.

To be eligible to run for president, candidates have to be 18 years old or over, have a 70 per cent average or greater and graduating or taking a year off from full-time studies since it’s a full-time job.

Next, they have to prepare a presentation and put together a package that includes their resume, cover letter, and updated transcript. They also receive and must read an in-depth description of what will be required of them if elected. After they complete the package, they move on to a 60-minute question and answer segment.

On Feb. 13, a selections meeting took place. The decision on who would become the new CSI president was made by Byrne, the seven current members of the board of directors and the seven students on the new student elections committee.

At the meeting, candidates had to make a 15-minute speech on why they should be elected. Then, they were asked questions for 60 minutes on everything from personal interests to professional and academic background.

Byrne said they created the committee because they wanted the selection of a new president to be fair and having seven unbiased people who are also interested in bettering the student experience ensured this.

After the questions ended, the directors, committee and Byrne took a final vote. To be successful, the winning candidate had to receive 51 per cent of the vote.

Byrne said she was impressed and happy with the election process. However, an issue that arose was the number of people who applied. There were initially four people who pursued the role as president but two of them dropped out after discovering it was a full-time job. It ended up being between Wright and a member of the board of directors. Byrne believes the reason for the sparse turnout was because people may have not known enough about what the job entails.

As for the board of directors, there are normally eight people chosen but only five applied this year. The board and Byrne are currently deciding how they want to fill the three remaining spots.

Byrne, whose term ends in April, said her time as president was an amazing experience and that she couldn’t have asked for anything more.

“It’s taught me what I want to do for the rest of my life. I love being a voice for people who just don’t really have one. More specific, being a voice for students,” she said.

Byrne said being president of CSI is a great way for young students to learn the process of a business but in a very safe environment. She said  she got to learn about business practices, government and how colleges work.

“It’s a real business. I feel like I’m set for anything that the real world throws at me,” she said.

In addition to being president of CSI, Byrne is a part-time student in the business management program and president of the College Student Alliance, an organization which advocates on behalf of 135,000 college students on issues such as tuition and accessibility.

In order to take on the role as president, Byrne had to put her education on hold. She completed two years of her three-year program and then switched to part-time. She will be returning in September to finish her third year.

Once she walks across the stage at commencement and is handed her diploma, she is packing up and moving to Ireland. Byrne is an Irish citizen and has family residing there.

“It’s my home,” she said.

She will be continuing school in Ireland, enrolling in a bachelor of business degree program and then a master’s program.

Someday, Byrne hopes to be chief of staff to the prime minister of Canada.

“I feel like nobody dreams big anymore and I’m just going to dream big for everyone,” she said.

Looking back on her time as president, Byrne said she is proud of how much CSI has grown in the past two years and of creating a team that is 100 per cent here because they love CSI and want to better the experience for students.

“I’m most proud of how much we’ve been able to expand to represent more students and not just Doon,” she added.

The organization now has physical space on all four campuses and is looking to expand the new shuttle service.

Although Wright will be taking over as president on May 1, Byrne will remain at CSI for two months to train and help him ease into his new role.

Byrne says Wright has a professional demeanour but is nice and easy to approach. She said CSI’s biggest problem is figuring out how to communicate with students and since he is big into communications, he could bring innovative ways to solve that.

“He has big ideas that he wants to bring forward and they do line up with the strategic direction of the organization. He thinks that anything can be possible and that’s what the president should think,” she said.

The 28-year-old said he is nervous and excited to be president but also relieved he can now relax and enjoy his last months as a student as he graduates in June. He hopes to bring student issues to the forefront and help solve them. He said the biggest challenge will be prioritizing the issues that students bring to his attention. As to why he decided to run, Wright said it was for a number of important reasons.

“Honestly, it was the experience that went along with the position, as well as being able to come in as a student and know what we like. And having that new fresh eye on the type of issues that my fellow classmates and fellow student body have witnessed over the past few years,” he said.

Wright said Byrne has done a great job as the president and is impressed with her work.

“She has given us and future presidents a great framework and foundation to just continue to build on,” he said.

Although he isn’t a member of the board of directors, he has played a part in the organization. He previously worked as a CSI self-serve kiosk leader for two years at the Waterloo campus and is currently a bartender at the Nooner Pub in the Sanctuary.

Byrne’s biggest piece of advice for him is to make the position his own and to not try to be like her or past presidents.

“If he thinks that something is right, he needs to make sure he trusts himself and he doesn’t doubt it. He needs to have that confidence,” she said.