Fourteen candidates have put their names in the ring for a spot as the student representative on Conestoga College’s Board of Governors.
The candidates are seeking the one-year position as the student voice on the board, with the vote taking place from Sept. 21-24. Each academic year, one student is elected to serve on the board, alongside faculty, administration, Conestoga staff and external representatives.
The Board of Governors decides on the overall goals and administration of the college. Included under their purview is approval of large financial decisions, as well as long-term strategic plans.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the elections – usually held in the spring – were delayed. The late elections were another example of how the 2020-21 academic year is an unprecedented one – something not lost on the candidates.
The change to online classes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is a major concern amongst the candidates, most of whom cited it at the biggest issue facing Conestoga students this year.
Spoke Online interviewed nine of the candidates to discuss their reasons for running, qualifications and plans if elected. Candidates Allen Christian, Priya Kaur, Ricky Patel, Andrew Sammut and Rajan Siddhpura did not respond to multiple requests for comment by deadline.
As the president of the Waterloo Condominium Corporation, Ajit Bandali’s feels his previous experience sets him up well for a position on the Board of Governors. The first-year process quality engineering student said his skillset and the previous experience he has under his belt will help him if elected.
For Bandali, the lack of on-campus classes is the biggest problem the school is facing and pushed him towards running.
“The majority of the students I talked to complained ‘we signed up for classes and not online,’” he said. “So, I said ‘somebody has to speak for everybody,’ so I decided why not, let’s give it a shot.”
He added that he believes his addition to the board would allow him to present new ideas returning members may not have considered.
“Everybody new has different ideas and it’s good to share,” Bandali said. “So, if I’m new to the board and the older people who are already on the board and carrying on, we could share and include more things … better for the college. You never know.”
Aagam Animesh Dalal
Aagam Dalal’s personal experience with online classes during the pandemic makes them the biggest issue he’d face if elected to the Board of Governors, especially when their impact on international students is considered.
“International students are paying $16,000 for every year and they’re not getting the knowledge they should be getting from online classes,” he said. “To be honest, the online classes aren’t that interesting.”
Having previously been an ambassador for the downtown Kitchener campus, the first-year global supply chain management student and global business management graduate also wanted to see improvements to the diversity of Conestoga’s different campuses.
“I would recommend the College have special quotas for each country for international students,” he said. “If they could make a quota that there’d be 1,000 Indian students for this particular campus and no more than that, that would be very useful. By doing this they would get the international exposure.
The unexpected challenges of being an international student during a worldwide pandemic helped Abhilash Chauhan make the decision to run for the Board of Governor’s position.
The strategic global business management student saw the struggles of international Conestoga students who remained outside of Canada due to travel restrictions as an important sticking point as a potential candidate.
“For now, students are facing a lot of challenges when it comes to international students,” he said. “There’s a lot of change in the time and schedule, so they have to be awake at night.”
Chauhan said he would try to organize talks to help with the loss of practical knowledge, as well as to educate students on the policies in place for the pandemic.
He added that looking at the long-term situation of the college he would want to run events like pinball games or parties to allow more socialization.
“I want to bring people so close so they can be open about what they want to do,” he said. “It’s very essential for them to know what they want to do.”
Sneha Jadev has always wanted to be involved in student leadership and sees the Board of Governors as an opportunity to fulfill that desire.
After missing out on the opportunity to join the Conestoga Student Inc. (CSI) Board of Directors, Jadev looked to this election as a way to be a potential voice for students regarding the difficulties they might be facing.
“No matter if it’s international students or local students, I want to carry those problems forward,” she said.
The health care administration and service management student said she felt the lack of connection with students due to the pandemic is the biggest issue she’d seek to rectify.
“So as a Board of Governor (member) I’m going to do something for it, so the process of this can be a little bit faster,” she said. “So that students can get their questions and confusions answered in a fast manner.”
Jadev added that there were more courses that could be added to the College, and she would look at those as a potential long-term issue to put in front of the Board.
Two years ago, Andrew MacNeil was elected to the CSI Board of Directors – now he’s looking to be an advocate for students on the Board of Governors.
MacNeil said his time working for the CSI as well as the Collegiate Student Alliance – a province-wide student advocacy group – gave him a better insight into the different challenges students face at the college and will help him if he’s elected.
He added that he sees the difficulties of attending school during a worldwide pandemic as the biggest issue in front of the board currently.
“The online learning aspect is something that a lot of students are stressing out about and have a little bit of anxiety about,” he said. “I really want to be able to communicate the student voice and discuss these issues of online learning and how it affects students and their mental health and their education pathway at Conestoga.”
MacNeil also said if elected he’d want to advocate for student services and mental health support as more long-term goals.
When he first attended university over four decades ago, Yasin Mohamed didn’t have the opportunity to be involved in student government. It’s why he was eager for the chance to do so now at Conestoga.
“There was no easy way for individuals to run for the student union or any other positions where I think I could have actually participated more effectively if the pathways were more clear and perhaps more open,” he said.
Mohamed said he sees the issues impacting Conestoga being more long-term than just the single year he’d serve if elected, but he still has ways to help solve the problems the board faces during his term.
One of the major concerns he has is the impact online courses has on students. He would look at strategic goals to make things easier on students during the pandemic, especially on the financial level.
“The pandemic should have some kind of reprieve – either through the government or some other institution – to give some kind of tuition fee relief,” the first-year project management student said. “We’re not accessing all the avenues that we would have normally. The gym, the facilities and so on.”
Ajesh Sunitha Saji
The challenges of trying to manage online courses during the pandemic has been a major concern for Ajesh Sunitha Saji as the school year begins. It’s one of the issues he’d be focusing on if elected to the Board of Governors.
Whether it’s been getting the assistance he requires or helping his fellow students out, the struggle of online courses has put an additional toll on the student body, he said.
“If it’s online, it’s really difficult to ask anything regarding (classes),” he said. “If I have to help my friends, it’s too difficult. If it was at college, I could say ‘it’s like this.’ It might take two or three seconds.”
Saji said the differences in place between the campuses is something he would try to work on. One example he cited was the lack of gym access for students at the Guelph campus, as well as the cost of bus passes.
The applied manufacturing management student said he would look to seek compromise with the other board members to ensure effective governance of the College.
Hardeep Singh Sidhu
Hardeep Singh Sidhu said his previous experience in India has given him ample understanding of what is needed to be an effective Board of Governors member at Conestoga.
After receiving a Masters degree in management, Sidhu spent several years working in the financial sector and believes it will help him if elected.
“I have really good experience in leadership and to the corporate,” he said. “So, I thought I’m the best fit for this role.”
Sidhu added that by once again being a student – this time in global business management – he’ll be able to also add that perspective to the board.
“Being a student, I can understand the problems, issues of the students and can address them this way,” he said. “These are some things I really like. I really like challenges.”
Sidhu didn’t see any big issues in front of the board, but instead many small problems that he’d look to work on by being a voice for students to management.
“There are a lot of things on my mind that I could work on and can discuss with management and students.”
Aalaap Srinivasarao Singaraju
During an unprecedented year, Aalaap Singaraju wants to serve as a bridge between students and administration and bring up the issues he feels are impacting students.
“It has been very difficult for students to actually cope with the transition they’re facing from offline to online classrooms,” he said. “As well there are many students who might have specific problems … they might find difficult to share with their peers.”
One of the issues Singaraju would focus on is the financial difficulties affecting students during the pandemic. He said the loss of jobs over the last several months has added an additional burden to the Conestoga student body.
“I feel like this one issue is one to tackle when I’m on the board,” the strategic global business management student said. “I’ll need some suggestions from the students on what they want, but the most priority would be on the financial issue.”
When he was an electrical engineering student, Singaraju worked on student events and served in leadership roles and said his background gives him experience that will help him if elected.