Alexandra Curtis is a 2014 graduate of Syracuse University, where she served as student body president. In 2015, Curtis was crowned Miss Rhode Island 2015 and went on to compete for the Miss America 2016 title.
How did your experience as student body president at Syracuse University shape you as a person and as a leader?
One of the reasons I loved student government, on a personal note, was because it enabled me to build a thick skin and it taught me to advocate for myself. I certainly made mistakes along the way, but it enabled me to identify shortcomings and learn from failure early on. Serving in such a role is not for the faint of heart — I learned about making tough decisions that sometimes were unfavorable. That is an inherent part of leadership and by nature, will be a part of my future. I learned a great deal about teamwork and empathy. These skills are invaluable to those who aim to serve others.
What were your expectations going into office? What successes or challenges surprised you about serving as student body president?
I knew I was going to have a demanding schedule and that I would inherently be faced with tough decisions, however I didn’t realize how trying it would be. It was a huge balancing act and it was difficult on many facets of my life, but absolutely worth it. I think many would be surprised that I still see a career in political leadership knowing how difficult things can be, but I now know what I am capable of in the face of adversity.
What are you most proud of from your term?
I hadn’t initially intended to use my term to draw attention to disparities that women leaders face, but the more I ran into sexism and double standards, the more important addressing these issues became. I wanted to ensure other women who sought campus leadership positions wouldn't have to face the same things I did, or at minimum have the tools to manage them. I was proud to bring the first Elect Her training session to Syracuse. We ended up having a whole week of events, called Women’s Empowerment Week, leading up to the training. My co-coordinator for Elect Her and I even won a contest to receive funding from our Chancellor to continue to hold Women’s leadership programming. It was cathartic to be able to address and expose challenges women face in collegiate leadership. Syracuse has continued to hold Elect Her, which has fostered a more positive campus environment for campus women.
How did serving in this role equip you for your postgraduate success? What are you up to now?
At the end of my Senior year I was selected to be a Running Start Star Fellow for Fall 2014. I graduated and moved to Washington, DC where I completed my fellowship in Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s office. I began graduate school in Syracuse University’s Information Security program but put that on hold to attend Brown University for the inaugural year of their 1-year MPA program. My studies were focused on cyber/homeland security policy. After completing the program I temporarily moved to Vermont to serve as campaign manager for Caroling Bright for VT House. Although we lost the campaign, it was an extraordinary experience to manage a campaign for another young woman. While I was in my final month at Brown I actually began my second master’s program and worked on it through my time on the campaign as well. I was awarded a full scholarship to Salve Regina University thanks to the Miss Rhode Island Scholarship Organization. I am currently working toward my Master of Science in Administration of Justice and Homeland Security with two certificates in cybersecurity/intelligence and digital forensics - yet another male dominated field and one that desperately needs more women! My work with women's leadership and representation is certainly pertinent to where I am now. Also, I couldn't imagine a more critical time for a policy buff to also be working with cybersecurity. The two go hand in hand and it is my hope to serve in public office in a capacity through which I can work with homeland security.
You won the title of Miss Rhode Island in 2015 with the platform "Leading Ladies: Equipping Young Women With the Skills to Lead.” What inspired you to take on this message? How do you empower other young women to lead?
My message was inspired by my experiences in student government and the lack of executive leadership by women in colleges across the country. I learned that it’s not that women aren’t elected at disproportionate rates to men, it’s that they aren’t running in the first place. I knew that my service with the Miss America Organization would be an extraordinary way to help encourage and uplift other young women to take on leadership roles and see themselves s part of the pipeline of future leaders in our country and beyond. I have been fortunate to speak at a handful of national events, colleges, high schools, and other women's organizations. I also keep a blog about my platform and the work and stories of young women leaders across our country.
What advice would you give to other women thinking about running for student body president on their own campus?
The mantra that guided me through college (and still to this day) is Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote “Do one thing each day that scares you.” I had a strong desire to serve as student body president but several months before my election I started getting cold feet, in large part due to the public scrutiny and harsh demands I was opening myself up to. I have realized that fear is an inevitable part of life - but it is also an energy that can be channeled into doing the extraordinary. My greatest successes have come from times in which I recognized fear was holding me back and then forged on in spite of it. I would say recognizing your fears and seeing them as opportunities is my favorite piece of advice - it is so pertinent to leadership and growing in that capacity.
This Q&A is a part of a series covering amazing women paving the way for others to achieve. NCLC and Running Start are cohosting a national summit in February designed to celebrate the work of women student body presidents and inspire more women to run. There is still time to register for the Campus Women Lead summit! Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and you, too, can gain the tools to become a more effective woman student body leader.