Many student body presidents graduate and go on to find success in various industries. In light of our Campus Legacy Awards, we spoke with Rusty Mau, former student body president at North Carolina State University, about the lessons he learned serving his campus and what he’s up to now!
How did your experience as student body president at NC State shape you as a person and as a leader?
My experience really taught me 1) the impact that you can have in everything that you do. Whether it is something as complex as setting tuition policies or something somewhat simple as coordinating a traditional on-campus event, you really start to see the different people that you are impacting by the work that you do. So you are able to recognize what you do does matter, to somebody, no matter what the task might be and that really helps you put things into perspective as you move along your journey as student body president and life after the presidency. So that would be the first thing. The second thing I learned is the ability to communicate in a room full of stakeholders. As student body president at NC State, we were fortunate enough to serve on the board of trustees.
Being the youngest person and the only student in the room who has a voice and has a vote, you really start to learn what’s important, what resonates with certain people, and how you can actually navigate the campus shared governance process.
What were some of your responsibilities as a student trustee?
As student body president at NC State, the office comes with an ex-officio seat on the university board of trustees. So, I served on two committees — the university affairs committee and the university finance, risk-management, budget committee. Participating in those as a member of the board one of the biggest benefits as student body presidents is getting to present to the board. From that perspective, we could tell them about the different things we were working on as an informative update, but also the things we were asking them to stay engaged on and for their support.
Along with being on the board of trustees, the student body president co-chairs some of the tuition and fee review boards. With that, we go through those committees, we review any tuition and fee increases and that eventually makes its way to the board of trustees and the full board votes on those proposals So by being in that process and by being able to present to the board, we were able to build that stakeholder engagement from day one. We ended up being successful by putting an inflation-based cap on our tuition increases from the year.
In what ways do you see the student body benefiting from a student trustee position, if at all?
NC State is such a large campus with so many diverse groups of students, staff, administrators, and alumni that by having that shared governance you really get that perspective of all bodies. So the full board of trustees would hear from the faculty senate, the student senate, myself as the student body president. And I think by having a very strong record of shared governance, we really make sure every voice is in the room. One of the biggest things I learned as president is that if you are making a monumental decision or a small decision, the people that are impacted, when possible, you should make sure they have at least one representative in the room. I think by having a culture of shared governance, we already have those individuals in the room before we make any policy change.
What were your expectations going into office? What successes or challenges surprised you about serving as student body president?
The biggest challenge is time. Unlike what we may think, there is no magic ball where you get unlimited time as student body president. Most student leaders are elected in the spring and they take office and have the summer and the fall. Unless you can put a considerable amount of time planning, by the time you get back to campus in the fall, one-third of your time as student body president is already gone. My advice is to plan early and often. Use that platform somebody developed and hold to it. From the day you get elected, start writing down and figuring out how you get things done.
So time was one big thing that I learned and it was a lot different than what I expected. I would then say the impact. I thought there was so much more room for impact in the office of the president, it was part of the reason that I ran. But you start to realize your impact when you do these different events, see the engagement on the different social media accounts or Facebook groups, or something as simple as walking around and somebody recognizes who you are and calls you down. I remember we would send a weekly update to the whole NC State student body and one week we had a survey that was about the surrounding area around campus and they were trying to get a vision of developing the surrounding area. I sent the email out and within 24 hours about 1500 people had already responded to that survey.
What are you most proud of from your term?
Our slogan was Students First. Our biggest point was putting students first in all of our decisions. We wanted to make sure there was always the student voice in the room when a key decision was being made. A couple of the specific platform points were that we wanted to put an inflation-based cap on tuition and fees. We knew that saying “No new tuition and fee increases” would be impractical, so we said, “Let’s take baby steps [...] let’s have an actionable goal of inflation.” And we were successful with that goal. Another goal we had was a large campus event that flustered out and we were able to reinvigorate that and bring it back to campus. We had some issues with the staffing of two libraries at NC State and we were fighting to make sure both of those libraries were open 24/7. One thing that I am really proud of was winning a contest Cosmopolitan magazine to host a Get out the Vote election day party buses for the 2014 midterm election. After that, we registered over 1000 students. Cosmo was on campus and had giveaways and we bused [students] to the polls.
How did serving in this role equip you for your postgraduate success? What are you up to now?
The biggest thing is that it teaches you the ability to communicate to different audiences. You may be sharing the same message, but it’s how to share it with your peers. How to share it to your superiors, your friends, coworkers, and different groups. I think that is one of the biggest things that has helped me in the working world. No matter what you do, it’s about messaging. I think in the space that I’m in, I’m in a Quantitative Analytics program at Bank of America. A lot of what we do is taking large data sets and trying to find insights. So we are looking at it from a statistical and econometric perspective. And some people might understand, whereas others may be less technical, so we have to be able to tell our story no matter the audience.
So the end result that you are going for would be accepted whether someone understands the statistics behind it or not.
What advice would you give to recently elected student body presidents based on your own experiences?
From day one, go meet with as many people at the university as possible — whether it is the chancellor, the president, or the provost, campus dining, the campus recreational facility, the head of the student union, we were really successful in a lot of different projects that just came up because we already had those relationships. So if somebody wanted to host an event, we knew exactly who to call. Or if we had a question when it came to student fee increases, the university recreation fee increase, we could pick up the phone and call the director of the campus recreation right then and get the answer.
Photos courtesy of Rusty Mau.
This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.