Legacy and Impact: How Student Body Presidents are Cultivating Future Leaders

In just a few weeks, many colleges and Universities across the country will elect their next student body president. Understandably, outgoing presidents may be considered “lame ducks.” But this doesn’t mean that their work is over. While there may not be enough time to complete additional projects, outgoing presidents are reflecting on what their legacy will be – and how their successors can carry it on.

At Brown University, outgoing student body president Todd Harris spends a great deal of time thinking about how to cultivate future leaders. In the past, Brown’s Undergraduate Council of Students did not place a huge emphasis on institutional memory. Harris changed that, however. According to Harris, “Every member of [their] leadership writes up a transition memo.” This document outlines important information about past projects, contact information, and advice for future student government members.

Shilpa Topudurti, outgoing student body president at the University of Rochester, is also thinking about the importance of succession planning. Similar to Harris’ experience, Topudurti did not have a strong system of institutional memory established at the start of her term. After getting her student government’s website revamped, however, Topudurti can now better document agendas and minutes online.

Topudurti also uses her role as president to explicitly promote leadership development. “I meet with every committee chair at least once a week,” Topudurti explained. In these meetings, she talks to her chairs about how they’re growing as leaders. These ongoing reflections allow her members to be more effective in roles they take on in the future.

But the election season brings about an ethical dilemma for both Topudurti and Harris. On the one hand, they are both passionate about ensuring their student governments are successful after their terms end. However, as outgoing student body presidents, they are responsible for overseeing campus elections and are unable to publicly support any of the candidates.

“I think it’s super tricky,” Topudurti said. Even after training younger student government leaders for future success, it is ultimately up to the student body to decide who Topudurti and Harris’ successor will be – and they may be students who never served on student government before.

Regardless of who is elected, Topudurti and Harris are excited to train their successors. After the elections at Brown, Harris intends to have meetings with University administrators to “pass on those relationships” and ensure that Brown’s UCS “carr[ies] that trust.” Topudurti intends to do the same.

Still, as Topudurti noted, “Everyone has their own leadership style.” Harris and Topudurti will make themselves accessible, but they are careful not to be overbearing. You want people to “start with where you left off” and feel “very well connected,” Topudurti noted, but not dictate what their term will look like. It’s simply about establishing a foundation for future leaders to grow, and allowing them to decide their own path from there.

In May, Topudurti hopes to end the transition process at our annual NCLC summit, where we bring together outgoing and incoming student body presidents. We encourage other colleges and Universities to do the same.

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