ASI President, Executive VP discuss plans for year

During the spring quarter of California State University, Bakersfield’s 2013-2014 school year, students Derek Stotler and Mike Kwon ran for and were elected ASI President and Executive Vice President for the 2014-2015 school year.

The following is entry is a question-and-answer with Stotler and Kwon regarding their objectives for the upcoming school year.

Steven Barker: Let’s start with this. Tell us about yourselves.

Mike Kwon: My name is Mike Kwon; I’m Executive Vice President of ASI. One of the duties that the Executive Vice President does is assist the President in whatever goals and visions that he has during the school year. With Derek being President this year, I was really excited to run with him because of his big goals and big dreams that he had for the coming year. I told myself, ‘Well, those are very admirable goals, goals that will affect the student body in a very positive and very good line,’ so I think that’s why I ran with him. But what the exec VP ultimately does is it is the person that keeps the internal structure of the organization – so, produce bylaws, produce codes, policies, make sure that members are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Just keeping everything in order. Basically assisting the President with his endeavors.

Derek Stotler: And, specifically his title is Chief Operations Officer, so he really works with the operations side to make sure things are running smoothly.

Really, I think one of the differentiating factors this year with me in office as opposed to some of my predecessors is that I take a view that, if the students don’t know about it, that’s a problem. We can be doing all of the things in the world, but if the students don’t know about what we’re doing, it looks like we’re doing nothing. And so everything we do needs to be visible. Everything we do needs to be publicized, and so one of the biggest things this year that we’re trying to do is do a lot more publicity – specifically reach out to our freshman. I know that we’ve had record numbers [of freshman] for the past seven years, so really reach out to our freshman, really getting them involved. We went to some orientations and we have about 25 student-at-larges, which are people that volunteer – freshman that are interested in volunteering. In the past, we’ve only had about four, and now we have a list of over 25, and it just keeps growing bigger. That was just from orientation alone. So I think consistently reaching out to the students is really important.

One of the things we’re going to be doing is we’re going to have banners around campus that first day of school, where we will have basically our – depending on how big we can make it – it might just have our executive officers, it might have the entire board and maybe a few initiatives that we would like to take on. But really, the biggest thing is publicizing what we do, because we, last year we probably solved over 50 campus issues, but did the students know that? No, because we didn’t publicize that enough. So really taking those avenues to show the students, ‘Hey, we followed up with this student about this issue’ and letting people know about that. So with that said, we are in the midst of creating what is called ‘Rowdy TV’, which is a bi-monthly YouTube channel. Every two weeks, a video will be released. We have a couple new directors and positions that are going to be available for marketing, and we’ll be getting the word out to students about ASI.

SB: What were some of the reasons you first decided to make the decision to run for office?

DS: My sophomore year, I actually was President of the sensational sophomores, which is an academic club on campus that gets involved with the community. We did over 500 hours or something of community service, and my mentor for that, our advisor Emily Poole, had recommended that I run for ASI. She thought I would be a really good fit for that. My sophomore year, she told me to run I decided to run for Executive Vice President. It was really just a way to accomplish my goal of helping others. I felt like you get complacent if you don’t get involved, so a huge goal of mine is to get as many people involved as I possibly can. That is how I initially got involved [with ASI], and once I saw the possibilities and the opportunities that you can affect students with, I definitely wanted to run again. Being a returner, I felt it would be really nice to lead a team. I was part of the team last year, and I felt like it was a good time to step up and lead a team to help the students.

MK: I think the biggest factor of why we chose to run is just to branch out to the students. That was what we campaigned on. We were basically going to branch out to the students. Derek being an R.A. last year, he had good ties with the dorming students, and I was a dorming student as well, so we got to see what the dorming students’ perspective was on the campus. Derek also being a past athlete, he had past experience with those students as well. So I think, because we touched upon so many different students and what their needs were – what their academic concerns were, what they wanted to see on campus – I think that was a big motivational push for us to run. As far as what ASI does in general, how we can help the students, how we can create a campus that is student-oriented instead of run by faculty and administration – it was ultimately, what we can provide for the students that we haven’t provided before.

SB: So it sounds like community activity amongst to students and the school spirit was big for your guys’ platform.

DS: Huge. That’s probably the biggest part is really getting students involved. If you look at the rates of students that get involved [on campus] and the retention rates, they are very heavily correlated. So as soon as students start getting involved, their retention rates are better. They have a much better network, and I feel that’s one of the problems with our students. Sometimes they don’t establish the greatest network here at CSUB, and then they go out into the workforce and are curious why they can’t get a job. It’s not necessarily because they don’t want to get involved; they just haven’t been reached out to, and there’s not necessarily the programs in place to become involved.

SB: In recent quarters, there’s been a huge push to get more students involved. There’s been the Spirit Squad and the Spirit Fee. We’ve seen a more prevalent mascot around campus. How do you feel about school spirit as it is now? You guys have touched on this a bit, but do you want to add to how you’re going to improve that element of campus life?

DS: As of right now, I think it’s a work-in-progress. Since my freshman year, I’ve seen the school spirit on this campus grow a lot. I think in some part, it had to do with the campus spirit fee, which allowed us to do a lot of things that we weren’t able to do before. I think that opened a lot of doors in terms of being able to actually fund some of the things that students wanted to see. That’s what campus programming is.

Some of the initiatives that we’re taking this year: we’re actually in the midst of finalizing the Student Leaders’ Council. Basically what that’s going to be is – the presidents of all of the clubs and organizations on campus will come together and have several meetings throughout the year. The first one, the President’s Cabinet has agreed to sit-in on the first meeting, and each club and organization will present their goals for trhat year: how they would like to reach out for students. In the last meeting of the year, they will reflect on their goals and present, again in front of the Cabinet, and say, ‘We either accomplished our goals or we did not accomplish our goals, and here is why.’ There’s a little bit of accountability there, and we feel as though starting this council will really allow us to connect with a lot more students and get clubs excited about connecting with other students and branching out more to students.

MK: Not only that, though, just touching back on your question – as a transfer student, we have an exciting team for the year. I know our VP of Programming – she’s in the midst of collaboration with Emily, which is the assistant director of campus programming. So I know that she’s collaborating together with campus programming to throw big events. There’s going to be foodie fairs, a majors fair and all that good stuff. I think the biggest part is collaboration to increase spirit life so that students can get involved, different departments can get involved, and reaching out, branching out to the students in whatever way to spark campus life here at CSUB.

SB: Yeah, there seems to be an emphasis on getting a lot of the clubs to up-their-game a little bit. Have you gotten any general reactions so far from those plans? Have campus club leaders been excited?

DS: We actually haven’t taken it to the clubs yet. We have drafted a statement of intent. So, as ASI, you actually can’t have an organization with a separate constitution, so we created a statement of intent, which is basically the same thing but without any governing documents.

MK: But as ASI has continuously funded different clubs and organizations for their programs, this year what our VP of Finance was surprised to find out was, during the summer, we’ve had several – maybe 20+ clubs asking for funding for the fall quarter, so they’re excited to throw on their programs with getting sponsored by us. We’re excited to hear about that, and we’re happier to help out those different clubs and organizations. This is what we were elected to do.

DS: I don’t know if we’ve ever had this many clubs this early in submit applications. I mean, we were getting applications from –

MK: Right after school ended.

DS: Right after school ended. That’s another thing. We would like to help the clubs promote their events. We had made, last year, two or so videos of the actual event in the hopes of getting students the next year to see that, ‘Hey, this is a really good event.’ But I don’t think we’ve ever had this many student organizations apply for funding.

SB: So we mentioned 75% of the campus didn’t vote in the election. What are your guys’ plans to engage those students when you set an agenda and say ‘We’re going to do this?” How do you go about drawing those opinions from the students that haven’t really participated in the ASI elections?

DS: So, did you know that elections were coming up?

SB: I did.

DS: How long in advance did you know when they were coming up?

SB: I knew maybe three weeks in advance.

DS: Okay. I looked around campus and we had maybe two or so signs around campus [leading up to elections]. That’s not enough. There needs to be 20 signs saying ‘Elections are coming up; apply for ASI; you can get the applications.’ There needs to be one at every corner of campus. I don’t think those two signs – they didn’t do it for me. If I’m a student and I’m walking from my car to Science III, there needs to be a sign there. There needs to be a lot more resources used in making signs, and one of the biggest things is to reach out to students via the sandwich boards. We have six of our own, and the Student Union has six. There’s no reason why we can’t use eight-to-10 sandwich boards – both sides – and have posters out there. That’s a huge part of how we campaign. And then let students know going to class that elections are coming up.

MK: What I heard from campaigning was that we need to get out there. So, in the previous years, I know that we’ve always had a table in one specific spot. To me, especially being a housing student, we don’t branch out enough to those students. I learned from campaigning that we have to get out there to meet as many students as we can so that we could get them involved on campus. I think that’s one of the biggest initiatives that we’re going to be taking on this year – using our student-at-larges, using all of our members to go out there, promote clubs and organizations, promote ASI and get information out to the students face-to-face rather than maybe facebook or social media. I know with those things, you scroll up and it’s already gone, or InstaGram, you don’t have connections or you can’t see anything. The most important aspect is for people to talk face-to-face so that information is shared and thoughts and concerned are shared.

SB: I guess the point of my question was that, when people don’t vote, you don’t necessarily know what they want in terms of campus services. How do you plan to gauge the wants and desires of the people who didn’t participate in the voting cycle?

MK: To me, those students, and I’m sure Derek feels the same way, those students are the students that I actively reached out to during campaigning. Those students that said, ‘Oh, it’s okay, I’m not going to vote’ or ‘I already voted,’ we made sure to double-check and see if they did vote. We wanted to make sure that they at least voted for someone because their voice is so important. I think what we strived for this year was, the students that ultimately did not want to vote because they weren’t focused on elections or they just didn’t care, we asked why they didn’t care, and we tried to emphasize how important they were to us because ultimately they do pay fees to us, but we’re also supposed to be representing them on a school-wide level and also on a state-wide level. So it’s about communicating to the student how important they are as an individual on this campus, and I think ultimately, once you build that relationship with that individual student, they understand how important they are themselves to the campus. We ultimately tried to seek out those students that did not want to vote because they have their own reasons and concerns, and once we knew about those concerns, that’s what we advocated for; that’s what we promised them when we were campaigning. I think this year we’re going to use the same approach as we did when campaigning – going out there, truly sitting down with that student, asking ‘what can we, as ASI, do for you to become actively involved?’

DS: I don’t think there’s any right or wrong answer to this, but I think the way that you communicate and get a better understanding of what the students that typically come here and leave want – you have to go out there. They’re not going to be the ones that write a suggestion and put it in the suggestion box. They’re not going to be the ones in – the ones that are not voting, they’re typically the students that come to campus and leave campus. You have to be out on the ground. You have to be out there. That’s how you understand what you want. They’re not going to be going online. I mean, they could be going online, but they’re not necessarily going to like your Facebook page or Instagram. They’re likely not to watch your YouTube videos until you reach out to them. And that’s the case for so many students. Until you actually make that first personal interaction, where you’re not just meeting with them for 30 seconds, you’re actually talking to them and having those more in-depth conversations – given, you can’t do that with every student – there’s no way to effectively communicate to every single student but you can do a pretty darn good job of getting a real good sense of what the students that don’t typically go to events want. That’s one of the biggest things with elections is you target a lot of those students; you see want they want.

I think this can’t be a one-time deal. One of our mentors told us, ‘Campaigning doesn’t stop after elections; campaigning is all year long.’ I think it’s just reaching out to those students. The same person also said, “Go into to the places that make you feel uncomfortable.” If you’re part of an athletic team, go hang out with or go see what the people that skateboard are doing, or reach out into groups that you typically wouldn’t reach out into. I think that works with an organizational sense as well. The students we don’t typically reach out to would be the people that come here and go home. So reaching out to those students.

SB: I have in front of me the 2013-2014 CSU tuition fees rate sheet. For a lot of students, school affordability is a huge deal, and on this sheet, CSUB has the largest stand-alone student body association fee. It’s about two-and-a-half times the system average. Are there any plans to stabilize the cost of ASI fees?

DS: We actually have the lowest fee in the CSU in terms of ASI. So, that is correct [that our ASB fee is the highest]. Conceptually, it’s kind of hard. Our budget, our operating budget for our ASI, which ASI students actually manage, is the lowest in the CSU. We have $15 per quarter, which is $45 a year. Our total budget is $364, 985. Now that seems a lot, but when you have staff with over $100,000 [in salary], you’re now down to $264[000], plus with the cost to run our building – it’s close to $30,000 – so our fixed costs chew up almost our entire budget. This fee was actually passed in 1987. Usually your fees are tied to CPI, your consumer price index, which typically goes up about two-percent each year. We did not tie this fee to consumer price index. So 1987, in comparison to these [CPI] dollars, we would have almost double of what we have now. And we had less students there. We didn’t have nearly 8,000 students. So we had double the budget with I don’t know how many students.

So we’re actually really really strapped for funds. I know it doesn’t seem like it because we have $364,000, but when you talk about organizations like ASI at San Diego State that have $26 million, they’re able to do some cool stuff.

So with that said, why it looks like we have so much? [The fee line] brings all these different entities under us [ASI]. We have no control. What happens is, you pass what’s called the referendum, which is essentially a fee. Now you can put these fees under different places; you can put these fees under what’s called your IRA – Instructionally Related Activities; you can put it under the Student Union. And there are different categories of fees.

So when there was a referendum, these students decided to put the fees under ASI, although ASI has no oversight. We don’t touch the money; we have no oversight; we have – we cannot do anything.

SB: So it’s just attached to the name?

DS: It’s attached to the name. Our Div. I athletics [fee], we have $1.8 million dollars; we never see a penny. Our original athletics fee of $320,000, we never see a penny. The Children’s Center: we have no oversight. We do not control any of these fees. We have total fee revenues from funds under ASI equaling $2.7 million; we only see $364,000 of it. Although it looks like we control a lot and have all of this stuff underneath us, we have – when it was drafted, when these referendums were drafted (we have the files) – it was drafted that ASI shall have no oversight over any of those.

We have the lowest fee. I’ve talked to every campus. We have the lowest fee in the CSU in terms of ASI – well, in terms of what our actual student government gets. Not in terms of the name.

[That we have the largest fee] is a complete misnomer. One of the things that I was thinking of was, ‘how can I make this clearer on your fees breakdown?’ Maybe do an ASI student-government and an ASI – to have that distinction. It looks like we have $2.7 [million] but we don’t even touch almost any of it.

SB: We’ve touched on the ‘goals’ part of our discussion. What are your main, this-is-what-I’m-going-to-do goals for this year?

MK: We have a lot of goals. So this might be tricky for us, but what we campaigned for is being transparent and branching out to the students. Whether it’s criticism or positive feedback, we welcome it, just so that we as an organization can always grow better, we can represent the students better. For me, it would be, again, branching out to the students, talking with them, collaborating with different clubs and organizations just to spark student life. I mean, we have tons of projects and events and programs that we want to throw, but if we don’t talk to the students – if we don’t tell them what’s going on – then we are the only ones celebrating them, and that’s not what we’re aiming for. It’s ultimately going to the students, talking with them, making sure that their campus is our campus; we’re at the same campus, and we’re students working for students.

DS: To ditto that, there are so many things that we do that students have no idea that we do. For example, tuition fees. One of the things that we wanted to do was keep the CSU tuition fee low. It’s at what, $2,200 a year? So there’s a distinction between your tuition fees and your campus-based fees. We wanted to make sure those tuition fees stay as low as possible. Those are the ones that have traditionally jumped up in the thousands. One of the biggest things was not having representation in Congress and on a state-wide level. One of the things that students would not normally know is that, last year, we went to Washington D.C. I spoke with Senator Barbara Boxer, Congressman Kevin McCarthy and David Valadao – of which, one of the biggest events this year is, on the first day of school we’re having a congressional debate. David Valadao and his opponent, they are coming here on the first day of school, so we are literally starting off with a bang.

We’re making sure that students actually know what we do. If you asked any student, they would have no idea that we went and lobbied for them for lower tuition. I personally think it was pretty successful. We got really good responses – I mean, Kevin McCarthy is a huge advocate for us being a CSUB alum, and David Valado, we talked to him for 30 minutes or so on a voting day, which is not typical. It was a really good opportunity for us to really speak up for the students. I think the trip cost $3,000, but in return you get, you know, $300 million. But students would never know about that because we don’t traditionally publicize that; we just do. If we can get that publicity going, as well as having the bigger events that we talked about, it’s huge.