Story and photos by GWEN TRAPP
With over 600 student organizations at the University of Utah, there’s something for everyone to become a part of.
From the Union Programing Council (UPC) to the Prose and Poetry Writing club, involvement on campus allows students to find their own sense of community within the hustle and bustle of college life.
Not only does being involved make the U feel smaller, but it also can help students to discover the passions and future outlooks that they didn’t know they had.
“FAB (Freshman Ambassador Board) was my favorite leadership experience to this day by far,” said Austin Matsuura, the executive director of UPC. “I always wanted to have that leadership journey, to teach people certain skills to succeed.”
Matsuura was the director of FAB within UPC his junior year of college. He worked closely with a group of around 40 first-year students, teaching them the essential skills to become campus leaders. By mentoring first-year students and inspiring them to achieve, Matsuura was able to discover his passion and future goals.
“I found that organizing in a business setting is something that I really enjoy,” he said. “It’s where I belong.” By becoming involved within UPC, Matsuura ended up changing his major from kinesiology to business management. Instead of becoming a physician’s assistant, he now plans to one day become a small-business owner.
“Being involved on campus completely changed my outlook of what I’m good at and what I like to do,” Matsuura said.
From working with first-year students to finding one’s true passion and goals, it’s important to note that not all leadership journeys are exactly the same.
Current Student Body President Anna Barnes plays a crucial role in ensuring that student voices are heard through the Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU). She and her team promote involvement, advocacy and student wellness via the different types of positive programming and outreach. With this being said, there are many benefits to being involved.
But there can also be unexpected challenges in one’s leadership journey.
“One [challenge] that really stands out is when we got news that a University of Utah student, Mackenzie Lueck, was murdered,” Barnes said. Even though this tragedy took place off campus, she struggled with knowing exactly how to console students. “I remember having to prepare a statement at her vigil to read,” she said with emotion. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced.”
Despite the challenges Barnes has recently had to face, she has found that her leadership position has helped her to see what she wants to pursue in the future. “Before coming into this, I had a pretty good idea for what I wanted to do, but I didn’t realize I had a real desire to focus on policy and the legislative process.”
Barnes plans to continue to go into law, but from finding new passions in ASUU this year, she hopes to become involved specifically with policy as a potential future leader in a think tank.
Luckily, the benefits of being involved don’t stop there. Through volunteerism at the Bennion Center as both an undergraduate and graduate student, Bryce Williams, a U alumnus, shows that being involved can lead students to their future professions.
“This January will mark my fifth year working here,” Williams said.
Williams attended the U as a first-year student in 2005, where he began his leadership journey with the Bennion Center. He got involved with it through the Salt Lake Peer Court program that was originally affiliated with the Bennion Center at the time.
Williams was highly involved on campus throughout his undergraduate career. From ASUU to becoming a residential advisor, he ended up staying a total of six years as an undergraduate before making the decision to go to the U’s graduate school.
Throughout his graduate career, Williams continued to stay involved with the Bennion Center by becoming an Alternative Break staff partner. He mentored students who planned community experiences for U students to participate in during school breaks.
After a year and a half into his career and volunteering as a staff partner with Alternative Breaks, Williams met with Dean McGovern, the executive director of the Bennion Center. He offered Williams its newest position as the student program manager.
In this role, Williams is responsible for supporting and advising programs and the student leaders who run them.
“I do think it helped to have been a part of the Bennion Center because they [McGovern] were specifically looking for someone who was a former student leader and an alumnus from the Bennion Center,” he said.
Williams still works as the student program manager today, but plans to continue working and growing in higher education as well as getting involved with other student leadership opportunities.
Wanting to get involved on campus? From becoming the student body president to working for the Bennion Center, there are multiple organizations at the U that can help you get started on your own leadership journey.