Student body champions
Incoming Student Government President Gracie Lian and Vice President Matthew Ternus seek engagement, unity
Wednesday, at UND Student Government’s final meeting for the semester, its newly elected president and vice president officially assumed their positions.
The day arrived exactly two weeks after Gracie Lian and Matthew Ternus ascended to the leadership posts in an overwhelming electoral triumph.
On April 17, the duo amassed nearly 2,000 student votes, more than double the tally for the runner-up pair.
“I think we were really, really excited and also kind of shocked at the numbers,” Lian said, recalling the election night.
The Lian-Ternus team, comprising over 175 volunteers, had assembled in a house close to campus to await the poll counts. In a private call, Lian learned that she had become the student body president and Ternus the vice president.
“It was just so fun to watch all of our team members’ faces as they found out,” said Lian, who hails from Grand Forks. “It was a moment of realizing that our hard work had paid off.”
Drive to connect
Both sophomores, Lian and Ternus served together in the University of North Dakota Student Senate this academic year.
Studying political science and English, Lian represented Honors and undeclared students and Ternus advocated for the College of Education & Human Development, where he is pursuing a degree in secondary education.
Early in their senatorial streaks, Lian and Ternus began to note the same campus predicament – what they described as its siloed, posse-like character.
“We have noticed a lot of disconnect between various parts of the student body,” Ternus said. “You see the resident halls kind of in their corner of life. You see people off campus in their own corner. Greek life in their own corner.”
The pair started mulling over possible solutions. By late fall, they had commenced their campaign with a focus on engagement – online and on the ground.
Their platform slogan – ONE Campus, an invocation of One UND strategic initiatives – adorned posters and t-shirts and turned into a hashtag that defined tens of social media posts.
ONE stands for opportunity, notification and essential.
Opportunity pertains to events and programs that bind students together, erase the town-gown rift and prop the school spirit.
“Especially with the Union being gone [due to the construction of a new building], finding ways to engage the student body will be really important,” Ternus said, pointing at a potential tailgate expansion into more UND sports as an example.
Notification stems from Lian’s work with the North Dakota Student Association, where, as a vice president for communications, she has put together a regular newsletter for the state’s 45,000 learners across the 11 public colleges and universities.
“I like to see the same level of transparency and information sharing within UND Student Government,” Lian said.
Essential boils down to the paramount facets of student life such as financial affordability and service efficiency. Enhanced internet access, increased open educational resources and prudent student fees spending outline this campaign tenet.
Leading and listening
For the past several months, Lian and Ternus have not only promoted these core priorities, they have heard from students about theirs. On the trail, they met with over 40 student organizations and talked to scores of peers.
“[It] was very important to speak to groups and ask [about their] concerns,” Lian said. “We got answers that we had never thought about before.”
Ice buildup on sidewalks, shuttle routes and One Stop were among them.
Lian and Ternus’ engagement spurred excitement. They would spot their campaign pins worn around campus; they would pause to chat with strangers who approached them in town.
What is etched in Ternus’ mind is “the enthusiasm on campus not just for our campaign but for other campaigns too.”
Already in action
Lian and Ternus have already began to transform the University. Recently, for instance, they secured the placement of free feminine hygiene products in several bathrooms across campus.
“I think that [was] an awesome opportunities of working with all sorts of different people on campus to get a service that will benefit a lot of people,” Ternus said.
They are also planning for the next academic year.
Over the summer, Lian is to intern with Grand Forks County – an engagement that will allow her to foster relationships that could come in handy during her presidential tenure.
Ternus, a Rogers, Minn., native, is to split his break between home, where he is to be a substitute child care worker for the local school district, and Grand Forks, where he is to advance student government tasks and serve as an assistant speech team coach at East Grand Forks Senior High School.
Together, they intend to be staunch “champions for the student body next year.”