UND Today

University of North Dakota's Official News Source

Student Government leaders emphasize communication, transparency

Proposed podcast, online feedback and scan-ready QR codes are among ideas to open communication lines

New UND Student Government President Faith Wahl (left) and Vice President Morgan Mastrud say they have plans to take the Student Government to students rather than expecting students always to come to Student Government offices when they have concerns, ideas and feedback. Photo by Patrick C. Miller/UND Today.

In UND Today’s second installment of our Q&A with new UND Student Government President Faith Wahl and Vice President Morgan Mastrud, we hear the leaders’ take on transparency and learn about some student issues that may come up in the North Dakota Legislature.

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Can you tell us more about any specific plans you might have to connect students to all the great work and activities being carried out by different student organizations on campus?

Mastrud: Unfortunately, I think student organizations felt a decline in participation when COVID hit. They had a tough time getting back on their feet, and they’re still in that process right now. A lot of student organizations are kind of craving the connections between the students and the different organizations because they share a lot of similar missions and similar values. So, we’re working on finding ways to connect organizations so they can partner to better achieve their shared goals.

For example, The Big Event is a giant volunteer event on campus and in the community. We’re thinking how can we help organizations find others with similar values and missions so they can work together to make their impact even greater. Again, we keep mentioning this new UND app because we think it’s going to be a great platform for organizations to see each other and reach out and network. They can say, “Hey, we’re doing this. Do you want to partner with us?”

What else can you tell us about this special student app?

Mastrud: I think they’re calling it the MyUND app, and it’s a student portal where students can customize these tiles. They’ll have every organization and event at UND listed on a calendar, along with a Grand Forks calendar. People eventually would be able to register for classes on the app, look at different resources — whether that’d be Counseling Center hours, Wellness Center hours — basically every resource available would be in one easily accessible and customizable format.

Wahl: I think these conversations have been going on for several years, but Student Government has been a big part of the process, and people recognize that we need something that can be a little bit more customized to the individual. There are a lot of different apps students can download, but to put everything in one place is really the goal. I think the intention is to roll it out and get it ready to go by August.

The app will have multifactor authentication, so it will be privacy-protected. The idea is that students will be able to log into Campus Connection through the app to add and drop their classes or move things around, check their grades, get into Blackboard. They’ll be able to connect to all these platforms in one place.

Student Government President Faith Wahl (left) and Vice President Morgan Mastrud stress that they want to engage as many students as possible. Photo courtesy of Wahl/Mastrud campaign.

You stressed communication and transparency in your campaign as well. What does that look like in your administration?

Wahl: When we went to different student organizations during our campaign, we learned that people had a lot of questions about UND in general — not necessarily just questions about Student Government. We recognize how important it is for us to go to them and not sit back and expect everyone to come to us.

We want students to know that we’re students, too. We’re not above anyone, and we’re not any different. We are here to help and support. So we have a plan in place to set up a rotation with our senators and executives so we have a Student Government representative going to every student organization. Like we said, there are 270-some, but we also have a strong team of executives and senators. When we split that up, it’s totally manageable to go to one meeting a semester, talk to them for five minutes at the beginning of their meeting, tell them about Student Government and help them understand our open meeting policy. Then, we can take their concerns, bring them back and address them. We’d really just like to start opening the doors of communication that way.

How often does Student Government officially meet?

Mastrud: We host Senate meetings weekly at 6 p.m. Wednesdays in the Small Ballroom in the Memorial Union. They are open, and any student can come, listen and give feedback. We also have them Zoomed. I don’t think a lot of people know that, but everyone can take part.

How do you reach the students who aren’t in a student organization or those who maybe haven’t even heard about Student Government?

Wahl: We have a couple of things that we want to do there. One, is the podcast I talked about earlier. Then, at the beginning of the year, we want to look at allocating some funds toward marketing and outreach and kind of delegate that toward our executive team and let them really run with the ideas they have. So, does it maybe look like bulletin boards in every academic building with a QR code to submit feedback? We also just implemented an online feedback submission form on the Student Government website. But what does that look like as far as establishing a physical location in some of our high-traffic areas? Wherever they are, we want to give students the opportunity to submit feedback or suggest things they want to see changed on campus.

You say you’d like to connect every student with at least one career mentor during their time at UND. That sounds like a pretty lofty goal. How do you go about achieving that?

Wahl: I don’t think it necessarily would turn into one mentor for every student, but what we’re planning right now is to look at the core tenets of the Pancratz Career Development Center’s mentor program at the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration and consider how we can expand on that foundation and those ideas to much smaller cohorts elsewhere in other departments and schools.

Even if it starts as a cohort of five students, we can put them through this program and then expand a little bit every year. If we can provide those opportunities for students to really connect and find someone they can look up to and ask questions. That’s a great resource for them, and it empowers them to step into their own leadership role wherever they’re headed.

The mentorship program that’s in place right now works with career professionals, especially alumni. But there also have been discussions about what it would look like to pair a freshman with a junior or senior.

Mastrud: Yeah, I can add to that because I’m a pre-medical student as well, and the Medical School started a pilot program where they have some third-year med students take a pre-med student under their wings. They volunteer, and then you can connect and reach out for advice on applications or whatever.

How do you represent the student voice in the upcoming legislative session?

Wahl: There have been times when things can get kind of heated or a little polarized, but our focus will continue to be the students, regardless of how popular that feedback is. We do have an executive governmental affairs commissioner position, and that person’s job is to work with the city and state governments as a liaison. Oftentimes, Morgan and I will go down and testify on different issues, too. It’s really a team effort.

Do you expect any big issues to come up this session? Is there anything for which you’re already preparing?

Wahl: Based on my experience working with the North Dakota Student Association, I think funding issues always are going to be one that we struggle to maintain autonomy. Academic freedom is going to be a very big one coming up. The North Dakota Student Association passed a resolution to defend academic freedom — the right to choose your own curriculum without restrictions. Critical race theory also comes to mind. That could be a big one, defending the right to teach in your classroom what you think is appropriate for that subject in your class.

I think different workforce initiatives are going to be another issue we’re going to be very supportive of because there are a lot of gaps in North Dakota and different high-need areas, whether that’s mental health professionals or software engineers as we move into new industries and the U.S. Space Force. How do we incentivize people to not only come here but stay. We worked with one this last legislative session to build a scholarship for students who took dual credit in high school and then stayed in North Dakota for their college. We really want to promote North Dakota institutions to give back to our local economy and the entrepreneurial ecosystem that way.

How successful do you feel Student Government has been in swaying opinion or action in favorable ways for students? Do you feel the student voice is being heard?

Wahl: I think the student voice is extremely powerful. I don’t think it makes or breaks all decisions, but I do feel like legislators really take into consideration what we’re saying and what our perspective brings to the discussion. I think they appreciate hearing from students how their decisions impact us. That is very powerful.

Mastrud: I also think older professionals value when younger leaders step up and voice their opinions. Most of the time, they are very receptive and willing to listen to those perspectives they might not otherwise hear on a daily basis. When they’re dealing with issues that affect students, I think it’s important that they hear feedback from students. We need to be that strong voice from the Student Body.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about Student Government?

Mastrud: I think a lot of times people might not understand what we do because a lot of our work is so behind the scenes through policy and resolution writing. It may not be so visible, but we’re always working in support of the Student Body. I would encourage people to go to our website if they want to update themselves on what resolutions we’re working on or have done in the past. You can find UND Student Government directly on the UND website. You also can follow us on Instagram at UNDstugov and on Facebook at UND Student Government. We know we can’t personally reach out to every single student on campus, but students shouldn’t be afraid to contact us. We love feedback, and we’d love to get them involved any way we can.

What has been the most rewarding experience about Student Government for you and what might you tell other students about getting involved?

Wahl: I probably would narrow it down to two tenets. One is relationships. I think the relationships I’ve built within Student Government are ones that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Morgan and I look at each other because we used to be just work colleagues, and now I think she’s definitely one of my best friends — definitely one I can see continuing a relationship with after college. So, that’s a big one — relationships with other students, relationships with administrators, relationships with faculty, Memorial Union staff. All of these people I value so highly might not be in my life at all if it were not for Student Government.

The second thing that’s been really rewarding for me is being able to see change in our little corner of the world and understanding that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. Even if it’s being able to impact something small — like making sure a student can have eggs when they go to the food pantry or schedule a counseling appointment at 7 p.m. because they work until 6. I recognize that those changes are small, but they make a difference in the life of someone else. Even if I don’t always get to see that, I know it’s there. We made it happen, and that’s so rewarding.

Mastrud: I have to second relationships as my No. 1. I think most people will say that. Not even just within Student Government, but through all of the various organizations where you can connect. I’ve met so many outstanding people on this campus, and it really has heightened my appreciation for our campus and every student who’s part of it.

My second thing probably would be the education. Coming in, it can seem like a very daunting university because it’s bigger and there’s a lot going on. But in Student Government, there’s so many different things you learn about the daily aspects of every single department and the administrator side of things. You become very educated about what resources are out there for students, not just now, but also in their future paths or careers. You gain so many invaluable skills when you’re involved in Student Government or other student organizations.

Wahl: And I think it teaches you at a young age how to make mistakes and be OK with that. You get to tap into a lot of that professional knowledge and networking. You are connecting with administrators and having all those conversations. That’s not something that happens everywhere. Taking advantage of those opportunities is something I’d recommend.

What stands out as some of the most important issues that students face today?

Wahl: I think affordability is one of the top three. I think North Dakota has a competitive advantage that I would like to see maintained. And there’s so many different facets we can look at: scholarships, higher education funding at the legislative level, workforce opportunities for students.

Second, I would say mental health is a big one, and it’s one we’ll continue to focus on. One of the goals of the North Dakota University System is to prepare students for the real world, and I don’t think we really can do that effectively unless we’re preparing them not only to succeed academically but also personally and professionally. We need to support them and empower them so they know how to deal with all the different stressors that life throws at you, because it’s not all sunshine and rainbows.

And I think my third issue would be the experiential learning and continuing to provide that through mentoring, internships, co-ops, partnerships and other workforce initiatives. It’s great for students to be able to get some of that experience before they’re actually in the workforce. Give them a chance to test it out a little and figure out if this is something they really like. Do they have the skills necessary? Do they want to shift their goals a bit?

Mastrud: UND is a really great school for the undergraduate experience. We are a bigger university, yet we still have that close-knit environment. You don’t see that as much when you tour other universities across the country. At UND, our undergrads get to do important research, work in internships and network in the local community in ways that advance them toward their future goals. We have the medical school, the law school and all those higher education departments that allow you to progress and stay here. You can heighten your education and give back to your local community. The connections are there for the taking, and they can open up so many opportunities for you.