Legislatures in the ‘Lone Star’ state

There’s no better Texan greeting to get you in the spirit than “Howdy!” and a country western dance performance from a world-renowned team. This past weekend, eight members of UConn’s very own Undergraduate Student Government, including myself, jetted off to the Lone Star state to attend the 38th the Annual Conference on Student Government Associations (COSGA). From universities in Mexico to fellow Connecticut schools Quinnipiac and University of New Haven, we met with over 40 delegations from across the country and around the world. In previous years, the conference hosted by Texas A&M University, was held at the College Station campus. However, this year it was relocated to CityCentre in Houston. The trip was led by USG President Ama Appiah, an eighth-semester molecular and cell biology double major, and Chief Justice Nandan Tumu, a sixth-semester computer science major.

“It was an honor and pleasure to attend COSGA on behalf of USG,” Ethan Werstler, second-semester political science major, said. He serves as USG Deputy Speaker and Alumni Senator. “I’m so excited to share all the ideas I learned from the workshops, lectures and panels from this past weekend.”

This year’s theme for the conference was “The Challenge of Change: Now is the Time to Press Play,” which focused on examining different perspectives and adapting with time. Each day consisted of an extensive schedule, offering diverse and enriching roundtables, workshops, town halls and keynote speakers that allowed us to interact with fellow delegates and acclaimed experts in fields of public policy, government, business, mental health and much more.

“I learned a lot of useful information including how to improve relationships with student organizations,” Damani Douglas, second-semester political science and communications double major, said. “I hope to implement some of them in the coming weeks.” He serves as the Student Development chairperson and Werth Senator.

A favorite of the attendees was Thursday night’s opening keynote speaker, James Olson, who had previously served as Chief of Counterintelligence at the CIA. He shared stories of his experience being chosen to train as an agent, meeting his wife –– a fellow CIA operative –– and balancing civilian life with his civic duty.

“[Olsen’s] record of service to this nation is exemplary and hearing about his experiences really solidified my passion for public service and leadership,” Derek Pan, the Student Services chairperson and sixth-semester molecular and cell biology major, said.

Town halls, conducted as a question and answer panel of professionals, included topics such as sexual violence, diversity and inclusion, post-graduation opportunities in government and more. After workshops and town halls, roundtables (my favorite part of the conference) were conducted to facilitate conversation between delegates of different schools in order to discuss issues their student governments might face and to expose themselves to different processes. Along with attending other universities’ workshops that shared ideas of success, such as a safe carpool program and the importance of transparency in government, UConn hosted their own workshop on mental health awareness and initiatives.

“As prominent student leaders who have made significant contributions to the mental health and wellness of UConn, President Appiah and I were able to ... offer knowledge and value to help other student leaders around the world make an impact on the wellness in their own respective campus communities,” Pan described. “It was a very fulfilling experience, and many delegates came to us afterwards to thank us and comment on how much they learned from our presentation and experiences.”

The USG delegation, which also included External Affairs chairperson Damon Reynolds, a fourth-semester accounting major, made sure to include younger members to facilitate learning and networking early on in their careers.

“[This conference] allowed us to see how far we’ve come and what we still need to do,” Sreenhi Nair, a second-semester physiology and neurobiology major, said. “Compared to other schools, our student government is very transparent and really allows the student body to be part of the process for any major changes ... I learned about a few initiatives like the Safe Ride program and Parking Ticket Forgiveness Day, which I would personally like to bring back to UConn during my time here. I think they will allow USG to grow and further improve the life of a UConn student. Overall, I’d say COSGA was a great experience and I hope I go back in the future!”

An awards banquet closed out the weekend, complete with mingling and dancing with our new friends and colleagues across the wide array of schools. Although we might not have known how to dance along to the country music they played, we can only hope that’s something they have a workshop on next time.


Hollie Lao is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at hollianne.lao@uconn.edu.