When Adam Kuegler, the student representative on the University of Connecticut Board of Trustees, was a junior in high school, he volunteered in New Hampshire for Newt Gingrich’s presidential primary campaign.
His family was on vacation in Maine, but, Kuegler said, “they dropped me off in Manchester to make phone calls for three days.”
As might be expected of a 17-year-old who would forgo a coastal vacation in favor of working in a campaign office, Kuegler said he became interested in politics when he was very young.
Before he could vote, he managed successful campaigns for State Senator Robert Kane and State Representative Eric Berthel.
In college, he interned in the offices of Pennsylvania Representative Bill Shuster and Florida Senator and former Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio.
He ran for – and lost – an Undergraduate Student Government senate seat, won a seat the following year, became chair of the USG External Affairs Committee, and ultimately served as Vice President of USG.
But now, the senior political science major has a new challenge.
In March, Kuegler was elected to be UConn’s Undergraduate Student Representative on the Board of Trustees.
His position is meant to provide a student voice in the governing body that make nearly all of UConn’s decisions, from changes in budgets and tuition to new building projects and initiatives.
“The board oversees everything UConn,” Kuegler said. “That includes the health center, it includes the law school, all regional campuses and the graduate school.”
Its 21 members – four elected, 12 appointed by the Governor and five ex-officio, including Governor Dannel Malloy himself – meet once a month to discuss and vote on issues.
“My job is to provide the student perspective when we have discussions,” Kuegler said.
And, like the rest of the members, Kuegler gets a single vote on the board, which he must wield to represent the disparate thoughts and opinions of UConn’s 24,000 undergraduates.
Kuegler just started this job. He moved into his tiny office in the Student Union on Wednesday.
That afternoon, he was still busy organizing the office overlooking Hillside Road, furnished only by a small desk, a small couch, a large filing cabinet and a few potted plants.
He said there’s been a learning curve to the position so far.
“Last meeting, I had questions that I had written out beforehand, but it moved so quickly that I didn’t get to ask them,” he said.
He said he plans to change that in the future.
“I’m going to be vocal,” he said. “If I wanted to get on the Board of Trustees to network and get a job someday, then I’d keep my mouth shut.”’
Kuegler sits on two committees: Student Life and Buildings, Grounds and Environment.
Kuegler said an important first step in his job is keeping students informed about what’s happening on those committees and on the board as a whole.
To do that, he said he plans to post agendas and minutes on Facebook and set up an “informal advisory board” of UConn students, which would meet to discuss issues before Kuegler brings them to the board.
“There’s already been interest to just get a group of students together and say, ‘here’s what the board is working on, what are your thoughts on it,’” Kuegler said.
Ultimately, Kuegler said he’ll need to pick a few issues to focus on. The official term length for a student trustee is two years, but since Kuegler is a senior, he’ll only be able to serve for one.
“That means I have to jump in there and do the best I can with the relatively short time that I have,” he said.
Kuegler spoke at length about the need to create more resources for student health and safety, especially mental health.
“I’ve talked to students who have, in the past, sought help off campus,” he said. “I’ve talked to students who struggle with this, and the amazing thing is how many students are affected by this issue.”
He said he didn’t want to give the impression that UConn doesn’t already have programs to address mental health – just that he thinks more resources should be allocated to them.
“We need to keep the foot on the gas,” he said.
Still, Kuegler said, if pointing out flaws in UConn’s current system will result in change, he doesn’t have a problem with doing so.
“I’ve said some things that (I think) have been pushing this issue a bit, and I’m happy to do that,” he said. “I don’t feel any guilt about that.”
But Kuegler said major changes, like an overhaul of the mental health car system, are far from the norm.
“The big sweeping things are obviously much rarer than the little things that I try to do,” he said. “There’s room to make a difference in things that aren’t really going to be front-page news.”
He said small things, like making sure there are enough student parking spaces at the Stamford regional campus, are much more common and can also have a significant impact on student life.
Though he just started his position on the board, this isn’t Kuegler’s first foray into educational policy.
In high school, he served as a student representative on the Watertown board of education.
“That, I think, introduced me on a different level to educational policy,” he said.
Though he didn’t have a vote on that board, he said it exposed him to the sorts of decisions that need to be made about education – similar decisions to those he’ll need to make on the Board of Trustees.
“I was able to see things from the board’s side, seeing different issues that came through, whether it was curriculum or other issues for the school system,” he said.
He also grew up around education. His aunt, uncle and grandmother were all teachers, and his mother was the youngest of six siblings, but the first to attend college.
Kuegler said he plans to attend law school after he graduates this spring. He said he hopes to work as a lawyer for an educational institution or work in civil rights in education.
He said he’d consider running for elected office one day, but, he joked, he doesn’t think his name would look good on yard signs.
“I could see myself doing something policy-related,” he said. “I’m interested in educational policy and ways that we can help the education system improve.”
All that, he said, was part of what convinced him to run for the Board of Trustees.
“Education is a powerful thing,” he said. “If I can be a small part of helping our institution be great, then I will.”
Charlie Smart is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.