During an election, you’ll often hear people discussing their opinions on which candidate they identify with by asking which one they’d want to sit down and have a beer with. Yesterday, I did just that (though in this case it was a coffee) with Undergraduate Student Government (USG) presidential and vice presidential candidates Michael Hernández and Guilmar Valle. I also got a chance to speak to candidates Jase Rafael Valle and Guymara Manigat, which you can read about in tomorrow’s issue. Both pairs of students brought unique insights and experiences which will serve them well in this election.
Running for president of USG, Michael Hernández lives and breathes politics. That should come as no surprise considering he majors in both political science and economics, yet his interest in the subject extends far beyond the classroom. Over the past few years, Hernández has been involved in a variety of campaigns at the municipal and state level. He is also the Vice President of the Connecticut Young Democrats, a member of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) Leadership Board and a Communications Consultant for his hometown of Stamford, Connecticut.
“I know it sounds like a fancy title, but it’s a rather simple job,” Hernández said. “I do communications work related to the 2020 census. We’ve been very successful and we’ve increased our response rates a lot. Stamford has the highest response rate of any city.”
Being a part of the 2020 census has been incredibly meaningful for Hernández, not only through the experience of seeing families fill out the census for the first time, but also because of the role he has played in aiding the city of Stamford.
“There’s actually a joke in Storrs,” Hernández explained when discussing his connection to his hometown. “Anybody that knows me just calls me ‘Stamford’ because for some reason I’m always talking about Stamford. That’s actually why I do the census and all of these campaigns, because I believe in Stamford.”
Here at University of Connecticut, Hernández hopes to create a more connected campus and to mobilize students to take action. One of his primary goals is to better utilize social media in order to reach students more effectively. He also wants greater collaboration between USG and CLAS, the largest college at UConn.
Out of all of his experiences, the one that made the greatest impact on Hernández was his role in Connecticut Students for a Dream. The organization was formed to combat a Connecticut state law which excluded undocumented students and others who were not citizens from accessing institutional aid. One of the most egregious aspects of the law in their eyes was that aid came from the very tuition fees which undocumented students had to pay in order to attend UConn or other public universities in the state. Hernández was a member for the last two years of their seven-year fight to have the law changed. Finally, the “Afford to Dream Act,” written by Yale law students, was passed. This allowed any non-citizens at UConn or any other public university in the state to access the institutional aid they needed.
“When I commit to something, I really commit to it,” Hernández said about the approach he hopes to bring to the position of USG President. “I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty. I’ve done plenty of different jobs, and that’s what I see for USG. If we need to stay up a few nights, that’s fine. We need to deal with it.”
Running alongside Hernández on the Vice Presidential ticket is Guilmar Valle. Like Hernández, Valle hails from Stamford, Connecticut, and is deeply involved in leadership roles on campus. Valle is majoring in engineering, an Engineering Ambassador and part of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. Through his work in these organizations, Valle hopes to eventually see greater representation for people of color in the field of engineering.
Valle’s interests also lie in enabling the academic success of his peers, working as a tutor in the Student Support Services program and a TA in Engineering 1000. As this is the first course that all engineering students must take, Valle understands that it can be overwhelming for some. His main responsibilities involve reaching out to students and making them aware of resources available to them through the university to make sure that everyone can succeed.
Before beginning his studies at UConn, Valle was a part of the BRIDGE Program where, as he explained, “students of color and historically underrepresented groups like women get to come out to UConn for a month and study the first classes you’re going to take and get an overview of engineering.”
“It really prepares you for your first semester,” Valle said. “They give you all kinds of resources to make sure you can succeed. As a result, students who do BRIDGE have a much higher rate of completion for their degrees than any other students in the School of Engineering.” That experience clearly affected Valle, as he is now passing on that same mindset of assistance and strong work ethic to younger students.
When not mired in their heavy course loads, jobs and extracurriculars, Hernández and Valle enjoy spending time outdoors photographing the autumn foliage. Two of their favorite spots are Mill River and High Ridge Road in, you guessed it, Stamford.
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