Freshmen start SMPA student group to push for new projects

Media Credit: Max Wang | Hatchet Photographer

Jonathan Kandell, a freshman political communication major, is one of two School of Media and Public Affairs students starting a student association for the school.

Updated: March 2, 2017 at 9:45 a.m.

Students who normally learn how to report on the government are organizing to support themselves.

André Gonzales and Jonathan Kandell, both freshmen political communication majors, recently launched a SMPA student association to work with the school’s administrators and push for new student programs. The group plans to hold monthly townhalls, offer students priority tickets to events and start a peer mentorship program, Gonzales and Kandell said.

“I want to see people’s ideas, like creative ideas, coming to fruition. SMPA has so much potential to do cool things, and we already are, but everything needs improvement,” Kandell said.

The group’s co-founders said they decided to start the organization after noticing a lack of community among SMPA students but didn’t have a formal outlet to address their concerns.

Gonzales and Kandell want SMPA to adopt a peer mentorship program, in which upperclassmen would work with freshmen and sophomores to navigate the school’s resources, advise on course selection and build friendships.

“In SMPA I feel like there could have been a lot of things to make my transition easier,” Kandell said. “I don’t even know half of the kids in my grade in SMPA.”

He said the Elliott School of International Affairs has a peer mentorship program in which students hold office hours to answer questions about the school’s curriculum and how to adjust to college life.

Gonzales said it was difficult to adapt to SMPA without “a formal apparatus” to make friends.

In 2015, the school launched a student-alumni mentorship program as part of its Career Access Network, which connects SMPA upperclassmen to graduates in media and government careers, but the school doesn’t have a formal way to connect current students.

The two students said they plan on starting other community-building projects, like adding a SMPA T-shirt to the campus store and creating a student lounge with bean bag chairs in the Media and Public Affairs building.

The new group also wants to give SMPA students priority access to all events held at the school. Events, like the CNN debate earlier this month, are open for all students, meaning some journalism and political communication majors often miss popular events with high profile figures in those fields.

Events hosted by the school typically offer SMPA students primary, and sometimes exclusive, access to tickets, but the Jack Morton Auditorium also hosts events that aren’t run by SMPA.

The SMPA Student Association leaders created a Facebook group last month that includes 81 members as of Tuesday, but Kandell said they didn’t yet have plans to become a formal student organization.

Kandell posted in the Facebook group that he met with Jen Halpin, SMPA’s director of special projects and administration. The post said Halpin planned to meet with SMPA Director Frank Sesno to discuss some of the proposals.

The group discussed adding a WEPA printer to the SMPA building and creating a school logo, according to the post.

The Facebook group also includes a survey asking students if they would attend townhalls, participate in a peer mentorship program and if they wanted to see changes to how SMPA handles students who study abroad.

This isn’t the first SMPA student advocacy group. In 2007, then-SMPA Director Lee Huebner formed a Director’s Advisory Council made up of students in the school, but the group has since disbanded.

Kandell said Sesno had approved the new group and agreed to monthly meetings with its leaders.

Sesno said he was excited to see the student association launch, but declined to say how he would work with the group or evaluate its ideas.

“Our students should be involved and engaged,” Sesno said in an email. “I look forward to working with SMPA leaders to build on our success and make the student experience at the School of Media and Public Affairs even better.”

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