I am honored to have served as the Chair of the University of Texas System Student Advisory Council for the 2017-2018 year. The Student Advisory Council (SAC) is a committee of student representatives from each of the 14 UT System institutions that work together to identify issues of student interest and propose workable policy solutions to the Chancellor and UT System Board of Regents once a year.
Two students from each of the seven academic and six health institutions, plus and additional four students elected as council leadership, meet three times a year at UT System in Austin to get acquainted, identify policy issues of interest, and work with administrators and stakeholders to propose meaningful solutions to better the lives of our fellow students. In total, SAC represents the voices of over 220,000 students within our system.
I first joined SAC in 2016 after being nominated as one of UT Health San Antonio’s two student representatives. Upon arrival in Austin for our first meeting, it was announced that two officer positions were vacant and would be filled through elections later that evening. I realized I may have a good shot at filling an officer seat if I just spoke candidly to my peers about which student issues were closest to my heart during a two minute campaign speech. Graduate education, mental health, and science outreach must have been popular topics among my fellow council members- because I was elected to fill the role of Vice Chair and immediately began my crash course in understanding how UT System operates and how we could advocate for students through our council’s work.
By the end of the 2016-2017 year, I was not ready to conclude my involvement with the council. SAC is posed with the unique challenge of being comprised of students from all over the state of Texas with an incredibly short amount of time together- in all, SAC members get about 36 hours of face-to-face contact time together over the course of three different weekend meetings.
New representatives show up in Austin in September and are expected to quickly grasp the scope of our mission, by November conduct enough research to identify System-wide issues of student interest, and wrap up policy recommendations by February. Myself and fellow officers Sergio Baltazar (UT El Paso), Alondra Galvan (UT Rio Grande Valley), and Alex Perakis (UT MD Anderson) were interested in forming a strong leadership team among ourselves to help boost the success of the whole council.
After being elected as officers in February, we planned and attended a leadership retreat prior to our inaugural SAC meeting in September. Our goal was to help incoming SAC members quickly understand the purpose and scope of our council and begin their research within the first meeting session.
This year our council identified four broad areas to focus their work: Graduate Education, Campus Life, Student Success, and Diversity and Inclusion. Each group identified several topics to propose policy toward: from non-binary pronouns to best practice recommendations for curriculum committees at health institutions such as UT Health San Antonio. On Monday, April 30th, myself and the working group chairs of each committee traveled to Houston, TX to present our work to the Board of Regents and Chancellor McRaven as part of their regular board meeting sessions.
In all, our council authored a total of 13 policy recommendations that have already been disseminated to key members of UT System administration for consideration. It has been a fabulous year getting to work with Texas’ best and brightest students- I can’t wait to look up each of my fellow council members in a few years time and see what great strides they have made in their careers. It has also been a pleasure and a privilege to be a part of an education system that openly advocates for the student voice to always be heard.
The “Beyond The Bench” series features articles written by students and postdoctoral fellows at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.