Chris Groh was elected President of the Louisiana Student Government Association last Spring. ultoday.com talks with him about how we came to UL, and his plans for the year.
Tell us about yourself.
I'm from New Orleans, born and raised. I graduated from from Brother Martin High School in 2006, started UL that Fall. Both of my parents, my godmother (who is my aunt on my mother's side) and two of my uncles on my dad's side all graduated from UL.
After I started here, I got involved with a few organizations. I started with the student orientation staff and that snowballed into other organizations. I became Senator for the College of Business two years ago, then last year I ran and lost for President of Business, and last semester I ran for SGA president and won.
I'm passionate about community service. I'm really, really passionate about that, and helping people out. Las year I was involved with the American Cancer Society's Relay for Life, and I work with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program here in Lafayette. Right now I'm in the early early stages of planning a volunteer project for the oil spill cleanup that will be going down late the end of the Fall semester, maybe in December.
I share that passion with my Vice President Tyler Dunphy and my Treasurer Katie Bercegeay. So we decided this year that we would not only work with the UL Colleges & local businesses, but also with community service and add a bunch of aspects to that. We're looking at taking on some causes, not just one project. One we'd like to tackle is to stand up against drunk driving, and to come up with better solutions.
What about your personal life?
Personal life, yeah... I'm 22. What should I tell you? I'm an open and honest person, so if you tell me you need an opinion, I'll give it to you like it is. If you have a question, I'll give you an answer whether it's good or bad.
But I'm also my own biggest critic. I look at every project I work on, and think I should have done this or that. I take a lot of pride in what I do. It runs me into the ground sometimes, I won't leave here until 8:00 at night because I'm so gung-ho. I take great pride in what I work on, I always try to do it the way that seems best, and I don't want to see it done badly.
Of course, that's not how it always is, it's not always black or white. I don't have a problem admitting I made a mistake, and trying to make it right. I know I'm not going to always get it right on the first go 'round, but I have a lot of good people from the students in SGA up to President Savoie who are willing to work with me to make sure that we get it right.
What are some of your goals for this year?
One of our big goals is to carry on from what [former SGA President] Dustin Domingue's administration did last year, to make SGA a more marketable organization. We want students to know why we're here, what we can do. We want to make the school better, and we can't do that without the help of everyone. I have only two eyes, but my 50 some-odd senators in the SGA and all the students on campus can tell me 'We have a problem here,' 'We can do this better. '
There are a lot of services that students don't realize we have . The University offers free tutoring in Lee Hall, but a lot of students don't know we have it. Helping students find jobs after graduation is what Career Services does, but a lot of students are unaware of that. I was in the bookstore yesterday trying to find a piece of software. It usually costs over $1200, but there students get a huge discount and it was less than $300. But that's the kind of services students get, but they don't know about it, so they don't take advantage of it.
One thing we want to work on is the overall image of the SGA. When I can walk around campus and students no longer ask 'What is SGA?' or when elections come around if students don't have to ask us about issues on the ballot, then I'll have accomplished 2/3 of my job.
There are some individual projects we're working on. We want a 24-hour facility that students can come to study or to work on a project. The SGA currently pays for the library to be open 24 hours a day during finals week, but we want something that will be available throughout the semester.
We've also been working with the bookstore so that students can purchase books and UL merchandise on-line. So we're working with them to get that up.
Recycling, the Going Green initiative is great and we want to push for recycling all over campus. We want to reduce paper usage on campus, and to do more things online. We're working with Mr. Gene Fields [UL's CIO] for technology on campus. We're pushing to get 100% wireless on campus, to make that available wherever we can go. Mr. Fields is helping us with that.
We also want to make UL a healthier campus, we want more bike racks and sidewalks. We want the University to be a bike-friendly and pedestrian-friendly campus. We want to make it convenient and safe for students to ride their bikes, to go from the saint streets and other surrounding neighborhoods to campus. In the saints streets we have no sidewalks, you have to walk in the street.
We want recycling bins next to every trashcan on campus, and that's something both the University and SGA want. There's some education involved, people need to know what you can and can't recycle.
Lastly, we want to push for a bigger internship program, and to create them on campus. After you graduate, it's no longer just enough to have your degree, you need those internships, you need that field training. It's hard for students to do that. We're full-time students, a lot of us are working one or more jobs to pay for school. To take on an internship where you don't paid, that's hard to do. So we want to work with the University to set these things up, so kids will be able to point to work they've done. We're working with different departments on campus to figure out what they need, how can students help with those programs, then we can look at implementation.
As President of SGA at UL, you have access to anyone and everyone in Acadiana, and all across Louisiana. Talk about that.
I think that one of the great things is that with talking to different people, especially in Acadiana, our elected officials want to work with us, they want to work with the students. For a lot of students the assumption is, 'They don't want to listen to me, I'm 18, 19 years old, why would they want to listen to me?' That's not the case at all, and our elected officials often come to UL. City-Parish President Joey Durel came here on his own initiative and spoke with students, to hear what students had to say. I think a lot of that is because UL has strong roots in Lafayette and Acadiana. A lot of these officials, I would guess most of them, went to school here. Many local leaders left home after UL and decided they wanted to come back, they realized there's no place like home. So they have a commitment to this place, and this University.
Also as students we need to realize how much responsibility we have for what goes on in the world, not to anyone but to ourselves. We will be inheriting these changes, these laws, whatever is happening right now. In the next 10 years, we will have to live with whatever the government does in Baton Rouge and DC. We need to take more initiative to influence these decisions.
I think too many students don't get involved. This oil spill will affect us for the next 30 years. Me, my kids, this will have huge ecological and economic impacts on our world and our lives. A lot of students sit back and say, 'This is terrible." Well, let's talk to BP and our officials and tell them this is unacceptable, and tell them where we'd like to see this go. But our elected officials can only do so much, they can only reach out to us so many times. If we're not talking, they can't hear our voices.
How are Lafayette & UL different from other places?
One of the reasons that I came to Lafayette is because New Orleans is a deep cultural city, and I wanted a similar community. Lafayette is that community. You can see the deep cultural roots we have with our festivals, with the history & traditions that we work so hard to preserve
UL mimics that, with Homecoming Week, Lagniappe week, the students take pride in our own history and traditions. The general attitude among students is, 'This is where I'm from, this is my University.' We're proud of where we go to school, we're proud of where we graduate from. You can't tell me that there is any school and community, anywhere, that are so connected with each other. So many times you go to different schools and you'll see that there's a city, and a University, but they are completely different. They is no connection between them.
This is a big city, but you can tell that UL is very much a part of this city. I dont' think that it's a surprise that so many people who come to UL choose to make this their home. We get so connected to the community, we leave, and we find out there's just no place like home.
What do you do to escape?
I go home and do nothing. I don't get to see my family as much as I'd like. People think when I go home to New Orleans that I go out and party. No, I sit at home and visit with my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and cousins.
That's my vacation. That's what I like to do.
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