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University SGA Presents Workshop at Annual Conference

A delegation from the University’s Student Government Association (SGA) held a workshop for other leadership organizations from across the country at the annual Conference on Student Government Associations (COSGA) on Feb. 24th in Houston, TX.

The event consisted of three days of workshops and guest speakers for student government delegations in attendance, from the 23rd to the 25th. Seven students represented Monmouth: Karla Almanzar, Jabriel Belhadj, Amalia Giraldo, Mehdi Husaini, Jihad Johnson, Leslie Valdez, and Vincent Welch. The students were accompanied by Director of Off-Campus and Commuter Services and Advisor to SGA, Vaughn Clay, Ed.D.

The presentation given by the University’s SGA, entitled “Breaking Through Barriers” was a summary of the obstacles the organization faced this year, with accompanying strategies on how to bring a student leadership organization together to accomplish the year’s goals.

“[The purpose of] our presentation was to allow other universities to see how we function as a Senate, and our structure on how we do things,” said Jihad Johnson, a senior communication student who represented Monmouth. He described that the presentation was created to address the theme of the conference this year, “Beyond All Limits,” by showing how SGA broke through barriers to accomplish tasks for the year.

For Johnson, getting things accomplished this year started with the creation of a cohesive, close-knit team of Senators. “One of the things we identified that we thought was very important was that you can be your own barrier,” he said, “We explained to the other universities that our [annual SGA] retreat, our group bonding, our social events that we do together help us establish a relationship with each other which ultimately transfers over to our work.” The delegation’s presentation showed that that this was apparent in community involvement initiatives, like the Big Event and hurricane relief efforts, which were made possible with strong relationships between members of SGA.

Clay pointed to the implementation of an interactive segment of the workshop as a main highlight, with its success indicating that it evidences that participants are invested in the content being put forth by the presenters.

“On one side of a popsicle stick, [attendees] write a goal or something they want to accomplish short term or long term, and on the other side they would write a barrier that is preventing them from reaching that goal,” said Jabriel Belhadj, junior communications student, describing the nature of the interactive element. The participants are then instructed to break the popsicle stick, in hopes that they understand that barriers can be overcome in order to achieve their goals.

The event also marked a historic change of scenery from previous events attended by the SGA. Where in earlier years, COSGA was held at Texas A&M University, the event was held in the city of Houston for 2018. According to Clay, the event has been held at Texas A&M since 1981, making this the first change in venue in 37 years. Monmouth has sent delegations every year since the 1990’s.

Amanda Brockriede, Senior Director of University Engagement and Advisor to SGA said that the conference important for students to attend because it “Strengthens [students’] network, sharpens professional development and public speaking skills.” Ideas like the Big Event and activities promoting school spirit have all been brought back from COSGA, according to her.

“SGA as an organization has a story, and I think it’s something that needs to be shared with the other colleges and universities,” said Clay, “I think [SGA] also has an obligation as one of the leading organizations at Monmouth University to… contribute something to that learning experience.”

Clay explained that the switch to a Houston conference presents several logistical benefits, in that travel this time around was much easier.

The only downside he sees is that students were not able to see firsthand the drastic differences between the two Division I schools.

“It’s a good opportunity for me to learn from other leaders and bring back ideas for me to implement in my organizations on campus,” said senior economics and finance major Vincent Welch in regarding attending the conference, “Plus I’ve never been to Texas before so it’s a great way for me to experience something new.”

Johnson and Belhadj hope to bring back new ideas to their student government to better involve the freshman class by giving them more ways to take on leadership positions and transition to college life in a more meaningful way, an idea inspired by a presentation from the Univeristy of Southern Alabama.

“I’ve always felt that we might be coming to a conference that has colleges and universities that are in some ways much larger than we are and also in some instances much smaller than we are,” said Clay, “We still have a voice and message, and we can be teaching something to a campus of sixty thousand just as much as we can be learning something from a campus of 500.”

PHOTO COURTESY of Jabriel Belhadj