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EP21 GPH Student Governing Council with Mckenzie Pickett and Ashwini Nagappan
Deborah Onakomaiya: Hey guys, and welcome to another episode of I AM GPH. I am your host Deborah Onakomaiya. On today's episode, we have two representatives from the Student Governing Council here at GPH, McKenzie Pickett and Ashwini Nagappan. Ashwini Nagappan is an undergraduate student majoring in Global Health and Sociology. Ashwini is the undergraduate co president for the Student Governing Council here at GPH. Her interests are in Bio ethics related topics. And a fun fact about Ashwini is that she can actually be box. Also on the show today we have Mckenzie Pickett, who's a graduate student in the Global Public Health concentration. McKenzie is the graduate co-president for the Student Governing Council here at GPH. Her interests are in creating better communication strategies to share public health progress and initiatives with the public. Let's go to our awesome conversation with them. Thank you guys so much for coming on our show. It's so nice to have you guys here.
Ashwini Nagappan: Thank you for having us.
Deborah Onakomaiya: For sure. For sure. So I mean you guys are part of the Student Governing Council, McKenzie you're for graduate students and Ashwini you're for undergrad. If anyone could just tell me, what does the Student Governing Council actually do?
Mckenzie Pickett: So we're here to be the liaison between students and faculty and staff and trying to bridge that gap between the student experience and the staff experience and building on what we as a school or a college really want to get to. We're relatively new, so I think that our input is essentially what are the next building blocks that we can go onto.
Ashwini Nagappan: And essentially we're just trying to foster the global public health community at NYU, especially for undergraduate students. Many of them are hosted in both the College of Global Public Health as well as another college system such as the College of Arts and Sciences or Steinhardt. And we're trying to bridge that gap between their relationships amongst each other.
Mckenzie Pickett: Right. And also trying to form that community between undergraduates and graduates. So it's a very different experience, but since we're housed in the same college, it just makes sense to try and communicate a little bit better and make it into a community as opposed to, "We are this, not that."
Deborah Onakomaiya: Wow. I mean that's important. I think, just to follow up, why is this work important? What makes this work important, especially to you guys?
Ashwini Nagappan: I think it's really important to be able to provide a voice for the student body. And we're essentially the team that relays that information to the administration. And that's personally why I got involved in this. Because I wanted to play a larger role in just making the voices of the student body louder and just getting that across.
Mckenzie Pickett: Yeah. Just piggybacking off of what Ashwini was saying is that we're so new that there's so much room for change and so many aspects that we can affect in the positions that we're in. And so I think that that's why I got involved is there's a lot of crazy things that are happening right now and being able to affect change in your own community is one of those things that you can do when you sometimes feel a little bit powerless. And so I think that being able to give our peers a voice in what is happening in our college and what is happening at NYU in general is empowering all in itself. And that's essentially why I went into this role as well.
Deborah Onakomaiya: I mean you mentioned that you guys are trying to come up as a whole, but is there a difference in the work or the type of outreach you do as a Grad Student Governing Council member as opposed to your work as an undergrad? Is there a difference? And if there is a difference, could you speak to that?
Mckenzie Pickett: Sure. I think that there's a lot of differences in how we see our communities forming, so for graduate students we're more able to be more close knit because of the cohort settings that were brought up in. We have core sets of classes that we're going to be taking that we took in our first year together. Undergrads, you're a whole new ball game. You want to speak to that, Ashwini?
Ashwini Nagappan: Yeah. So, I mean for most undergrads they don't really realize that there is even a College of Global Public Health space on Broadway. The main thing that we're trying to do there is outreach in terms of events and getting people together and knowing that there's a community for them in the public health world. Also we're focusing on mentorship and that's why we're trying to have joint events with the graduate students as well. For them to be an example of what you can do with a master's in public health, for example.
Mckenzie Pickett: And the other ways that you can flip that around is, we're also looking for mentorship in the undergrads. We have two years here, we're in and out as quickly as possible. Where undergrads usually have at least four years here. And so they're able to explore the city and really dive into the richness that New York City has to offer. And so being able to bounce ideas off of, "Oh my goodness, I didn't know that you could do this for that in this great city of ours." I'm really glad that you're able to bridge that gap of knowledge.
Deborah Onakomaiya: So definitely outreach is definitely different? Because the timeline has a play in that. And the way classes are structured for grads and undergrads are definitely ...
Mckenzie Pickett: Yeah. And I mean undergrads, you guys are primarily in the morning, right?
Ashwini Nagappan: Hm-mm.
Mckenzie Pickett: And then we're primarily at night, so graduate students usually fill the morning gaps with works or internships and then come back to school during the night. And I feel like it's the opposite for undergrads. And so trying to plan around everything that's happening is just a nightmare. But it's a wonderful nightmare that we get to muddle through together.
Deborah Onakomaiya: I can only imagine. Going off of what you guys said, most students have been part of a school system with an existing student council. For our listeners or prospective students, what do you want them to know in terms of under utilized services that the Student Governing Council provides that students should be tapping into.
Mckenzie Pickett: We as Student Governing Council also are connected to the larger NYU Governing Council. So that student, senators council and-
Ashwini Nagappan: President’s Council.
Mckenzie Pickett: President's Council. And the third one that we just created.
Ashwini Nagappan: Student Governing Assembly.
Mckenzie Pickett: Yes. See that's why you're the brain of the operation.
Deborah Onakomaiya: So many levels of democratic processes.
Mckenzie Pickett: Yeah. And so it's just taking everything from one step to the next step, to the next step and then trying to communicate with everybody else. So this past weekend we actually helped to educate 80 students in New York, Mayor's office, new initiative. The New York mental health as first aid responders. Well, the original goal was to get a hundred students certified within the academic year. And we got together with a couple of our peers in other schools. So Silver School of Social Work and Wagner, some of the RAs too, and got a hundred done within a month, which was incredible because this is a brand new initiative that the mayor's office really sees fit. So when you're walking around New York, someone has a mental health issue. Usually you tend to ignore it because you don't know what to do with it. And the same token, if someone were to get hit by a car, you usually respond because of the physical ailment. And so they're trying to roll out this whole new initiative of being able to just respond and see what's happening so that you can not essentially jump in and be the end all of that situation, but be able to identify it and then do the next step to get that person to the place that they need to be.
Deborah Onakomaiya: So like a first responder for mental health?
Mckenzie Pickett: Yeah. First aid for mental health. So we help to get a hundred plus students certified in a month, which was awesome. And so things like that ... What else have we been doing?
Ashwini Nagappan: We also have a newsletter called the Public Health Connect, which essentially is released biweekly and contains a bunch of events that are public health related that may be happening NYU area as well as maybe workshops or I don't know.
Mckenzie Pickett: We try and really make that community build stronger with that by doing a student spotlight. So our first issue, we did a graduate student, our second issue we did an undergraduate student. So there's a lot of cool things that we're doing just as individual students and being able to get that out there and saying, "This person's pulling down 14 internships and X, Y, and Z." And so it's not that you can't do it, it's how do you find that person? You say, "Oh, so you're interested in maternal and child health? That's awesome. Me too. Let's talk about it. What are you working on?" Building that connection is part of our goal essentially.
Deborah Onakomaiya: You talked about all the events that you're doing, how you've connected with other schools and that's all interesting. But how can students get involved with the Student Governing Council? I mean even though they're getting emails and whatnot, how can students get involved?
Ashwini Nagappan: So I mean if they have questions, of course they can reach out to the student governing council through our Facebook or email. But if they would like to actually be part of our general assembly, we do have meetings and they can play a greater role in that. They would be contributing to whatever events we're planning and support and also offer their ideas as well.
Mckenzie Pickett: So we're trying to make committees and really expand on the opportunities that we would like to present. So Public Health Week is coming up in the first week of April, first or second. It's in April. And so we want to do a whole week of events. And the only way that we can do that is if everybody pitches in a little bit. So if you're interested in event planning, we've always got that. As Ashwini was saying, the general assembly meetings are your time to talk to us. So just like any other elected official that you should ever come across, they should have times where you can express your happies and crappies to them essentially, right? And so we do that once a month, and we're there regardless if you show up or not. And so we really want you to be engaged because things like this only works if you're as involved as you can be as a constituent. We're trying to plan events we do once a week or once a month, social hours where we pick a local establishment and then have a happy hour. And then once a month we're doing volunteer programs. So we just did one with City Harvest, which was awesome. I think we had 12 to 15 students out there just aiding City Harvest in a food desert in Brooklyn. And so afterwards, I mean it's one of those public health things, "Let's go out to eat afterwards. Great." So there's only bodegas and diners around. Something that you don't know unless you're really in tune to things like, "What the heck is this? Food desert?" And so being able to bring that public health initiative into anything that you do is what you get involved. I mean, the other ways is to get involved with Student Government Governing Council is to get involved with your clubs.
Ashwini Nagappan: So there are seven clubs around ...
Mckenzie Pickett: Six and a half.
Ashwini Nagappan: Six and a half clubs at the moment under the Student Governing Council. They're hosted under the college of Global Public Health. And they're really great ways to be a part of a public health community as well.
Mckenzie Pickett: And some of these are really fine niche, right? So one of them is YouthMappers. But they essentially are a group of students who know how to map and to help with public health, right? So an article that has been done with one of the ... Not with our Youth Mappers, but with an adjacent college. They recently did one for Puerto Rico. And how is that super helpful is if you're an emergency response crew and you don't know where houses are, it's really hard to respond to those houses. So they were able to pick up information and then make maps of places that people don't know very often. That's a great one.
Ashwini Nagappan: There's also the Peer Health Exchange, where university students go to high school students and provide them health education, which not only is a great opportunity for the college students to develop communication and leadership skills, but also be able to impart some knowledge that will eventually help these high school students in their future.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Wow. That's really, really amazing work. Personally speaking, you guys touch a little bit on why you got involved in student council, but have you guys found it rewarding? I don't know how many months you guys have been part of it, what is the most rewarding part of being part of this organization?
Ashwini Nagappan: I think for me right now, what's the most rewarding is when I find that undergraduate students are realizing that the College of Global Public Health is its own entity and its own college rather than just like a floating institution that might be under CAS or Steinhardt or something. So for them to actually know what the College of Global Public Health is and what it can offer them and that it's its own thing, I think that's really important to me when I see that.
Mckenzie Pickett: Sometimes it's really hard to be able to feel rewarded by things when you're just so into it. But I think that when people are out there and they're saying, "This is what's happening in the world and I want to figure out how to respond to it." And then they come to us or they are starting to form their own communities. Part of our role is to just be the catalyst for community. And so if you're starting to see more of our community start to hang out, things like that, I don't know, I feel like that's relatively rewarding in itself. Because I know that it can be really scary place coming to New York from wherever you may be from. A lot of us are not from around this area. And being able to find your home in a college is rewarding all in itself.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Wow, that's really, really inspiring. What is the process of election for the Student Governing Council? Because I'm sure some of our listeners might want to be part of that. If you guys could just walk us through the process on contested positions, contested position, how does that whole process work?
Mckenzie Pickett: So what happens is at the end of the spring semester there's a grand election so that you can choose your eBoard. So you run for the co president position. So you have a graduate and an undergraduate position, secretary, treasurer, senator, alternative senator, clubs officer position.
Ashwini Nagappan: Graduate events, undergraduate events.
Mckenzie Pickett: I think that's it. Roughly 10 positions for the eBoard. And you do that before you leave so that you can work over it over the summer. But also so that you're not coming into it in the fall and going, "What the heck? We don't have anything." And then taking their first couple of months. And then we just finished one election for the three-
Ashwini Nagappan: Student representatives.
Mckenzie Pickett: Yes. Positions. And so that can go to one PhD student, one master student, one undergraduate student. One PhD, if PhD students don't run then it gets defaults to two masters students. And if there aren't enough master students, then it gets filled by undergraduates. So essentially what happens is you put in your own name, you write your own bio and put in your picture. And then we send that all off to the student senators council eBoard. So it's not in house at all because election should never be run by the people who want to be elected. And so that goes off and then it's forwarded to everybody as an electronic ballot. You vote, we'll see what happens. And then we move forward.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Just to clarify a little bit. So you have to have been at NYU for a year to be part, for your name to be forwarded to the eBoard or if people came in in fall, they'd have to wait until spring to put in?
Mckenzie Pickett: So the eBoard is technically of current students during that spring semester.
Deborah Onakomaiya: So you should have been at NYU for one semester to be able to participate in the Student Governing Council?
Mckenzie Pickett: Yeah, NYU at our college. Yep.
Deborah Onakomaiya: So excited about Student Governance, being part of Student Governing Council. In five years, where am I going to find McKenzie and Ashwini?
Ashwini Nagappan: Oh, I have no idea. I wish I had the answer. Hopefully helping someone. Tell me, that's all I can say at this moment.
Mckenzie Pickett: I mean that's a good one.
Ashwini Nagappan: I'd love to have already completed my masters in bioethics in five years time.
Deborah Onakomaiya: That's fair. Because you're graduating?
Ashwini Nagappan: Yeah. Possible. Potentially be in medical school. That'd be awesome.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Oh, fancy pants. I see.
Ashwini Nagappan: What about you?
Mckenzie Pickett: Hopefully still in New York for the time being. I'm really playing around with my timeline. It'd be interesting to run for a publicly elected position. I think that public health isn't on the docket to a lot of political stances right now, and I think that that is terrifying all in itself. Otherwise working for a relatively progressive non-profit organization that might influence the government would be pretty fun. I'm working with a couple right now that have their lobbyist and things like that and that seems super interesting to be able to have an influence on the government or have your voice be heard without having to, I don't know, elbow your way into positions and do all that fun stuff.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Wow. It's been so nice having you guys on this show. I mean I've learned a lot. I want to submit and be part of the Student Governing Council.
Mckenzie Pickett: Oh, you can, Debby.
Deborah Onakomaiya: Thank you guys so much for being on our show.
Mckenzie Pickett: Thank you.
Ashwini Nagappan: Thank you for having us.