It’s not every day that students have a chance to discuss current events or the college search process with their university president, but Monday wasn’t any typical day.
Two undergraduate students were given a peek behind the curtain as “Presidents for a Day,” the first chance to spend a day with President Susan Herbst in the new Lead the Pack program.
Danielle Deschene ’17 (CLAS) and Abdullah Hasan ’16 (CLAS) rose to the top among dozens of student applicants in a vigorous selection process for the inaugural job-shadow, which was organized by the Center for Career Development.
Many schools have similar programs, but treating the selection process like a real job search makes UConn’s unique, says Jim Lowe, assistant vice provost and executive director of career services. Aside from the benefit of learning what it’s like to be UConn’s President, all applicants received job application training and went through a formal job search that included finalist interviews.
As they got ready for the jam-packed day, both Deschene and Hasan said they were intrigued by the opportunity to see what goes into managing an institution the size of UConn.
“I’ve always had an interest in politics … and of course, have been interested in leadership roles. The president of such a large University has such a big role,” said Deschene, an actuarial science major. “I’m interested in what it’s like. I’m sure it takes a lot.”
Hasan, a human rights, political science, and women’s studies triple-major who plans to attend law school and pursue a career in public service, said he hoped to gain an understanding of how Herbst works with diverse constituencies including the state of Connecticut and various on-campus communities.
The two honors students met President Herbst in Gulley Hall about 10:30 a.m., just after she signed a series of bonds for Next Generation Connecticut projects. The three discussed the day’s national news, including the recently announced presidential candidacies of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. They shared thoughts on where Clinton chose to declare her bid – the Center for Human Progress, where Hasan worked the summer after his freshman year.
Both students said they attended Clinton’s talk at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts last April.
“That was the most nervous I ever was in my life,” said Herbst, a political science scholar. “But we met her backstage beforehand. She was so nice and so warm, so I got through it.”
Later in the morning, conversations covered why both students chose UConn, student perceptions of UConn Athletics, and campus civility.
Aside from the opportunity to have candid exchanges with President Herbst, Deschene and Hasan were given a primer on her day-to-day work experience. The busy schedule included a meeting with Scott Jordan, UConn’s executive vice president for administration and chief financial officer, to go over the University’s budget situation in advance of Herbst’s presentation on the matter to the University Senate Monday afternoon.
The students sat in on the Senate meeting, and, in the evening, attended a reception at the Werth Family Champions Center to celebrate the women’s basketball team’s championship season.
But the two shadows said they were most excited to sit in on the President’s open office hours, which attracted so many students that they went into a third hour.
“When they were announced for Monday I was super excited,” Hasan said Monday morning. “I know what it’s like coming from a student perspective, so it will be fascinating to see that from the administrative perspective.”
Deschene reflected the sentiment. “I think the thing I’m most looking forward to are actually the student office hours, just to see what people have to say,” she said. “Especially being on a different side of it today, to see how the one-on-one really works.”
After the “long” day was over, Hasan said he “was truly impressed by President Herbst’s ability to manage such a large institution with an unwavering passion for promoting student learning and achievement.”
“There was one clear lesson from the day: President Herbst has to make many difficult decisions, and she somehow manages to do so while balancing all competing interests with one goal in mind – promoting a campus environment and structure that produces life-long learners ready to tackle life’s challenges,” he said.
Herbst said the program, which will be held again in the fall, is mutually beneficial for both herself and the students.
“They get the idea of how the University is run, and see a lot of the challenges. We can tell them some of the great things we hear about that aren’t always widely shared,” she said. “One of the best things is, we get to hear from the students directly and get their reactions to things.
Added Herbst, “I wish I could take all the students.”
By: Julie Stagis ’10 (BUS/CLAS) | Courtesy of UConn Today