March is election month for the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union and current vice-president operations and finance Elias Nelson is doling out advice for students thinking of running for the executive.
Studying political studies and economics, Nelson credits his extracurricular involvement as the most valuable and enjoyable aspect of his university experience. Over the past five years, Nelson has been involved with several groups and events including We The Artists and the Arts and Science Students’ Union.
“It is much more fulfilling. I get to apply what I know, what I’ve learned and I get to learn a lot more rapidly than I do academically,” said Nelson.
As much as Nelson enjoys being a part of the campus, he said the balance between these commitments, along with work and school, is not sustainable in the long run. Still, Nelson reflects fondly on his extracurricular involvement and has no regrets since taking on his full-time role as vice-president operations and finance last May.
Nelson said his experience as a USSU executive has allowed him to become more of an active participant in affecting positive change.
“To be able to speak on issues and have that authority to approach university administrators has been really empowering and has opened doors for me to tackle things I wouldn’t have been able to tackle otherwise.”
Some of the highlights of this past term for Nelson include the DefendUs rally and the USSU’s response to the transit lockout by the City of Saskatoon.
“The DefendUs rally was a really big deal,” said Nelson. “We talk a lot about action, grassroots activism and social justice. But then to really see something happen that engaged and rallied students behind a common cause — the life and value of our university — that was really great. I was very proud to see action taken on that and see people come together.”
Moreover, Nelson commends the university for stepping up when challenged with the transit lockout.
“For the university to provide an alternate bus system for the students and for them to bankroll that, I was quite impressed,” said Nelson. “I think things like that go a long way to repair the relationship between students, faculty and our university leadership. They didn’t have to do that and they did it.”
Perhaps Nelson’s greatest achievement this year was his contribution to the first balanced USSU budget in a decade. He doesn’t take all the credit, however, acknowledging the efforts of the staff who have worked alongside the other executives.
“It is their hard work and their dedication and the fulfillment of a promise,” said Nelson.
Within five years of the completed renovations of Place Riel, it was said that the USSU operating budget would return to balance and Nelson said he was excited and proud to announce that the USSU has not only fulfilled a promise, but it has also done so in a strategic way without squeezing or cutting anything — ultimately leading to a positive growth in revenues.
“That was one of the best things I heard all year and I think that is the kind of thing that helps to instill confidence in the students — that their student government is working for them and managing their resources in the way that is in their best interests.”
Nelson said the hard work of his budget and finance committee and the attention to detail from USSU staff, such as the university facilities manager Stefanie Ewen, were significant contributors to this year’s successful budget.
Nelson said one of his biggest struggles when he first accepted the position as vice-president operations and finance was the isolated nature of the job, as opposed to his role as president of the ASSU, which sustained a large volunteer base. He misses the camaraderie and mentorship opportunities that come with a volunteer base, and hopes future executives can work toward expanding this base into further engagement, not just at the level of the centres but alongside the executives themselves.
As the USSU elections near, Nelson’s advice to prospective candidates is simply stated: “Make sure this is right for you.”
Another thing candidates should keep in mind, according to Nelson, is that the job is unlike most others.
“This is not a nine-to-five job, your job is an extension of you as a person, and it’s about working until the work is done but within the limits of your own personal well-being,” said Nelson.
Nelson remains hopeful for the future, and anticipates more success in the year ahead.
“There [is] a really good group of candidates — we have the potential for a very strong leadership next year.”