University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union candidate campaigns were announced on March 16. Although Desirée Steele, vice-president of academic affairs for the 2014–15 academic year, will not be returning as an executive, she is no less excited about the electoral race.
Steele has been involved in student politics since her first year in university. In her first year, she was invited to join the St. Thomas More Students’ Union by the then-president and was a representative of the college on University Students’ Council in her second year. This opportunity introduced her to the operations of the USSU, which interested her and increased her awareness surrounding student union activity.
As a fifth-year student and USSU vice-president of academic affairs, Steele reflects on the value of being involved in student politics.
“I have really valued the opportunity to see how our institution works a little bit more from the inside and get an idea of what the values are that guide our institution — both the ones that ideally should guide it and what happens sometimes instead.”
A political studies major, looking at decision-making and how organizations are structured and the chain of command is something that interests Steele. She acknowledges that aside from the meetings, there are several ways executives fill their time and the takeaway from such experiences differs depending on the person.
“There are of course some expectations and some things that are part of your portfolio,” Steele said, adding that, “The job is what you make it.”
Steele jokes about the lasting effects of her increased popularity since becoming vice-president.
“I am going to take away a lot of meals that have been served for meetings that I had to go to. There is something called the ‘executive 15’, which I think could be in some ways a modest estimate.”
Aside from the additional meals, Steele insists her experience as a USSU executive has also supplemented her academic experience.
“It’s been valuable to see how the skills that I have learned through my degree — largely to do with reading, writing, communications, formulating ideas and arguments — have so much application in the real world and it’s also been healthy for me to find out how much I have yet to learn about these things,” said Steele.
As Steele prepares to reintegrate herself as a full-time student, she will approach this next phase of her academia with an enlightened perspective.
“Having the opportunity to interact with some other students’ union leaders and executives from around the country has definitely given me a sense of what makes us unique and what our strengths are and how they develop specifically from a Saskatchewan context. I’m really proud of how much ownership we take over our future.”
Steele hopes that her platform regarding experiential learning and undergraduate research will continue to be a priority for future executives as the U of S continues to become a research intensive institution.
“As students, we deserve to have the opportunities made for us to engage in research if that is going to be more and more what our institution is about, so we need to be able to participate in that particular learning mission.”
Although initially unknown to Steele, her portfolio included representing students’ interests regarding tuition and fees, which turned out to be one of the highlights of the term. She realized that there was a gap between how students were supposed to be involved in tuition setting and what was actually happening, which was no student consultation whatsoever.
Steele encourages students to continue making their voices heard either by running for a position on the USSU executive, or casting their vote in the election.
“It is beneficial to each student to see what they want or are into and go and vote for the candidate accordingly. If nothing else, your student fees end up paying their salaries so you should care.”
Looking forward, Steele plans to focus on her studies and hopes to pursue a three-year law degree, though she insists her experience with the USSU will continue to inspire her.
“I want to say thank you to students for actively or tacitly putting their faith in myself and the other executives to represent them, especially to those students who made their voices heard in the various aspects of work that we do here and especially to my committee because I feel blessed to have been able to have done this work. I appreciate the amazing sides of students and this university that I have been able to see.”