Parting thoughts and advice from the 2019-20 ASUU leaders: Anna Barnes, Gabe Martinez and Latifa Yaqoobi

ASUU leaders: Anna Barnes, Gabe Martinez and Latifa Yaqoobi

On the "U Rising" podcast, President Ruth V. Watkins engages in insightful conversations with students, staff, faculty, alumni and community stakeholders who are at the center of the state's flagship research university. President Watkins also connects with other leaders to give listeners a fresh take on top issues and innovations in higher education in Utah and across the country. You can subscribe to U Rising via iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and other podcast streaming services.

As Anna Barnes, Gabe Martinez and Latifa Yaqoobi end their term as ASUU leaders, they reflect on their success, challenges and offer great advice for new students on how to get the most out of a college experience. Recorded on Thursday, April 23, 2020. Thanks to Brooke Adams, James Tombs and Dave White for technical assistance. Music by Taylor Hartley.

President Ruth Watkins: Welcome to the U Rising Podcast, where you have the opportunity to meet some of the people who are helping the U achieve new heights. Today's guests are the outgoing ASUU leadership team—Anna Barnes, who served as our president, Gabe Martinez, who served as the vice president for student relations, and Latifa Yaqoobi, who served as the vice president for university relations. What an amazing leadership team you've been! Congratulations to each of you and thank you so much for your service. It's fun to have you with me today.

Now I want to say being a student leader at the level you have is really a remarkable thing. Wonderful opportunity and quite a privilege. You've been elected by your peers, which is an amazing achievement. It's also got to be challenging. It's a big-time commitment. You're managing many complex things in life, and you're also hearing a lot of different voices and a lot of views as you work to lead the U in the directions that you think are best. I want you to know how much we appreciate what you've done as leaders, and the incredible contributions you've made. We believe in shared governance at the U and it works because of people like you. I think listeners would like to hear a little bit about each of you—maybe a bit about where you're from, what you're studying, and a little bit of your background. Maybe why you came to the U and I think everybody would want to hear why you got involved with USUU. So, Anna, we'll start with you.

Anna Barnes: Wonderful. Well, hi everyone. I'm Anna Barnes and, as President Watkins mentioned, the outgoing student body president at the U. And this semester I'll be graduating as well with a bachelor of arts in Political Science, and then one in International Studies, and then a minor in Campaign Management. I'm originally from Utah County and I came to the U. I don't know, I didn't always envision myself going to the U, but as I started approaching that college decision it made more and more sense. And before I'd even graduated high school I was up at the U meeting with a bunch of academic advisors to find the programs that I wanted to enter, and the opportunities that I wanted to engage in.

And so from the very first time I set foot on campus, I wanted to be involved in ASUU and I made a lot of strides over the summer to be involved. I applied for first-year council, which is actually where I met Gabe and Latifa. And I was so anxious to apply that I turned in my application very first. So that's kind of always been something I wanted to do—be involved in student government and be involved in advocacy. And as we know, ASUU is kind of the beacon on campus for student advocacy and that was my goal and my interest.

President Watkins: That's great. Maybe, Gabe, we'll go to you, if that's alright.

Gabe Martinez: Yes, as President Watkins said, my name is Gabe Martinez. I'm the outgoing ASUU vice president of student relations. So a little bit about where I'm from. I'm from a town called Marana, Arizona. Most people don't know where Marana is, but it's just right outside Tucson, Arizona. It's where all of the farming land, is for reference.

But what drew me to the U? So I actually wanted to come to the U because I got accepted into the nursing school here. I got accepted into the nursing early assurance program, but what I was involved in kind of led me to change to Religious Studies. I'm in Philosophy with a minor in Leadership Studies. So I came here for nursing, didn't quite work out, but you know what, it's okay. That's how it works sometimes.

In high school I was actually involved in student government, so I decided like, Hey, why not give it a shot? So I applied for first-year council. Like Anna was saying, met both Anna and Latifa, but that kind of boosted my involvement for my entire career. I just thought it would be fun. My thoughts, student government would be similar to high school student government. Let me tell you, it's definitely not. Student government here is 10 times better than high school student government. You do a lot of work, a lot of advocacy, a lot of change. So that's a little bit about me.

President Watkins: Excellent. Thanks, Gabe. Well, Latifa to you.

Latifa Yaqoobi: Thank you. Hi everyone, my name is Latifa Yaqoobi. I had the privilege of being this year's vice president of university relations. I'm a fourth-year student pursuing degrees in Psychology, Communications, and Ethnic Studies. My family and I are from North Salt Lake. A majority of my siblings have earned degrees from the University of Utah. A lot of them are much older than I am, so I kind of grew up on this campus. But what ultimately drew me to the University of Utah was being able to attend a research one PAC-12 institution for a fairly inexpensive price. I also wanted to be a part of ASUU because I live my life by the saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” I knew that I could help others by getting involved in ASUU, and I also knew that it would help me grow as leader as well as professionally. So it felt like the best course of action.

President Watkins: I love your stories and I really hope that is true, that what this experience does for you is give you skills that last for a lifetime. And I feel quite sure as I look at the three of you and talk with the three of you that that's happened. Maybe you could talk a little bit about what you see as the high points of your time as leaders, and what has been the most surprising to you? And you can take either or both of those, whichever you want to speak to. Why don't you go ahead, Anna, and then we'll mix it up on the next one.

Anna Barnes: I'll give two, I'll give more of a personal and more of a professional answer. I think the professional high point was being able to see truly how remarkable the University of Utah is. The exposure that we all received to the projects going on that maybe the average student doesn't know about, or the buildings. Even though everyone sometimes complains about construction, getting to tour those facilities and getting to understand why they're so important not only in the health sciences but in the academic and research buildings.

And just being exposed to so many ideas, so many people, and so many things that as a 20-year-old, 21-year-old, you might not ever experience at that age, but maybe in your lifetime. And just having so much access to some of the smartest people and most qualified individuals I've ever met, students, faculty, and administration. Getting to be colleagues with those type of people was just really phenomenal. I think that, unfortunately, it caused a lot of imposter syndrome for me sometimes and I know Gabe and Latifa probably have felt that way as well. Not knowing if you are qualified to be there just because you're surrounded by so much brilliance, but it was truly remarkable.

I would say more of a personal one was getting to see students inside and outside of ASU take such an active role in bettering their institution and their education. And we might not always agree on the best ways to do it or how the work should be done, but just seeing literally thousands of students this year take an active role in leading and seeing that up close and personal has been wonderful. And the relationships that you get to make with students at-large, but also just the people that you're working with, I saw Gabe and Latifa more than I have ever seen or worked or spend time with anyone in my life and I enjoyed it. I really enjoyed learning with them about all of this. And we were active partakers but a lot of times in big ways we were observing just a lot of amazing things and that was a huge high point for me.

President Watkins: I think you've hit on a really important point about leadership and that is one of the biggest challenges in a large institution is getting a lot of people involved. And you want to genuinely get people involved because that is how you drive the institution forward. If you're leading and no one's following, you're not really going anywhere as an organization, so I think it's a pretty important point. Gabe, what would you add to that?

Gabe Martinez: I'm going to say I think the highest point, and typically people don't think about it as a highest point, but the highest point would probably be the end. Kind of getting to that endpoint and looking back and seeing all the work that not only we did, but all the work that the directors did as well. So our entire team, the work of the other two bodies of the government, I think just kind of... We had inauguration the other day and kind of looking back and reflecting on all the work that everyone did. I know the team that we were able to develop and see all of them grow into leaders as well. I think just the culmination of everything and seeing all of that and reflecting on it, I think it was the highest point for me. That's great.

President Watkins: Well, how about you Latifa?

Latifa Yaqoobi: Overall, this experience was quite challenging but also incredibly rewarding. I enjoyed being able to work on initiatives that I was passionate about and that I believed could enhance the student experience here at the University of Utah. I think a really large part of my experience being so positive was being able to have a group of individuals such as Gabe and Anna, professional staff members at the University of Utah, and an administration that truly believed in me and wanted to see me succeed in the goals that I had set this year. I was also pleasantly surprised with the impact that students have had this year. I know that student leaders in ASUU are all incredibly driven, but I was not anticipating this level of accomplishment. Truly, I am so proud of the team that we've created and all the things that we have done this year.

President Watkins: I think that's really a very wise reflection. Now when you think about what you've achieved this year as a team, the three of you, is there one particular achievement you really want to call out that you would say, wow, the three of us can feel so good about this particular thing we did this year?

Latifa Yaqoobi: Absolutely. Something that I'm really proud of that I did this year was work on student fees. I took a really close look at the student fees that we have, and I was able to identify one that students no longer needed to pay for. I was able to stay on the Student Fee Board where I was able to carefully evaluate new fee proposals, and I looked at everything that was being presented to us through the lens of access and affordability. I was able to advocate for a zero increase in student fees for this year, which I believe hasn't happened for a really long time. I also advocated for and helped implement infrastructure and transparency to the Student Fee Board and the student fee proposal process.

President Watkins: I agree that was a signature achievement, and it got such a shout out from our Board of Trustees. They were very, very pleased and complimentary to you about the thoughtful look you took at our fees—wanting to move in some direction and say it was important, but also looking at what you could take away from the fee bill so that our students feel very supported. And being able to hold fees flat is a remarkable achievement. Is there anything else you'd call out about this year as a big accomplishment?

Anna Barnes: I think that something I'm really proud of and something that was key for me in wanting to run and wanting to, kind of like Latifa said, I saw this problem, and we wanted to fix it. We wanted to be that change and not just talk about change. That was the trust that ASUU has with the student body. It has not always been very robust. And I think taking a critical look at that it's because ASUU leaders a lot of times, I think that most of the time we agree with the vast majority of students and sometimes when we don't it may be because we aren't seeing it from their perspective or it may be because we have different contexts and different information that informs our decision and gives us a different opinion. But whatever the case may be, we are not good at communicating that, and we're not good at engaging with the student body on difficult issues, historically volatile issues.

And I think this year we took a really critical look at our transparency, how eager we were to be held accountable, and we increase that by a lot. We were very transparent, we were very communicative, we had a lot of visibility on campus. And I think due to wanting to be held accountable, wanting to be challenged by students and inviting that kind of attitude and that mentality, we build back a lot of trust and I'm very proud of that because as with student fees, that is something that is going to perpetuate a lot of access moving forward for students in ASUU.

President Watkins: Great. I agree. Gabe, is there anything you wanted to add?

Gabe Martinez: Yes. So I would say bringing back and kind of building some structure for the student leadership council. That's just kind of one thing that I've been proud of for involvement inside involvement, if you can say that, just because getting student leaders to sit down at one place to talk together. These are students that are from all across campus in all different offices. So kind of rebuilding that into what it was meant to be and getting those student leaders together to talk about, not only just programming and what their plans are for what they're going to do for that, but just student issues as well. So being able to build that up and then use that to propel the student commission meeting, I think has kind of been one of my biggest achievements.

President Watkins: Excellent accomplishments all around. And really what you're pointing to is good governance and good leadership. We're so grateful to you for what you've done as good leaders at the U. This is the time of year when we're talking with a lot of prospective students. And many of those students and their parents will ask us, how can I make the most of my college experience? How can we be sure that we really get what we're paying for and that we become engaged, and we're part of the university, and we feel great about our experience? You're seasoned veterans of the university. What advice would you give to incoming students about how to make the most of college?

Anna Barnes: I think the one thing that stands out to me that I learned during my first semester of college, I had a very, very hard experience. I was chronically ill a lot of that semester, and I was taking some very difficult classes. And I didn't end up doing too well in them and I had a scholarship that I needed to maintain, and I was freaking out because I didn't know how I was going to attend college without the scholarship. And my first semester grades were just not up to par with the standards that I needed to be meeting.

And that is when I learned it never hurts to ask. I think it's a simple thing, but it is so intimidating as someone who didn't know hardly anything about higher education, didn't know really anything about academia. My older brother was the first of my siblings to graduate with a four-year degree, and he graduated a year before me, last year. And, so I didn't really have a playbook for how to do these types of things, but I ended up reaching out to some of my professors and working with them on my grades, on extra assignments I could do. I ended up reaching out to the scholarship committee and just saying, hey, I know I'm not going to meet the GPA requirement. Is there something we can do? And it ended up working out. I was able to keep a scholarship. They put me on probation for a semester, which was not great, but I did much better the next semester because I learned how I could support myself. But I also learned how I could ask for support, and that is something I think a lot of students don't know how to do, unfortunately.

But I've had a lot of success just asking my academic advisor, can I switch out this class for this class? I've had a lot of success emailing my professors and explaining my situation. Some have been more receptive than others, but it never hurts to just ask. To just find ways that other people can support you because let me tell you, there are a lot of things I've learned in an academic advising meeting that I wasn't going to find out online or in the course catalog. And having that in-person kind of question-answer session with anyone on campus, your professors, your academic advisors, administrators, other members of the faculty. I wish that I knew that and I would tell anyone and everyone who is entering college, just ask, just ask questions.

President Watkins: Great advice, great advice. How about you, Gabe?

Gabe Martinez: Yeah, so as an orientation leader, I'm used to students always asking me what should I do? What's the best piece of advice you can give? I always gave a bunch of pieces of advice, but one thing that I always told everyone is you're going to be asked a lot of questions as well. You're going to be asking a lot of questions to yourself. Your professors will be sitting there in class and asking you questions.

But when you think about those questions, especially things pertaining to how do you get the most out of your experience, people always say, ask yourself why not? Why not do it? And I would always tell them, ask yourself why should you do it before you always ask yourself why shouldn't you do it? Just because as you take those opportunities, you can grow from every single one in all these different ways. I mean, people oftentimes think about the negatives before they think about the positives. So I would just say, ask yourself why should you? Why should you do this thing? Why should I get involved? Why should I live on campus? Why should I live off-campus? Ask yourself those kinds of types of questions first and then those will kind of lead you on your way.

President Watkins: Wise guidance. Latifa to you.

Latifa Yaqoobi: I would advise students to get out of their comfort zones. Get out of your comfort zone by getting involved with student clubs and organizations. Take on leadership positions. Meet with your professors. Ask and answer questions in your classes. Initiate conversations with people you don't know. I believe this is truly the best time for individuals to learn and grow and ultimately make mistakes. There is very little risk at this time, and there is a lot of support around you. If there's ever a time to truly challenge yourself and allow yourself to be challenged, it would be here at the University of Utah.

President Watkins: I think you three are really quite amazing. There's a study in a book published by a Harvard professor called “Making the Most of College” and you, in a nutshell, could have written his book because some of the advice that he discovered for students who are happy and satisfied with their college experience involve things like developing a close relationship with your academic advisor, asking for help, seeking assistance, using the resources, pushing yourself to say, I should be involved in this and how can I do it, and taking a growth mindset of yep, there'll be some challenges and that's where growth will come. You are three wise people. Tell us what's next for you. Maybe just a few ideas about what you think you want to do next and what your plans are. Anna, why don't you go ahead.

Anna Barnes: I did not imagine graduating during this kind of societal climate, but I think that it presents a lot of opportunities to serve vulnerable populations that are being highly affected by this. And, so I'm looking into a lot of opportunities in community engagement and public policy. I'm really passionate about public policy, and I hope to get, in the next several years, a degree in civil and human rights law, but for a few years, I think that especially given the current circumstances, trying to pay it forward in my community any way I can is kind of the next step for me.

President Watkins: That's great. How about you Gabe?

Gabe Martinez: Yeah, so I mean, on a personal note, I have one more class. I have a Spanish class in the summer that I need to finish. And then, as you know, I'm getting married, but professionally I think I've been at the university at a really good time. My goals lie in working for a university and working with safety and security at a university. So we had our chief safety officer and our new chief of police. It was a really good time to be here. I'll be trying to work towards a master's in emergency management and then hopefully see what happens from there.

President Watkins: Awesome, and you Latifa?

Latifa Yaqoobi: I hope to pursue a Ph.D in Clinical Psychology. I will be applying to graduate programs this fall and hopefully being accepted into one, so I can begin research and really getting into the field that I'm interested in.

President Watkins: That's just amazing. I would say congratulations to each of you, Anna, Gabe, Latifa, and congratulations in every possible way. You have been such a gift to the University of Utah. What I want you to know as you wrap up your academic career or start your next version of your academic career is that the University of Utah wants to be your institution for life. We feel a special bond and connection with each of you and a great gratitude for what you have accomplished during your time here. So thank you for participating today with me and the U Rising Podcast. Listeners, thank you for joining us for the U Rising Podcast, and I hope you'll tune in to our next podcast. Thank you all.

Anna Barnes: Thank you so much for having us. We really appreciate you as well.