Every Student Has a Say: Being Part of Student Association

Athena with committee head from Academic Committee, Komal(currently SA internal vice president)

Athena with the committee head from the Academic Committee, Komal (currently SA internal vice president) at the SA recognition retreat.

I have been in Student Government throughout my three years in high school. So when I got into Rice, I knew that I would keep doing it.

There are two types of Student Governments at Rice: Rice-based and residential college-based. For Rice-based government, which we call Student Association (SA), the SA president, vice president, college presidents, senators and new student reps (NSRs) all have to attend our weekly meetings. I was an NSR for my residential college, Martel, when I was a freshman. And it was the most valuable experience I have ever had. I was able to participate in most of the important decisions made in Rice – for example, adding CCTV (closed-circuit television monitoring) at the university’s main entrance, and bike racks to prevent bikes from being stolen. I was encouraged to speak up about my personal opinions even as a freshman, because SA believes that every student has a say.

Besides attending weekly meetings, NSRs are also required to join a standing committee and work on their projects. There are five committees in total. Their names and visions can be found on http://sa.rice.edu/people/scc.php. I was in an academic committee and helped start a program called Meeting Your Professors. It was a monthly event that invited professors to have snacks with us and talk about their life before and after Rice. I really enjoyed doing it and helping build bonds between students and professors in a casual setting. I was also amazed by how much power I had as a freshman. Although the committee chairs did help me with planning and getting food to the event, I was given a lot of autonomy. I could decide how I wanted to advertise for it, which professors I wanted to invite, and how often I wanted to host the events. It was totally different from my experience with student government in high school. It was at Rice’s SA that I started to feel like I was given full responsibilities as an adult.

If you are not interested in Rice-based government, there is another choice: our residential colleges’ governments. For residential college-based government, class reps from each year (another way for freshman to get involved!), the residential college president, vice president, prime minister, senator and standing committee heads are also meeting weekly. But it mostly focuses on specific residential college-related topics. For my college, Martel, we would talk about topics such as how much money we will give to a special event held in our college and suggestions we have for renovating our kitchen. The residential college president and senator will also bring important topics that the SA is considering up to discussion within the college so that they can give feedback to the SA representing their college’s opinions.

Being part of Student Government was one of the most valuable experiences I had during my freshman year. It was quite different from high school, but I did enjoy it. I loved having my opinions respected and treated equally as those of upperclassmen, and I loved the freedom and support I was able to get when I was working on my project. I cannot think of another place that can offer me, a 19-year-old girl, such freedom and respect.

At Rice You Can

Chances are, you’ve heard the phrase “you can do anything you set your mind to.” For many of us, it’s something we’ve heard since we were young, and even though we believe it on some level, we sometimes forget how true it can be. We get so caught up with the things that we can’t accomplish that we don’t appreciate the many things we can do. More than anything, Rice University has reminded me of the inherent power in setting your mind to something and seeing it through. At Rice, the entire adult team (deans, advisors, masters, associates, professors, etc.) are there for your benefit, and they have incredible resources at their disposal. Taking advantage of opportunities at Rice can seem daunting at first, but once you do, so many doors open up, and you’ll be surprised by what you can do with just a little initiative and forethought.

Hungry Hanszenites enjoying food at a student run event

Hungry Hanszenites enjoying food at a student run event

Rice students enjoy quite a bit of autonomy, and I have a feeling that this contributes to our ranking as some of the happiest students in the nation. We are free to think and learn in our own unique ways, and we are celebrated for our differences. This kind of freedom is what makes Rice an amazing and empowering place to be. In high school, I never considered coordinating my own events because that was something adults did. I assumed they were in charge of creating clubs, planning events, and leading meetings because they knew best, and I was not qualified to do any of those things. When I think about it now, one thought comes to mind: why not? The answer is more than just because I was young and inexperienced; it also involves the fact that there weren’t resources in place to support student initiatives and the drive to do something different. There were organizations I was truly passionate about in high school, but I never felt there was a system in place to encourage me or make me feel as if I could ever follow through with an idea. This is most definitely not the case at Rice. Here, there are so many opportunities to get yourself involved, create new traditions, and make your mark. Best of all, you can do all these things simply because you want to and not because you hold any position of power or some sort of sway.

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My friends and I (far right) after our cascarones event

In my home college, I’ve coordinated several events throughout the year with the help of my fellow Hanszenites. Some events include renting out the skating rink for our college, gathering in the quad to have a cascarones fight, carving pumpkins together, and throwing a major declaration party to celebrate what we’ve accomplished in the past year. The success of these events wasn’t based on the number of people who came or the amount of people that talked about it afterwards. Rather, the true success of the events came from the fact that all of them were the result of the students’ desire to try something new and take ownership of their own college culture. I am so grateful to attend a university that supports the ideas of its students and gives them the resources to turn those ideas into a reality.

At the Intersection of STEM and the Arts

I absolutely love being a computer science major at Rice, but my interests extend far beyond just my major. I’ve always enjoyed STEM subjects, and I also like having an outlet that’s completely different: theatre. During high school, I didn’t meet many people who shared my enjoyment of both the arts and STEM subjects. However, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter so many people at Rice who think like I do.
Rice students are some of the most hardworking and diverse students in the nation, and that also extends to their extracurriculars. One of my good friends is an aspiring physicist, but she gets just as excited talking about her experience with Rice Dance Theatre as she does when she’s discussing granular physics. When I helped with costuming for the Visual and Dramatic Arts Department’s production of a Much Ado About Nothing last semester, half the cast were STEM majors. While theatre may not be their major, each member of the cast was as dedicated and enthusiastic as they were with anything else at Rice.
This semester, I’m especially excited to be a part of Wiess College’s Hello Hamlet, a comedic musical version of the famous Shakespeare play that was originally written and performed in the 1960s by Rice students at Wiess College. It’s been performed every four years since then, so students usually only get one chance to be involved during their time at Rice. Each time the show is performed, the script is updated and re-written, including whole new scenes and songs. I was lucky enough to be a part of that process, and I had a blast working with students to rewrite famous songs from musicals, such as the “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago, to suit Shakespearean characters. The show is also being entirely produced, directed, costumed, and choreographed by students. I can’t wait to see what I’ve written performed onstage!

There are so many opportunities at Rice in the arts, ranging from theatre to dance to fine art, that there truly is something for everyone. I’d recommend that everyone, even those who don’t consider themselves “artsy” at all, to try to get involved — you never know what you might discover about yourself!

Owls + Chemistry = Owlchemy!

One of the best things I’ve gotten to do at Rice is volunteer with Owlchemy. What is Owlchemy, you ask? Owlchemy is a club for people who like chemistry and/or doing demonstrations. We do demos at various campus events and at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. I was first introduced to Owlchemy at the activities fair my freshman year when I saw them freezing flowers with liquid nitrogen and smashing them against a table. I decided to join them because I love chemistry, and doing demos seemed like fun. It was a great decision.

I’ve had the chance to work with an awesome group of people who love chemistry as much as I do. We have a lot of fun making bubbles with dry ice and dish soap, freezing ice cream with liquid nitrogen, and combusting gummy bears with potassium chlorate and talking about the chemistry behind the demos. Aside from getting to play around with really cool stuff like dry ice and liquid nitrogen (See what I did there?), doing chemistry demos for kids is a lot of fun. Kids get really amazed by the phenomena we show them, but more importantly, they really become interested in what we show them. Some of the older students who have had some chemistry in school even ask about how our demos relate to something they learned in school. As a chemical engineering major, I really love seeing young kids interested in and curious about science, and Owlchemy was the perfect place to channel my own passion for chemistry into getting kids interested in chemistry.

An elementary school student assists with a liquid nitrogen demo

Dry ice bubbles!

Volunteering and Academics Make a Great PAIR

So you’re a first-year student at Rice University. You’ve gone to the clubs expo and you’ve talked to upperclassmen about all of their extracurricular activities. But you don’t know what you really want to do — there are so many options and so many things you can/want to join. That was exactly how I felt my first semester freshmen year. I basically wanted to join every club, but I knew that wasn’t possible, so I decided to narrow my choices to two clubs: Student Admission Council (which I am happily writing this blog post for!) and PAIR (Partnership for the Advancement and Immersion of Refugees), which is what I’m going to dabble about today.

PAIR is a volunteer program where you mentor refugee students with schoolwork, culture, and career and leadership skills. I was first exposed to PAIR from my sister. She loved it and urged me to join. I was initially very dubious — spending 2-3 hours every week mentoring refugees seemed like a lot to me (it’s really not) in the beginning. I was just learning how to deal with classes, but I decided to give it a try; it was possibly the best decision I ever made.

There are three programs of PAIR at Rice: The Global Explorers (elementary students), Learners (middle-schoolers), and Leaders (high schoolers) programs. I signed up for the Global Leaders program at Lee High School because I wanted to try out working with older students.

It was awesome. I got to know the other fellow Rice students (and other volunteers from Houston) really well through PAIR. And more importantly, I got to know the high schoolers and their background stories. Some of them very recently arrived in Houston, and I learned about their life (language, culture, family) back home. Many of the students where I volunteered were from Africa and spoke all of these cool languages. Some of the refugees’ English weren’t the best, but their embarrassment for speaking proper English made up for my inability to pronounce their language. We played games with them, had design competitions, taught them about interpersonal skills, and always managed to have a fun time every session. Sometimes we would even go on field trips to the Houston Zoo or go volunteering at a food bank. Yes, sometimes the kids needed disciplining, but I was able to learn how to balance being an older authority figure and a peer friend.

I’m not doing the Global Leaders Program anymore (you can blame my spring schedule for that); instead, I’m doing the Learners Program. I just went to my first session last week, and it was honestly such a blast meeting the new students. Of course, I miss my high schoolers a lot, but that just goes to show what great relationships you can form with them in just a couple of months.

There are so many volunteering opportunities out here at Rice, and you just have to find the one that makes you happiest. I’ve definitely found mine 🙂

If you want more information about Rice’s PAIR chapter, feel free to visit their website here: http://pair.rice.edu/

To celebrate the end of the Global Leaders fall program, the coordinator, students, and mentors got together to celebrate Thanksgiving-- we each brought food from our family's culture to share.

 

Doing (Sopho)more

Three weeks into the second semester, I can hardly believe my sophomore year is halfway over.  At the end of this semester, my time at Rice will be halfway over.  I’m a little scared by that, which is why this year I am doing as much as I can to take full advantage of the opportunities available on and off campus, even if that means getting out of my comfort zone.  At the end of my freshman year, I became the chair of my residential college’s service committee, an academic mentor at my college, and a Peer Career Advisor, and at the beginning of this year I became the lead tutor for a school in Houston ISD and part of the coordinating team for the Young Owls Leadership Program.  These roles have been nothing short of rewarding (or at times overwhelming), but I have to say that it’s often been the smaller things that have added to my experiences as a Rice sophomore.

At the end of last semester, I participated in Ritmo!, Rice’s Hispanic cultural club’s cultural show.  A few months before, a friend asked if I wanted to dance bachata (a dance/musical style from the Dominican Republic) for the show.  I was working on some homework and stressed out with other extracurricular activities, but I said yes and looked forward to relaxing and relieving some stress for a bit.  With each week, we learned more choreography and grew as a team, and by the time of the show, we were sad that our weekly practices would stop.  Ritmo has been my favorite experience so far this year, just because it showed me that great memories can come from taking risks and doing things you love.  These experiences are different for everyone, and there is such a diversity of opportunities here at Rice that everyone can find something they love.  Although I’m sad there isn’t an HACER cultural show in the spring, I can’t wait to see what memories and experiences this semester holds for me and the rest of the Rice community!

Our bachata group after Ritmo!