For many students, and people in general, the institutions that govern so much of our lives can be very confusing, distant, and opaque. My Stretch Experience, as the Undergraduate Board of Governors Representative for the University of Alberta, has helped me to understand how board governance works, and why boards make the decisions they do, both at U of A and elsewhere in society. It has also taught me how difficult it can be to make change in organizations that have deeply rooted problems, and how important personal relationships are, even on formal bodies.
The U of A’s board, with 29 members from all areas of the University and society, sets tuition rates, residence rents, and is responsible for the long-term vision for the university. When I was first elected, the first thing that hit me was a sense of dread about the level of scrutiny and responsibility I would be under. As a student without much experience in prestigious positions and powerful institutions, it is intimidating to be surrounded by such impressive people, and to be overseeing a $2 billion budget. It took me a while to find my voice on the board, but after my first few meetings, I felt much more confident. It took two things to get me there. Going to a board dinner and talking with the other members really brought it home to me that they are people just like anyone else, and that being intimidated by titles and letters after people’s names does not really make sense. Secondly, being the only student in the room so often reminded me about the unique perspective and insights that we have on the university, and gave me a new confidence to speak my mind. I may have a different experience than the other board members, but in an institution that exists to serve the public, it is important that the voice of the people it serves is heard. All in all, I felt like a small fish in a big pond- but that, of course, is where real achievements and challenges come from.