Student engagement tops priority list for new USSU president

It was a pretty simple campaign platform really; Max FineDay just wanted to make student life better. 

By Colleen MacPherson

And it was a platform that helped him get elected University of Saskatchewan Students' Union (USSU) president.

"I've been in student politics for my entire post-secondary career," said FineDay. "I talk to a lot of students and ask ‘What do you want to see?' I think sometimes student politics has too much pride and not enough humility to ask that question."

FineDay didn't have too much pride to ask; in fact he asked not only in person but through Twitter as well. "I think a few (USSU candidates) have campaigned with Twitter before, but I used it a lot. Twitter is a direct way to get a message out in 140 characters. It is a great way to share ideas with representatives."

The ideas and comments the third-year political studies student heard reaffirmed just how important student engagement is to the USSU and the university.

"Absolutely, student engagement is a priority. It needs to be more at the forefront. Students, not just those who are in politics, but in medicine, vet med, dentistry, ag-bio, all have ideas on how to engage with university administration and the province and how to make the university better."

All of those conversations and tweets between FineDay and his fellow students gave him a pretty good idea of what he could do to make student life better at the U of S. A recurring theme he encountered was financial barriers to going to university and succeeding.

"Textbooks are expensive and have been a huge issue for decades," explained the Saskatoon-born FineDay, whose family has roots in Sweetgrass First Nation and the rural community of Bulyea, Sask. "I know we can find an alternative that works for both students and the university. There are so many avenues to explore."

An open licensing program that provides free online access to textbooks is one alternative FineDay wants to explore. "This is used in California and Ohio and the University of British Columbia has agreed to implement such a program for 2014-15. It's our duty to look at something that works for students because the current model isn't working."

Another area FineDay is keen to move forward is sustainability on campus. "This is an issue that matters to students and I really ran on the issue of sustainability. I used a pun on my posters that said ‘It's a FineDay today, but what about tomorrow? Vote sustainability,'" he said with a chuckle. "So I want to look at getting a composting program on campus in MUB or Place Riel."

Other things FineDay wants to see implemented include making final exam schedules available online at the time of class registration, ensuring education remains affordable, more social gatherings on campus, and instituting a fall term reading week. "Nine out of 10 students say they are feeling overwhelmed and stressed, so I think this would help."

No doubt FineDay has plenty of issues to address and knows it will be a juggling act in the coming year. "As president I need to negotiate the administrative work that is involved and not get distracted from what I was campaigning on. I am probably going to put off the last two classes I need to graduate until next spring or summer."

More than anything, it comes back to student engagement for FineDay. "We get so discouraged by student voter turnout, but we can't base it only on turnout. We need to find easier avenues to engage them. I don't think all students understand that the USSU is for students. They think we work in the ivory tower that is the new Place Riel, but we work for them (students). You pay student fees, what can I do for you?"

Joining FineDay on the USSU executive are Nour Abouhamra (vice-president student affairs), Jordan Sherbino (vice-president academic affairs) and Jenna Moellenbeck, (vice-president operations and finance).