By Paddy Henry (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Nominations for full time positions within the NUI Galway Students’ Union are set to open on February 19th.
The role of Students’ Union President, along with the Vice-Presidential positions of Welfare and Equality Officer and Education officer will all be filled by new incumbents after the vote on March 5th.
Campaigning will begin for the three positions on Sunday March 1st, with candidates having almost a week to convince voters to give them their number one vote.
Current full-time role holders Clare Austick (President), Brandon Walsh (Welfare and Equality) and Cameron Keighron (Education) spoke to SIN ahead of the opening of nominations about the importance of their roles and what their work entails.
Current SU President Clare Austick has encouraged anybody interested in applying to do so, and outlined being a team player, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and being non-judgemental, as key to fulfilling the role. “Being a team player Is important. All of the officers you’re working with have their own remit, but at the end of the day, you’re working as a team to deliver on the SU agenda”. She continued, “You also need to know your own strengths and weaknesses, you have to be strong and well prepared, in meeting with the University for example, and to know when you are getting nowhere in meetings, to know when to protest”. Ms Austick added, “It is also important to be open and non-judgemental; we have all sorts of students from many different backgrounds. You cannot let your personal opinions cloud your judgement”.
The former Welfare and Equality Officer also spoke of the importance of having self-belief and confidence in yourself in being able to fulfil the role. “It has to start with believing in yourself”, she noted. “Even if people are scared about running and not winning, it’s not about winning. Either you win or you learn. If you are considering running in the first place, your heart is in the right place”.
Clare Austick also called on any students not to be put off running due to lack of confidence or experience, sharing her own experience of taking office of the first time, “I have a confidence now that I definitely didn’t have three or four years ago. The first time I spoke in public, I was out of breath and my heart was racing. I fell up the stairs of the O’Flatherty theatre! These things take time and you improve as you go on in the role”.
Low turnout has marred recent elections, and a relative high turnout in last month’s referendum on reform within the Union took many by surprise. The SU President is hopeful that this will continue, and revealed plans to raise awareness for the elections both on campus and online. “We’re definitely hopeful and we have had some interest already”, she said. “We’re hoping to hold events in campaigning and to inform students what’s happening on campus”.
Welfare and Equality Officer Brandon Walsh is hopeful that more people will run for the position than last year, when only 2 entered the race, and said that he has been encouraged by early interest in the position. “There has definitely been a good response, a few people have approached me already”, he commented.
Discussing his role, Brandon gave SIN an insight into what his position entails, “Basically, there’s the welfare side of things, one on one case work, dealing with people with issues around finances, mental, sexual and physical health. And then there’s the equality side of things where we deal with all sorts of cases around discrimination”, he said.
The former Societies Chairperson also claimed that prior experience working within the Union is not an essential trait needed to fulfil the position, arguing that personality is the most important factor. “I had experience in the Union myself. I was involved heavily in Societies and had training, which was handy, but it isn’t necessarily essential. An awful lot of it is to do with personality”, he said. “Training is all done over the summer in June and August, so you’re trained up to your eyeballs by the time you take up the role for the new year!”, he continued.
Adding to this, Walsh highlighted “empathy, kindness and an ability to listen” as the key to being a good Welfare and Equality Officer, “Being a good listener, I think, is the most important thing” said the science student.
Education Officer Cameron Keighron has run on policies relating to exam reform and ease of transition between undergraduate and postgraduate programmes. The former Postgraduate Taught Officer explained that nominees cannot expect to change everything in one term. “I think, in these roles, it’s important to recognize you cannot get everything done in 12 months but rather set the foundations for those that come after you”.
Keighron outlined organisation as an important trait in doing the job. “It’s important to be able to organise your work to ensure you get the most out of your year, putting time into reading materials before meetings, engaging with key stakeholders for relevant meetings and a willingness to adapt what has been done before”, they said. The education Officer also highlighted time management and understanding as other key skills for anybody hoping to assume the role. “The Education Officer sits on around 25 University Committees, this requires a lot of planning and timing to ensure you represent students well on those and have time to meet students, as well as eating and sleeping and taking care of yourself. Understanding is especially important when meeting with students, understanding that everyone has their own journey in college and need different supports, as one solution may not work for everyone.” they added.
Among all three of the current officers the advice for those considering running was very clear – Don’t be afraid to throw your hat in the ring, because student politics is as important as it has ever been.