The Student Government Association has a long history, with a list of past presidents that dates back to 1890.
With the 2017 election coming up later this month, The Volante decided to reach out to a few alumni presidents for their memories, lessons learned and insights for this year’s candidates.
Gerry Oligmueller, president in 1975-76, has fond memories of the time he spent campaigning more than 40 years ago.
“It was fun running for elective office,” he said. “It was fun to meet and listen to the students, as I think back during that campaign.”
Currently Nebraska’s State Budget Administrator, Oligmueller has worked for nine different governors — three in South Dakota and six in Nebraska — mostly in budget administration.
Some of the noteworthy infrastructure changes happening during Oligmueller’s time included the completion of the Highway 50 bypass and planning of the DakotaDome. In fact, Oligmueller was invited to accompany USD administration on tours of other schools that had facilities similar to what USD was looking to create.
He said his time as SGA president helped him learn more about the importance of a balance between active leadership and letting others achieve their full potential, as well as the importance of building consensus.
“How that’s helped today is for me to understand, in the various positions I’ve taken, the importance of knowing the position, knowing your responsibility, the limitations of your position, whether you’re elected or appointed, listening…” he said. “In particular when you’re working for a governor, you need to understand their expectations and objectives.”
Jon Connolly, SGA president in the 1983-84 term, said one of his biggest takeaways from being SGA president was an increase in self-confidence.
“It was kind of a big leap for me to go ahead and put myself out on the line, and so I gained a lot of self confidence from that,” he said.
Now a market area credit manager for Wells Fargo, Connolly said his role on Faculty Senate alongside administration and department heads has impacted his career since graduating in 1985.
“Just seeking out new and better ideas, (it was) just a great experience from that standpoint,” he said.
Connolly also learned practical skills from the role, including budgeting, negotiating and prioritizing.
Another takeaway from the experience was the ability to put things in perspective, he added. The night before the election, after Connolly had finished some last-minute door-to-door campaigning, he was told that one of his brothers had been in a plane crash.
He survived, but at the time Connolly didn’t even know which brother was injured. Connolly remembers that night vividly, he said.
“Talk about really putting the world in perspective at that point in time,” he said. “Student government, it was a great experience, it certainly helped shape some of who I am to this day, but I think those experiences that surrounded being student president also contributed significantly to keeping me grounded, keeping me focused.”
Tyler Tordsen, SGA president during the 2014-15 term, has a similar view of the organization.
“It’s not the end of the world if something doesn’t work out the way that you want it to or you envision it to or like it to,” he said. “It’s not fake, either. And that was the tough part was trying to balance that to make sure that — you know this is serious stuff, you’re working with real money, you’re working with real people, you’re working with real feelings and you’re trying to get stuff done. And there is a real opportunity to to really get some stuff done, some neat things.”
Tordsen started his work as a special assistant for U.S. Senator Mike Round’s office about a week after graduating in 2015. He said the projects he contributed to and the relationships he formed in SGA prepared him for the work he does now.
Though it can be challenging trying to meet the needs and wants of so many students, Tordsen said patience and thoroughness often go a long way.
“You’ve got to be patient, be thoughtful in everything that you do, be thorough, and listening ties into that,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to listen, you’ve got to be able to communicate.”
Advice for future candidates
Connolly’s advice for the future administration centered around the need for credibility, perspective and “a degree of confidence tempered with humility.”
“Build on your strengths. Focus in on your strengths, don’t try to be what anybody else was. The Student (Government) Association president the year before me and the Student (Government) Association president the year after me, we all three were incredibly different,” he said. “Just be yourself, patience, perseverance too.”
In addition to ensuring a “strong and regular opportunity” for students’ opinions to be heard by university administration, Oligmueller said the importance of the SGA president and vice president was being active in their campaigns.
“Be serious about and genuine about, and be prepared to be active in, representing the students’ ideas and interests on a full-time basis over the course of the next year,” he said.
Tordsen’s last piece of advice was to remember that SGA is part of something bigger.
“We’re all in this together. We’re all Yotes and we’re all part of the Board of Regents or we’re all students in higher ed. There’s a lot more commonalities than there are differences,” he said. “So I’d encourage people to communicate. That communication is key on everything. If you can communicate and work together and be able to listen and speak up, those combinations will help anybody get through everything.”