Connected in a big way: Hastings grad leads UW-River Falls student body
Rosie Pechous graduated from Hastings High School in 2016 as a student who felt like she didn’t really connect with her peers or organizations in high school. She said she definitely wasn’t someone who would be seen as a leader, mainly taking PSEO classes and not being deeply involved in high school.
Less than two years later she was named student body president at University of Wisconsin-River Falls after the spring Student Government Association election. Pechous said that her strategy of “grassroots campaigning” with her vice president, Tate Schlichting, proved to be effective.
“We wanted students to know who we were and know our faces,” Pechous said. “We didn’t want (our positions) to be far removed.”
Pechous and Schlichting met with dozens of groups on campus to explain their campaign and field questions about what students wanted to see changed on campus.
“We didn’t want to run as politicians, but we ran as campus leaders,” Pechous said. “It’s about being a friend and not being seen as a selfish politician that just wants (the job) for their resume.”
Taking on a role like this was something that Pechous said her parents were even shocked to hear, not knowing she was interested or capable of taking on such a large role on the campus.
Her road to being elected began her freshman year when she became a hall council president. The next year she became part of the executive board of SGA through being the Resident Hall Association president, and she began to see how much she could grow through her leadership positions. Now she can begin to focus on the initiatives she pushed for in her campaign, including increased safety and sustainability on campus.
“They need to gather what they view as their primary goals … and focus on those five or six primary goals,” Student Government Association adviser Gregg Heinselman said. “Once they’re in their office and the semester starts, it’s really easy to chase the issue of the day and forget about the primary things you would like to address.”
Heinselman has been at UWRF for 13 years, a majority of which he has spent helping advise the student Senate in addition to duties as the assistant chancellor for student affairs.
“Each campus has their own model, and I view it as an honor and privilege to help them learn through the shared government process,” Heinselman said. “The scope of shared governance is to represent those who put you in their place.”
‘Caught up in’ events
Heinselman added that this is one of the keys to student government success, because it’s easy for individuals to get caught up in how it affects themselves. But instead, they should really be asking the questions about how it will affect those they are representing.
“It’s a unique role they have, because in the UW System, students are granted some distinct autonomy as a student government,” Heinselman said. “Fees and policies are two responsibilities that are guaranteed.”
Heinselman has also been encouraged by seeing a more inclusive Senate, including last year where both president and vice president were females for the first time in the school’s history. With Pechous being elected this year, Heinselman said the Senate is trying to be more representative of the student population, which is over 60 percent female.
“Everyone brings a different lens to the student experience,” Heinselman said. “It’s not just about what (the president and vp) want, but it’s about how they work with Senate to accomplish that and have collective buy-in. That’s always an interesting process to observe as an adviser.”
Pechous said work has already begun on their sustainability initiatives this summer by reaching out with reps on campus. She is also attending a national conference in Washington. D.C., with Schlichting, where they will meet with other student government leaders from around the country. Heinselman said this might affect how they shape their agenda.
“The first time I met Rosie, after she had become a rep for RHA, she told me that she was a self-proclaimed activist,” Heinselman said. “My first conversations with students don’t normally go that way. She’s passionate about what she believes in, and not many articulate it that way, so I have to give her credit for that.”
Heinselman credited an above-average voter turnout in the spring elections to Pechous’ communication awareness and working with campus groups to show how their voices can be heard.
“Almost a third of our student population is new each year, so they may not understand our student government,” Heinselman said. “It’s about communicating our mission and purpose, and Rosie and Tate are both very direct and intentional. You know where they stand, and that’s nice to know.”
Pechous will work over the summer to ensure a seamless transition when she trains in senators for the 81st session of SGA in the fall. She will be a junior and plans to major in English education. She said she wants to use her abilities not only to lead 20 students, but show that student Senate is there for thousands of students. Pechous added that she will have to utilize these same skills when talking with administrators or teachers in a future profession.
“It’s about working firsthand for students, which has sometimes been forgotten in the last few sessions,” Pechous said. “It’s not about you, it’s what you do for other people.”