Jessop Discusses Role as UA President, Goals for New Year

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Noah S. Jessop ’09 is the Undergraduate Association President.
Brian Hemond—The Tech

This is the third interview in a five-part series introducing incoming students to some of MIT’s faculty, staff, and student leaders. Today, The Tech features an interview with Noah S. Jessop ’09, the president of the Undergraduate Association. Jessop and UA Vice President Michael A. Bennie ’10 also wrote an opinion column on page 4.

The Tech: Tell me about your role within the undergraduate community as UA President.

Noah Jessop: The UA President serves the function of operating one of the largest switchboards on campus. My role is to connect students, faculty and administrators to each other in a way that [allows for] the most effective use of everyone’s time and resources … it is my responsibility to chart the course that the UA takes for the year. Also, a large part of the role is to express students’ pressing needs. I also answer a lot of questions on both sides. Lastly, at least on the student government side, I help design and rebuild and make better the systems that already exist.

TT: For those who don’t know, can you give a brief synopsis of what the Undergraduate Association does?

NJ: The undergraduate association is the umbrella of all student government at MIT. DormCon focuses on issues that are closely tied with the residence halls on campus while IFC controls, polices, and generally self regulates the entire fraternity counsel. Panhel similarly regulates, controls and really has a lot of autonomy, along with IFC, overseeing those jurisdictions …

The challenges we face are the ones that will effect the entire student body. So that would range from undergraduate enrollment … changes to the GIR’s … [and] advising. That’s all on the sort of heavy academic side, but our dining committee, for example, has played a very active role in helping chart the course of dining at MIT as well as really going to bat for the students.

So, with this broader prospective, we’re able to collect a lot of information, and we’re able to represent what it is that students want on any of these issues. So, really, we serve as a contact point, as a liaison, for the administration to get in touch with the students …

Since being elected, I have had to learn about the incredible scope of all the things that the UA does, be it placing students on institute committees, such as [the Committee on Academic Performance] or Committee on Curricula, or these other very large chartered institute committees. We do it all, and, also, we throw fun events, like the Fall Festival and Spring Weekend, also sponsoring dozens of events all across campus for the undergraduates.

TT: In a previous interview with The Tech … you described yourself as a “total outsider” to the UA. How do you think that will give you an advantage?

NJ: … I said earlier that really, my role is connecting people and resources, looking at the systems in place, and seeing if they make sense, and, unlike other people in this organization who have grown accustom to the systems in place … I have the advantage of coming from the outside to say, “Why does it work this way?” So, it seems I learn new things about my role literally everyday.

This background has really let me ask questions [like] “Why does it work this way?” and “Should it work this way?” Also, on the administrative front, everyone gives me the benefit of the doubt of having an impeccable record. So, I come in with a completely clean slate. As such, I am able to continue the relationships that [former UA President Martin Holmes ’08] built and build them in my own way.

TT: What are some of your upcoming goals this year as UA President?

NJ: Really, this sort of splits into two pieces. There are the external goals and the internal goals.

Externally, I’m really committed toward student engagement, toward getting students at the table when big decisions are happening, toward making everyone feel that we’re getting represented, that if we stand up for something, we will be heard. That’s been making huge progress since I’ve been with the UA. … [And] don’t forget that there’s dining out there. That’s going to be a big issue. …

Dining, integration of W1, handling the increase in enrollment, and, perhaps before any of those, helping the new Dean for Student Life, Dean Colombo, understand what MIT is so he can find his role and his way to better make change … Those are the big things that are on the table coming in.

Internally, this is where I think the piece gets much more interesting … more organizationally challenging. … Within the government, it’s about making the UA the leanest organization that we can. It’s about making the UA an organization that doesn’t rise and fall on the successes of the individuals, but rather, is a strong coherent body that works together. …

We should have a new Web site rolling out in the next one to two weeks that will be functional, usable, pretty, and have great content. That’s something I’m really excited about. …

I’ve been working really closely with the heads of the other governments to present a much more unified front. In the past, there’s been confusion, both within ourselves and within the administration, as to who do you talk to when there’s an issue, and then they’ll go talk to two separate government committees or entities that are similar, and they’ll get conflicting responses … When that happens, students as a whole lose because then it’s unclear what it is that students want. By presenting a unified front … we’re going to make student government at MIT as a whole a lot more meaningful for the greater student body and the administration.

TT: What do you foresee are some of the biggest challenges that you face this year as UA President?

NJ: There’s no lack of things to work on. There’s no lack of resources to work on things with. The biggest challenge for me personally is going to be identifying what is the most important …

I want everyone in this organization to feel like their time is well spent and everyone joining this organization to be happy to join the family. And that’s a challenge just because the landscape changes so quickly, be it the issues changing, be it things outside of our control, or people’s own changing interests. So, it’s really putting the right people at the right place at the right time so that everyone has the best experience possible.

TT: What would you suggest are ways for incoming freshmen who are concerned about something on campus to get involved with student government and the community?

NJ: First, there’s the very overt roles of running for class council or running for senate within your dormitory … Class council is more if you like event planning or if the issue you care about is class unity, class spirit, or MIT spirit. Beyond that, again, the UA has infinite resources. It’s just a matter of putting the right people in the right places.

We have committees working on the scope of issues facing student life. If you say you are really passionate about a given issue, there’s no reason why, if you want to help out, there’s won’t be a place for you. … Identify what it is you’re passionate about, see if somebody is already doing that, be it in government or some other organizations on campus, contact those people, and if not, come to senate and talk about it.

Come to UA exec meetings, which are open meetings that will travel through the different dorms during term. Come talk about it, and we will always have resources to put behind people who are passionate and excited about what they’re doing. …

TT: Any general advice you’d share with freshmen?

NJ: … I guess the most important part because it’s time sensitive is go and meet as many people possible. I don’t care if you like where you live, go walk around. Go walk to places that you’ll never live. Go meet people.

This is one of the few times that you can walk anywhere on campus, stick out your hand with a smile and be welcome. … Even if you don’t live there, these are people who you are going to be taking classes with, be it for the next one, two, three, or even four years. And once you’ve met people, you can say hi to them. Once you say hi to them in a class where you don’t know anyone else, you can sit next to them. Once you sit next to them, you can do problem sets together, and you can build your world and your MIT experience based off of meeting a lot of people. …

Two, don’t inundate yourself. No one says that you have to start by doing the same activities that you did in high school. There’s no rule saying you have to get going, otherwise you’ll never get ahead … There’s no rush to fill out your schedule.

Work, socialization, and personal projects will always expand and fill the hours of the day that you have. And, once your plate is full, you can decide if you want seconds. …

Pick a place you want to live based on the people, not the room. Again—location, location, location. It doesn’t matter what your room looks out onto, it matters who are the people outside your door … This is the most important part because at 4 a.m., when you’re working on a problem set, it’s who’s outside that matters, not what’s outside your window. …

TT: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

NJ: … Take the classes you want to take, not the classes you think you’ll be successful in. And I say this because, first of all, for starters, you’re on pass/no record, and your goal is to get as many Ps as possible. And it doesn’t matter a hoot after that. That’s one.

Two, you will never know what you’re interested in if you constrain yourself only to things you think you’re good at now. And, I guess that also applies to extracurriculars. Even though I said don’t overload your plate, before your plate is overloaded, go to the first meeting of things. Try it out, and don’t feel obligated to come back unless you like the people or you like the thing and you want to make it a part of your life …

You don’t have to be in a role to make a difference in the world you live in. The scale of which you make a difference is something that you can choose … even on your own hall culture, you can make a difference and be a leader, and have a humongous impact on the people you work with everyday on any scale.

And the challenges facing all of us, be it a hall deciding how to spend a budget, be it the UA Senate deciding what to give money to, or a large corporation deciding what to invest in, the issues are exactly the same, and it comes down to a bunch of intelligent people making a decision about what’s best for the group. …

Interested in the community? Talk to me. I was a freshman. We all were. Don’t ever feel like just because someone is older than you or has a title … that they are unapproachable. You are exactly the same as all the people you see in campus, be they professors … be they student leaders. They’re just a few years ahead of you and come from exactly … where you’re sitting today.