Top Hat

Semester away impacting leadership on campus

Facilities must be improved to support remote student leadership

By Meagan Lettko February 5, 2020

The Arch program is drastically changing how leadership positions in clubs and organizations are filled. Typically, junior year is the time when students prepare to take on leadership roles in their respective groups. With the Arch requiring students to take an away semester in either the fall or spring of their junior year, this is changing the succession of executive leadership.

Many students join clubs and organizations sometime during their freshman year. They spend this first year getting acquainted with their clubs/organizations while learning time management and study habits in their academics. Sophomore year is when students deepen their connection to their clubs and organizations. They learn from watching upperclassman leadership and begin to consider future leadership roles. By junior year, students have the knowledge and experience to take on higher leadership positions. By senior year, students help to transition junior leaders into important roles.

The timeline of the Arch program directly conflicts with the timeline of leadership succession. The summer semester of the Arch program cannot truly count in the timeline of clubs and organizations because many of these groups were not active during this past Arch summer. Granted, this was the first full implementation of the Arch. If students take away semesters during leadership transition, they may miss out on an opportunity to have that impact on campus. If students plan their away semesters based on taking on a leadership role, they may miss out on their ideal away opportunity. If a student takes on a leadership role and then leaves on their away semester, they may compromise the success of their organization.

The Arch affects every student group across campus, including the Student Senate. One of the most important positions in the Student Senate is the role of vice grand marshal. The VGM is responsible for overseeing committee work, monitoring positions, filling in for the GM when needed, assisting the GM with organizational tasks, and meeting with administrators. On top of these responsibilities, the VGM must also attend general meetings and cabinet meetings. Based on my previous experience in this role, it requires between 10 to 20 hours of time per week.

During the Fall 2019 semester, my appointed vice grand marshal, Advaith Narayan ’21, was doing his away semester. This meant that he was not physically on campus for the duration of the Fall semester. However, he was present during the Arch summer term.

Before I appointed Advaith, we had numerous conversations about how we would function as a leadership team while he was away. We decided that we would test the waters during the summer term with him being on campus and the majority of our committee chairs away for the summer. The Fall semester would present a similar situation.

Prior to the beginning of the Arch, Advaith set up collaborative Google Drive folders for every committee and standardized the way that we store committee information. He was able to easily monitor committee projects and attendance using this system. Throughout the summer and fall, Advaith communicated with committee chairs via conference calls. He would video call into committee meetings once the Fall semester started.

As for general Senate meetings, Advaith was in attendance by video calls. Our Web Technologies Group chairperson graciously helped set up this video stream every meeting. We used a large monitor so that the Senate could see Advaith on a big screen during the meeting. The Cisco platform was great for this purpose. However, the Wi-Fi connection in the Union Shelnutt Gallery was unreliable, which hindered the video and audio quality.

The technology we had available to us was not the best, nor could we fund the installation of a better system. In the future, it is essential to the success of remote participants to upgrade the video conferencing technology in the Union. Being able to actively contribute to a meeting from a remote location is a skill that students will need for any career path they choose. We must help students develop this type of skill by improving our facilities.

This past year, the Senate has attempted to work through the Arch away challenges by having members participate remotely instead of replacing members at the beginning of the fall and spring. There were two members participating remotely in the fall. Currently, there are two members participating remotely for the Spring semester. This situation will likely continue in future semesters.

If you have any feedback or suggestions about struggles your clubs or organizations are facing with leadership succession during the Arch, please feel free to reach out to me at