We recently spoke with Ileana Gonzalez, the President of the University of Texas at San Antonio Student Government Association (UTSA SGA). She spoke about her experience as president and her work to engage the campus with San Antonio’s city government.
Please tell us your name and current position in student government. Please also tell us a little bit about who you are: your year, major, and any other background info you’d like to share.
My name is Ileana Gonzalez and I am the Student Body President at the University of Texas at San Antonio. I am a senior Business Administration Major with a concentration in Entrepreneurship. I was born in Mexico and moved to the U.S. when I was 13 years old.
How did you get involved in SGA?
I never thought getting involved in college would be so beneficial. I had no clue that college would be like high school, where you would get the most benefit from your education by being a part of an organization. The concept of simply making it to college was already an achievement.
I was in student council in high school, which attracted me to student government. I did not join SGA during my first semester because my perception of getting involved was completely different. However, I kept encountering students who did not hold my same values and ethics. I eventually came to SGA because I knew they were the most hard working and caring people in the University. They work so incredibly much without any type of reward; they were known to be the best of the best, students who everybody looked up to; and they were the ones who made change at the University and left a legacy behind. The whole concept of being able to positively impact my university at that level really motivated me to join SGA. And like the students I saw in SGA, who led by example and became mentors to younger students, I wanted to impact others.
What have been your biggest priorities during your term as SGA President?
My biggest priority as SGA President was to reconnect with our student body. Running for president was extremely hard because voter turnout was abysmal during the election prior to when I ran. It was hard to gain credibility while campaigning because students’ perception was that you simply wanted their vote and did not care about their interests and concerns. SGA did not have a presence throughout campus.
As President, I have accomplished many outreach initiatives and I truly believe we have reconnected with our student body, to the point where we only get good feedback from students. I completely revamped the SGA website, which was two years out of date. I made monthly videos that were posted all throughout campus, posted on social media at least three times a day, and increased our “likes and followers” numbers by 100% this year. Our logos and media were everywhere on campus and students were kept in the loop on what we were working on throughout the whole year. SGA also emailed all 318 registered student organizations and asked to speak at their groups and get to know their concerns. We also started the “One-On-One” campaign, where on certain days every senator would walk around campus and ask students about their concerns.
Please describe your initiative to involve the student body in city government. What are the goals of this initiative? What’s happened so far? What do you have planned for the future?
UTSA’s SGA created the San Antonio Higher Education Representative Assembly (SAHERA), which consists of the student government leaders from the area’s nine higher education institutions. The assembly meets once a month and discusses political issues, including statewide issues as well as city and campus topics. In this way, the city of San Antonio’s student governments keep in touch with each other to work together and enhance each other’s initiatives and progress.
This year, SAHERA worked with city councilmen to become a recognized city commission, which would make San Antonio the second city in the nation to have a recognized student-led city commission. SAHERA has enhanced student participation in city government by giving our students a city commission they can relate to and to which they can voice their concerns.
SAHERA’s schools also competed last year to register the most students to vote during National Voter Registration Day. UTSA had the highest total in the state with 511 people registered.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in trying to accomplish your goals as president?
You don’t realize how much time each initiative can take until you become President. I have had to grow personally to be a lot more patient with University processes.
What advice would you give to future student government presidents?
I would tell them to always trust their gut, and to take responsibility for your organization and University. Whether a project has a good outcome or a bad one, being President means you are the face, voice, and reputation of not just your organization but also the student body you represent.