Former Georgetown University Student Association President Kamar Mack (COL ’19) and Vice President Jessica Andino (COL ’18) entered office on a campaign platform that promised a “Fresh GUSA,” focusing on affordability, health resources and student entrepreneurship.
The duo won the 2017 executive election with a narrow victory of 34 votes and entered office with the goals of making a Georgetown education more affordable and ensuring GUSA is inclusive of all students. Their tenure in office included notable achievements like establishing an off-campus mental health stipend for students and a fund for students with unpaid internships.
A week after leaving office, Mack and Andino discussed their proudest accomplishments, biggest obstacles and the path to creating a more diverse and accessible GUSA.
What are you most proud of from your term, as a collective administration and as individuals?
Mack: Expanding the narrative of who GUSA is for and who is involved in GUSA. When I was a freshman, I did not see as many people who looked like me in GUSA and that was something I’m very proud to know that a lot of people have been able to build relationships with me and say that ‘hey, if I’m a black student on campus I can run for GUSA and I can be successful in GUSA.’ Not only that, but just having people know someone in GUSA is huge. Obviously, it can never be perfect, but I think Jessica and I have been able to expand that narrative in a very successful way.
Andino: Learning how to be more empathetic towards student experiences and meeting so many people across campus that I would have otherwise never met is probably the thing I am most proud of, because there are so many students on this campus that are really passionate about making projects happen and making Georgetown better. I am proud that, leaving Georgetown, I have this very holistic understanding of students’ interests, which has even shaped my own interests.
One of your main campaign pillars was entrepreneurship. How do you evaluate your success in developing an entrepreneurial community on campus?
Mack: I think we definitely prioritized it throughout our term and we were able to make a lot of really good progress. As far as entrepreneurship goes at Georgetown, it’s really two main things: it’s improving the academic curriculum around entrepreneurship on campus and bringing in more students who don’t think of themselves as entrepreneurial and exposing them to that as well as providing more resources and building a community. As far as the academic curriculum side of things, a really important thing was that the entrepreneurship minor got approved [in February by Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business]. So many students who had business ideas reached out to us and we were able to point them to various resources. I, and a couple other students, were able to pilot a student-run accelerator, which has then grown to be Georgetown Ventures, that has really made entrepreneurship more vibrant on campus, taught students what it is like to work for a startup and help students’ startups with grant funding, financial services and consulting. Prioritizing entrepreneurship was definitely a curve ball for a lot of people because it is not something that traditional GUSA campaigns did, but we were able to get a lot done.
Can you talk about the progress you have made for the mental health stipend and how you hope to see it grow? What other student health initiatives did you prioritize throughout your term?
Andino: The off-campus mental health therapy stipend is the first step in addressing the cost barriers the people have if they can’t afford long-term care. It is a step forward. Hopefully the administration will find a successful solution that is good long-term. The therapy stipend is being assessed this semester to see how it works and if this model works or if another model works better, such as having partnerships with MedStar [Georgetown University Hospital].
Mack: As far as student health goes, something that is super important for GUSA to prioritize is sexual health, and so when we first got elected and started our role in GUSA it was really unclear as to what the future of the Affordable Care Act and various health services that are covered through that law is. It was important for us to work with administrators and say that regardless of what legislative changes happen, students still need access to contraception. That was something we were able to work on so that Georgetown could commit to that on the university level. Sylvia Levy, who was vice speaker of GUSA senate, was also very passionate about that and did a lot of phenomenal work. We were also able to work with Dr. WinklerPrins and express the importance of STI screenings and that it is something that needs to happen more than once a semester.
How would you evaluate your success in tuition advocacy?
Andino: The Office of the Provost and its student advisory committee always asked for agenda items for each meeting, and tuition was something we always made sure to talk about in those meetings. In the summer, we solidified we wanted to do a tuition roundtable with the provost’s office. So, that stems from students saying this is what we want to do. The tuition freeze [an initial goal of the campaign] is something that we asked about, but when we learned more about it we realized, OK, that is not doable.
Mack: Our work with the provost’s office is really where we do most of our tuition advocacy. We always stressed to the provost that students care about affordability. Everything that GUSA pushes for costs money. Things like unpaid internship funds, better transportation infrastructure, things like that all cost money. With that understanding, our biggest thing was to make sure tuition increases are as low as possible, if not decreases. We really pushed for the fact that if we are charged more money, we need to directly see those benefits for students. We were able to have those conversations through a master planning setting like the master planning consortium and Georgetown Community Partnership, where we were able to get things like a commitment to renovating Kehoe Field and the Yates roof.
Do you feel you adequately tackled the “hidden costs” you advocated students struggle with at Georgetown?
Andino: The main thing was the unpaid internship fund, which I learned about through an organization in D.C. called Pay Our Interns that was started by this Capitol Hill guy who advocates for paid internships in D.C. So, that’s something we started on during the summer, and we realized it was part of an affordability committee’s recommendations to establish that.
Mack: We were able to really accelerate that timeline of implementation and for this spring semester, there are 17 students on campus who got funding for their unpaid internships. That’s a really big win and something we are really proud of. Also making sure that that program can continue to grow, because the applicant pool for this first iteration, it was only open to juniors and seniors and it was only open for just the spring. That does not fully capture the demand for this program: it doesn’t account for sophomores, it doesn’t account for freshmen and it doesn’t include summer internships.
Mack: As far as hidden costs go, transportation is always big. Georgetown doesn’t have a Metro stop, so, in a lot of ways, if you can’t afford Uber then you are cornered into Northwest D.C. We worked with administrators and neighbors to secure a partnership with LimeBike and have bikes for students to rent. If you sign up with your Georgetown email, you get a 50 percent discount. We are laser-focused on how do we expand access and how do we make things more affordable.
What do you see as your legacy? What do you hope students took away from your leadership this year?
Mack: Our biggest legacy is continuing to push this conversation on mental health. Administrations before us were able to do phenomenal work like lowering the CAPS fee to 10 dollars a session; that was humongous. The next step is that there is an affordable arc of long-term coverage throughout their entire time at Georgetown. I think continuing this conversation on off-campus therapy under the pretense that there has to be long-term care is huge. I also think the fact that we were able to expand the narrative of who can run for student body president. I remember when we were running it was such a weird concept that a sophomore was running for president and now that is a lot less taboo.
What are your biggest regrets from your term as a collective administration?
Mack: Something that has been a real learning moment is the importance of bringing as many voices as possible to the table. There have been a couple of initiatives that we not necessarily would have done differently, but it would have been better to have brought in more organizational input and more student input in order to make that buy-in happen. Because when people don’t feel like they are a part of the process, a lot of the policy changes are a bit harder to follow or even might be seen as negative. That was a big regret that I talked about in our State of the Campus [address]: bringing in more student voices is just so important. That’s why it’s great that Sahil and Naba have been prioritizing that in their own slogan, Every Voice Matters, because that’s very pertinent and very timely and key for GUSA to do.
What is the biggest challenge GUSA President Sahil Nair (SFS ’19) and Vice President Naba Rahman (SFS ’19) face entering office and the biggest thing they have working in their favor?
Andino: They did step into their first challenge already, which is fighting for funding for GUSA Fund and trying to prove to the students who make those decisions. It looks like they may not have the money for the things they want to do. Proving that the act of student government is funding events that would otherwise not happen, proving that that’s important. That is an important power that GUSA has to reach all corners of campus.
Mack: They have a lot of leadership experience on campus, which I think will help them implement all the changes they have set out to do. They have a lot of chemistry with one another and they have Aaron Bennett, who is their chief of staff. He has worked with me and Jessica this past year and has a lot of experience in policy and communicating to the student body. So, I think the three of them as a combo are really in a good place to get a lot of the things done that they are set out to do. They have a lot of energy, they are fresh and it’s a trifecta — it really is.
For Jessica, what are your plans for after Georgetown, and, Kamar, what are your plans for your final year at Georgetown?
Andino: I will be working for a local election back in my county [Montgomery County Executive Election in Maryland] and depending on the primary election results, that will determine what I will do for the next few months.
Mack: I’m really transitioning to focus fully on entrepreneurship for my senior year. I will be living in the Yellow House, which is the house dedicated to entrepreneurship on campus, and serving as CEO of Georgetown Ventures, which is the organization that I and a couple of other students started to help students get experience in startup life. I’m also going to be coming out of my summer internship with GU Impact. After graduation, hopefully I will be working for a startup, one that I’m launching or one that I care about.