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Outgoing presidents look back on their terms

Photo courtesy Jayaker Kolli

By Zoe Katz     2/1/22 10:53pm

Rice’s 11 college presidents began their terms last spring, in the midst of a pandemic and an unsure school year. Since then, they have had to lead their residential colleges through many changes, from Constitutional rewrites to relaxed or heightened public health regulations. As their terms near their end, the Thresher invited the presidents to reflect both on themselves and their important role.

Interviews have been edited for clarity.

Rice Thresher: What accomplishment from your term are you most proud of?

Kennedy Coleman, Brown College junior: I think my proudest accomplishment is helping to bring some of Brown culture back through more events and activities, but the most tangible [is] the addition of an Announcement GroupMe that many people had asked for in the past.

Sarah Mozden, Sid Richardson College senior: The transition to New Sid was really hard on our community. We were still struggling to find our sense of community when I started my term, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done to bring Sid together and create a new culture.

Lila Frenkel, Duncan College senior: This year we reinstated Duncan Week, a celebration of Duncan’s dedication/birthday. We had 11 events for the 11 years since Duncan’s dedication, and it was a really special week for our college. It’s incredible to see the community and energy that’s formed at Duncan this year, and Duncan Week is something Duncan students have expressed interest in continuing in future years. On a campuswide level, I’m really proud of the extended study hours in Duncan Hall, Rayzor Hall and Kraft Hall. This was a president-led effort, and it was a great opportunity to work with multiple offices and tangibly improve conditions on campus for students!

Jayaker Kolli, Will Rice College junior: I campaigned on constitutional reform, because Will Rice has had some issues with the lack of clarity in our governing documents. I formed a committee last spring to review and rewrite our Constitution and By-Laws, and the new documents were passed in a referendum in December. I’m excited to see how the new Constitution and By-Laws are implemented over the next year or two.

RT: How has COVID-19 impacted your presidency and the choices you have made?

Coleman: COVID has unfortunately impacted everything that occurs on this campus in one way or another. I ran on the campaign that I was going to try to bring events and traditions back to Brown, but with COVID, accomplishing anything with a social aspect has been difficult.

Austin Hushower, Martel College junior: [Like with] last year’s cohort, COVID has been one of the defining themes of this presidency ... COVID alters everything about your Rice experience as both a student and a president, as it changes what your classes look like, shapes event possibilities for your college, and dominates conversations both at an interpersonal level and at the administrative level. That being said, I am optimistic following [the Jan. 31] announcement from Kevin Kirby and I look forward to what the rest of the semester holds.

RT: Have you leaned on other college presidents? If so, in what ways? 

Coleman: I have leaned on other current presidents quite a bit because most of what we do, we complete as a team. We work together on campus wide residential college changes, as well as give advice on a college level on problems that others may have already experienced. The other presidents are a wealth of knowledge that should be taken advantage of. None of us are alone in the role.

Mozden: One thing people don’t tell you coming into this role is you’ll be leaving with an entire set of new best friends. The current presidents have been some of my biggest supporters throughout my entire term. We’ve laughed together, cried together, and leaned on each other when we had no one else … I’m so proud of us. I couldn’t have done this without [them].

Frenkel: The current cohort of presidents on campus are genuinely some of the best people I have met at Rice. I can’t imagine the last year without them. They have been supportive in difficult times, but we also just have a lot of fun together. The past two presidents at Duncan were also a part of my support system throughout the year, and I would text them every so often to get advice. I hope to do the same for the next presidents if they ever need advice or a place to vent.

Kolli: For sure — this year’s president cohort is tight-knit, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know everyone. There are very few people on campus who understand the demands of this job and can offer advice on issues, so other college presidents are great resources (and great friends).

Q: If you could do one thing differently, what would that be?

Hushower: “I think I would have been more cautious with my expectations with regards to Covid. Throughout my term, the changing nature of Covid constantly brought hope as numbers deteriorated, followed by a sharp drop in hope after the rise of a new variant. There were some things I wish I could have done during my term, which I was unable to do due to the changing nature of Covid, and I wish I could go back and tell my past self to be more prepared for changes in the Covid landscape.”

Q: What’s your biggest takeaway?

Mozden: “Allow yourself to be proud of what you’ve done, even if it isn’t what you thought would happen when you started. You deserve it.”

Hushower: “My biggest takeaway from being president is how vast a discrepancy exists between what students think certain administrators do and what these roles actually entail. I think it is very easy to lose sight of the fact that these people are not simply names at the bottom of emails, but that they are real people with extremely challenging jobs involving incredibly complex decisions.”

RT: What is some advice you have for future presidents?

Coleman: Don’t forget that you are also a student with things to get done. Your education is important and sometimes the job can seem overwhelming, but putting yourself first when you need to is not a bad thing.

Mozden: This role is exhausting. But it’s also the most rewarding experience I’ve had during my time at Rice. On the times where days get hard, remember the college you’re doing this for, and lean on each other. I promise it’s worth it. (And don’t be afraid to set boundaries and step back when you need to. You are a person before you are a president).

Frenkel: Really invest in communicating with your teams. This job is stressful and draining at times, and I wouldn’t have been able to get through it without so many of the people I worked with. The other college presidents were an incredible support system, as were several members of my Executive Committee, and my A-Team. Invest in communicating effectively and frequently with each of these groups, and you’ll be able to accomplish a lot more while saving yourself a lot of stress.

Kolli: Remember that you’re a person and student outside of being a president. It’s very easy to let the role consume a lot of your time and energy, but it’s okay (and necessary) to say no sometimes.

Hushower: You need to be extremely adaptable and open to new ideas. Whether it is navigating the changing COVID regulatory scene, putting on events with a limited budget, or dealing with a wide range of issues at the college level, crazy things can and do happen and you need to be prepared for that and must be quick to adapt your plans when needed.

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