Representing the students
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Hannah Walsh credits a lot of where she’s at today to good fortune and timing.
The University of Iowa sophomore from Spirit Lake, Iowa, was appointed to the Board of Regents, State of Iowa by Gov. Terry Branstad on Nov. 30.
Walsh is the lone student member on the nine-member board. According to Iowa Code, one member of the board must be a full-time undergraduate or graduate student at one of the regents universities at the time of his or her appointment. The UI, Iowa State University, and the University of Northern Iowa rotate student member terms.
“My appointment as the student member of the Board of Regents was all about timing,” says Walsh, a political science major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.“Of all the schools I could have chosen, I chose a regents school in Iowa, and of the three regents institutions, I just happened to be at the University of Iowa at the right time.”
But Walsh’s appointment also has to do with a long interest in politics and leadership, and lots of hard work. Walsh says her father has been involved with the Iowa political scene her whole life, and he often took her and her siblings to campaign events and to meet state and local politicians. During her senior year of high school, Walsh served as a page in the Iowa Senate.
“My experience as a page clarified for me that politics was exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, especially at the state level,” she says. “Prior to that I was more interested in federal politics, but after being a page, I realized that state politics are very important.”
Walsh has continued to pursue her passion for politics and leadership as a UI student. During her freshman year, she served as a senator for UI Student Government (UISG), representing 4,500 freshman. She was also one of 30 freshman students selected to participate in the President’s Leadership Class, a three-hour course that gives students the opportunity to explore leadership issues with UI President Sally Mason. This year, prior to her appointment as the new student regent, Walsh served as co-chair of the UISG Government Relations Committee and was on the UI College Republicans Executive Committee.
"I got to know Hannah as a student in the President’s Leadership Class that I teach. To be selected for the class is a rare honor for a student," says Mason. "Hannah exhibited outstanding leadership potential and proved to be a smart, thoughtful, engaged, and enthusiastic student. All of these skills will serve her well as a regent."
Though Walsh has only been a regent for a few months and is the youngest member of the board, she’s been trying to jump in right away.
“The other regents are incredible people with amazing backgrounds. I’m trying to not be intimidated,” she says. “I’m the voice of so many students and I’m ready to get started.”
She’s already familiar with the UI and has been trying to learn as much as she can about Iowa State, UNI, and the student experience at those institutions by setting up orientations at both universities. She’s also been working with UISG, Northern Iowa Student Government, and Iowa State’s Government of the Student Body to organize an open session with legislators in Des Moines to address student concerns later this month.
Walsh will serve on the board as a student member until April 30, 2015, right before her graduation as an undergraduate from the UI. During her term, one of the main issues she hopes to address is the cost of attending the three state universities, student debt, and helping students graduate on time.
“Every student thinks about the cost of education and debt,” Walsh says. “Debt isn’t one problem that is easily solved. Many other issues tie into this and must be addressed. I have a couple of different ideas of how we can begin to work on getting students out of college with the smallest amount of debt possible.
“My first priority, however, is maintaining our regents universities’ affordability and high quality education right now, as well as for future generations.”
Walsh wants to represent the students of the three universities as best she can and wants to communicate with students—whether that is by email, phone, or stopping by her on-campus office in the Iowa Memorial Union.
“I want to hear what students have to say, because all students are directly impacted by legislators’ decisions,” she says. “It’s such an honor that I get to represent the students of the Iowa regents institutions.”