As an incoming freshman, getting involved on campus can be easier said than done. Those who have big plans for making a difference in their four years on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus - from starting a new Recognized Student Organization to enacting social change on campus - can take their first steps with help from those in the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska office in the northwest corner of the Nebraska City Union.
So what is ASUN, anyway?
The ASUN is UNL’s student governing body.
The executive team includes student body president and student regent Thien Chau, who serves as the liaison between the UNL student body and the Board of Regents. Also on the executive team is Internal Vice President Josh Waltjer and external vice president Jared McKeever, who were elected to their positions during a March election.
During the spring election, students also vote for representatives from their respective colleges to serve as senators. In addition to their roles as representatives and liaisons for their constituents, each senator also serves on a committee according to his or her skills and interests. At-large positions are available for both senate seats and on one of a dozen different committees.
But, do they even do anything?
During weekly meetings held in the Nebraska Union, several dozen senators present, debate and vote on pieces of legislation proposed by other senators or one of the many committees, including the Government Liaison Committee, Environmental Sustainability Committee, Committee for Fees Allocation and Technology Fees Committee.
The initiative to remove Styrofoam from campus, gender-neutral housing and the Good Samaritan policy - which was recently signed into Nebraska state law - all had their beginnings in the ASUN office.
From supporting and publicizing events planned by other student organizations and planning events of their own – Ebola education, how to run for student government, Friends Beyond Borders and an It’s On Us forum, to name a few - to advising the Nebraska Board of Regents on student fees, ASUN’s purpose is to serve the students on campus.
How can you get involved in ASUN?
Perhaps the easiest way for freshmen to get involved in student government is to apply for ASUN’s Freshman Campus Leadership Associates. FCLA is an appointed group of freshmen that serve as liaisons between the freshman class and ASUN. Traditionally, the group was made up of 10 freshmen – 10 males and 10 females – but beginning in fall 2015, the group will accept up to 24 students from the freshman class, regardless of gender.
Laurel Oetken, an FCLA appointments board chair and previous FCLA member herself, said that it was FCLA that drove her to get more involved in student government.
“I was shocked, when I got into FCLA, how much impact you can make on campus as a freshman,” Oetken said. “FCLA provided me with opportunities to really get to network and get to know other student leaders. If it wasn’t for FCLA, I wouldn’t have been able to have that opportunity.”
Oetken now serves as a senator for the College of Journalism and Mass Communications and co-chair for ASUN’s Communications Committee.
Freshmen who are interested in joining FCLA can pick up an application from the ASUN office in the fall. Once appointed, freshmen have the opportunity not only to get to know other student leaders on campus, but will also choose a personal project.
From suicide awareness events to planning a red-out basketball game, FCLA projects, Oetken said, are a good way for freshmen to get a taste of what ASUN has to offer and refine their interests in preparation for possible ASUN involvement during the rest of their academic career.
“It’s a great way to get involved on campus,” she said. “You really make a lot of connections through ASUN.”
But FCLA isn’t the only way freshmen can get involved. At-large positions are open to anyone on campus, regardless of year or major.
“There are so many ways to get involved,” Oetken said. “The ASUN office is always open. Just taking the time to fill out that application, you can get involved right away.”
Next year, ASUN executives have promised to give greater representation to students who often don’t get a voice, such as international, graduate and off-campus students and student veterans, as well as continuing to promote environmental sustainability, sexual assault and mental health awareness and administrative transparency and accountability.
“ASUN does a lot behind the scenes for students that people don’t really realize,” Oetken said. “But I think this upcoming year specifically, students are going to see how much of an impact ASUN really does have on their experience at (UNL).”