Devon Graves, a third-year political science student, was elected chair of the California State Student Association (CSSA) this summer. He has been involved in many activities at Cal Poly Pomona, including intercollegiate athletics and ASI. After hearing about CSSA, however, he became intrigued by its advocacy and felt driven to participate in something larger.
CSSA, which is composed of student leaders in the CSU, advocates for higher education, including access, affordability, quality and the student experience. Student delegates meet at monthly board meetings and plan two annual conferences.
What is the CSSA planning to accomplish this year and what are some of your goals?
We are taking advantage of having a new chancellor, Timothy White, and we are really working on communication with the CSU. Also, different financial aid opportunities, such as the Dream Act and the Middle Class Scholarship, as well as university affairs issues like looking more at sustainability and advocacy work on individual campuses. It’s usually the same year after year, but now that the school year is getting started, we are really going to get down to business.
My goals are to stay as organized as possible and to work and advocate as much as I possibly can. I really want to work for the organization and for the students who trust us to do our job. I think you can get caught up in a title or in a position, but it doesn’t mean anything if you are not putting in the work.
What is the biggest challenge that you have faced so far as CSSA chair?
The communication is really tough. When you are working with 23 campuses and student leaders on each of these campuses, it becomes really difficult. Our president is at Sacramento State and one of our vice presidents is at Fullerton, one is at Fresno, and the other is at East Bay. We’re all spread apart so we are always emailing and making phone calls, so communication is definitely one of the barriers that we have.
What has helped prepare you for this position?
My leadership development happened in ASI. Coming in as a second year and taking on the role of an attorney general, I was entrusted with a lot and I really took that opportunity and learned so much from it. The opportunity of serving in ASI definitely led me to where I am today.
But basketball also had a huge impact. Being on the men’s basketball team here, you learn about teamwork. I think for any organization to be successful, you have to work as a team. You have to know your position during a play and get the job done. Teamwork is something that is always there, and I will always have that rooted in me from my time in basketball.
What are some factors that lead to success in college?
The first is organization. You have to be organized, you have to understand your class schedule, and you have to be rooted in your major. But you also need to make connections, whether it’s friends in class, a club or ASI. Once you start making these connections with students and with your faculty advisors, they will lead to your success at college because you get to be in the loop on different things and pick up on opportunities that others might not have.
You should also know your resources and reach out to them. There is the Office of Student Life and Cultural Centers that has all of the clubs and organizations listed in their directories and also your ASI student leaders, such as the senator or president. These are people who have taken on leadership roles, and you can always talk to them to find out what you are interested in. I’m excited for the upcoming year and I hope that people reach out to me. I am more than willing to help out.
What are some misconceptions about getting involved on campus, and what advice do you have for students?
I think one big misconception is the timing. People are worried that they might not have time to be involved with a club or an organization, but I think that if you are really worried about being a part of a club and managing your time, you are going to be more critical of yourself when managing the time for your classes and your organization. So instead of pushing that homework or that assignment off until next week, you are going to do it, you are going to be more active, and you’re going to think about the other things you have to be responsible for.
Another one would be the fear of breaking out of your shell. When you are coming out of high school or from far away, you’re afraid to get involved, but you’ve just got to go out there. Most of us are going to be here for four, five, or even six years, so you might as well get invested in the time that you have now. I always challenge people to go out there and take risks. Because these are active leadership positions that have a positive impact on the campus, you can’t go wrong with them.