It was late in February of 2020 when Vincent Gadioma ‘22 and Tobenna Ugwu ‘22 had just been elected as the president and vice president of the Fairfield University Student Association. They had plans for the future of FUSA and how they were going to help the student body.
“We had all these great ideas that we knew we could achieve in our term, and when we won the election, I knew that the students were going to see great leadership and great change,” said Gadioma.
Ugwu agreed, stating that he was excited to help Gadioma achieve his goals as president, while working on his own goals as vice president.
“I saw an opportunity to implement all the change I had thought about during my time on FUSA,” Ugwu said.
Though COVID-19 was making headlines by the time the pair ran for FUSA president and vice president, it was at the back of everyone’s minds. No one expected that the virus would drastically change the fall semester. But, in March, Fairfield moved to virtual instruction and it seemed like Gadioma and Ugwu’s terms in office would be very different than they originally thought.
Gadioma confirmed that the pandemic changed his and Ugwu’s plans, as over the summer they were heavily involved in reopening procedures and had to focus on how to help students return safely to campus. Gadioma said that he is proud they were able to make students’ voices heard and “help craft a reopening plan that would allow students to be safe while also enjoying what college has to offer.” He went on to say that although the pandemic delayed some of their ideas, “it has provided us [Gadioma and Ugwu] with the opportunity to set new goals to better improve the Fairfield student experience.”
Ugwu admitted that they had no idea that the pandemic would affect them like this, so they had to change some of their plans in order to adapt to this new situation. He states that the pandemic became an opportunity to “reimagine a lot of traditions that have existed for decades, as well as implement new ones that will hopefully last post-COVID-19.”
COVID-19 has definitely been the most challenging part of the pair’s job so far, especially since it has occupied most of their meetings and agenda items this semester. With the chaos the pandemic brought, it has been difficult for them to accomplish their original plans from February. However, Gadioma was able to rely on the executive cabinet to make sure that FUSA continues their overall goal to make the student experience the best it can be. The seven directors and the heads of all of the various FUSA branches helped advance FUSA’s overall goals while Gadioma was still managing the issues surrounding the pandemic.
“The dynamic nature of the pandemic made it difficult for us to make plans months ahead of schedule, but our team has overcome this by being adaptable and rolling with the punches,” Ugwu said.
He was also worried that because of the ever-changing nature of the pandemic, their administration would be solely focused on COVID-19, but they’ve been able to accomplish quite a bit more.
So far this semester, Gadioma and Ugwu created a Student Sustainability Committee and relaunched the FUSA Scholarship, while still keeping with tradition and continuing on with many of the normal activities and programs students come to expect each year.
“In everything we’ve done, we’ve had to assess the situation, reevaluate and adapt to ensure that we were creating memorable yet safe experiences,” said Ugwu.
COVID-19 has brought other challenges to the organization. Many FUSA members moved to remote learning, so they’ve had to balance communication virtually.
“Just like how professors have worked to accommodate remote students, we’ve taken the time to adjust some responsibilities and adapt operations to assist remote members, so that they still feel engaged with FUSA and the rest of the student body,” said Gadioma.
According to Ugwu, FUSA members had to adjust their annual fall training, which is normally held in-person, to a hybrid model to ensure that remote students could participate.
“All the directors have done an amazing job engaging and communicating with members on their board who are remote,” Ugwu said. “It is, of course, not the same as years past, but we have all worked to keep the remote members just as engaged as the ones who are on campus.”
Gadioma and Ugwu are filling the shoes of former presidents, who are usually seniors. So, when the pair won as sophomores, Gadioma was worried about being seen as “too young or inexperienced to lead FUSA.” He felt that he was under a significant amount of pressure to be taken seriously, but quickly learned that by “leading with conviction and humbleness” he was able to maintain his usual wit and fun, finding a leadership style that works best for him.
However, it has been difficult for Gadioma and Ugwu to balance their junior year workload with their roles in FUSA. Another added pressure is that both Gadioma and Ugwu are pre-med students taking upper-level science, technology, engineering and mathematics classes. Gadioma stated that it just means that he has to focus on planning and prioritizing his responsibilities.
“COVID-19 demands a lot more out of this role, so it is vital for me to stick to a routine where I am able to be on top of everything,” he said.
Ugwu agreed, going on to say that he was able to figure it all out once he had a routine in place.
“Some weeks are more challenging than others–sometimes things come up at the last minute and we have to address them immediately, but I think we have done a good job ensuring that nothing falls under the radar,” he said.
Gadioma and Ugwu’s jobs aren’t always hard work and doom and gloom. They both manage to have some fun as well. Gadioma’s favorite part of the job so far has been working with a dedicated and fun group of students from all four class years. He said that, while on the FUSA Senate last year, he met some great people but did not get the chance to interact with other boards and branches.
“Being president has given me the opportunity to work with all spheres of FUSA,” he said.
Ugwu emphasized that it’s the relationships built within FUSA that make the job enjoyable, but “having the opportunity to advocate for the students is also very rewarding.”
Gadioma says that his presidency has made him significantly more confident in himself and his abilities.
“In the beginning, I sometimes lacked confidence when meeting with staff and administrators,” he said. “I was nervous to meet with people who have worked at this University for many years and who have interacted with many FUSA presidents before me.”
However, after some time he was able to gain the confidence necessary to fulfill what he was voted in to do and has been able to apply this to his personal life.
Ugwu also noticed personal growth within himself and his abilities, particularly time management.
“I have also learned how to work closely with large groups, how to network and how to multitask,” he said. “I have been able to sharpen my leadership skills and really embrace the art of servant leadership.”
This idea of servant leadership has continued in their work with students, as Gadioma stated his favorite thing about working with students is that he “is able to get to know students across all four classes and hear their perspective on different issues.” It’s helped him build relationships with people that he would’ve never otherwise met, and he can now, “share my [Gadioma’s] experiences and knowledge with underclassmen who were in my position just a year or two ago.”
The opportunity to meet so many students is what Ugwu finds most enjoyable as well. “Being in this position has given me the opportunity to interact with new people, and because of that, I have been able to broaden my horizons and widen my knowledge,” Ugwu said. “It has taught me what it truly means to be a Stag.”