Q & A with Jonathan Osborn

Senior Jonathan Osborn is president of Grand Valley's Student Senate, the governing body for the university's 22,063 students. Osborn, taking time from a hectic schedule, sat in the Kirkhof Center -- the hub of student activity -- to talk with Grand Valley Magazine's Michele Coffill about student involvement, life on campus and Laker pride.

GVM: When you were in high school, what was important to you about selecting a college?

Osborn: Actually, I took three years off after high school and worked for LECO Corporation [in St. Joseph], in the testing and analytical department. I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do. I enjoyed the work and thought, "Why not get a chemistry degree?"

GVM: Where did you apply?

Osborn: I applied to the University of Michigan, Western Michigan and Grand Valley. It was coming to this campus that sold me. The chair of the chemistry department gave me a tour. And I liked the fact that it wasn't as big as other campuses.

GVM: How old are you?

Osborn: I'm 25.

GVM: Is it odd being a little older than your classmates?

Osborn: It is different in some aspects. I know where I want to go and what I want to do, and I feel like I have a little more direction than some students. Taking time off worked well for me, I need to be focused on a goal, to have a kick in the pants to get going.

GVM: Were you involved in campus activities during your freshman year?

Osborn: I didn't get involved my first year; I didn't know how I fit in. During my sophomore year, I became involved in CARE [Cancer Awareness Resistance and Education]. It's the group that organizes Relay for Life. I joined the organization in January and was named president the next year. The first year, we raised $25,000; the second year, $43,000.

GVM: That's a big increase.

Osborn: We were able to get a lot more people involved. It was cool because college students typically don't have a lot of money to give, so it was great to see that.

GVM: Then you joined Student Senate?

Osborn: Right. I got involved in student government for one semester as senator, then I was elected vice president for a semester, and now I'm president.

GVM: Can you describe the makeup of Student Senate?

Osborn: There are 50 senators and seven committees: multicultural affairs, political action, student resources, public relations, college affairs, appropriations and educational affairs. We have eight vice presidents and myself.

GVM: From commuter students to nontraditional students, do you feel the senate represents 22,000 students well?

Osborn: It is hard. When you look at the senators, most are typically involved students. It is hard to get wide representation. It becomes more of "I can see where you're coming from." Lots of college students have the same problems, so my hope is that we can focus on the commonalities.

GVM: You were very active during the fall semester with voter registration.

Osborn: Most people who are ages 18-25 don't care about voting. That's stereotyping, but I wanted to try to debunk that at Grand Valley. Last year was a presidential year and there were a lot of controversial topics, yet some college students didn't see how it related to them. I helped get the word out that the Secretary of State mobile van was here and we registered 700 people in two days. Last year, we registered 300 in two days. The other part was educating all those individuals. We did that through the help of President Murray and faculty, through e-mails, and during my convocation speech. It was the same message: voting is your best way to communicate with the government.

GVM: What are other Student Senate projects?

Osborn: The other big one for this year is the campaign, "10 Ways to Fight Hate." It started with the multicultural affairs committee and is now spreading through grassroots efforts. We intend to keep it going for several years. We need to educate Grand Valley about it through programs that portray what hate is and how to identify it. People have to understand that hate is not solely about race. Two years ago, faculty took on the same program. The next step is getting groups to do programming based on the campaign. The hope is by getting others involved, they'll have ownership of it. You have a greater stake in something if you're involved. I would also like to build a strategic plan for student government, much like the university's mission statement; I would like to have goals for the senate. But it's hard when there is a lot of turnover among senators, who only serve for one or two years.

GVM: What about your plans after you graduate in April?

Osborn: I would like to move to Washington or Oregon. I like the outdoors; I love hiking and skiing, and I would like to see a different side of the country. I want to work in the chemistry field, but I'm also more of a people-person. I would like to find a job and get an MBA. I think I would have more selling power with a technology background and a business background, plus Grand Valley has done a great job with the liberal arts education.

GVM: You and other senators attend meetings, through the Association of Michigan Universities, with other student government leaders. What have you learned about Grand Valley through these meetings?

Osborn: The university has done a lot for retention of students and spent more time recruiting from outside the local area. Those two things have really been positive. The thing that is so cool about students is that the climate changes and keeps evolving. I talked with [Public Safety Director] Barbara Bergers and she said if all students have to complain about is parking, we're doing a lot of things right. We do have our own problems, but this is a very safe, very student-friendly campus. A lot of that has to do with the type of students we draw. We have high academic standards, and the university places a lot of emphasis on activities outside academics.

GVM: When you come back to campus in five years or so, how do you see Grand Valley?

Osborn: This school has changed so much in the five years I've been here, I'm almost nervous to see how it will change years down the road, it could be a totally different campus. But it will be cool to come back and see a really awesome football stadium, because we have the best team in the country. I also want the name Grand Valley to be more recognized outside of Michigan. If I go out to Washington and tell people where I went to school, I would like them to know who we are. We're already close to that; we've done a lot of name recognition through academics and athletics.

Page last modified July 28, 2011