Back when Adam Ghrist ’04 was a student, he’d often find himself sitting in a room with the most powerful people at Illinois State University. And everyone would be staring at him.
Ghrist was the student trustee—the only student on the University’s eight-member Board of Trustees. As the other trustees and administrators weighed tuition levels and other issues, they turned to Ghrist.
“I realized, this is serious. They take what I say seriously,” said Ghrist, now a prosecutor in McLean County. “They rely on the student trustee to bring that voice and that perspective.”
Illinois State’s Board of Trustees, in place since 1996, affects the daily lives of students in many ways, from setting tuition to approving big construction projects. And right in thick of those decisions is the student trustee, one of the top student leadership positions on campus. It’s a demanding job, but one that leads to dramatic personal and professional growth for those who hold the position.
Senior Connor Joyce is currently the student trustee. Unlike the seven other trustees, who were appointed to six-year terms by the governor, Joyce was elected by his peers to a one-year term. He’s a full-fledged voting member—unlike the student trustees at many other schools.
And because the other ISU trustees have day jobs and often live out of town, Joyce is the only trustee on campus every day. He also has a unique perspective on the top legislative issues facing campus—the state budget stalemate and Monetary Award Program (MAP) funding—because he is a MAP recipient himself and works part-time in the Financial Aid Office.
“The student trustee brings a perspective that, quite honestly, no other member can,” said Rocky Donahue ’82, chairman of the Board of Trustees.
The Board of Trustees voted in May to raise tuition for new, full-time undergraduate students by 3 percent. Before the vote, as trustees mulled how much to raise tuition, Donahue said then-Student Trustee Ellen Schumacher shared valuable perspective on how price-sensitive students and families had become. “I think that helped the board in its decision-making,” Donahue said.
It’s a big time commitment, even if the students typically have held other leadership roles. There are regular meetings, special meetings, invitations to countless campus events, and other obligations. That’s on top of class and homework, while their social life takes a back seat.
“It’s a big, unpaid time commitment,” Donahue said. “You can tell they do it because they love the University.”
Ghrist loved the student trustee job, but he missed out on a lot of social time with his friends.
“Most days, I’d be up and out of the apartment in a suit before my roommates were even out of bed,” said Ghrist, a political science alumnus.
Yet there are some fun parts. Former President Al Bowman came to Ghrist’s wedding. Joyce and his girlfriend get invited to all sorts of campus events. Schumacher’s advisor addresses her as “Trustee Schumacher.”
Student leadership leads to student growth. Schumacher, who was trustee from July 2014-2015, says she learned how to conduct herself in a professional manner at meetings, while also building real relationships with the other trustees and VIPs she worked with.
“You have to be professional toward them, but at the same time you feel comfortable enough to complain about all the homework you have. It’s interesting to find the right dynamic,” said Schumacher, who is majoring in marketing and organizational leadership and will graduate in May.
She added: “I really do feel like I have grown from that experience.”
Ghrist was student trustee during his senior year—“one of the best experiences of my life,” he says. He made friendships and connections that remain a decade later. He learned a deeper lesson too.
“It was an opportunity to see how successful, professional adults work with one another, sometimes in tense situations,” Ghrist said. “What opened my eyes was being shown that you can be a good person and very successful at what you do at the same time. That really, really shaped me.”
Joyce will graduate in May with a double major in human resources management and psychology. The former student body president urges his fellow students to come talk to him about issues related to the Board of Trustees. He has an office in the Student Government Association space in Student Services Building.
“The position is an example of how ISU is student-focused and has true shared governance,” Joyce said. “It shows how ISU cares about its students in ways that few universities can mimic.”
Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@IllinoisState.edu.