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Quadcast transcript: Student leaders take the reins

September 27, 2017

Jordan Smith ’18 and Rebecca Mooney ’18 are the Students’ Association president and vice president, respectively, for the 2017-18 academic year.

The two were voted in last April, marking the first time women were elected to the top two positions in student government at the University of Rochester. They’re responsible for setting the agenda for student government and the implementation of all legislation passed by the Senate.

Smith, whose hometown is New Boston, New Hampshire, is a dual major in political science and economics. Mooney, from Barrington, Illinois, is a dual major in international relations and Spanish.

In this episode of the QuadCast podcast, Smith and Mooney sat down with Peter Iglinski from University Communications to discuss their goals for the upcoming year, their plans after college, and how it felt to “shatter a glass ceiling” last spring.


Iglinski: Thanks for being here today.

Smith: Thanks for having us.

Iglinski: Jordan, the night you were elected, you said you that you and Rebecca had “shattered a glass ceiling in Rochester.” Talk about what it means to be the first all-female ticket at the head of student government at the University of Rochester.

Smith: It’s a really great responsibility, and something we don’t take very lightly. It’s not often you see the top two seats go to both women as a team, and that’s really something special and something I’m very excited about.

Iglinski: Same for you?

Mooney: Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s an honor and a privilege to hold that point in history to be the first female president and vice president of student government. But more than that, we can tell people that and be very proud of it. It also holds a great deal of pressure because there’s such an expectation that we perform at a different way than two males would, right?  So for that we have to live up to a few more standards than in prior terms, and we’re ready for the challenge, very much so, but it’s definitely different than the University has experienced before for the ticket.

Iglinski: In 2017, it’s still different.

Mooney: Oh, very much so.

Iglinski: So what do you see that suggests to you it’s different?

Smith: I think that things through the campaign cycle, like having to worry about being taken seriously as two women is a unique challenge. We’ve had a lot of strong female leadership in the past at the top of the ticket. Vice presidents and presidents have been women, and that’s exciting, but we haven’t had this pair. And there’s definitely some unique challenges. Things like campaigning and worrying about how our voices might sound. Or how to dress in photos so that we’ll be taken seriously. Anything from that to really just hoping that everything goes well. Really, it’s been interesting. There have been some interesting challenges so far.

Iglinski: Have you had experience in student government before? I’ll start with you, Rebecca.

Mooney: Yeah, most definitely. It’s hard to get me away from student government, honestly. Every opportunity from when I was a kid in the real government of the United States of America, I have very much been involved. Here at Rochester, in particular, as a freshman I got involved for the first time in the public relations committee in the communications department of what student government was structured as back then. Thereafter, I ran for Senate and thankfully I was elected, and it was a great privilege to serve that term my sophomore year. I was also taken onto the ARC committee, which is the Administration Review Committee, where we review the clubs and different pieces of proposals for different organizations that want to form on campus. I was also on the campus services committee after coming back from abroad. Thereafter, I figured, hey what’s the next step, and it seemed to be obvious.

Iglinski: I can’t let this pass. You mentioned the real government. You’ve got to tell us about that.

Mooney: I worked for the United States Senate the summer after my sophomore year, and it was an incredible experience, eye-opening in a lot of ways. A lot of different nuances to how that functions in the real world, and what you see on C-Span as opposed to what’s happening behind the curtain. I think it was a really valuable experience because it taught me a lot of great leadership skills, and how to think critically about how legislation moves, both in somewhere like Rochester or somewhere like the United States. It was incredibly important in deciding what I want to do after with my life.

Iglinski: Jordan, how about you?

Smith: So I have also been involved in SA since my freshman year. I served on what was then called Policy and Review and is now ARC. That was my freshman year. My sophomore year I also ran for Senate and served as both a senator and as chair of the academic affairs committee. We both went abroad in fall of our junior year and sat on the campus services committee when we both came back.

Iglinski: You’re both dual majors. What makes you think you have time for this?

Smith: Luckily, I’m actually done with my political science major and am just finishing out my economics degree. I’m still taking a full load of classes, but it’s really not bad. I’ve got some independent studies thrown in there. It’s all good.

Iglinski: Any second thoughts, Rebecca?

Mooney: You make time for what’s important, and of course academics always come first. Student government has and always will be a priority for me, whether that’s at Rochester or elsewhere. Even on your toughest days, you always set aside a little bit of time to put your time where it’s most worth it.

Iglinski: And you both sleep.

Smith: Sometimes.

Mooney: Sometimes.

Iglinski: Tell us about how you two met, and how it was worked out who would head the ticket and who would be the vice?

Smith: We’ve known each other since freshman year, at first just kind of in passing, and then as friends. I’m trying to remember a time we first met. You’ve always been a facet in the Rochester community.

Mooney: I would say that’s true. There’s no one pinpoint in time. However, there has been a really interesting pattern to our lives, where we follow each other, and we never intended to. Freshman year we both lived on the quad, and then we both went to D.C. (on internships), and then we both went to Spain (to study abroad). And we had never once communicated about where these paths were leading us. But we kept looking over our shoulders like, “Oh, there you are.” And it was just remarkable. We found ourselves again on the Campus Services Committee, again not planned at all, the second semester of last year, and that’s when we realized it’s inevitable that we work together in some capacity thereafter.

Iglinski: I just envision a law firm down the road, like Smith and Mooney, or Mooney and Smith.

Smith: It’s funny that you say that. We actually bought a website domain, a very cheap one, but it worked very well for our campaign. And it’s called smithmooney. And we looked at it one day and were like, “You know, that would be a great law firm name.” I think we said that.

Mooney: And ironically, there is a law firm called Smith and Mooney, so if you type in the web address just incorrectly enough, you’ll get to a law firm page.

Iglinski: Did you arm wrestle or play a game of chess to see who would head the ticket?

Smith: We thought about what commitments we had this year, because we knew we wanted to run together. But we hadn’t worked that out originally. And something that we discussed was time commitment. That was definitely a deciding factor for us.

Mooney: Jordan definitely has more time this year than I would. I’m also president of the Modern Languages and Cultures undergraduate council, and I have to write my thesis and conduct research this year. So that was something we were very well aware of.

Iglinski: Your parents must be proud.

Smith: I hope so, I really do.

Iglinski: Let’s talk about the platform and your agenda. I’ll start with you this time, Rebecca. Tell us, what are the issues you both campaigned on, and what are your priorities for the school year?

Mooney: Most definitely. So the approach we took to our agenda was a 33-point, three-pillar platform in which we divided those pillars into affordability being the first, the second being student wellness, and the third being transparency and sort of the structure of student government as it stands in our relationship with everyone above us. That was our guiding itinerary going into our platform. There are a few key points, which I’ll let Jordan speak more about, that we are going to hit the ground running with.

Smith: There are definitely a few within those three broad sections that really stand out. One is financial aid. Students in the past have had a lot of struggles with the financial aid department. Of course, we don’t presume any mal intent. There have been a good number of students who have had to leave campus because of cuts to their financial aid package, and that’s something that we’ve identified as a main problem that SA hasn’t really stepped up and taken care of. It’s something that is very important to us, as well as revitalizing the “It’s On Us” program. SA was very, very involved in the establishment of It’s On Us several years ago, and in the past few years has really dropped the ball on that. It’s such a huge priority on any college campus and should be a huge priority on any college campus. Because that’s a really important conversation to have.

Iglinski: How do you go about making changes to University practices or policy. What’s your clout?

Smith: I always talk about this. SA is a feedback organization, and we depend both on strong relationships with administrators and trust from the student body. If we don’t have either of those, I think we lose a lot of our salience. It’s our job to really build both of those. The main way we accomplish change is through having those strong relationships and being able to say, this is why this change would benefits students, and this would generate a lot of positive energy for your department.

Iglinski: And good communication skills, the ability to reason, and construct a strong argument. And I know, Rebecca, you’re thinking of law school.

Mooney: I am. Hopefully, one day down the line. I don’t plan on going straight through, simply because I kind of want to take a year or so to get my ducks in a row and figure out which of the different areas of law I am most interested in, and kind of prep myself for that, and take a break before I jump all in again right into the education system. And so in that one year, I’m thinking maybe a fellowship, potentially a paralegal position, perhaps a firm, something like that.

Iglinski: We’re a few weeks into your terms. Is it what you thought it would be?

Mooney: I would say so. I think it’s incredibly exciting. We had our first training session with the Senate. It was wonderful to get really involved with the people we’re going to be working with this year. That’s what student government has been and will always be. It’s the people inside the organization that make the change happen. It’s been very wonderful and very reassuring to see that everyone on our team is just as excited as we are. And that’s something I could only hope for, and I’m happy to find that that is ringing  true. The excitement in the room, you couldn’t miss it. People are very passionate, and they have such ideas and such goals for this coming semester, even, or this year as a whole. And it’s wonderful, and it’s exactly what I hoped for.

Iglinski: Any surprises on your end, Jordan?

Smith: I wouldn’t say any surprises. We just were able to confirm our cabinet members, which is really exciting. So now we have an executive team as well, and it’s feeling like the team within student government is more complete every day, which is really exciting. So I wouldn’t say any surprises, but very exciting.

Iglinski: What’s a typical day like?

Smith: A typical day is hard. I would say, definitely, at least one or two meetings, whether that’s with administration, or our advisers or students or committees, Senate, anything. There are a lot of meetings. Definitely some conversations and email answering and conversations with administration about certain projects going on. There’s just a constant back and forth. So it really varies based on what we have that particular day. But lots of emails and a lot of emailing.

Iglinski: When does your day start?

Mooney: I think it starts the minute that you get to campus. In addition to all the responsibilities that Jordan just mentioned, the most important job we have is being really present on campus for the student body and showing them that we’re here, we’re you, we’re looking out for the things that you need. You’re walking around through the student union, going to the cafeteria spaces, you’re saying “hey” to people in the library. You’re checking in. If you’re absent, they don’t know you’re doing work. You have to show them you’re doing these meetings and going to all these different brunches and fun little sessions and seminars. But the bigger thing that people see is you. So you have to be there.

Smith: Yeah, and also to receive student feedback. I’ve had so many people approach me, and I know Becca has had the same, with feedback ideas and ideas for change on our campus. If we’re not around and present, we don’t necessarily get that feedback.

Iglinski: Clearly, the number one reason for being here is academics. So let’s talk about how the experience in student government fits in and maybe helps your academic experience. Let’s start with Rebecca.

Mooney: Absolutely. This is sort of a given in the projectory of where I see my academics going is participating in student government. The reason for that is, it teaches incredibly valuable crisis management skills, group management skills, leadership, you name it. But all of these different skill sets you need to develop through being a student body president or vice president do actually help with a political science major, or an international relations major, or a Spanish major, or an economics major, which is all of what we are, right? And with that, these different majors are incredibly reliant on being able to communicate and get your point across, and to convey an argument, or to just find a better solution. Doing that day-to-day and pursuing different situations where you can do that through the student body is something that gives you a real-world application to your studies and allows you to practice what you learn in the classroom on campus, even as you’re learning it.

Iglinski: And Jordan, is the experience in student government helping your academics?

Smith: For sure. I would definitely echo everything Becca has said. And also, in terms of job preparedness, I don’t think there’s anything better. I have learned so much that I feel is so applicable to real world scenarios in business or really any company you could ever work at. Conflict management, leadership, you know, really facilitating good conversation and communication. I feel like all the experiences I’ve had in student government translate into most things in life.

Iglinski: It would be wrong to go through your time at the University without having some fun. Do you have time for some R&R, some fun? And what do you do?

Smith: I have some time for fun. I love kickboxing, and that’s something I’ve really enjoyed doing in the past two or three years or so. Like any person my age, I also love spending time with friends. And I love seeing my family when I get a chance, which is hard because they’re a little far. But those are just my go-to rest- and relaxation-type activites.

Iglinski: And kick boxing is a good stress release.

Smith: It’s a really good stress release.

Iglinski: Rebecca?

Mooney: Yeah, so I try to stay multi-faceted in how I spend my days. I get very bored of the same thing day to day. Things that I often engage with are art. I love painting, especially people. I think captivating emotion and personality on paper, painting or drawing, is wonderful. I also love running. My dad is a marathon runner, so I do a bit of a casual jog, day to day, to keep in shape and to keep that on my mind. All the things he’s taught me, I do that as well. I also love hiking. The other weekend, I went to the Adirondacks and I hiked those with my friends, so that was wonderful. And, of course, just being with the people you love whenever you get a free moment, is what I look forward to,  because that’s what makes my time here worthwhile, is the people.

Iglinski: And yours runs right now are under 26.2 miles?

Mooney: Yes. The most I’ve ever done is a half marathon but someday we’re hoping for the full.

Iglinski: What brought you to the University of Rochester in the first place? Jordan?

Smith: I fell in love with Rochester because of its open curriculum,  and then I came and visited the campus. It’s just really hard not to fall in love with the campus. And at some point during the day, after hearing people talk, and hearing administrators talk about the curriculum to admitted students, and just walking around and getting a feel for what Rochester was like, and random-sampling talking to some students walking around, it just really clicked that this was the place. This was my choice, and it was very clear to me.

Iglinski: And Rebecca, what was appealing about the U of R?

Mooney: So this is a fun question, because I’m actually a tour guide, so I answer this regularly. My reason for coming was a three-pronged approach. One, the trajectory of the University has always been positive. We keep getting better. And that is something I’m super confident in, because I know that once I graduate, the University’s brand will keep working for me and only climb upwards past the point of my graduation. Second, it’s easy to be a big fish in a small pond here because we are so diverse, and people want to see you do well. People see the best in you before you even see it in yourself. You’re surrounded by wonderful minds that tell you, “Hey you can do this. Go do it.” They really push you. The third reason is just how very humble and passionate and sweet the people are. They’re competitive on the outside, meaning they do their best to be good students, but they’re never competitive on the inside with each other. That’s remarkable for a school of this academic caliber.

Iglinski: You’ve got a whole year ahead of you, but what do you think you’ll miss most about the University when you graduate?

Mooney: I would say the ability to walk around and wave to so many people you know, walk around and being able to check in. I know the real world is not like that. You don’t walk down the streets of a city and recognize every other person as you go to class or the cafeteria. But also the groundhogs. This is the first time I’ve ever seen those, coming from the Midwest. We don’t really have a lot of them. And I will miss them, regardless of where I go, I have to say.

Iglinski: God love the groundhogs. Jordan, what do you think you’ll miss?

Smith: Definitely the people and the sense of community here. It’s really, really inspiring. Everyone is so involved, which is another part of what makes our student body so incredible. Not only is it full of brilliant, smart people, but it’s also full of passionate people. There are over 280 student organizations on campus, and over 80 percent are involved in at least one. So it’s just a very passionate group of people. Everybody that you talk to, even if they’re studying microbiology—I know nothing about micro bio—but they make me interested in it. It’s incredible. I’ve never experienced a community like this.

Iglinski: I notice you didn’t say groundhogs.

Mooney: (laughs) I’ll miss them too.

Iglinski: Everybody in college seems to have like a favorite spot. What’s your favorite spot on campus?

Smith: For me, there’s a place by the dock, or by the river, it’s like a little dock, right behind the freshmen quad and kind of by the bridge. I lived on the freshman quad my first year. I would go there when I needed some relaxing time to just think about things. It’s really beautiful, you can see the river, and it’s very quiet. And I love going down there. It’s just very peaceful.

Iglinski: What’s your spot, Rebecca?

Mooney: I would say, actually, the Eastman Quad. I love the trees. I love how in the springtime the cherry blossoms light it up with pink and purple. I like that people are constantly moving to and fro between their classes over that quad. You always see someone when you’re sitting there, and you can just relax, and on sunny days, maybe catch a little sunlight and get a break from the day as you would sitting on a nice grassy lawn.

Smith: Spring days on the Eastman Quad are like none other.

Mooney: Wonderful.

Iglinski: What do you bring from home? It’s a little insight into your personalities Every school year when you came here, what did you always have to bring from home?

Mooney: This is a bit nerdy, I have to say. But every year since I was a freshman I’ve brought a map of the congressional districts of Illinois, and I hang it on my wall. Every single year without fail. That’s the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning. I hate to admit it.

Iglinski: Why? What is it about …

Mooney: On one hand, of course, I’m interested in politics and policy. On the other hand, it kind of reminds me of where I come from, and that’s a wonderful thing to remember when you wake up in the morning and just getting a little bit of home even before you go out for the day.

Iglinski: Very nice. Jordan, your turn.

Smith: I bring a few of my favorite books of all time that I find very comforting and good to have around. And ironically, I actually also have a map of New Hampshire, but it’s from the 2012 election. So it’s our congressional map. I worked on that campaign, and that was my first experience in politics. The Obama 2012 campaign. I have a map of New Hampshire where I’ve demarcated the areas we won and where I worked.

Iglinski: He did pretty well in New Hampshire, didn’t he?

Smith: We did indeed. We won New Hampshire.

Iglinski: I should say you, too, because you were part of the effort. Student clubs, what do you belong to?

Smith: I actually this year have definitely cut down my involvement a lot. I’d say I’m a very peripheral member of College Feminists. I love it, and I support what they do, and I go to the events, but I don’t have time for a much heavier involvement. I’m involved in Greek Life and I’m definitely very involved in Students’ Association government!

Iglinski: That’s true. How about you, Rebecca?

Mooney: So, as I’ve mentioned, I am a meridian. I’m also president of the Modern Languages and Cultures undergraduate council. And I tutor elementary school children in the local Rochester area to learn Spanish once a week or so on Tuesdays.

Iglinski: Oh, very nice. You’ve both taken a lot of courses, and I know sometimes your favorite course isn’t always in your major. That was the case with me. What’s your favorite course? Jordan?

Smith: Econ 108 with Professor (Michael) Rizzo. Intro to economics. Oh my god, it’s my favorite class. It changed my life. It’s the best class I’ve ever taken and will ever take.

Iglinski: Now you’ve got to explain why. You can’t just leave us hanging.

Smith: So I was not ever somebody who considered myself interested in economics. Now I’m an economics major. I took this class, and I think oftentimes econ can be very much about the graphs and charts and money. And it’s not about that. Economics is the study of incentives, and how those incentives affect behavior. And so Econ 108 was a really amazing introduction to economics because Professor Rizzo has a very, I guess,  unconventional style of teaching the econ. He steers you away from charts and graphs as much as he can in that first year because he thinks it’s important that you understand how it’s applicable to daily life. So, on an exam, you might get a question about parking spaces, and like, what should the city do to free up more parking spaces. And things like that. It’s just a really, really fascinating exploration into incentives and behavior. And it set me on the course to be an economics graduate in a year.

Iglinski: Rebecca, your favorite.

Mooney: I would say Civil War and the International System, which I took with Hein Goemans. He is a wonderful professor, I have to say. If you haven’t met him, please do. He’s just very zany, but in the most beautiful way. That class was a lecture hall, but it was a very small one, so it was very participatory. We learned about game theory, and I think that the rational actor model as applied to inner-state conflict is absolutely fascinating. His project in particular, which he brought into our class, dealt with the way that geography and the fluidity along state boundaries in South America can affect national identity and civilian perceptions of such. That was something that I absolutely enjoyed learning about, because it appealed to all of my interests at the same time and gave me better insight as to why the world works the way that it does across state boundaries, which is what my major is all about.

Iglinski: OK, next question. Rebecca, who inspires you?

Mooney: I would say my dad does. I have moved around quite a bit as a child. I’ve moved upwards of six times, if not more, just because of his job in different branch management positions that he has held. He has been a constant every way in my life, and he’s kind of inspired me that the better you focus on yourself, the better that you can be for other people. Something I hope he knows that he is my biggest role model, and that is something that I remember. Because he teaches me that character is so important, and your values are important. Never forget where you came from. You’ve got to know that to get to where you want to go.

Iglinski: And Jordan, who inspires you?

Smith: I’m inspired by a lot of the strong women in my life, and in pop culture. But the first person in that is my mom, who really taught me from a young age to be an individual, and who really instilled a lot of the values that I have today.

Iglinski: Now you’re both clearly thinking ahead to next year. You’ve still got a year ahead of you, but you have to make plans. At this point, where do you think people will find you. Jordan?

Smith: I actually just applied to a job two days ago, like a “real person”, full-time, salaried job, which is crazy. I’m trying to do something in business next year. I’m applying to management consulting jobs. I don’t know if that’s where you’ll see me in 10 years, but hopefully it’s where you’ll see me in two or three. That’s my immediate plan. I think it’ll be a really interesting way to branch into the world of business, and a great way to essentially experience a bunch of different industries and practices without having to, into the entry level at a company doing that, and start your path off there.

Iglinski: Rebecca, how about you? A year from now?

Mooney: I would say that I likely will be studying for the LSAT, which is not the most exciting thing, I’ve got to say. But as I told you briefly before, I do plan on taking a year off between undergrad and law school, so with that I hope I’m doing something fun and exciting to add to my resume in some way or another, perhaps a fellowship or working as a paralegal somewhere, or delving back into D.C. and doing something at a think tank in policy creation. Something like that.

Iglinski: At this point in time, what’s your dream job?

Mooney: My dream job is working for some sort of embassy in international diplomacy, likely somewhere in Latin America, because I would be able to use my Spanish. I actually used to live in Mexico, so that would be a fun experience to draw back upon and employ that in the real world in my future.

Iglinski: And Jordan, your dream job.

Smith: My dream job is probably working for a very empowered female senator or representative who’s really making waves in Washington.

Iglinski: Now I can’t end this without asking you, how can students get ahold of you? Jordan?

Smith: Email is probably the most reliable way. I’m at There are a lot of JSM’s in our history. I’m the 143rd. You can email me, you can find my information on the SA site, or send me a message on Facebook. I accept, like, all message requests from people that go to Rochester, and friend requests from people that go to Rochester. Yeah, social media, email, it’s great.

Iglinski: And Rebecca, how can people contact you?

Mooney: Similar with me, email is definitely the best method. I’m I’m only the third (laughs), so don’t compare. However, I will say that the absolute best way to contact me is simply to find me on campus. Trust me, I’m very easy to find. I’m usually in Starbucks, outside in the lounge. I do a lot of work there or just hang out there. But I’m also usually in Rush Rhees Library if I’m doing more serious work. So catch me there.

Iglinski: I’ve been speaking with Jordan Smith, who is the president of the Students’ Association, and Rebecca Mooney, who is the vice president of the Students’ Association. Thanks for being with us.

Smith: Thanks for having us.

Mooney: Absolutely.

Iglinski: My thanks also to Steve Roessner, our audio engineer. For the University of Rochester QuadCast, I’m Peter Iglinski.


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