Update: Joelle and Abeer won the election and will go on to lead U of M’s student government during the 2015-2016 school year as its first woman President/Vice President team.

By Claire Breitenstein – One day in fourth grade I was working on a “What I want to be when I grow up” worksheet, and I drew myself as the President of the United States. Two boys walked up and asked me “Why did you do that?” They continued, “That’s a boy job.”

So 9-year-old Claire, abashed and humbled, scribbled out the adorable pantsuit and redrew herself as a waitress. Unfortunately, she continued to carry these doubts all the way up to “Am I good enough for engineering school?” as a 17-year-old. Thankfully the answer that time was “Yes,” and I chose to attend the College of Science and Engineering (CSE) at the University of Minnesota (U of M).

Over the last few years, although CSE has enjoyed increasing rates of women enrolling, it still struggles to retain many of us for reasons unknown. On my journey to uncover some of the causes for women leaving, I became involved in student government and met two of the most intelligent and driven women I know: Joelle Stangler and Abeer Syedah.

I was entirely apathetic about student government before I met these two, but now that I have, I’ve found a group of bright, motivated students who want to change campus for the better, just like I do.

This is the first time in U of M’s history that two women will be running together for the two highest positions in the school’s student government.

Joelle Stangler currently serves as the student body president of the U of M and is a junior in Political Science & Mass Communications. Abeer Syedah is a sophomore in Political Science and Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies who serves as the Outreach Director for the Minnesota Student Association, the U of M’s student government. Joelle is running for reelection as next year’s President, with Abeer as the Vice President.

Both have more experience than there is space to list, but I’ll say this: with a combined five years of student government experience, they know how to get things done.

Of course, one of the biggest topics on campuses across the nation is sexual assault, as one in five women on a college campus will be victims of sexual assault. During her first year as student body president, Joelle has led several policy initiatives on minimum sanctions for sexual assault and affirmative consent for campus. The duo has worked to get a sexual assault prevention bill through the Minnesota legislature, and under Joelle’s guidance, student government launched the high-impact “No Gray” campaign that calls for the campus community to better support victim-survivors. They are hoping for the chance to work more next year on fair and clear procedures on campus, even more support for victim-survivors, and a culture where all students are active bystanders.

Often overlooked, conversations about mental health are just starting to gain traction on college campuses. One in four college students suffers from mental illness, so Joelle and Abeer developed a comprehensive plan for how they would address this issue next year. Specifically, their plan streamlines support procedures, focuses resources on prevention, expands partnerships between offices and student groups, raises awareness of the issue, and improves policy by eliminating administrative barriers. Knowing they can’t do it alone, they’ve already brought the plan through the university health center, counseling office, and student health advisory group.

Joelle and Abeer are already making an impact, but this is just the beginning.

UofM_J&A meme
The pair’s “Meme Mondays” are a hit with campaign volunteers. This is my favorite.

If elected, a few more of their priorities for next year include college affordability, transportation, and diversity. They’ll try to keep college costs manageable by lobbying at the Minnesota capitol and advocating for open-source textbooks, increase reliable and accessible transportation that keeps students safe, and ensure the voices of marginalized and underrepresented communities are heard in student government and across campus.

Their support and belief in me is what convinced me to run for Student Senate and represent my engineering college, hoping to increase the retention rates of women and other underrepresented groups through increased mental health resources and heightened education about the issue in the college.

These powerful female figures have shown me that women can and do make a difference on a university campus and on even larger scales. Every woman should have the confidence to pursue her passions and enter any field she wants, regardless of its male-dominance. For anyone needing inspiration, Joelle and Abeer are two women you should know. [Editor’s Note: We could not agree more Claire!]

About This Contributor

UofM_ClaireClaire Breitenstein is a Biomedical Engineering and Neuroscience major at the University of Minnesota (class of 2017). In her “spare” time, she is the Leadership Team Officer on U of M’s Science and Engineering Student Board, the Founder and President of the U of M Chapter of Engineering World Health, and a Research Assistant at the university’s Osborn Lab.