Before Ellie Oldach ’15 came to COA, governance meant “a lot of ….trying to figure out policies, a lot of work with paper and figuring out what restrictions have been put in place, having…high amounts of debate on seemingly small issues.”  At the large west coast university from where she transferred, she had friends who were very involved in governance, although it felt very inaccessible to her. These friends identified themselves by their interest in government, politics, and debates. Participation in governance felt exclusive and an extension of events and activities involving fraternities and sororities.

At COA, getting involved was an extension of Ellie’s curiosity about the community on and off-campus.  “There was an issue that brought me specifically to AAC meetings. I think I wanted to be involved with a committee, I can’t remember the specific issue, but started going to that, and that was at the time when the Bolivia course was being talked about often.”  She started sitting in on ACM “out of nosiness, really,” and slowly got more of a sense of how issues moved through conversations outside ACM and eventually with “enough momentum, becomes a topic at ACM.”  She was “curious about what was going on in the community, and here was a place where everyone was coming together and giving forthright opinions…. It was really cool to see professors voicing opinions on things not directly related to class.”  She found herself understanding that “governance is less about together finding the right answer and more about taking these different beliefs about rightness … [and] then building to this external idea that doesn’t exist…. [G]oing through the process of talking and listening is key.” 

The skills she learned from moderating ACM and observing formal decision-making structures used in this context provided a useful comparison in her post-graduation work experience.

I was drawing comparisons between ACM and the daily staff meetings at my summer camp. At the end of the day we’d all sit in a circle and talk about highlights, safety concerns and risk management, and plans for the next day…I still would compare staff meetings to ACM and be conscious of the differences and structure, and things the ACM allowed in terms of providing structure to these difficult-to-contain conversations…I think I’ve tried to see ways in which ACM or that structure of decision-making can be used in other places in my life.  Especially facilitating conversations and making sure that parties can participate if they’re interested. That feels pretty essential, from staff meetings to family conversations.

As someone who always found ACM inherently interesting to attend, she recommends that students who are “people-focused” should go “for the sake of curiosity.”  If students have a project they want to implement on campus, she advises them to get involved and make it work.  Finally, she encourages students to take the opportunity to present at ACM.  Getting to share her senior project on the life cycle of deer ticks and its impact on human health just before a vote at town meeting on what to do about the island’s deer population allowed her to participate as “more than just a listener.”