Rachel Briggs ’13 completed her law degree and is staff attorney at Trustees for Alaska. Prior to entering law school, she worked as an organizer with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, an environmental organization dedicated to preserving and managing Utah’s remaining desert wild lands in the heart of the Colorado Plateau. As an undergraduate at COA, Rachel was an active participant in governance regularly attending Steering meetings and serving in various roles.

Rachel was skeptical about student governance before she came to COA. She says, “governance wasn’t something that drew me to the school, because I was used to student governance being pro forma, but nothing meaningful. I was surprised to find that it was much more robust at COA, and there were more opportunities for engagement.”

From her high school experience, Rachel grew accustomed to disappointing student governance experiences where students mainly planned social events, like homecoming and prom. These experiences felt empty to her; they didn’t accomplish what she wanted to accomplish. So she decided to go beyond the school to participate in other local and national governance endeavors. She worked with the mayor’s office in Honolulu on sustainability issues and with the first Obama presidential campaign, both of which better met her desire for meaningful community engagement than her high school’s student governance had.

After Rachel arrived at COA, her understanding of student governance shifted. She originally learned about COA’s governance from an informational session during the first-year student orientation. She started going to committee meetings, particularly Steering Committee. When asked what inspired her to get more involved with COA governance, she responded, “learning how deep involvement could be, that students could have a real voice and power—that was exciting and unusual.” She felt thrilled that her participation helped her to learn and grow and that it made an impact on the community as well.

Rachel considers the moderating and facilitating skills that she gained serving in COA governance incredibly useful and valuable in all aspects of her life. She learned how to create open and safe spaces and productive discussions, guiding discussions in a way that let people know they are heard. Rachel says:

I had learned about various forms of governance in an academic sense…but having an opportunity to participate in a very real way made me learn much differently than I would have in a more theoretical situation. It could have been intimidating from purely academic engagement to being expected to actually talk to members of Congress or comment on agency policies and have real consequences. Doing governance beforehand and having a system and a practice around how I engaged in those processes really benefited me. I didn’t have to spend as much time learning that after I got out of school.

To new and continuing students considering involvement in COA governance, Rachel emphasizes the diverse opportunities for involvement.

It can feel really overwhelming at times, especially because a lot of people are really excited about it, and it can feel like you have to be passionate and invested, but there are so many access points. There is a great diversity of committees to participate in; you don’t have to participate in ACM every week to get something valuable. Even [by] just talking to people on committees, you can get a good sense [of things]. If anyone has interest, they should test it out and not feel intimidated by the scope or feel they have to do everything and give all of their time…[G]iv[ing] some time in some way is really valuable.