Two Transylvania University seniors with a passion for campus engagement are making an outsized impact through their leadership organizations.
Sure, it’ll look good on their resumes, but for Ysa Leon and Harrison Carlson-Bratton, serving as presidents of the Student Government Association and Student Activities Board (respectively) has given them an opportunity to help their fellow Pioneers get the most out of college life.
Making a difference in student government
For Leon, SGA is a potent way to affect positive change. “It’s very empowering,” said the writing, rhetoric and communication major from Louisville. “I think students don’t realize how much power they have on campus. If we want to change something, we can do it — we just need to use our voice and our resources.”
Leon said SGA is working to be more open to the student body. “In the past, we’ve done a lot of things behind the scenes, so I feel that I want students to be more aware of what SGA is doing.”
To foster this culture of collaboration and accessibility, the group has increased its social media presence and participates in GroupMe chats with organizations across campus. Leon also sits in on other groups’ meetings and gets together monthly with President Brien Lewis, who himself led his student body at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “We’ve had a great working relationship,” Leon said.
SGA also works with offices across campus. For instance, it recently partnered with Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on a “really successful” MLK Day discussion last month.
The campus community also is invited to come out to SGA’s Wednesday night meetings to express concerns or just listen in.
As for getting practical things done for the students, Leon successfully pushed to bring free laundry machines to the Rosenthal apartments (the other residence halls already had them), in addition to an Ale-8 machine to the Campus Center. They also worked to bring CPR and Narcan training to campus. Other projects have included extending Caf and gym hours and mobilizing students on campus to register to vote and get involved politically. SGA is also trying to install squirrel feeders and provide plastic bags for dog walkers to clean up with.
Leon recommends fellow students get involved in SGA. “You can make a big difference by being on SGA. We do a lot of important and amazing work.”
Actually, when the SGA president was an ambassador in the First Engagements program, they encouraged new students to join any student organization to find a close group of friends.
Leon is a former lacrosse player who also serves as secretary of the Latino Student Association and is a member of TUnity, the Writing Center and Conservation Action Committee.
“I have a lot of different passions but all of them tend to gear toward social issues,” they said. “I have a complex identity like any other human — I really resonate with all of them, being a leader, being queer, being Latino, those are really big parts of my life.”
So is Transylvania. “I love this school,” Leon added. “I love this campus and the community.”
Finding your niche through engagement
Carlson-Bratton of Simpsonville was extremely involved as a student at Martha Layne Collins High School — but when he arrived at college in 2020, full pandemic measures were in effect. Needless to say, getting engaged in campus life was a bit more of a challenge than usual.
“COVID was hard for me,” he said. “I’m a person who likes to go-go-go, to do a bunch of different things.”
When campus started getting back to normal his sophomore year, Carlson-Bratton joined the first group that had gotten his attention. He’d seen how SAB’s programming was intentional, how members recognized the value of both excelling academically and setting aside time to “have fun, mingle and make memories together.”
The events SAB organizes are among the school’s most beloved traditions. They include Raf Week, a celebration of eccentric professor Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, and the pre-finals Stress Fest, which includes Brinner.
SAB is also getting ready for upcoming events celebrating Black History and Women’s History months.
“We have a firsthand role in establishing that Transy experience for every student here on campus,” Carlson-Bratton said. “We take pride in it.”
He started out with SAB as a general board member, helping to plan and put on events, and he went on to serve as vice president of programming his junior year. Carlson-Bratton noted how he’d like to see general board members lead more committees, so they can feel the sense of ownership that comes with organizing activities.
The accounting major, who after graduation hopes to move to Baltimore and visit other big cities along the coast before returning to Kentucky, has made Transylvania home the past four years through his own extensive campus involvement. Besides heading SAB, he’s been a member of Kappa Alpha fraternity (winning Interfraternity Member of the Year honors) and the lacrosse team, and he’s served as an admissions ambassador and a mentee in the 100 Doors program.
To help other Pioneers find groups they can get involved with, Carlson-Bratton strongly encourages first-year students to attend Pioneer Palooza near the beginning of each school year. The SAB event is a chance for students to get to know what campus and community organizations are up to and learn about their missions. “If you want to find out the kind of things happening on this campus, this is your prime opportunity to do so,” he said.
Carlson-Bratton, who also served as a First Engagements coordinator, promotes joining these clubs to new students. “I’ve seen so many of my younger peers grow into roles in these other organizations that I’m not directly involved in,” he said.
The student leader pointed out how getting involved during the first term of college is difficult because everyone is on a different page when they arrive (this is especially true for out-of-state students). “Finding that initial group is important,” he said. “You have the ability to find your people here at Transy.”