New student regent takes the reins

One undergrad faces the challenge of representing all students before the Board of Regents


CODY COTTIER | The Daily Evergreen

Alyssa Norris will serve as WSU’s student regent for the 2017-2018 school year, representing the student population on the Board of Regents.

Forrest Holt, Evergreen news editor

Alyssa Norris’ on-campus presence has been growing ever since she first set foot in Pullman. Now, her influence stretches across the state, reaching all of WSU’s satellite campuses.

As the new student regent, Norris will sit on the university’s highest governing board to speak on behalf of WSU’s entire student body, and she has come a long way to earn the position.

She is from North Pole, Alaska, a town where the street lights look like candy canes and where countless letters to Santa pour in from all over the world during the holiday season. She radiates Christmas cheer when talking about her hometown, but shows equal excitement in regard to WSU, which she describes as her second home.

“I feel like WSU has so much potential and is a really great school,” Norris said, “and I want other people to know that.”

Norris joined a short list of science students to hold the title and is the first engineering student to do so. She first considered applying for the position about a year ago and has since gained the approval of student government representatives from all WSU’s campuses, the Board of Regents themselves and the office of Governor Jay Inslee.

When asked how she went from North Pole, Alaska, to the Board of Regents, she answered: “Mostly, just being myself.”

She is no stranger to the responsibilities of governing. Norris has served as an all-campus senator and vice chair of the Finance Committee, where she oversaw distribution of funds for student organizations. Norris said the Finance Committee position was most valuable in preparing her to be a student regent.

“I got to see so many different [registered student organization] groups and think critically about how to spend that money,” she said.

As a civil engineering student aiming to minor in mathematics and ethics, critical thinking applies to most of her work.

ASWSU President Jordan Frost was on the committee to choose the new student regent. Frost got to know her during his time as chief of staff while she was on the Senate.

“She always stood out because she was more quiet, and at first I thought she was just quiet,” he said, “but I learned later it was because she was very thoughtful and intentional.”

Frost said these are important qualities to look for in someone on the Board of Regents. Many in student government expect swift and drastic change, he said, but Norris’ level head and willingness to collaborate made her a good fit for the position.

Norris met the preceding student regent, Vancouver campus’ Narek Daniyelyan, on the debate team. She has also worked with the Harold Frank Engineering and Entrepreneurship Institute and was president of WSU’s Society of Women Engineers.

These positions reflect another side of her leadership style.

“I think it is important to have a lot of different people’s voices,” Norris said. “Making sure those voices are heard, even if they’re not the loudest or the most common, is very valuable.”

She said student outreach is an area with room for improvement, and she plans to host a radio show or draft news releases to keep students updated on the Board of Regents.

Her agenda for the Pullman campus includes tuition, student conduct and sexual assault prevention. In particular, Norris said she was proud of students for taking the lead on a resolution against the recruitment of athletes with histories of sexual assault.

“I am really excited that students are standing up,” she said. “This has been a topic of conversation for years, and I am very glad to see it going somewhere.”
She said the regents are aware of the issue but could not say for sure what action they might take, if any.

Norris said she hopes to bring the other campuses’ voices before the board, specifically addressing pedestrian safety concerns, as well as improving student engagement university-wide by popularizing town halls with WSU President Kirk Schulz and meeting with students face-to-face.

“[The student regent position] is incredibly symbolic because not a lot of universities have a student regent,” Norris said. “There is a lot of power behind it.”