Rachel Smith: UT System Student Trustee

Rachel is currently a sophomore at UT-Chattanooga, majoring in Spanish and Communications. She is serving as one of two Student Trustees for the entire UT System, representing 55,000 students. Rachel is talented singer songwriter, 4.0 student, and an active member in her community, and working as an intern for a new company called The Weekly Fig. This summer she will be traveling to Nicaragua for a month to teach music to a small, rural community in hopes of starting a new form of worship for their church.    RS: To be a successful Student Trustee, you have to make sure you have the opinions of a lot of different students in order to best represent the entire student population. To achieve this, I go to every SGA meeting, SGA Executive meeting, I serve on the Diversity Council for the UT System, the President’s Budget Advisory Group, the Chancellor’s Student Advisory Council, and the Chancellor’s Multicultural Advisory Council. I also try to connect to students at other UT campuses to represent them. There are only two Student Trustees at a time, they rotate between campuses. So right now UT Knoxville doesn’t have a Student Trustee so I try to communicate with them as much as possible. It is a lot of work, and I know that I have the massive responsibility of representing all 55,000 students, but I don’t take that lightly and try to do my job to the very best of my ability.

How are you staying balanced?

RS: Well, it is easy…. I don’t. So often I will realize that I am spending too much time hanging out with my friends or spending all of my time devoting my efforts to the board. It is so hard to keep my priorities straight. I really haven’t found that “balance” yet but I am actively trying to figure it out, by stepping back. I have been doing a little bit of journaling. Recently, I just wrote out a list of my priorities how they actually are, and how ideally they should be if my life was balanced. The lists are shockingly different. So now I am trying to work towards that ideal list. To me a balanced life looks like spending around the same time as a part time job on Student Trustee work, I would go to the gym everyday, I would be eating healthy, spending time studying in the library. I would not be wasting time watching netflix, or staying up until 3 in the morning with my friends. I need to learn to balance the fun with the things that I am obligated to. I enjoy my responsibilities, but I need to make sure that they remain at the top of my priority list because they are still obligations.

What is the greatest challenge of representing 55,000 students? 

RS: Probably trying to make sure that a majority of students know who I am, what my position is, and how to get in contact with me.  I have reached out to a lot of people this year to get my name out there so they know who to contact when they have an issue. The hardest thing to do is to get the student opinion. I never want to give my own opinion. I want to make sure that I am representing what the students and their opinions, because that’s my job.

How have you overcome this challenge?

RS: I would not say that I have completely overcome it yet. However, I do think that I have made significant headway. I now have contacts on every campus in the UT System that are involved in their campus’ issues. I also recently held a town hall to educate students on current issues as well as to gather their opinions. I go to SGA meetings to present Board issues. I also actively reach out to students that post their opinions online. I really try to reach out to people and to let them know that I am here to represent them.

What have you found that the leaders and professionals you work with value most when working with a young adult?

RS: One thing that I think they really value is our innovative opinions. They turn to use when they need a new creative solution. As millennials, we grew up with technology and know how to reach our generation. For example, I have been asked about how to increase student participation, and the answer is to reach out to student leaders. We know our peers, so I think that once old methods fail, our generation is looked to, to implement something new.

What woman has inspired you and why?

RS: This is probably going to be an unusual answer. However, a woman that has really inspired me in Lucille Ball. I grew up watching I Love Lucy, I have seen and can quote every single episode. I am a huge fan. I just love how she tackled so many social issues and was such an advocate for women’s rights, but she did it while everyone was laughing and having a good time. She planted new ideas in people’s heads without making them uncomfortable. Through her humor, she was able to enact social change without people even realizing what was going on. It was so innovative because you don’t typically think of a comedian as someone who tackles hot button issues. She was the first woman to be pregnant on television, the first woman to be shown in bed with her husband in bed on television, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Her character was unconventional. She was loud, not the typical stay at home wife like in other sitcoms at the time. It was inspiring how she was able to work such innovative ideas into the home of American households with them even realizing she was slowly changing their minds.

What do you think your leadership style is?

RS: I am someone who makes sure she has all the facts before I make a statement. I want to make sure that I listen and do my homework before I take a stand. So I am definitely a listener. However, this doesn’t mean I can’t be a strong leader. I just want to be able to make an informed decision about what the best form of actions is.  I really feel like being a leader means that you have to let your own thoughts, opinions, and beliefs take a back seat in comparison to those of the people you represent.

What experiences have prepared you most for your position?

RS: Whenever I was in high school, I was the student body president as well as class president each year. I was used to making decisions and representing a group of people. So that definitely was the one thing that I can say helped me. However, honestly, nothing can really prepare you for this position. It is so different than even positions in student government at our university. So nothing can really prepare you for it, but my role in high school did make the transition easier.  

What is the best advice you have ever received?

RS: I should preface this with the fact that I have always been very academically driven. I have always been very active in leadership roles, always throwing my in a million directions whether it be competing competitively in piano or singing in the choir. However, before I went to college, my uncle told me to make sure that I am not making A’s in schools and F’s in life. Essentially he wanted to make sure that I didn’t miss out on the experiences that came with going to college.  In the end, what matters are your life experiences. So at the end of the day maybe it is okay to makes B’s in school so long as you are making A’s in life. This really changed my perspective because I never thought of fun and experiences as a grade. So now, at the end of each semester, I look back and think, what was my grade for that semester? So now I strive to make A’s in everything I do, including life. This advice has really helped me out to stay balanced in college and to think big picture.  

What is something about you that would surprise someone who doesn’t know you outside of your position?

RS: I think it would really surprise them to know that I love music. My dream would be to be a singer/songwriter or a novelist. I play the piano, the clarinet, the ukulele, the guitar, and the mandolin (kind of). I am also really goofy. In my professional role, I stay professional. But I am not above laughing at a fart joke or making a fart joke. I am also the Aunt of my best friend’s cat. So I think those things would definitely surprise someone who doesn’t know me outside of my position.

If you have any concerns or thoughts that you would like to communicate to your student trustee, feel free to reach out to her at [email protected]