Year In Review: Incumbents talk making students’ lives easier

USG president Divya Jakatdar and vice president Michelle Lu discuss the tenure of their term and what lies ahead.

Divya Jakatdar and Michelle Lu reflected on their year in the seat of power and what’s to come. During their tenure, the USG president and vice president built upon existing projects from previous years. (Tomoki Chien / Daily Trojan file photo)

As their term comes to a close, Undergraduate Student Government president Divya Jakatdar and vice president Michelle Lu reflected on their year in the seat of power and what’s to come.

During their campaign process, Jakatdar and Lu ran on a platform dedicated to improving students’ lives. The aim was to run on values, letting those serve as the North Star to direct the campaign goals. The pair focused on affordability, accessibility, community and transparency values and have done a good job of sticking to them, Jakatdar said.

During their tenure, Jakatdar and Lu built upon existing projects from previous years, like expanding USC’s shuttle to include a route going to and from LAX in hopes of saving students money, Jakatdar said. They also have expanded RestSC, a program meant to give students a place to rest in between classes, to more locations on campus.

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“One of the things that we recognized is we need to build on the successes of previous years, and last year’s administration did an amazing job,” Jakatdar said. “The previous vice president led this admin roundtables’ project so we have a variation of it … the open forum. We wanted to have a bigger opportunity for students to engage, to talk and have more of an open dialogue rather than a Q&A.”

The duo also established projects they’ve had in the works for a long time, such as the medical supply vending machine at USC Village and Suit Up, a program that provides free professional clothing for students in need. The digital ID proposal, an item they initially campaigned for during their elections, will be looked at for the fiscal year 2025 budget, Jakatdar said.

“A lot of our projects are built on from work we’ve done the previous years,” Lu said. “Getting the mobile wallet proposed on the fiscal school year 2025 budget or even the vending machines, I’ve been working on that since my freshman year. A lot of these projects take years of research and advocating for it in order to get to the point where we’re at now.”

One of the initiatives that helped Jakatdar and Lu during their term was that at the beginning of the school year, they released a priority project form to students. The form served as a bridge of communication to hear the voices of the student body and prioritize what the responses said, and the number one thing students brought up was the digital ID cards, Jakatdar said.

The priority project for [the] survey thing might sound small, but it’s one of those things where getting that data was super helpful to convince the administrators of the top few priorities of students,” Jakatdar said. “It’s really about … making sure that your constituents are actually happy with all the work that you’re putting in because there’s so many things you can focus on — let it be the most impactful.”

Despite both Jakatdar and Lu’s three-year experience in USG, they knew to expect action to take time, but not quite as long as they did, Jakatdar said. They’re required to work with many different campus partners, which allows for access to more channels of communication and resources, but it can increase the timeline of events.

“By the time we were elected, we had to hire all of our cabinet, we had to hire all the segmented positions and USG,” Jakatdar said. “Once that was done it was graduation, so then the University partners didn’t want to meet, that’s when the University is busy. So we meet in the summer with most of them just to try to get ahead on all of these projects and to increase the timeline that we’re going to have to execute.”

Because the cabinet isn’t able to speak to University partners until summer, the delayed process derails and slows down plans, Jakatdar said. They pitched a plan to USC Transportation that received positive feedback and started to get sent to higher-ups, but was ultimately shut down because the budget was closed for that fiscal year, she said.

Part of the trick is you have to be able to find the best solutions to get the results you want, Lu said. It’s not always a straight line to get to the solutions you’re looking for, and at times you have to look for alternative routes.

“It’s about pivoting, finding other solutions; what we’ve realized is sometimes you find other solutions to get that same project done,” Jakatdar said. “The benefit of running on values is that we can still achieve improvements in affordability on campus, even if we’re not able to finish one of those projects this year.”

In hopes of guiding the next cabinet, Jakatdar and Lu are having every department lead and every position write a guide on how their job operates. The lack of guidance during the transition period was very difficult, Lu said.

One of the main things that the incoming cabinet has to be prepared for is that things take time, Lu said. Campus partners are meant to be partners for a reason, it’s important to use them as a resource and to let them help you reach your goals.

“Come up with individual characteristics or things that you might want to lead by, whether that’s always being honest or whatever skill attributes you want to have for yourself, that should be your North Star,” Lu said.

After a year in office, Jakatdar is ready to graduate, she said. Though her term doesn’t end until the last day of school, she’s looking for a job that will allow her to work at the intersection of law and technology, working to improve political and legal systems in order to create a more accessible society.

Lu looks forward to enjoying her senior year after her term ends, she said. She hopes to explore different fields of business and figure out what comes next. She wants to return to mentoring low-income, first-generation students, something she couldn’t do during her time in office.

Though their term is not yet over, and with more work they plan on completing, the duo can’t help but reflect on their legacy. As two women of color running such a large organization, one of their goals was to help the culture of the organization become more inclusive, Lu said.

“With all of the projects we completed, we want people to remember we don’t do this for our own personal good,” Lu said. “We do it to think of what students’ needs are, whether that’s the vending machine, the RestSC location, all of these things we do. We see that there’s a student need for it. We do it because we care and because we genuinely want to improve students’ lives at USC.”

Jakatdar cited President Carol Folt as a source of inspiration for her “moonshots,” general large goals that seem larger than life, and so when running, Jakatdar wanted to have moonshots. They knew that with the right amount of time and dedication, they would be able to meet their goals, Jakatdar said.

“We identified that these are very specific actionable items that we can work towards,” Jakatdar said. “We did work towards them. And some of those are finished and there are things that a few years ago people said were not gonna happen, like those medical supply vending machines, that was a moonshot … the point is that we hope to be remembered as people who shot for the moon.”

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