Steve Zins’ father may have been a Brown football star, but he prefers to play football international style.
“I went to soccer camp (at Brown) when I was a little kid,” Zins said. Though he grew up in the rafters of Brown hockey and football games, Zins is now taking center stage as the Graduate Student Council’s newest president. His decades-long connection with Brown has helped him appreciate the energy present on campus and prepared him to lead an organization that is ripe for change, he said.
“When all the students are around, it’s a pretty special place,” Zins said.
The GSC presidential race did not feature Weiner-esque sexting scandals but did have its own unique plot twists. There were initially no students running for the top office, and Zins had declared his candidacy for vice president, The Herald previously reported.
And Zins had never before held a position on GSC, the graduate students’ forum for discussion and departmental interaction.
“I thought it would be prudent for me to get my feet wet,” he said.
When GSC members suggested he run for the presidency, Zins took a chance and decided to “respond to the presidential call,” he said.
Zins’ experience with campus governance was limited to his undergraduate fraternity, where he served as president — a position that “had its own sets of challenges and craziness,” he said.
There are “a lot of different personalities and opinions” in a fraternity, Zins said, adding that he learned the importance of leading fairly and advocating for minority groups.
Zins’ people skills will help him navigate GSC’s assortment of personalities and recognize the various strengths present on the board, he said. The GSC’s executive board this semester features a variety of perspectives across different disciplines, Zins said. Zins is a fourth-year pathobiology PhD candidate, while GSC vice president Lakshmi Padmanabhan is a modern culture & media PhD candidate who is also pursuing a masters in history through Brown’s Open Graduate Program. GSC treasurer Alex Jones studies anthropology, while GSC secretary Michael Murphy is in the sociology department.
Reading outside his discipline has also set the tone for Zins’ presidency. “I just read ‘Mediations’ by Marcus Aurelius,” he said. “I thought it was fascinating to read someone’s views on leadership from a long, long time ago and realize how many of those points are still relevant.”
Zins won’t be rocking Roman gladiator garb anytime soon, but Aurelius’ book has taught him that “you can’t be a good leader if you don’t recognize the value in everyone you lead,” Zins said.
Zins and the GSC executive board have outlined three broad goals for the semester, encompassing many smaller objectives.
Their first priority is to continue the dialogue with President Christina Paxson about her strategic plan and its implications for the graduate student community.
Zins, a Pawtucket native, understands “how Brown fits into Rhode Island,” he said, adding that this perspective will be helpful as the University expands graduate student services into the Jewelry District.
Representing graduate students from all backgrounds is another GSC priority this semester. Zins said he hopes “to advocate for those groups who don’t have as large of a voice,” such as international students and those with children.
Orientation materials and FAQs catered toward international students’ needs will help these students adjust to American life, Zins said. The GSC also wants to host smaller social events without alcohol that may appeal to students with families, he added.
The GSC’s third goal for the semester is to increase visibility for the graduate school both around the country and internationally.
“The graduate school already does a great job of highlighting student research and student profiles, and we just want to increase that,” Zins said.
The GSC has unveiled a new website and publicized their organization in orientation packets to encourage more graduate students to participate, Zins said.
Building a team
Zins said he hopes to strengthen relationships with the Rhode Island School of Design, Brown undergraduates and medical school students. Zins already plans to attend the first medical school senate meeting Wednesday, while the medical school senate president will, in return, attend the GSC’s meeting the next day.
The GSC hopes to increase crossover between undergraduate and graduate student life. Because he has played intramural soccer and basketball for four years at Brown, he feels “there aren’t any divisions between grads and undergrads.” Nearing age 30, Zins stands out when he plays sports with undergrads, but he can still keep up with the average freshman and enjoys developing friendships across the age divide.
Though he came to the post in an uncoventional way, Zins is now embracing his presidential role and will man the helm of the GSC for the next two semesters.