University News

At midpoint, Nelson ’12 reflects on term

Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, February 2, 2012


Serving as president of the Undergraduate Council of Students is among the hardest things Ralanda Nelson ’12 has ever done, she said — and one semester into her term, Nelson has seen significant progress. She has pushed the University to seriously consider the dire state of undergraduate housing on campus, an issue she touted as her highest priority during her presidential campaign last year. And though the student activities endowment has stalled and is far from reaching its $17 million goal, UCS members and faculty have expressed support for Nelson’s accomplishments this past semester.

In October 2011, UCS passed a statement criticizing the “embarrassingly substandard” University dorms and urging the Corporation, the University’s highest governing body, to allocate more money toward dorm renovations. Residence halls “need to go up to the level of our competitors because it’s reached a point that … prospective students know that Brown has terrible housing,” said Michael Schneider ’13, UCS campus life chair. 

Margaret Klawunn, vice president for campus life and student services, said the statement caught the University’s attention, and beginning this summer, a number of dorms in Keeney Quadrangle and Pembroke campus will undergo renovations. The interiors of Miller and Metcalf Halls will be completely redesigned, and Andrews, Emory-Woolley and Morriss-Champlin residence halls will receive smaller repairs. 

In the upcoming semester, the council plans to work with Richard Bova, senior associate dean of residential and dining services, to review program housing, and its members want to look into adding communal lounges to individual residence halls, said David Rattner ’13, UCS vice president. 

Nelson has also been working to increase the council’s presence on campus by planning dorm rounds, during which council representatives will go door-to-door in residence halls to keep students updated on UCS activities. Though the council has tried dorm rounds under previous presidents, it has for the last few years focused more on reaching out to students in dining halls. 

During her campaign, Nelson also expressed a desire to increase funding for the student activities endowment. But in the past semester, she said there have been no donations to the endowment. Though Nelson said the council has reached out to possible donors, the conversations have not “progressed beyond meetings and phone calls.” 

She said she hopes to encourage more prospective donors to visit Brown’s campus in the upcoming semester to see how it would benefit various student groups on campus. 

In the past semester, Nelson also oversaw the January Career Laboratory, a project that began under the previous UCS administration. The four-day event, which took place during the final days of winter break, featured discussions with Brown alums about “how to leverage your Brown education in this job and economic market,” Nelson said. Panelists also offered advice on networking as well as writing resumes and cover letters. 

Schneider said he believes Nelson has been a very effective UCS president due to her likability and creativity, citing her ability to generate new project ideas, like this semester’s goal of building a UCS iPhone application. 

Hannelore Rodriguez-Farrar ’87 MA’90 PhD’09, assistant to the president, also said Nelson seems to “engage students across a lot of different groups.” 

“She’s just fun and funny and very straight-up — she will tell it like it is, and there’s no politics involved,” Rodriguez-Farrar said. “She really cares about … the things that matter to the students.” 

Inside the council, Rattner said Nelson has brought the UCS members closer together. “I have never seen a council that got as close to each other as they did this year, and I think that was because of Ralanda’s leadership,” he said. 

“People, I can tell, look up to her in a way they didn’t look up to in the last president,” Rattner also said. 

Nelson said many students emailed her this past semester when they took issue with the council’s actions, noting some students were displeased that UCS did not issue a statement about the Occupy movement. Others, she said, were “unnerved” by how quickly the council appointed a presidential search committee. 

“It’s just nice to be able to sit down and talk to them and explain to people where we are coming from, even if we don’t agree,” Nelson said.

In the upcoming semester, she said she looks forward to “tangible results” in many of the council’s current projects and hopes to continue promoting enthusiasm about its work. 

“Now, I have ownership over the success of the entire machine and how it operates, and so I’m excited for people to get invested in projects that I’ve spent my time doing here.” she said. “I’m excited to see how (our work) inspires other people to think about participating in UCS.” 

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