Monday Q&A: Columbia, Modesto Junior College students find a voice in fellow student Erik Vorsatz

naustin@modbee.comNovember 24, 2013 

Erik Vorsatz is a student trustee on the Yosemite Community College District board.

  • At a glance

    Name: Erik Vorsatz

    Age: 28

    Occupation: Sonora chef and Columbia College student

In the normally back-seat post of student trustee on the Yosemite Community College District board, Erik Vorsatz has distinguished himself.

Board members and district Chancellor Joan Smith say he, more than any trustee in memory, has brought input from both district campuses to the table. Vorsatz also serves this year as president of the California Community College Association of Student Trustees.

Reached by phone at the Community College League of California conference in Burlingame over the weekend, Vorsatz said training at the local board level and networking as a state officer have been an education.

A former Modesto Junior College student, Vorsatz now works in Sonora and attends Columbia College. Elected by students on both campuses, he keeps in close touch with student leaders, Associated Students of MJC President Andrew Campbell and Associated Students of Columbia College President Matthew Christman.

Vorsatz said he has a year and a half to go to finish with an associate of arts degree with an emphasis in social and behavioral science, as well as a number of culinary arts certificates. From there, he plans to go for a bachelor’s degree in organizational behavior.

At 28, he’s a year under the average age for a community college student in California. “It’s really interesting because a lot of us still have the idea we’re all 18- and 19-year-olds fresh out of high school,” he said. “But that’s no longer the case. The community colleges, especially within our district, are taking a vital role in immediate job placement.”

Vorsatz answered some questions about that often below-radar job of student trustee:

What is a student trustee and what do you do?

In the California Education Code, every board of trustees has a student representative on their board – that’s me. Most boards consist of five, seven or nine members. Our Yosemite Community College District board has seven. I’m the eighth member, and I’m nonvoting. My role is to assist the board with decision-making regarding students; I give them that student perspective. I balance my time between both campuses so we get things on the same page as far as a districtwide policy.

Give an example of a policy issue you’ve handled.

They were talking about possible parking fee increases – that hasn’t gone to the board yet. I informed students and we started talking about it. It turned out the faculty and administrators were finding out about it from us. They were not as well-informed as the students. So it was put off until everyone could be informed. We felt we did our job there, as far as getting students on the same page.

You work two jobs and have classes and other duties. What makes it worth all the time and effort for a busy student to get involved in college and district governance?

Being on the board is really a learning experience for me. We’ve gotten to see how they develop a budget, how policies help the district deal with things as they come up. What you’re learning essentially is how the district runs. With the statewide system, I’m in Burlingame for the convention for all the trustees. I got to meet the chancellor of the California Community College system. You get to network.

What do you hope to accomplish during your tenure as 2013-14 president of the student trustee association?

Statewide, what I want to see student trustees do is get more involved educationally and really get to know their boards, get to know how a district operates. It’s an incredible number of moving parts. I think every trustee ought to be able to have a conversation about these topics. I’d like to get student trustees working alongside their administrators.

What are your goals on the YCCD board?

Within our district right now, one of the things I’d like to see get through and passed is to have two student trustees, one from each campus. This is the first time ever we’ve had student leadership from both campuses working together so closely. It shows on the board; they see the students getting along. Last year, we tried to instill two trustees, but the proposal didn’t go through because there was no real collaboration between the Modesto and Columbia campuses. It isn’t just that MJC has about 20,000 students and Columbia has about 4,000. I see the difference in the cultures in the cities and the towns. It’s unbelievable. The benefit of having two trustees would be having both those perspectives. To get just the one trustee that does the job – I think I’ve gone above and beyond my duties to be a voice for both. Even though we don’t get a vote, my opinion does carry some weight with it.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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