Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Salem State University Commuter Steps Up to Lead

By Alyssa M. Baxter
Gordon College News Service
(This story appeared Sunday, May 22, 2011, in a series for the Boston Globe North print and online editions.)

SALEM, MA- As students arrived on campus at Salem State University one day last October, Jessica Cousins, 23, set up a different kind of lesson for her peers: a simulator in the Commons Dining Hall on the distractions of texting and driving.

The hands-on anti-texting and driving presentation, planned by Cousins, president of the Commuter’s Association and SSU’s student government vice president, allowed students to see the dangers of texting and driving, Cousins explained.

“It went over really well,” she said.

Aside from her leadership in student government and with commuters, Cousins has held many other titles. She has been a junior senator and senior senator for the Student Government Association (SGA), the vice president of the Military Support Group (MSG), which sends care packages to the men and women overseas and has visited veteran’s hospitals. She has been rules chair/judicial affairs chair for SGA, which not only regulates the constitutions of the campus’ groups and clubs, but also attends the court cases as a student representative to ensure that the students’ rights are adhered to. 

“Leadership is being able to delegate to others, work with others and have compassion and understanding for what you’re working on,” said Cousins, who was drawn to Salem State because of its location and history faculty.

But Cousins, a fifth year commuter senior from Beverly who graduated May 21 with a degree in public history and a geography minor, has not always been this involved in leadership. It wasn’t until she assisted in the planning and fundraising of a trip to Williamsburg for SSU’s Historical Association, of which she was an active member, that Cousins realized she could be a leader and contribute more to her school. So she became the vice president of the historical association before moving to SGA to become a junior senator.

“Jessica is very dedicated and sincere in her efforts to improve the quality of life for students,” said Bruce Perry, director of the Campus Center at Salem State University for the past 18 years and advisor of SGA for two.

In her time as one of SSU’s leaders, Cousins has worked to improve the campus shuttle system, helped research, dispute and prevent the rise in student fees, plan Haunted Happenings where local kids can come for face paints, games and other activities provided by the groups and clubs of Salem State, and organize the annual parade in downtown Salem. 

“She worked very hard, devoting many hours to student issues,” said Perry. “She planned a recognition dinner to thank student officers, helped survey students about issues on campus and assisted in addressing student concerns to the appropriate individual/office.”

Between juggling school, family and social life, she attended her own weekly meetings and office hours for SGA as well as some of the 50 or so groups and clubs to make herself available as a resource and help.

“By going out of her way, Jessica fills in the traits of being a good leader,” said Josue Flores, a 24 year-old psychology and music major at SSU and president of the music society. “She’s respectful, selfless, has integrity, and puts other groups and SGA as one of her top priorities.”

Cousins said she tried to be available for the students to express their concerns and grievances. “I tried to provide them information on how to better advertise and get the word out,” said Cousins.

Cousins also tried regularly to promote unity and collaboration on the Salem State campus of over 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students who represent 27 states and 57 foreign countries. For instance, when she learned that groups were planning similar events, she encouraged them to co-host them together and combine forces.

“Everyone was so receptive to this because they just did not know other groups were working on or doing the same things,” said Cousins. “This past semester, SGA has worked hard to connect the campus.”

SSU is also in the process of becoming a tobacco-free campus and while Cousins predicts the student protests, she, along with other students, has worked with school administrators, including SSU President Patricia Meservey to ensure that students are aware that Health Services is available to assist those who wish to quit smoking.

Starting next September, SSU will join over 260 colleges and universities nationwide that have changed their campuses to a tobacco-free environment.

While Cousins believes commuters tend not to get involved, she stepped into leadership roles and found it made a difference for the campus. She has learned through her experience that not only do problems need to be brought up, but also plans of actions are necessary in order to solve the issues.

“Jessica has been a great support to student organizations on campus,” said Perry.

Cousins, who has worked since August at Brightview Danvers, a senior living community, says that the people skills she developed through leading, helped her get the position there.

After graduation, she hopes to have a career as a museum curator.

“My leadership experiences have made me a more outgoing person,” she said. “They helped me have a better understanding of how people work, and have given me more compassion for different things.”