This article was written by TNJN editors Grace Goodacre and Lauren Claxton.
Presidential candidate Owen Flomberg, vice presidential candidate Kaylee Sheppard and student services director candidate Madison Woods all make up the Impact Student Government Association campaign at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. With an emphasis on financial and food insecurities on campus, Impact hopes to turn SGA back towards the students.
Flomberg has served on the executive board of Campus Events Board, prelaw fraternity, housing as a resident assistant in Clement and has helped co-found organizations on UT campus. Additionally, he has served in the SGA Senate as an Arts and Science senator sophomore year and an East Area senator this year.
“I did not figure that I was going to be doing this,” Flomberg said. “But, I had a lot of people approach me and be like ‘SGA needs a facelift,’ ‘SGA needs someone in there that has experience leading an organization, not just experience kind of working in SGA. Someone with experience kind of leading teams, and recruiting people, and kind of getting an organization back on track.’ So, that’s how I kind of found myself interested in the position.”
Flomberg has known Sheppard for roughly three years and even ran on the Morgan, Mickey, Hunter campaign together. They got to know each other even more last year in Senate.
“She was actually one of the people that really encouraged me to run in the first place … I asked her to be my vice president, the vice president of our ticket, towards the very end of last semester,” Flomberg said.
In contrast, Flomberg only met Woods towards the end of last semester. He had seen her around campus due to her involvement with the Chancellor Honors program and the center for leadership and service. Flomberg contacted her and gauged her interest in working with Impact.
“It wasn’t the plan, necessarily, from the very beginning to get her involved with student services, but she quickly emerged as the most qualified person we had involved with the party. She’s a sophomore … So, that’s a little unconventional in recent years or the past few years for a sophomore to run for one of the top three positions. But, if you look at years beyond the past few years, it’s not uncommon at all. It’s just the past two or three years you haven’t seen much of that,” Flomberg said.
Flomberg also mentioned other members of the party, such as senators:
“I think it’s really important to note that we are running a full ticket of senators. That’s the first time that anyone has done that in many, many, many years. We are incredibly proud about that.”
In addition, Flomberg explained why Impact does not call themselves a campaign and the cycle they are trying to make:
“I love to talk about how we’re a party … We’re not calling ourselves a campaign. The reason why, is because I’ve seen, over the past two years being involved in SGA campaigns, that the campaign forms, it gets all these people involved … they push really great policies, then they all win. And then nothing happens. And then those same policies come up again the next cycle … The reason why we are calling ourselves a party is we don’t want to continue that cycle anymore,” Flomberg said.
With a mission to make a difference on campus, the Impact campaign found it apt to name their campaign Impact.
“We feel like that kind of encapsulates what we’re trying to do. We want to make an impact here. Not only, inside of SGA and restructuring a lot of what SGA does, but making an impact on campus, and really making an impact on the culture of religious student leadership in general here at UT. We want SGA to be seen as more of a tool and not necessarily a student organization,” Flomberg said.
To make the culture at UT better, one of Impact’s missions is to work on SGA itself.
Flomberg discussed that SGA leaders have veered away from primarily focusing on serving the students.
“It’s fine if people find their home within SGA … but that should not be its primary mission. It should be creating a campus that is home to everyone,” Flomberg said.
Flomberg emphasized the policies of Impact and what change they are trying to create. The first policy, one of Flomberg’s favorites, deals with food insecurity on campus.
A recent study found that one in three students on campus is food insecure. Researchers and professors in the nutrition department at UT conducted the study, which has yet to be published.
“We’re faring a little bit better than those other institutions, our peer institutions … But, I think that one in three is still not good and we need to do something about that. One in three students being food insecure on our campus lines up with kind of the national statistics that exist for four-year institutions. But, I think that we need to be doing more because I’ve seen programs that exist on other SEC schools as well as other big state schools around the country that have better programs addressing food insecurity,” Flomberg said.
In response to food insecurity, students now can go to the dean of students website and donate extra guest meal swipes manually with the Big Orange Meal Share. However, Flomberg hopes to expand on this. He proposed a bill last fall which stated that extra meal swipes on dining plans would automatically be donated at the end of the year. The bill passed unanimously, but he has not seen any push for implementation.
“Basically, it calls for students to be allowed to opt-in and have their guest meal swipes automatically donated at the end of the semester, right before they expire. So, that would create a pool for the following semester to be allocated. The estimate that we have is that about 21,000 meal swipes would be able to be recovered each semester through a program like this,” Flomberg said. “That would be enough to provide about 150 students with a meal plan for the entire semester.”
Right now, the Big Orange Meal Share only allows about 10 meals.
“We have the worst retention rate in the SEC. I don’t know why we don’t talk about that more. I feel like a program like this might even help, maybe if it just helps ten or twenty students be able to make it through a semester and stay here at UT, I think is a program worth doing. Especially since it doesn’t really cost anyone anything, it’s stuff that’s expiring,” Flomberg said.
With similar programs in other schools, such as the University of Southern Mississipi, Flomberg wants to push for the implementation of this policy.
Edited by Kaitlin Flippo and Ciera Noe
Featured image courtesy of Impact UT’s Facebook page