By Malak Habbak
Gabriel Smith, a third-year political science student, had his life planned out. He was going to be a military man until he was injured by an improvised explosive device while overseas.
Seeking to find his new niche, Smith got involved as a community organizer back at home, which led him to an internship in 2013 for U.S. Rep. Grace F. Napolitano in El Monte. In the next year, he went to Capitol Hill to do more work for Napolitano and for House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer.
Smith then made a decision to continue his education and joined Cal Poly Pomona as a transfer student.
“Education is something that is priceless, something that can’t be taken away from you whereas a job or a position can change,” said Smith. “I wanted to be an example ” for a lot of African minority students that come from very poor backgrounds like myself.”
Meanwhile, Uriah Sanders, a second-year biotechnology student, planned to be a software engineer. At 14 he programmed a social network site that gave him the tools to start a company with Mohamed Hassan, creating a platform of flexibility for artists called The Dream Factory. The project made the top 10 in this year’s Bronco Startup Challenge.
Sanders is also a student leader. One of his roles includes acting as a liaison between the student body, on-campus organizations and Associated Students, Inc. as secretary of internal affairs.
Sanders encourages the university to take environmentally-friendly actions on The Green Team, discusses issues of access to food in communities and the sustainable development of food with the Food Justice Club, plans how to make the CSU more accessible and affordable with Students for Quality Education and helps uplift the black community through academic and leadership opportunities for students with the Brother’s Movement.
This year, Smith and Sanders are running for ASI president and vice president.
“I feel like ASI typically ignores the harder issues, but if we work really hard, we can really make an impact,” said Sanders.
Their platform is summarized with a pronoun and acronym: “We CARE,” where CARE stands for Connectivity, Accessibility, Representation and Experience.
By focusing on their strengths and differences ” Smith’s experience in real-world politics coupled with Sanders’ on-campus experience ” Sanders and Smith say they can have an impact on campus, in the city of Pomona and the state of California.
Sanders plans to address student concerns about campus spirit, alternative transportation and the visibility of ASI.
To rally campus spirit on a largely commuter campus, Sanders and Smith plan to host a large-scale Bronco Olympics and spirit weeks to inform and unite students about the campus’ many unique and diverse qualities.
“I think a lot of things that Cal Poly [Pomona] has [is] unique to it [and] could improve our spirit week. Things like our diversity, our agricultural background, our great engineering and all those things are things we can be proud of,” said Sanders.
Sanders and Smith also plan to incorporate a monthly state of the university video to update the campus community about ASI’s progress and to provide transparency, accountability and showcase campus activities and clubs.
In addition, they plan to create a board of internal affairs to delegate more resources than what was previously given to one ASI representative. Their intention is to ensure students are served “as best as possible” by more effectively connecting ASI with students, councils and organizations.
Sanders, who also chairs the Student Health Advisory Committee, said many issues relating to student health need addressing. For example, Sanders recalls from a recent survey’s results that only 3 percent of students on campus get their recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.
Meanwhile, a recent California State University report found one in four CSU students are going hungry. To combat this issue, Sanders and Smith plan to create a food drive for students.
They would also like to implement campus-wide composting of bins and pre-consumer composting and give students access to alternative transportation, an issue Sanders is currently addressing as a member of ASI.
“I think our primary goal is [to help make CPP] more relevant to California by making it kind of a central place of student advocacy and spirit,” said Smith. “That’s our goal. Give Cal Poly [Pomona] a voice ” that’s recognizable in the media, a voice that’s recognizable by other legislators. … [CPP] doesn’t have a lot of presence in the actual California community, and that’s something we want to change.”
The duo plan to reach out to local legislators in Pomona to see what help they can offer to the community, where 45 percent of residents 25 and older have less than a high school diploma, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The duo also hope to help educate student leaders on advocacy and politics to ensure that they are prepared to advocate on behalf of students at a local and state level and hope to leverage their political connections to draft legislation that benefits the students.
Perla Hernandez Trumkul, district director for Napolitano and who has worked with Smith, supports his candidacy and said he would be a “fantastic” choice for the university.
“He has a very, very big heart, and he is very brilliant,” said Hernandez Trumkul. “He’s not just a leader on some high-rise office somewhere away from everyone; he’s someone that really wants to know the hearts and minds of those he is serving [and] has the desire and passion to go beyond what is required of his current job performance.”
Joe Shashaty, a fourth-year political science student, has decided to make a change by becoming Sanders and Smith’s campaign manager.
“On the face of it, it looks like students are heading this big corporation that is steering the direction of the student body. To me that’s actually a false narrative,” said Shashaty. “I’ve noticed that there is a lot of bureaucratic obstacles that student leaders have to face.”
“Therefore, what student leaders need to do when it comes to certain controversial issues is to rally students behind certain causes,” added Shashaty.
Shashaty said one thing he liked about the duo was their willingness to say, “we want to rally the troops,” and believes in their ability to do that, Gabriel as a veteran and Uriah as a current student leader.
Shashaty, who says he has watched Sanders and Smith interact with people and had a chance to question them, was moved to see that they would listen before they gave their opinion on a matter, were open minded and tried to understand the perspectives, thoughts, ideas and opinions of others.
Shashaty says he also respects Sanders for deciding to run again, a move that shows “a lot of courage and desire and passion to be the representative that he promises to be.”
“I think as a student leader you have to have an open perspective because you don’t know everything. And the fact that they are so open and want to consider all sides of an argument is something that I value very much in people, that I hope would be elected both at the college level and at the political level,” said Shashaty.
Jairo Pineda / The Poly Post
Jairo Pineda / The Poly Post
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