Candidate Highlight: Karla Rojas

In Candidate Highlight, we give students an overview of each Student Council candidate in a series of short interviews.

Karla Rojas is a second-year Science student who is currently running for a position on the upcoming 2020-2021 AUC Student Council. She applied to the student council because she wants to give back to the AUC community by fixing some of the issues she saw at AUC. Her main focus is improving the tutor system by setting-up tutor evaluations as well as addressing the lack of interdisciplinarity in certain AUC tracks. 

Q: Hello Karla. For a start, why don’t you just walk me through the reasons that made you apply to student council?

A: It was a very last minute decision. I got a notification a couple of weeks ago about the Student Council needing more candidates. I thought it would be a nice project for giving back to the community, because I felt like I wasn’t that involved in my first year. I was really interested in some of the issues, relating to the sciences for example, and I thought it was a good way to try and fix them. 

Q: Some people at AUC don’t really know about the Student Council and what it does. How did you learn about it?

A: Actually, it’s one of the things I want to change. When I was preparing for the Student Council, I was surprised how hard the information was to find. Some of the things are on the Facebook page, some on the AUC website… Because of this, there are a lot of misconceptions and that needs to improve. I found out about the Student Council through their posts. One thing that has been very useful is their Canvas course, because now I can actually see their messages through that course. 

Q: Let’s move on to your policy plan. One of the points you wanted to discuss are the tutor evaluations. How would that work? 

A: Well, I didn’t want to promise more than I could do so I don’t have a very clear “how” approach. However, I noticed that previous Student Council policy plans all mention the tutor evaluations issue but none of them has been done. I’m sure they tried to make changes to it but so far, we still don’t have evaluations. We really need them, because otherwise tutors don’t get feedback, they don’t have a real incentive to be better at their job… I feel it’s very different if your supervisor gets a report of their performance as opposed to if they don’t get anything and it’s like : “everything is fine”. AUC promotes the tutor system as something very important in the curriculum, but people still have bad experiences with tutors who don’t respond to their email, aren’t really helpful or are completely unrelated to their field of study. I feel like, more often than not, it’s you trying to press your tutor to do something and I don’t think it should be like that. So, I’d like to first of all know what has been done before and that was hard to find because the previous annual reports don’t really mention anything. Then, I want to make a plan of something realistic that is achievable. And, if we can’t change it for some specific reason, I want to say that to the community. 

Q: These evaluations, would they be like the ones we have to do for each class? 

A: I want less frequent evaluations. It would be a very simple form where you would be able to give some feedback and mention the things you want changed. It would be nice if we could do it twice a year, once per semester.

Q: Would there be consequences to the results of the evaluations? Like, for instance, if a tutor gets consistently bad feedback, would that person be changed?

A: Definitely. The whole point of the tutor evaluation system is that if you see a tutor that consistently gets really low marks and people are complaining about them, that tutor should be changed. 

Q: We can move on to the part about more interdisciplinarity per track. How would that work?

A: I can speak for the sciences, there is not a lot of interdisciplinarity at all. I’m doing the physics track and I’ve had zero interdisciplinary tracks. There are four science tracks that don’t have any interdisciplinary course! We should really focus on those areas. Even though AUC wants to be a liberal arts and science program, it still feels very traditional if students have to do the standard courses for their tracks. What we could do is not create completely new courses but add to courses, for instance thermodynamics, a project that would apply what we learn to something in the social sciences. We could even have two parallel courses in the social sciences and physics for instance, that would share a project in common and that would be evaluated from the two courses. That would allow us to have more contact with more disciplines. The way to go is to look at all our courses and add to them this sort of twist, which would allow them to talk more to the other disciplines. 

Q: So, the way you view interdisciplinarity is more cross-majors, like connecting social sciences and sciences, as opposed to only physics and biomed for instance. 

A: Correct. It would be really interesting to make really new connections like humanities and sciences. We have only one or two courses that are cross-listed in sciences and humanities, which is nothing compared to the 150 courses we have. 

Q: This would also allow students to take higher level cross-listed courses. Usually, when you, as a student, try to fill in the requirements of taking at least one course in each other major, you take introductory, 100-level courses because you simply do not have the requirements for anything else.

A: Yeah, exactly. You could still keep working on your track with higher-level courses but you’d have a project in common with another higher-level course from another major. 

Q: How feasible do you think such a project would be?

A: Well, I think I could do at least three things. First of all, I would like to ask students about their opinion on this issue. Once we have a sense of this, we could contact directly the head of studies and propose several alternatives. Also, we can try to change that in the Academic Standards and Procedures, at least each track has an interdisciplinary course. 

Q: How comfortable are you working with other people, making compromises, facing off against strong opposition? 

A: I guess my policy plan is structured in a way that says from the get-go: “I am very open to working with people and addressing all sorts of issues but I am also adamant about pushing for my four main points”. I want to show people that I’m open but that I also won’t give in too much on what’s important to me because they are things I really want to do. 

Q: Is this what your specific contribution is? Are you someone who’s not too focused on technicalities and who rather figures it out with other people and then makes it work?

A: I think I’m just being more honest about the whole procedure. If you think about it, it’s really hard, from the beginning, to say I’m going to to do this and this without consulting with the other elected members. You don’t know who you’ll be working with, which restrictions are going to be there etc… It’s more interesting to say “this is what I want to do, this is what’s important for me” and just make it short and clear. 

Q: How do you plan on ameliorating the visibility of the Student Council and making it closer to people?

A: I think a really good solution would be to have a website. Right now, the Student Council has its information scattered a bit everywhere and you have to go to three different sources to find files. If you make a website with information that’s clear and that’s relevant to students, they are more likely to visit your website. For example, we could do short, one-page summaries of official documents, because the average student is not going to read the whole student handbook. You inform the people what it is about and if we do that more, students would know who we are, what we do and would visit us more.

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