Former SGA vice president of Finance takes on new role as president


Lou Foglia

Jerel Ballard, a sophomore journalism major, will assume the position of Student Government Association president on May 17, after current SGA president Sara Kalinoski, a sophomore art and materials conservation major concludes her term in the position.

By Campus Reporter

Jerel Ballard, a sophomore journalism major, has participated in the Society of Professional Journalists, the Columbia College Association for Black Journalists and the Student Government Association since enrolling at the college in 2013. Ballard—the current SGA vice president of Finance—is now gearing up to fill a new role: SGA president.

Starting May 17, Ballard will assume his presidential position until May 2016 when current president Sara Kalinoski, a sophomore art and materials conservation major, ends her term.

Ballard signed onto SGA as an at-large senator during his freshman year before he was voted vice president of Finance as a sophomore. Ballard oversaw the SGA budget, helped senators prepare SGA proposals and develop spending strategies for programs in their departments. Ballard also mentored the SGA’s Internal Affairs Committee, which plans events like Pizza with the President and helped to drive SGA’s budget transparency initiatives to make the college budget more accessible to students. 

Ballard said he began honing his leadership skills in high school, where he served in various student government positions, including president, treasurer and secretary. 

He said the major issues on campus are tuition, classroom sizes, making sure students’ voices are heard, textbook affordability and improving communication between the administration and student body. 

The Chronicle spoke with Ballard about his new role as SGA president, his goals for next year and his thoughts on the current state of the college. 

THE CHRONICLE:  Why is SGA important to the campus community?

JEREL BALLARD: SGA is the voice between faculty, staff and students. Unlike a lot of other colleges and institutions, here at Columbia they really involve the students. We sit in on important committee meetings [and] we vote on important things that really do affect students on an everyday basis.

CC: How has serving for SGA helped you grow as a leader?

It has definitely given me the ability to work more effectively in a group. No matter what your title is, we all have a common goal. It has made me realize that no one is really above anybody, and nobody is really below anybody. We are all on the same level. We all work just as hard as everyone else to make sure Columbia is operating successfully and is beneficial to students. It has definitely made me realize and grow up a little bit more [from] dealing with [the] administration.

CC: What made you want to run for SGA president?

After being vice president of Finance and working closely with the current president, I saw a lot of opportunity. We had one of the most successful years, and I wanted to continue the success. We have a great senate right now and most of them are returning for next school year. Now that we have a good foundation and we are able to move forward, I just thought [being president] was the next best thing.

CC: How will you promote student involvement with SGA?

The best way is word of mouth. There will be a lot more tabling going around for students to get involved. Senators have had a lot of successful forums this year, so I want to keep that going. That is one of the No. 1 ways that we gather students’ opinions.

CC: How will you best represent the students of Columbia?

I want people to realize I’m also a student. Even though I am president, I will be attending their events. I will be supporting our senators when they have something going on in their department, and SGA will advertise it.

CC: How will you address the concerns of students during the Strategic Plan’s implementation?

Making sure our senators are well informed is one of the best ways to do it. One of the reasons #SaveColumbia is so popular is because a lot of people are talking about it. It starts with [the executive board] and making sure that whoever is on the executive board for next year is informed, then we can give that information to our senators. Also, when we have our classroom visits, our forums, our table discussions, we gather as many questions that the students have so we can prepare [them] for the administration and ask the right questions.

CC: How will SGA aid understanding of the Strategic Plan?

When we have our classroom visits and forums, we [make sure] we are really addressing those concerns. Maybe we can have something next year like concern boxes around campus or an easier way for students to reach SGA and not feel like there is a kind of bridge they can’t cross.

CC: How will you fight for college affordability next year?

I will continue to fight for college affordability and [make] sure we are below the national average [for tuition], especially compared to other arts and communication colleges. I am a student, too, so I also pay tuition and so does the rest of senate. We go out to lobby every year to fight for tuition. We just came back from fighting for the [Monetary Award Program] Grant, which is a grant that might get cut for next year for Illinois residents. 

CC: How will you fill the vacant senatorial positions in SGA?

We are always in communication with the chairs of all the departments, and a lot of departments have merged this year, so we are looking at restructuring some of the roles that we have on [SGA] to meet those new mergers. We will be speaking at the faculty meeting later on in the summer to make sure that if teachers have any recommendations, [we hear them]. Another thing we are doing is making sure any senators that aren’t returning are finding someone to replace them [and] that they are having their transition packets completed by the end of the year so that whoever takes their position next year [is] fully aware of everything going on in their department.

CC: Will SGA do anything to restore student work positions lost due to the minimum wage increase?

We are first starting with Pizza with the President. We are going to gather some of the questions and concerns that we have had from students, and then after that, we’re going to better address [the problem]. We’ve been brainstorming ever since #SaveColumbia came out, and we are going to better address which initiatives we want to spark.

CC: How do you hope to accomplish these goals you set?

Social media has definitely been increasing, so I want to keep the social media going. Maybe having more communication and dialogue with students, like letting students know that our meetings are open to the public and they can come and participate. Increasing awareness could solve a lot of these issues.