New UND student leaders are hoping to “reignite the flame” for student activities following the pandemic, while also continuing to focus on student diversity, equity and inclusion on campus next year.

Kaelan Reedy and Dawson Dutchak were elected student body president and vice president, respectively, on April 14.

The student body election comes as students continue to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and its myriad issues, including online learning, fewer extracurricular activities and general stress that comes with the pandemic.

“I think it's going to feel like we're rebuilding,” Reedy said of what the next year may hold.

As a fourth-year political science and public administration major, Reedy could have graduated next fall and ended his time with student government. He ultimately decided to run for president to help students after the past year as they deal with the pandemic and all of its issues.

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Reedy said he feels he and Dutchak have the experience and the drive to utilize the resources available to student government to most benefit students.

The duo’s campaign slogan was: Reignite the flame.

While the university did its best to keep students inspired to get their education and experience life as a college student, Reedy said it’s been a very tough year for students and many have had their “flames” “burn out.” He and Dutchak want to find ways to help students through the next year.

“It's been a massive struggle,” he said.

As Reedy and Dutchak begin their time as student leaders, the new Memorial Union will be opening on campus.

Reedy said the new student union will be a “centerpiece for student life on campus” and will be a place for students to gather, relax, study and have fun. This comes after a year when students were not able to gather due to COVID-19 protocols and other virus mitigation strategies.

“It's almost symbolic of the new place that this university is going to be,” he said. “This year was almost like a pause, or a transitionary period, from what the campus used to be and what it's now going to be.”

Student government has been an important part of Reedy and Dutchak’s college experience, they said.

Reedy, who is from Mandan, said he always wanted to participate in student government, but he didn’t expect it to be much more than a fun extracurricular activity in his free time. Instead, Reedy ended up heavily involved in student government, serving as student body vice president during the last year with Student Body President Matthew Ternus.

“Student government has really been one of the most important things I think I've ever done,” he said, adding the experience has helped him grow as a leader and create friendships across campus. “It's just been a passion of mine, working with my fellow student leaders, having fun, working on projects that really do help people and can really make a difference.”

Dutchak, a junior majoring in public affairs and human resources management from Dickinson, got involved with student government after participating in the residence hall association on campus, which is its own form of student government contained to the campus dorms. He enjoys being a voice for students and representing their thoughts and interests in meetings on campus and within the community.

“It's really rewarding,” he said.

Dutchak hopes the university and student government can expand opportunities for experiential learning for students by creating more partnerships with local businesses and organizations that would allow students to get hands-on learning in the workforce.

“Until you actually try something, you're not going to know if that's what you want to do for the rest of your life,” he said.

Additionally, Dutchak said he’s spoken to downtown business leader Blue Weber about ways students can get out into the community more, whether through vouchers or other means. While there’s been a push for one-off events over the past few years, Dutchak said having more consistent engagement with the community will help build on the “town and gown” relationship between UND and Grand Forks.

Emphasizing the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion on campus will also be an important aspect of student government over the next year and beyond, Reedy said. Some of that work has already started, with student government forming its own version of the campus’ diversity, equity and inclusion task force.

“We've been talking every week about what we can do to not only make student government a more equitable organization, but the student body on campus in general,” Reedy said. “We want to ensure that all students, from all different communities and backgrounds, have a place that they can go on campus, meet like-minded folks, and really feel well.”