WWS Blog

Leading the Way

Mar 10, 2014
Published by:
Elena Serna-Wallender, MPA '14

When I started the Master in Public Affairs (MPA) program at the Woodrow Wilson School, I had no intention of getting involved in WWS’ student government, called the Woodrow Wilson Action Committee (WWAC). I had not done anything like that as an undergrad and I figured plenty of my classmates would be far more politically inclined than I am. I am not a terribly competitive person, so the idea of running for office—albeit for our school’s rather non-threatening governing body—felt a little uncomfortable.

But something clicked when I arrived on campus. I liked the idea of serving my fellow students, advocating for student interests, helping to keep things running, building community and making sure that women were well represented in our school’s leadership positions. I could not justify not doing something to make that happen. So I threw my name in the hat to represent the first-year MPA class during our first semester at the Woo, and I ended up serving in that position with another first-year MPA student, Meghan O’Toole.

Elena Serna-Wallender and Meghan O'Toole

When it came time for our class to take over WWAC (pronounced WOO-ack), I felt much less ambivalent about remaining involved. I found such satisfaction in serving our school community and it seemed natural to continue. Meghan and I ended up being elected co-chairs in January 2013; we just finished our one-year term at the start of the Spring 2014 semester. (For the sake of continuity, each term straddles two consecutive academic school years. The first-year MPA representatives don’t always end up transitioning to co-chairs—it just worked out that way with us.)

There was an assortment of responsibilities in leading WWAC. In a nutshell, we coordinated efforts to liaise with the WWS administration on issues of school and university policy, academics, and other concerns and desires of students, and built community among students, faculty and staff. This is definitely a team effort; there are about 33 positions that students can fill on the WWAC board. And, if you’re counting, that’s almost half of a typical MPA cohort!

Meghan and I recently completed our 2013 Annual WWAC Report, and I am very proud of the things our team accomplished. We fostered substantial student involvement in determining our coursework, hosted a great fundraiser for a local non-profit and helped students, faculty, and staff bond together in friendship. I am grateful for the ways I grew as a leader and I love that someday I will look back on my time at WWS and know that I made a difference. 

Pictures are way more fun than words, so here are a few of my favorite photos from 2013 WWAC events. And when you get to the Woo, jump on in! Take it from me—it’s totally worth it. 


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