KUnited Q&A: ‘My vision would be making KU better than when I found it’

Brandon Woodard and Blaine Bengtson, students running for president and vice president in KUnited, answer some questions about why they’re running and what to look forward to by engaging yourself in the upcoming election.

Brandon Woodard, senior from Topeka, majoring in Political Science.

Member of Delta Lambda Phi, pledge class president freshman year, served as vice president of fraternity in the past, involved with SUA, participated in KU dance marathon and participated in LeaderShape, an interactive six-day leadership enhancement program in 2011.

Blaine Bengtson, junior from Salina, majoring in Public Administration and Environmental Studies.

Member of Phi Delta Theta, director of Recycle and Blue KU last year, current intern for KU Center for Sustainability and participated in LeaderShape, an interactive six-day leadership enhancement program in 2011.

University Daily Kansan: Why do you want to be student senate president or vice president?
BW: Coming in as a student leader that was pretty involved but didn’t know a whole lot about student senate, I was able to bring a lot of ideas on how we could better connect Student Senate to the student body. And from that, I found my passion and ran for VP and am able to serve in that role this year. I think that because I am so passionate about serving students, I think there’s a lot of work that can still be done to further the mission of student senate and really help students at KU.

BB: My first experience with Student Senate has been this past year, and I’m acting as a current senator. Before that, I didn’t have a very broad knowledge of Student Senate, but once I found it, I fell in love, and I think that the impact that Student Senate can have for students is really broad, and I want to be able to contribute to that and serve my fellow students. The opportunity that we have every year to come in and look at the University and make it better than when we found it is something that Student Senate can do, and I hope to be able to do that as vice president.

UDK: What do you think are some of the greatest strengths of KU students?
BW: I think that the atmosphere is something that is so vibrant. We have an amazing basketball team, we have an amazing program for academics throughout the University, we have a national debate team. We have so many different things that KU students excel at, and I think that just the quality of saying that you’re a Jayhawk truly exemplifies the community that we have as Jayhawks. I think that every student at KU has an opportunity to make their academic career whatever they want it to be. I think we have a unique situation that you can come to KU and say, ‘I want to do this,’ or X, Y, and Z, or myself — I want to run for student body president. As a freshman, I never would have thought that was ever possible, but because of the community that KU has, I think that it’s a really positive environment for doing whatever you’re passionate about.

Ashleigh Lee/KANSAN Blaine Bengston and Brandon Woodard the vice presidential and presidential candidate for the KUnited coalition.

Ashleigh Lee/KANSAN
Blaine Bengston and Brandon Woodard the vice presidential and presidential candidate for the KUnited coalition.

BB: I think when you arrive on campus, there is this atmosphere where you think, ‘Man, I’m at a flagship University, I’m at a research one university,’ and there are so many important things going on at KU, and I have the opportunity to contribute to that. And whether it’s like Brandon said, being in Student Senate or running for student body vice president or it’s doing research in a biology lab or a greenhouse or something, there are just so many opportunities at KU to contribute in such a positive way, and I think that is so unique and we should not ever take that for granted.

UDK: What do you think some weaknesses of KU students are?
BW: One thing that I see, which I see as an opportunity for us to work on if elected, is that at the University, we have over 20,000 students. We have almost 600 student organizations that are registered through Student Involvement, but it seems like you see the same people involved in everything. I think that while it’s a great opportunity that you can get involved with whatever you want, I think we really need to truly engage students. Because if you get involved with whatever you’re passionate about or you get involved in undergraduate research or research at the graduate level, it’s something that’s going to lead to you to stay at the University. In a time where the University is facing retention issues at times and enrollment, I think that we really need to be focused on how can we get quality Jayhawks here and how can we keep them here. And so I think that’s not necessarily a negative quality, but I think something we can really work on is engaging more students.

BB: I think I’d tie my weakness back into the strength in that trying to find a way to make sure that every single student that walks onto KU embraces the fact that we do play an integral role in not only Kansas and not only the region, but in the United States and the world. Getting every student in every department and from all walks of life to embrace that fact will really enhance the University and I think that we have certain groups of students who really take that on and fulfill the responsibilities associated with that. Making sure everyone is embracing that responsibility to the fullest will make the University much better in the long run.

Mackenzie Oatman, a member of the KUnited coalition, talks to students on Wescoe Beach about voting for KUnited.

Mackenzie Oatman, a member of the KUnited coalition, talks to students on Wescoe Beach about voting for KUnited.

If you’re elected, what do you think that you two can do to bolster some of these weaknesses, make them stronger, but also to highlight the strengths that you talked about?
BW: I can not only use my own personal experience of someone that as a freshman, lived off-campus, wasn’t involved in anything first semester, and didn’t know anyone, came to class and went home and napped or went to work. I can use my own experiences to reach out with the University administration as well as other student organizations and things like that to engage those students. Also, I think that we can really use what we’ve learned over time in our experience within Student Senate. Student Senate is such a powerful entity and a body that represents so many students that I think that we could expand our horizons and expand our reach to further enhance the University.

BB: I’ll use the example of sustainability because I’m so close to it everyday, and I think that KU makes a commitment to sustainability by making sure that every student realizes that KU is prioritizing. That is one example of a way in which students should really be engaged on all different fronts. And when KU, as a leader amongst other universities, takes a stand on an issue like sustainability, I think that embracing it to the fullest is crucial, and it takes embracing it from the top all the way to the bottom via administrators, seniors, juniors and freshman who have just arrived on campus. I think Student Senate in the capacity not solely sustainability, but with every issue in Student Senate, has such a wide reach and we have 20 percent representation with students on every board or committee at this university and student senators and board members and committee members have that opportunity to really influence those things and make the priorities that need to be made very prevalent and a way to have an impact through those.

UDK: Can you tell us about some of your personal strengths and weaknesses as leaders?
BW: I’m very driven. I think that it speaks a lot that I’ve been financially independent on my own since I was 16. I was able to provide for myself through part of my high school career and also provide for myself in college and then still make something of myself. I think that my work ethic is incomparable to a lot of my peers and a lot of our peers at the University. I also really like listening. I think that one of my advantages is that I listen to every side of the story or every possible option before making a decision, which I think is something that would transpire very well and transition very well into the role as president, if elected. I think that at times you have your own personal agenda or ideas of how things should run, but as an elected official, your job is to listen to those people that are representing the student body, the people that elected you. I think it’s very important that you look at every angle and take in every consideration; the pros and cons of everything, before making a decision and moving forward. With that, a weakness, sometimes I do take on too much, and I can spread myself a little thin. Which I realized very quickly my sophomore year being involved in so many organizations at once which I think that if you don’t know that you’re taking on too much, sometimes the quality of your work can be partially diminished. I’ve really used some of the opportunities to find weaknesses in my leadership skills and really turn those into strengths. Identifying what could be improved and not only building on my own personal skills but also polishing and bettering those weaknesses into strengths.

BB: I would say a strength that I have with regard to leadership would be having a vision, and it goes back to that point that as far as in this capacity, my vision would be making KU better than when I found it. Along with that vision, I think that it’s important to be able to bring a vision out in others and so not only myself seeing an issue that can be worked on or a problem that should be solved, but also going to people who may be quiet and saying, ‘Can I hear what your vision is for KU and what changes do you see that need to be made?’ I think that’s an important part of this process because Student Senate is such a collaborative body that we need to bring out all of those thoughts. On the weakness side, tying into that, sometimes I can get a little set on a solution, and if I think something can solve a problem, I will stick with it. I think bringing those voices in and other opinions and saying maybe someone else’s solution might be better than mine is an important trait that I continue working on.

Closing Argument:
BW: We just want people to vote. That’s an important part of the process, and I look at recent local elections in Lawrence and the state of Kansas, and we’re pretty low. Things that are affecting everyday life of people including students and Student Senate elections are so vital. Just getting people involved with that process is huge, and I would encourage it and think that Brandon would agree that the more people that are willing and able to vote should do so.

BB: What’s really important to remember is that while we (KUnited) have been here for a number of years, each year we might be identified as the same coalition, but every single year, going back to your question is that the beauty of having new candidates each year at the top of the ticket is that you can bring new ideas and new, fresh faces. I’m really excited that half of our coalition this year, it will be there first time in Student Senate while we also have the other half that are involved currently and have the experience and know how to work with campus administration to get things done. I think that obviously we want people to vote in a certain way, but it’s very important to us that the voter turnout is much higher this year and that people, regardless of what coalition they’re voting for, really do express their opinion and express who they want to represent them in the following year.

See KUnited’s website here.


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Hannah Barling is a junior from Arkansas majoring in journalism. Read more from .

  • Updated Apr. 11, 2013 at 4:51 pm
  • Edited by Jordan Wisdom
  • Senator

    Pretty sure Brandon was never vice president of a fraternity…