College of Education students will lead student government

For the first time since the university’s consolidation in 2013, Augusta University’s Student Government Association (SGA) will be headed by students from the College of Education. 

Mahadia Islam, 20, a junior kinesiology major from Buford, Ga., was recently elected president of the organization. Luke Yelton, 19, a junior music education major from Appling, Ga., was recently elected vice president. 

They will work this year with Secretary Gabriella Allen, a junior biology major, and Comptroller Manvi “Puja” Punukollu, a freshman cellular and molecular biology major. Sophomore kinesiology major Gabriella Benavides also joins them as a newly elected senator for the College of Education.

SGA is charged with providing representation and communication of the interests of the undergraduate student body to the faculty and the administration. And because the two new executive members are already very involved on campus, they already have some experience. Islam and Yelton have both worked in student government since they were freshmen. In addition, Islam has served as a resident assistant for University Village, and as vice president of the Jaguar Production Crew in charge of student events. And Yelton is a member of Baptist Collegiate Ministry, and plays trumpet as a member of the AU Wind Ensemble, AU Orchestra and AU Jazz Ensemble.

“I love Augusta University, so helping to make it a better place after I leave is a great way to give back,” Islam said.

“I’m really excited to represent the student body. I want to be a voice for all students,” Yelton said.

During their SGA involvement, the two have worked on projects to benefit the student body. Some examples include placing women’s feminine hygiene products in bathrooms, providing additional technology and equipment in student spaces, and working to grow the size of the organization.

SGA also provides about $25,000 in funding for student organizations’ events and travel, and for financial assistance to individual students for professional learning experiences. Students wishing to present at a conference or attend a professional training opportunity can apply to SGA for financial assistance.

But its primary role is to represent student interests. Islam will meet regularly with Dr. Brooks Keel, president of Augusta University, as well as a host of other administrators, in the hopes of creating the positive change that students want.

“They’re very eager to get started. Mahadia is very detail-oriented and likes to gather a lot of information. And I think Luke will be a thoughtful leader,” said Joe Pierce, Director of Student Engagement and advisor to the undergraduate student government association.

And they already have plans. As a resident assistant, Islam wants to advocate for safety on campus. “I’d like to see cameras installed in more places, such as residence halls and parking lots. Cameras provide prevention through deterrence, and support for law enforcement in case something happens,” Islam said.

And Yelton hopes to work on improving access to technology support such as charging outlets across campus, as well as access to student government. “A lot of people are not aware of who we are or what we do. If you have any complaints or suggestions or hopes for the campus, you can come to us,” Yelton said.

Islam and Yelton hope to see more students attending SGA meetings to express their concerns, as anyone can speak during the new business section of the meeting. They plan to increase awareness using social media and digital communications.

Pierce says he would like to see them capitalize on the growth and strength that previous student leaders have created, and to see them reach more students directly.

“I want them to go out and find students they don’t interact with on a daily basis and listen to them. Students whose only focus is going to class, or marginalized students who fear speaking out. I want them to lengthen their reach,” Pierce said.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, SGA has continued communications using online meetings, and is planning for a fall return to campus. For more information on the organization, visit https://www.augusta.edu/student-life/sga.

Student Government Association is looking for more senators to represent student interests. Each college can send one representative per 200 students. If you are interested in getting involved as a senator, contact Luke Yelton at sga-vp@augusta.edu.

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