Op-Ed: Innovative Student Government

May 27, 2011, 12:25 a.m.

Current Vision

Stanford 2.0 ran on a platform of “Student government as social entrepreneurship.” The aim is to combine an experienced understanding of the current infrastructure with ways to create disruptive change within student government, using the design process as a key ingredient. With the intention to run student government and the ASSU with the attitude of a lean startup, constantly innovating, prototyping and iterating, the Executive aims to get things done.

In an organization where institutional memory is a constant issue, the ASSU is pretty lucky to have Michael Cruz on board. Michael served as an executive fellow, then on the Senate twice (once as chair) and then finally as vice president after stepping in to fill the huge void left by the departure of Kelsei Wharton. The combination of his experience with the vision, charisma and understanding of service that the new chief of staff, Emma Ogiemwanye, brings to the team, will only take the ASSU to the next level.



As part of the movement to create a more innovative, collaborative and agile student government, the ASSU Executive has a bold new structure. In an unprecedented move, the Executive Cabinet has been split into two distinct components, the Cabinet and Community Board. Moreover, to ensure effective management, part of the Cabinet will now be overseen by the chief of staff and the other part by the vice president. The Executive now includes a Project Management and Implementation “swing team” that is delocalized, serves the entire Cabinet and is flexible in size to ensure the transfer of ideas. For the first time the Cabinet structure also involves director positions such as the director of design thinking and the director of need finding to augment the work of the cabinet members.


Talent and Resources

Tapping talent on campus is one of the key foci of the Executive. Aside from learning from experienced University administrators, the ASSU is already reaching out to people around Stanford and has had productive discussions with people at the d.school, GSB, STVP and various other talent houses. When recruiting the Executive team, the ASSU reached out to the top 100 headhunters in the world; this trend of reaching out to and learning from the best will continue this year.



The ASSU Executive is excited to embrace the design process, with its focus on human values, to gear the ASSU toward ensuring empathy for the student body for which it is designing solutions. Before rolling out a massive project or initiative, the ASSU will carry out intensive need finding using the d.school’s interview strategies among the student population to ensure that it is meeting relevant pain points in the student body. Additionally, the Executive wants to be able to rapidly prototype and get feedback on the projects it launches, be they health campaigns, sustainability initiatives or other programs to build stronger campus community groups.


Meeting and training

Members of the ASSU are being trained to master the processes of empathy interviewing, defining problem statements, ideating by brainstorming without judgment, using idea selection processes, rapidly prototyping with a bias to action and effectively getting user feedback. In order to create efficient ASSU operations while still maintaining a rich diversity of ideas, meetings in the ASSU will be held in a collaborative fashion, replicating the format that is used in the d.school, with whiteboards, sticky notes and a volume of great ideas dominating the discussion rather than egos and restrictive attitudes.


Looking ahead

As the Executive merges the ideas gathered in its comprehensive platform with the unbelievable talent it has attracted, you’ll see more innovation and design thinking at every step of the way. Each Cabinet member will form a blueprint for the year and start building a team to think bigger than ever before. With the widespread changes, the ASSU is poised to lead innovation in student government across the nation. Most importantly, the focus is on getting a lot done.

Each person who has joined the ASSU Executive so far is a rockstar. If you want to leverage your skills and passions, take Stanford to the next level and change the way student government is run, come join the rock show.


Stewart Macgregor-Dennis and Nishant Jacob,

ASSU Vice President and Director of Design Thinking for the student body

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