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Meet AU student body president Andy MacCracken

Jenna Johnson

Andy MacCracken has been an active student advocate ever since he was in high school in Colorado. He knew he wanted to get involved in college politics and decided to attend American University -- which has about as many community members as his hometown.

MacCracken.jpgAs as freshman, Andy was elected to the undergraduate senate. Today, the junior political science major is student body president. He took time to answer some questions about the gig.

You are a member of AU's a cappella group, "On a Sensual Note." Do you ever sing at meetings?
I avoid singing at meetings, though I sometimes sing in the office. There have been a couple times when "On a Sensual Note" has had to sing at student government events, so I have to wear both hats. I also frequently sing in the office, usually without knowing it. Keeps things interesting.

You have an awesome last name, but do people ever think it's a joke?
Pretty frequently, yeah. It's helped create name recognition, but I'm always surprised when people say,"Oh, that's actually your name?"

AU has a reputation of being a very politically active campus. How does that make your student government different from others? Do you guys ever take yourselves too seriously?
AU's political activeness has an interesting effect on the SG. It seems like it would make people pay more attention to the SG, but students really direct their energy to national politics, rather than our local issues. Those that do direct their energy toward the SG, however, bring immense knowledge and passion along with them. Some of our most successful initiatives have been able to tap into the salience of national issues, like clean energy. We've created a Clean Energy Revolving Fund, which has drawn a lot of interest among students.

A lot of people take themselves too seriously, which is always frustrating to deal with. It causes some of us to look at internal matters. I've found a lot of my time is spent trying to redirect that energy into issues that really affect students.

How often do student government members hang out? What's the go-to bar?
We increasingly spend more and more time together. Honestly, recently we've been hanging out a lot in the office itself, which is kind of lame. I think we mostly just stick around to stay out of the cold. If we go out, we usually go to Chef Geoff happy hour. There's a new bar in the area, too, called Murphy's Law, which we keep talking about going to.

AU's student government has one of the most complicated organizational charts I have ever seen. How do you keep track of everything and everyone?
There's definitely a lot going on, but once you understand what each division does it becomes more simple. Everyone under my supervision deals with policy. The VP is programming and events. The comptroller oversees services like our van-lending and bike-lending programs. The secretary deals with communications.

I rely on the the VP, comptroller and secretary to keep track of each of their individual cabinets so we can focus on the broader vision of the organization.

What's your leadership style?
I try to work with people's needs and goals as much as possible. If they love what they do, they will be more productive in working on their goals and mine. Ideally, our goals will be the same. It's also key to not take myself too seriously, which I avoid at all costs.

How do you handle personality clashes and drama?
Direct communication is the best way to deal with these issues. When people have problems with each other, personally or professionally, I've tried to ensure those issues are communicated if there's any talk about action against those people.

What's the easiest way to reach AU students: Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, text message, YouTube, something else?
Facebook is huge. Sometimes I'll ask peoples' opinions via Facebook status and see what the responses are. While I take everything with a grain of salt, it is a great tool to find students where they spend most of their time online. We are also able to send out e-mails to all undergraduates, which is great at ensuring we have gotten important information to all students. Whether or not they open the e-mail is up to them.

What's allowed and not allowed on your Facebook profile?
I avoid profanity and photos of parties. I want to make sure I represent myself the best I can.

Tell us about your campaign for office. What worked best? What flopped?
I won by word of mouth. More and more, campaigns are run online via Facebook, which is effective, but I immediately talked to supporters in different organizations and Greek life, who then talked to their groups. It's impossible to measure how much of an effect that had, but I think that's what made the difference. I spent my campaign money on making T-shirts using a handmade stencil and spray paint. That helped raise visibility in all aspects of campus life.
The biggest flop stemmed from my previous SG involvement. Our campus media tend to have a watchdog complex, so when it came time for endorsements, I was bashed for simply being associated with the SG rather than anything that the SG or I had done wrong.

What advice to you have for college students thinking about running for office?
Do it. You should definitely run, but make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. It always makes me nervous when I hear about people who know they're going to run for months and months ahead of time. Run because you believe you're best for the job. Run because you truly care about what needs to get done. Don't run because of the title, because it's not as glamorous as it seems. The title isn't worth the job, but the sense of accomplishment, if you do it right, is worth it at the end.

What issues are AU students most passionate about right now?
Student housing has a lot of students active right now, as there was recently a major policy change set to address a shortage of housing. A fast growing issue with quick student support is a new sustainability initiative called the Clean Energy Revolving Fund. The Facebook group "We Support Clean Energy at American University," which explains the fund and how to support it, has grown to well over 500 students in its first couple days.

What projects are you most proud of doing?
I'm most proud of some of the transportation projects I've worked on. Student groups have had difficulty paying for and accessing rental cars for travel. We've been able to create a subsidy for groups to help alleviate the financial burden of travel and reach a deal with Avis Car Rentals, which now allows AU students 18+ to drive and rent cars for university travel.

We have also been able to create a SmarTrip-compatible AU ID card. This is a convenience for students and demonstrates a strong partnership with Metro. I hope this will also contribute to our effort to create a student discount, which is being held up now due to insufficient data on AU student ridership.

This year AU didn't require test scores from students applying early decision. What do you think of that?
It seems to have worked well. Personally, I'm not a good test taker, so I would have benefited from that new policy. AU's motto is "Ideas into Action, Action into Service." There's very little the SAT will contribute to understanding whether a student will best fulfill that mission.

Who is your favorite professor and why?
My favorite professor is Borden Flanagan, who I've had for two semesters now. Both classes revolve around political philosophy, and he has a tremendous knowledge of anything and everything that even remotely relates to the assigned readings. He presents each different author with such conviction that I have no idea what he actually agrees with, which challenges me intellectually in a way I've never been before.

Have you had any internships? What have those taught you about the real world?
I worked at America Votes during the 2008 election. It was a great experience, and I saw how important money is to moving platforms along. That was somewhat disillusioning, but it was a good real life experience. That experience, however, does not compare to what I've gained during my year as president. I've gone through a lot of personal growth, which is invaluable.

Do you plan to work in politics after graduation?
I do! I have a strong affinity for policy creation and hope to be in a position where I will be able to influence that process.

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By Jenna Johnson  |  April 5, 2010; 5:33 PM ET
Categories:  Student Government  | Tags: American  
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