Even after a long day of student government work, Jules O’Connor is all smiles on Dec. 4 as she leads the monthly University Committee on Student Life meeting, introducing speakers from her seat, front and center. Serving as chair of both UCSL and the Student Senators Council, her leadership style includes interjections of encouragement — usually, “Awesome.”
In her role at the forefront of NYU’s student government, O’Connor, a CAS senior, routinely spends four to five hours a day working on committee matters. She often finds herself to be one of the few students in the room when administrators hold a meeting. In particular, O’Connor has been helping with two major projects: the development of the Coles Sports Center site and the search for a new university president. O’Connor wants to make room for as many student voices as possible in these discussions.
“I’m excited to be in the conversation right off the bat, making sure that, moving forward, there are students at the table throughout the process,” she said.
Each month, O’Connor and other student senators, meet with the University Senate to represent the voices of students on UCSL, as well as the broader student body. O’Connor said she is glad to foster collaboration between NYU’s many governing branches.
“What I hate most about NYU is the feeling that your voice is never heard, and I want to address that front-on and say, ‘I’ll be happy to be that voice,’” O’Connor said.
O’Connor has been working to publicize resources like the SSC and UCSL to students.
Jessica Hawk, vice chair of UCSL, said O’Connor has been consistent in her vision for the committee.
“She came into her role with the hopes to make NYU’s student government more approachable and empower the students to speak up about their issues with trust in the system,” Hawk said.
In interacting with the NYU community, from students and faculty members to deans and administrators, she has won the admiration of her colleagues.
Pascha McTyson, the director of the Center for Student Activities, Leadership and Service and an SSC adviser, noted O’Connor’s efforts to be inclusive of all student voices in discussions.
“She is approachable, aggressive in all the right ways, caring and driven,” McTyson said.
Before finding herself at the head of student government, O’Connor played basketball during her freshman year and studied at NYU Washington, D.C., and NYU London.
Upon returning to New York in the spring of her junior year, O’Connor was the chair of the Global Affairs Committee and helped form the Global Student Council.
“We pride ourselves on this global network, yet there are still so many hurdles that students have to jump,” O’Connor said. “It’s one thing to say we’re a global network and it’s another thing to be one. And I don’t think we’re there yet.”
Despite deciding not to play basketball anymore, O’Connor emphasizes teamwork, for which Michael Hengerer, her fellow committee member and vice chair of the SSC, is grateful.
“Jules warned us that, due to her background in athletics, she would be saying ‘We got this’ all the time,” Hengerer said. “At first I thought it was corny, but as the year goes on … her catchphrase has made its way into the fabric of the SSC, instilling a positive, team-building spirit that motivates us all.”
O’Connor identified several initiatives that she is trying to start before she graduates this spring, including addressing the system of academic advising. Originally double majoring in math and politics, O’Connor had to reduce her course of study to only a minor in math, and she sympathizes with the academic difficulties students often face.
“The thing is that we’re in a very big academic network, so there are a lot of different pathways that students can take,” O’Connor said. “And as a student here I think that’s exciting, that you have so many doors in front of you. But to me, in higher education you should always be told ‘yes’ to pursue something academic, and it’s frustrating when we’re continually told ‘no.’”
Remembering the confusion of her earlier years at NYU, O’Connor recently raised the subject of a mentorship program in which students could consult recent graduates about getting through college and making it in the real world.
“Now that I’m toward the end of my college career, I want to make sure that no one feels that ‘lost’ feeling,” she said.
By interacting with diverse facets of the university community, O’Connor understands it will require a team effort to achieve her goals.
“When I came in, I was an athlete, but then I wanted to try something else,” O’Connor said. “And that’s the nature of NYU, is that we all have our own trajectories. One way isn’t the right way.”
Email Clio McConnell at firstname.lastname@example.org. A version of this article appeared in the 2014 Influential print edition.