2021-2022 Outgoing GPSG President Plans to Take Selfless Service Approach to Life after GraduationHaving graduated with a master’s in sport management with a certificate in advanced international affairs, Graduate and Professional Student Government President Staci Rende reflects on her tenure with the GPSG and looks toward the future
By Jordyn Harney
COLLEGE STATION, May 12, 2022 – As a child, outgoing Graduate and Professional Student Government President Staci Rende played a lot of spy games. “I just always thought it was cool knowing things I wasn’t supposed to know and doing things that seemed off limits,” Rende said.
Despite her make-believe attraction to the inaccessible, in real life Rende felt that being the kind of leader or professional to which she aspired was out of her reach. Through undergrad and early in her time as a master’s student, Rende found other ways to engage in service such as representing her college as a GPSG Senator, but didn’t seek to lead from the top.
Then in spring 2021 – recognizing a need for better graduate student representation and thinking “why not me?” – Rende launched a presidential campaign she would eventually win. That experience and the subsequent year as president proved to be just the catalyst Rende needed to develop into an accomplished leader and find the confidence to pursue the career she always wanted.
Rende grew up in a military family, surrounded by examples of dedication to public service. She wanted to follow in the family's footsteps by joining the Navy, but childhood health issues caused her to adjust her plans.
“I had childhood asthma,” Rende said. “And for one reason or another I thought military service was something I couldn’t do. Even though many people, including service members in my family told me otherwise, I just never believed them. I thought asthma was an automatic disqualification, so I didn’t try.”
As an alternative to military service, but still desiring to make those around her better, Rende gravitated toward coaching. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sports conditioning and then entered a master’s program in the College of Education and Human Development (she is a May 2022 Sports Management graduate).
Advocacy on Campus
Throughout her time at Texas A&M, Rende has found ways to serve her community. She co-founded BTHO Harvey, a student relief effort for families who had been affected by Hurricane Harvey, and served as Grad Camp Director and GPSG Senator for Health and Kinesiology before becoming GPSG President.
Having experienced student life as an undergrad and a grad student, then serving in these positions, two things stuck out to Rende – how amazing Texas A&M’s graduate and professional students are and how much more of a spotlight they could demand if they advocated for themselves more. “In the undergraduate world we are given so much of a spotlight,” she said. “I wanted to see that for our graduate students.”
Wanting to increase her advocacy for graduate and professional students and address the disparity in the way concerns are resolved for undergraduates compared to those of graduate students, she decided to step out of her comfort zone and campaign for GPSG Presidency. “I have been in a few roles where I put a spotlight on student groups and organizations and I thought, ‘why not try that on a bigger scale? Why not put my name in the hat and serve and better represent our students as a whole?’”
At the same time, she applied a “why not me” attitude to her career goals and revisited her aspiration for military service. As a step in that direction, she enrolled in a professional certificate program in advanced international affairs with an emphasis in intelligence in the Bush School.
Rende at New Graduate Student Orientation, August 2020
After winning the election, Rende saw collaboration as a solution to some of the problems GPSG was facing. “I wanted to work with more organizations across campus. As one person, I simply cannot understand every single one of the 15,000 students we represent,” she said.
One of the accomplishments she is most proud of is the securement of priority registration for student veterans on campus – something, Rende said that the Student Veterans of America (SVA) had been trying to make happen for nine years. Within just three months of collaborative efforts between GPSG and SVA, this goal was achieved.
“I've viewed some of the challenges that were presented with us as puzzles that GPSG can try to start to put together and figure out how we can best serve,” Rende said.
Recognizing what could be accomplished through collaboration, Rende wanted to extend GPSG partnering efforts beyond the Texas A&M campus. She initiated the creation of the SEC Graduate and Professional Student Body President Coalition, an organization of graduate student leaders across all Southeastern Conference Schools. “I really wanted to build a forum where we could talk about what our challenges are on our particular campuses, create joint resolutions, and assemble a coalition of broader support if we need it.”
Towards the end of her term, she had begun efforts to create greater representation for graduate and professional students at all campuses and distance students as well by acting as a liaison between campus senators and higher administration. Her priority is to make sure that graduate and professional students are part of the conversation when it comes to addressing concerns and solving problems, regardless of what campus they’re on.
Beginning a Life of Public Service
As Rende prepares to transition to the next steps, she will take with her a newly found confidence and motivation to achieve her goals which she has gained in her time as GPSG President.
The daunting process of running a successful campaign and the unexpected yet rewarding challenges faced during her presidency giving her the final push she needed, Rende is now preparing her application to join the Navy and for the Defense Intelligence Agency, returning to her longtime goal of military service.
“Being in this position has shown me that if you have a dream, and if you have a goal just go for it.” She found mentors in Texas A&M administrators, including Karen Butler-Purry, Associate Provost and Dean of the Graduate and Professional School, and Brigadier General Joe Ramirez, Vice President for Student Affairs.
“I just used to think so little of myself until I was in front of some of these incredible people that have achieved so much, starting in positions like I did,” she said. “They just dreamed big, didn't take no for an answer, found the open doors and ran through them. Working with them on shared goals has been so inspiring.”
Combining her background in sports management with her interest in researching international defense, her long-term goal is to lead the implementation of a global Sport for Development and Peace program, an initiative that utilizes sports to promote sustainable development around the world. Her program would aim to combat terrorism by promoting diplomacy and the principles of democracy in youth sports.
As for her vision for the GPSG, Rende hopes her successors will continue to build strong relationships with student organizations and administrators. “We're all on the same page here -- we're just wanting to help our student population have the best overall experience, both while they’re students and after,” she said. With graduate and professional students making up 22% of the Texas A&M University student population, she wants to see recognition and support for the graduate student community continue to grow.
And she’s optimistic that it will. “We’re headed in the right direction,” Rende said. “We just have to keep getting in front of the right people and building relationships, creating that bond.”
Thankful for her experience as graduate and professional student body president and what it’s taught her, she encourages others to always be willing to learn, open to new experiences, and willing to go at their goals with everything they’ve got. “Make rejection your redirection and always remember that you deserve that seat at the table.”