Undergraduate Student Government President Taylor Stepp will be the first to tell you he has not had a normal college experience. But how can one student’s version of normal compare to another’s?
“I actually sat down and did the math one day. By the time I graduate, I will have been USG president longer than I’ve been just a student at Ohio State,” Stepp said.
Yeah, that is not exactly normal.
A fourth-year in public affairs, Stepp is coming to the close of his second consecutive year in office. Before Stepp, only four people had ever served as USG president at OSU twice. During an inauguration ceremony on March 26, the fourth member of that exclusive group is set to pass control of the administration to Celia Wright and Leah Lacure, winners of the USG election held earlier in the month.
The Lantern had a chance to sit down with Stepp for a conversation about the significance of his administration, his plans after graduation and his regrets.
On how the role of USG has changed during his time
“One of the reasons I first ran was because we were not doing enough in student government. Once I got inside the system, I found out that we were minimizing ourselves … We have a responsibility to take care of 51,000 kids and I take that responsibility very seriously. I talk about it on Twitter and I say #bigthings, it’s serious though. We wanted to take student government and what it did and elevate it. And I think we accomplished that. And I like that fact the once I’m done here, I can walk away knowing that what we said we were gonna do, we got done, if not more. That’s gonna set up Leah and Celia for a great time. When people say, ‘What does USG do?’ … I’m not offended by it. I see it as a challenge, because we need to make USG relevant to them … The way that I look at it is, we’re not a student government. We’re a governing body that happens to be of students and we take ourselves professionally in that regard.”
On the challenges of beginning his first term
“The main thing that people wrote me off on is that I had too lofty of goals. If you talk to (the USG president) or anyone else who was on the campaign at the time, they would say they don’t think I was going to get done what I said I was gonna get done. My opponents in the election said the same thing at the time. The thing is I’m a huge nerd, and I wrote the whole platform. So I knew the ins and outs of everything, I knew exactly what I was gonna do and how I was gonna do it. I knew it would be a challenge to get things done; I thought we could do it, but I knew it would be a huge challenge.”
On his proudest accomplishments as USG President
“When we helped get joint jurisdiction (between Columbus and OSU police) passed in 2012, people downtown regard that as one of the biggest moves in Columbus in the last couple years. When we had the deputy police chief from Columbus at OSU recently he said that was a game changer. Student safety has risen dramatically, crime went down by I believe 25 percent after that. Student government made an announcement live on television all over the state on three different channels and had a front-page article in The (Columbus) Dispatch. I don’t know of any other student governments that do that … Other people in the Big Ten look at us and say, ‘Who are you people?’ and, well of course I have to say we’re from the Ohio State University.”
The joint jurisdiction agreement, signed September 2012, allows University Police to take action against felonies or misdemeanor thefts or violent offenses officers observe off-campus, as long as officers are on campus or traveling to or from campus while they observe the incident.
“That paired with the semester appeals board … My chief of staff last year would not have graduated if not for the semester appeals board. It doesn’t get talked about enough. We told the university there needed to be something like this in place so individual students didn’t slip through the cracks (during the quarter-semester conversion) and wind up graduating late.”
OSU converted to a semester system from quarters in 2012.
“And I think the affordability initiative, which has been my real project recently, isn’t getting talked about enough here but it’s receiving national coverage. It is a benchmark for students across the country. Andy McCracken, who is from the National Campus Leadership Council, which is like the national conglomerate for student governments, has told me that they’re using USG’s affordability initiative … to push higher education affordability reform across the United States. I mean, that’s huge.”
A November press release from USG defined the Affordability Initiative as a “holistic, proactive approach to combat the problem of student debt and improve college affordability at Ohio State.” The initiative is based on findings of the Commission to Rethink Access, a USG committee that researched ways to make OSU more affordable.
Some recommendations of the initiative were for OSU to supply information about expected cost increases, provide undergraduates universal access to financial coaches and remove the credit hour cap, which currently charges undergraduate students extra – about $455 for Ohio residents and about $1,109 per additional credit hour – for taking more than 18 credit hours, according to a USG release.
On his biggest regret
“I wish I would have spent more time on my personal life … I worked myself to death. I mean … I had my last senate meeting (Wednesday). I’ve been to every single senate meeting, barring a few absences, since like September of my freshman year. I’ve had a very different college experience than most kids. I’ve had a great one, but … there was a period in late October of last year I had 180 meetings in two weeks to recruit kids on my campaign. One hundred eighty meetings. I didn’t have a life. I almost had a breakdown a year ago. I was already president, I was gearing up to run for re-election, I had all these other relationships and things on my plate, and I remember sitting in (my office) with (my VP last year) and I was like ‘I need something else in my life.’ And that’s why I joined Sigma Alpha Epsilon and that has made me so much happier of a person.”
On his biggest influences
“The person who got me through (the tough personal times) even if he doesn’t know it, was Gordon Gee … He explained to me how he let his job overshadow his personal life, and I really needed to hear that, it resonated with me and I’m a lot better off now. I learned to say no to people or meetings. I learned to delegate more, I learned to make sure to spend time to hang out with my friends.
“(Former USG President) Micah Kamrass was another big help. Kamrass was, and still is in a lot of ways, my role model. Day one of being here, I saw him speak at convocation and I was just like, ‘This guy is the coolest guy ever.’ Micah has always been kind to me. When I was a freshman who had some crazy ideas about some things, he was always there to make sure I got in touch with whoever I needed to get in touch with. We’re peers now, which is cool for me. He has a lot of skills I don’t have and I’ve learned so much from him over the years.”
Kamrass, who served as USG President during the 2010-11 academic year, is now an OSU law student. He said Stepp is a president who “definitely has the right priorities.”
“(Stepp) deserves a lot of praise for his focus on the affordability initiative,” Kamrass said Wednesday. “Cost is the most important issue to students right now.”
Stepp is set to graduate this spring and said he is in the process of finding a job.
“I’m in talks with two companies right now, and I don’t want to jinx myself or anything, but it’s looking like I will be employed after I graduate, so I’m thankful for that.”
A future political career is a possibility Stepp has considered, but at the moment he is looking forward to having a little free time — something he isn’t used to from sitting in on meetings on all different topics.
“You cannot imagine the intricacies of campus parking that I know about,” Stepp said with a smile. “I’ve sat through so many meetings, but this is how I’ve chosen to spend my college years.”
Stepp added that during his last weeks at OSU, he wants to try to be a normal guy.
“I just wanna hang out with friends and go to Too’s (Spirits Under High) Tuesday,” he said.
So, as the time comes for him to pack up his office in the Ohio Union and hand the reigns to the next group of student leaders, only one question remains. Why on earth would anyone put so much of himself into USG?
“It’s because I care,” Stepp said. “If you look back and see every year, who was president and what they did, you’ll be able to tell who wanted it for themselves and who wanted to get things done. I think people will look at me and say I got things done, and I’m satisfied with that. And when I say ‘I,’ I mean ‘we’ got things done. It’s a team of over 300 students working together to solve problems.”