UofL students work to enact change in higher education

Left to right, Afi Tagnedji, Noah Young, Priyadarshini Chandrashekhar and Rachel Burns are members of the inaugural CPE student advisory group.
Left to right, Afi Tagnedji, Noah Young, Priyadarshini Chandrashekhar and Rachel Burns are members of the inaugural CPE student advisory group.

The Council on Postsecondary Education coordinates change and improvement in Kentucky’s postsecondary education system, as directed by the Kentucky Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997.

This academic year, for the first time, Kentucky’s college students will have a say in what that “change and improvement” should look like. CPE President Aaron Thompson recently created a student advisory group after his listening tour last year. He felt the formation of the student group would fit two major CPE priorities: communications and collaboration.

This year’s inaugural group includes 22 college students from across the state – including four UofL Cardinals. They include Juniors Rachel Burns and Priyadarshini Chandrashekhar, and sophomores Afi Henriette Tagnedji and Noah Young. The students are tasked with attending meetings to discuss high-level issues “that may need more attention from student government or campus boards,” as well as helping out with events, public engagement and policy development. The group’s work will continue through June 2021.

As Thompson said in a press release, students are faced with the most challenging academic year in memory, and this group will provide an “invaluable opportunity” to understand their unique needs and circumstances.

Tagnedji, for one, is ready to offer such insights.

“Students are at the forefront of education systems and we have a lot to say. I have a lot to say. That alone is enough [reason to get involved],” she said.

“As a member of this board, my goal is to bring about bold dialogue, progressive reforms, and uplift the marginalized to bring about an ever-changing, equitable future for postsecondary education,” Young added. “Making the state of postsecondary education an optimistic, equitable, and prosperous enterprise, not only benefits our great state, but the country as a whole.”

All four of the UofL students are involved in a number of other initiatives. Burns and Tagnedji, for example, are both MLK Scholars. Young is a resident assistant, and Chandrashekhar has been involved in the undergraduate arts and research showcase.

Still, they are dedicating their time to this advisory panel to focus on priority areas they’ve each identified, including:

  • Burns, who is studying history, is focused on student services and resources, as well as sexual assault and dating violence.
  • Chandrashekhar, a biology major and math minor, is focused on academic quality, online instruction during COVID-19, student support and access to resources for success.
  • Young, a political science major, is focused on college affordability, mental health, diversity, equity and inclusion.
  • Tagnedji, a sophomore biochemistry major, is focused on student health and safety, education quality and access to financial aid.

“Cost is and has always been a barrier to education. Education is a right and higher education should be no less. Students need support financially, not just with tuition but with other funds that come from an understanding of the real cost of post-secondary education,” Tagnedji said.

Such financial support is critical, she adds, as it also ties into retention and belonging.

“With culturally relevant curriculum catered to ‘the times,’ I believe universities can bring added value to the many changemakers emerging, especially in this socio-political climate. The onus really is on institutions to equip students to be the change they want to see,” she said. “All these issues are near and dear to my heart because I have seen firsthand what the power of an equity-focused education system does for individuals and the communities to which they belong.”

Indeed, Tagnedji, who is originally from Todome in Togo, west Africa, is the first in her family to attend school in the U.S. And though just a sophomore, her involvement on the CPE student advisory panel fits her extensive community involvement resume.

In fact, that involvement is a big part of the reason she ended up at UofL. In late 2018, she met Provost Beth Boehm while both were serving on the Evolve 502 board (Tagnedji was serving as the student board member at the time).

Boehm recommended she apply for the Martin Luther King Scholars program. She did just that and was accepted, which led to a number of conversations with people across campus, including President Neeli Bendapudi and Jenny Sawyer, executive director of admissions.

“I was smothered with information, opportunities, and a very loud message of belonging. This really is the place for me, and I am so glad I had everyone’s support through the entire process,” she said. “Choosing the University of Louisville is honestly one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

Tagnedji is looking forward to being part of this new group that will be able to enact change well beyond UofL’s campus.  

“I am optimistic. I must be. I never commit to initiatives I do not believe in and having worked with Dr. Thompson on past projects, I am excited to see the change that comes from this council,” she said.

Source: UofL students work to enact change in higher education (UofL News, Sept. 8, 2020)