Getting to Know Your Student Groups

An interview with Allister Chang, President of KSSG

By: Malik Siraj Akbar MC/MPA ‘15

Web Editor Malik Siraj Akbar is conducting interviews with student group leaders to highlight the work of these student activities around campus. Here’s the first of the series, with Kennedy School Student Government (KSSG) President Allister Chang. The series will continue online, so check out our website (thehkscitizen.com) regularly to read more student group leader interviews.

Below are excerpts of the interview with Allister Chang, covering student politics and the role of KSSG in the student life of the Kennedy School.

We’d like to get to know you. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I was born and raised in Montgomery County, Maryland. After graduation, I plan to move back to the Washington, D.C. area, where I look forward to seeing many classmates from HKS.

Growing up, I particularly enjoyed figure skating. I’ve competed at the national level and performed at Madison Square Garden. If anyone in the HKS community wants to skate at the small ice rink at the Charles Hotel this winter, I’m more than happy to come along!

Tell us about KSSG. Why is it important?

KSSG is important because it provides a platform for HKS students to directly shape our experiences here. Our time is short at HKS, and bureaucratic processes often take longer than a year to reform. So this year, for example, while we work with the administration to reform how HKS provides services for blind students in future years, KSSG has been able to purchase critical software for visually impaired and blind students immediately & without red tape.

We are at Harvard first and foremost as students. KSSG’s priority this year is to make it as easy as possible for all students to learn. In my opinion, the diversity of perspectives and experiences of the HKS community is our greatest resource for learning. KSSG’s events and programs provide opportunities to build meaningful connections with classmates across all programs and fields of concentration.

What does KSSG do?

KSSG funds and supports the events of student organizations and conferences, and plans a variety of social and professional events throughout the year, such as our weekly Quorum Calls, large all-school parties, and student-to-student networking programs. Our representatives also serve as liaisons between the student body and our school administration, working together to improve school programs and policies. For example, Alexa Milanytch (VP Professional Development) is leading KSSG’s charge this year to formalize a regular and repeating “Professional Development” time slot during the academic week, during which no classes or review sessions would be scheduled.

What does the KSSG President do?

A big thanks to Dean Weaver, Melissa Wojciechowski, Jane Finn-Foley, and Ellen Piggot for their support and dedication to HKS students. With their support, and the support of 42 other elected KSSG representatives, I have spent much of my time as KSSG President dreaming bigger and better for our students and our school. I know that many past KSSG Presidents have had to focus their time on putting out fires, and I feel very privileged to be a part of a cohesive team that has already accomplished so much!

What do you like the most about the job?

As KSSG President, I have particularly enjoyed the opportunities to get to know many of my classmates. This past semester, I organized several lunch meetings with student leaders from various communities to learn more about how KSSG could improve our shared learning experience at HKS. These meetings set the foundation for the creation of several new initiatives this year, such as the “Beyond the Classroom” lunch vouchers for students to continue unfinished conversations from the class.

What are your top goals and priorities as the KSSG President?

One of my priorities for the spring semester is to foster relationships between students and alumni.

I have been working with Sue Kim and Liz Nunez from our Alumni Relations and Resource Development office to co-organize events to invite current students into alumni community events from the moment we matriculate. At the same time, we are planning to invite alumni back to HKS for several exciting new events. More information to come!

What are some of the interesting KSSG has done so far under your leadership?

It has been a particular pleasure this past semester to create a new appreciation fund for faculty, fellows, and staff. With a generous gift from Edward Dong (MC-MPA 2015), we were able to provide flowers, chocolates, and cards for many of the outstanding individuals who have worked to make our HKS experience productive and memorable. I hope that this will set a precedent for future classes to similarly show appreciation and respect for HKS employees, especially for the many who work behind the scenes in the offices at Mt. Auburn, dining services, facilities, and security.

There is some uncertainty among the students about the upcoming construction project on campus. How much is KSSG involved in the consultation and planning process?

Last year, when I served as VP of Student Activities, I sat in on several subcommittee meetings. Through my suggestions, for example, the architects now plan to incorporate more audio-private spaces in the construction project for students to make phone/Skype calls.

Over the past few months, KSSG has been working closely with Dean Weaver and Dean Haigh to ensure that student voices continue to be incorporated as we finalize plans and begin construction. Instead of picking representatives from KSSG to sit on subcommittee meetings in the spring semester, I recommended that we open applications to all students. KSSG will also be hosting regular meetings in the spring to share updates and gather feedback from our classmates.