5 Student Leaders to Follow

Kelechi Ohiri at the net during a volleyball practice
Kelechi Ohiri, a member of the volleyball team, serves as one of two student assistants to the chancellor. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

UC Davis students help lead their campus. Here are five who are committed to advocating for students and to enhancing the learning and living experience for those here now and in the future.

1. Josh Dalavai, president of the ASUCD

Josh Dalavai
Josh Dalavai is president of the Associated Students of UC Davis. (Greg Urquiaga/UC Davis)

When Josh Dalavai says he wants to get out the student vote, he has credibility.

He was head of the student government at his Fremont, California, high school, served as a student senator in his sophomore year at UC Davis and now is president of the Associated Students of UC Davis.

Dalavai leads the student organization with about 30,000 undergraduate constituents, a multimillion dollar budget, some 2,000 employees, and responsibility for many student services including the Unitrans bus service.

One of his priorities is getting students to vote — for their leaders on campus, in the community and in Washington, D.C. “I want to help make their voices heard,” said the fourth-year political science major. He will be working to help students, who frequently change addresses, more easily find voter information and cast their ballots. 

A second-generation Indian American, Dalavai said he so appreciates the campus experience of interacting with people from so many different backgrounds and perspectives. “That’s hands down the largest take away from my time here,” he said.

2. Roy Taggueg, president of the GSA

Roy Taggueg in front of Walker Hall
Roy Taggueg, president of the Graduate Student Association, stands in front of Walker Hall, which will be renovated as a hub for graduate student services. (Greg Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Roy Taggueg wants more graduate students to speak up.

The president of the Graduate Student Association said the involvement of graduate students themselves is key to addressing student issues like food insecurity, housing and wages for student employees.

Taggueg is recruiting students to fill positions on campus committees, many of which, for lack of a volunteer, have been without a graduate student voice. “Being engaged is important because the decisions being made on campus really affect their everyday lives,” said the second-year doctoral student in sociology.

The student organization, of which Taggueg was vice chair last spring, represents the more than 5,000 academic graduate and management students at UC Davis. He is looking to develop a partnership between it and the UC Student-Workers Union, which represents more than 1,500 academic student employees on campus.

A native of Southern California, Taggueg is researching how citizenship affects access to health care and life expectancy. He is in the current cohort of Health Policy Research Scholars, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program to develop the leadership of doctoral students from underrepresented populations or disadvantaged backgrounds.

3. Gopika Mavalankar, student assistant

Gopika Mavalankar on a bridge in the UC Davis Arboretum
Gopika Mavalankar, one of two student assistants to the chancellor, sees herself as a bridge between students and the campus administration. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

When Gopika Mavalankar applied to be one of two student assistants to the chancellor, her resume already included experience working on higher education issues — at the White House.

As an intern with the Domestic Policy Council last fall, the international relations major worked on projects ranging from diversity to college accountability.

Mavalankar, a senior from San Diego, will now be fostering communication between students and the campus administration. She will help her peers get to know their new chancellor, Gary S. May, who started Aug. 1, and him, to understand and respond to their concerns.

“We serve as a bridge between students interests and advocacy and the administration,” she said.

Chair of the Campus Judicial Board last year, Mavalankar also wants to help make the campus processes for reporting and hearing cases of sexual assault more transparent for those involved.

Mavalankar is building on other experience in education: starting a college-readiness program through the Clinton Global Initiative University and, on an internship in India this past summer, studying the effects of school enrichment programs.

4. Kelechi Ohiri, student assistant

Kelechi Ohiri above a volleyball court
Kelechii Ohiri, a member of the volleyball team, aims to champion underrepresented students as one of two student assistants to the chancellor. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

On the Aggies volleyball team, Kelechi Ohiri is at the net to blocks shots. As one of two student assistants to the chancellor, her role could not be more different. “It’s my job to pass the mic,” said the major in sociology-organizational behavior.

From Sacramento, Ohiri has been involved in the #BlackUnderAttack student movement. And last spring, she helped organize the Nigerian Student Coalition Conference, which brought together more than 200 students from California colleges and universities. The senior sees her new role as an opportunity to advocate for students more broadly.

Ohiri aims to champion underrepresented students through the student resource centers, like the Center for African Diaspora Student Success. “Those centers are so important to the overall experience of underrepresented students.” She added that she and her fellow student assistant plan to hold some of their office hours at the centers.

As issues of free speech are tested on university campuses, Ohiri wants to be at the table. “Just being a thought partner in a lot of these things is really important,” she said. “How do we keep students safe — physically and emotionally — as hateful thoughts are being expressed?”

5. Jeanelle Hope, graduate student assistant

Jeanelle Hope in Student Community Center
Jeanelle Hope is planning to develop a strategic plan for retention as the graduate student assistant to the dean of Graduate Studies and the chancellor. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Improving the retention of graduate students is a priority for the new graduate student assistant to the dean of Graduate Studies and the chancellor.

Jeanelle Hope, a doctoral candidate in cultural studies, plans to use her year as a liaison between graduate students and the campus administration to develop a strategic plan for retention that will also help students identify and access support services. That same theme will also run through the work of the Chancellor’s Graduate and Professional Student Advisory Board, which she chairs.

Hope is concerned about the financial, housing and other challenges that can lead students to quit before they achieve their educational goals. Those issues, she said, can have a disproportionate effect on historically underrepresented students.

Overall, Hope said she wants to see more resources devoted to graduate students. “Sometimes we get lost among the thousands of undergraduate students,” she added.

Her immediate goals include developing a common place to list job openings for teaching assistants and graduate student researchers; setting up a roommate matching system; and advocating for more professional development programming.

Now in her fourth-year of doctoral studies, Hope is focusing her dissertation on Afro-Asian solidarity and anticipates earning her degree in 2019.

Media Resources

Julia Ann Easley, News and Media Relations, 530-752-8248, jaeasley@ucdavis.edu

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