The job of representing nearly 225,000 University of North Carolina students on the Board of Governors has been acquired by a student who only just completed her sophomore year at North Carolina State University.
Yet Madeline Finnegan, president of the Association of Student Governments, has as much experience with the organization as any of the other student leaders do. Though Finnegan is a rising junior at North Carolina State University, she already has more than three years of experience with ASG by participating as a student at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. Finnegan was sworn in as a non-voting member of the Board of Governors during May’s meeting.
“Being part of the Association of Student Governments in high school made me want to go to a UNC system school,” Finnegan said. “Having the chance to be the voice of the students for the Board of Governors, it means a lot. I’ve had the opportunity to visit all 17 schools in the UNC system. I’m really honored to represent my fellow students.”
Finnegan, an economics major from Apex, becomes the third straight member of the Wolfpack to become ASG president and serve on the Board of Governors. She succeeds Zack King, who praised Finnegan’s long-term involvement in student government.
“She’s been involved with ASG longer than anyone else,” King said. “She’s brilliant. She had almost unanimous support. I’m confident she’s going to do a great job. You can’t bring your own personal political beliefs to the job, even if you’re tempted to in certain situations. You have to remember you are representing many different students from many different backgrounds and beliefs. It’s important to stay grounded.”
Finnegan said she sought out King’s advice when she became ASG president.
“We’ve been talking pretty regularly, maybe four times a week, and we’ve met in person quite a few times,” she said. “The biggest questions I had for him and the advice I needed was about how to make an impact on the board. He said basically to go to everything that’s offered to you. If there’s a chance to be involved with the board, take it. Don’t be afraid to reach out or call people.”
The ASG president will regularly attend all Board of Governor meetings and serves as a non-voting Board member. “The student representative definitely has a strong voice and important role on this Board,” said UNC system president Margaret Spellings. “Madeline’s ideas and views will shape policy on behalf of students, and I look forward to her contributions over the next year.”
During her year on the board, Finnegan hopes to bring attention to a number of issues, including students’ mental health, HB2 and diversity.
“I think it’s very important that we preserve the heritage of our historical black colleges and universities,” she said. “I think diversity is something that most people can get behind in our system, whether it’s racial diversity or diversity in sexual orientation and gender identification, or even if it’s just diversity of thought.”
Finnegan also wants to be proactive with the different student bodies across the system. She wants to gather data from students about the mental health services currently provided on UNC campuses. She also wants to work with student organizations in signing up voters and bringing early voting to campuses.
With more than 220,000 students to represent across the UNC system, Finnegan knows she has to represent a multitude of viewpoints from a variety of diverse voices.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” she said. “I have to balance my personal views from the views of my constituents. I’m the only person on the board who was voted in by a constituency directly. I have to be sure that when I speak, I’m not just speaking from my personal viewpoint. It’s definitely going to be a challenge to balance the diverse views of other students in the system."
Finnegan plans to pursue a PhD in economics after she graduates, followed by a career in teaching or working in public policy.
“The plan is not to be a politician, but to do the research that impacts policies,” she said. “I started volunteering for political campaigns when I was in seventh grade. I’ve always been interested in politics. My views have shifted over time. I read the news every day, and have ever since I could understand it.”
Written by Phillip Ramati