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Outgoing CCSG President Reflects on Tenure

Mohamed Raouda can remember the exact moment he knew he wanted to become the president of the Council of Commonwealth Student Governments.

“I got involved in CCSG as a freshman, back in Altoona, and it was the first time I came up to University Park for Council,” he recounts. “I realized how much bigger it was than just my one campus. I saw a collective of student governments fighting for the whole of the commonwealth.”

“And I thought to my self, ‘One day, I’d love to be sitting in that chair,'” referring to the seat in which then-president George Khoury was positioned.

Two years later, he’d get his chance, and though he and Peter Khoury–George’s younger brother–ran almost unopposed, that didn’t stop them from coming forward with a laundry list of potential improvements for their platform.

More than a year later, Raouda can still rattle off those goals, starting with his attempt to reform CCSG.

“I felt that we needed a restructuring within the organization for the caucus and committee structure,” he started, “we needed to make room for diversity and student life.”

But several of his aims were more tangible in their scope, and how they played out over the next year represented both successes and failures of the Raouda  administration. For one, he fought to ease the transition between commonwealth campuses and University Park by instituting a mentorship program–an initiative that would come to fruition shortly into the school year.

That success didn’t carry on to some of Raouda’s other goals, and they represented more than just a failure to institute a new policy, but rather some of the grander-scale issues CCSG faced in its operations.

“I wanted to work for a grade replacement plan, so if you failed a class you could retake it and that would replace the grade.”

Though that initiative passed through CCSG, it died in UPUA’s Academic Affairs committee, never even reaching the faculty Senate. It was hardly the only time that CCSG and UPUA failed to see eye-to-eye.

“The relationship that Christian and I had was unique,” Raouda said, “Even though there was some tension between the committees and the assembly, there wasn’t any in the executive.”

But, indeed, that tension between the legislative arms of each body existed, and posed problems for CCSG.

“There were struggles between UPUA and CCSG committees,” Raouda said, “when we didn’t work together enough. There wasn’t always enough discussion going on.”

And sometimes, CCSG proposals would get passed over in favor of less effective UPUA plans, or sometimes there would be setting of different priorities on the parts of the two bodies.

Raouda even pointed to Wednesday night’s UPUA meeting, when the newly-established Bard administration came forward with their plans for a student core council, which would’ve consisted of 5 UPUA members, 2 from CCSG, and 1 representative of the GSA.

“It doesn’t give us the voice we need,” he said, “and we need to work towards the idea that we should be working together.”

“That meeting [Wednesday] proved why it’s important, and these disagreements make us hesitate to work together.”

And though Raouda acknowledged that in many circumstances, CCSG was more efficient than its University Park counterpart, he felt that the two were fundamentally different.

“CCSG has a longer history,” he said, “and for UPUA, it’s preliminary mistakes that it has made.”

“It takes time to get there.”

Another struggle of the Raouda regime was simply in gaining more publicity for some of CCSG’s accomplishments during his tenure, which included significant improvements to the scheduling process, displaying a real-time enrollment figure and the addition of a course watch list.

“It’s really remarkable that we don’t get much coverage,” Raouda said, adding that the council meetings are “where business gets done.”

“A lot of the ideas are attributed to UPUA or to the university, when CCSG is really behind them.”

But as Raouda reflected on his presidency, he lingered most on what happened outside of the public eye.

“My greatest accomplishment,” he said, “was improved relations between CCSG and the commonwealth campuses, and proving that being united is the best way to go.”

It represented a 180 degree reversal from the previous spring. Raouda explained that there had been significant tensions between campuses, and though it might not have been as evident publicly as the student mentorship program or Capital Day, “the biggest successes went on behind the scenes.”

Of course, it wasn’t all so easy–one of his initiatives to restructure the organization was met with significant friction. At councils, representatives from campuses were always grouped on two characteristics–geography and “what they had in common with one another.” But he shifted the latter category to more focus-group oriented coalitions, with each caucus “picking up something outside the committees.”

And while some caucuses were incredibly successful, like that which worked with the White House’s youth liaison program, who reached out to student governments across the country, others were less so.

“Some ideas were repetitive, and we struggled to define them at the beginning of the year.”

But where Raouda saw his own failures to come “in a managerial-type position,” he  noted that Peter Khoury–his former vice president who now has come to replace him as CCSG president–is exceptional in that role, and he expects Khoury and his VP Justin Cortes to pick up the ball right where he left it.

“They learned alongside me, the same things I was learning.”

“He’s better at making decisions, and more efficient. He’s the kind of guy who has a mission for everything he’s doing,” Raouda said of Khoury.

But though Raouda would never admit it, Khoury’s got tough shoes to fill. Under Raouda’s watch, CCSG developed some of the more tangible student government initiatives that students across the state enjoy.

Then again, with the ever-able CCSG spearheading so many improvements that reverberate even here in University Park, it’s not hard to imagine Khoury picking up right where Raouda left off.

About the Author

Devon Edwards

Devon is a 2012 Penn State graduate and current law student at NYU. Devon joined Onward State in January of 2011, after a lengthy stay in the comment section. His likes include sabermetrics, squirrels, and longs walks on the beach, and his dislikes include spelunking, when you put your clothes in the dryer and they come out still kinda damp but also warm, and the religious right.

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