Johns Hopkins Gazette: October 27, 1997

Student Council
President Matt
Schernecke: When The
Political Bug Bites

Leslie Rice
News and Information
Matt Schernecke is more often in meetings than class.

If it's not a Student Council meeting or meetings with student groups, it's with university administrators or area community leaders. And then there are all the unexpected, impromptu meetings, like when he's simply trying to make it to his history of science class on time and he gets stopped by a student to talk about one campus issue or another.

The role of Student Council president is nothing short of all consuming, but there is no doubt that Schernecke is enjoying every minute of it.

"It's a lot of work, and I usually can't get to studying until late at night," admits the Hopkins senior, who has been a member of the Student Council since he was a freshman."But I really love it, doing this kind of work has changed my life."

Indeed, Schernecke has become so addicted to being an agent of social change that he has discarded earlier dreams of becoming a doctor and has instead set his sights on entering politics.

Since Schernecke's been in office, says Brian Weinthal, Student Council treasurer and president of the Student Activities Commission, more legislation has been passed by the council than in any year in memory. Many of the changes are small, ways that make council meetings run more efficiently. Others--like creating a diversity committee, an event programming board, a community relations committee--could have a profound impact on campus life.

"Matt has been a sensational leader, he has a lot of great ideas," says William Smeddick, director of Student Activities. "But what's really set him apart is his follow-through. A lot of students have great ideas but they don't always have the ability to see them through to the end. Matt does. The students respect him and he has a way of getting the right people on board to get things done."

Schernecke's initiatives are focused on the social life of the campus, academic conduct, and community relations and development. And the key to improving all these issues, he believes, is collaboration.

"There's always been this sort of autonomy complex here on campus," says Weinthal, also a senior. "But Matt knows that student groups have to work together to make an impact on campus. So one of his greatest achievements, I think, has been to create a collaborative spirit on campus that hasn't really been here before."

Take social programming, for instance.

"A lot of student groups have one or two social events during the year, but there was no one calendar that they look at." Schernecke says. "So inevitably, there are conflicts, and it isn't at all unusual for three groups to hold events in one night and then there will be absolutely nothing going on for the next three weeks."

This year, Schernecke set up a programming board of resident advisers, culture groups, performance groups, fraternities and others. The board acts as a central calendar and also works to encourage groups to co-sponsor events with other groups to attract a wider mix of people.

"There is a hunger for more social events that include everyone. A lot of groups are very insular, which makes them limiting," he says. "But last year, a few friends and I staged what we called a "Unity Party," basically a formal held at the Omni Hotel. We got lots of student groups involved, and in the end, 900 people attended. It was an unbelievable success, and it was simply because we reached out to a lot of groups."

Schernecke is also reaching out to the campus's neighbors. He's created a task force to strengthen ties between students and the neighborhoods they live in.

"In some ways, the students are to blame for some of the tense relations with the neighborhood and the university," he says. "But we want to be involved. My vice president, secretary and I now regularly attend local community association meetings, so people learn that we're not all drunks and we want to be part of the community.

"And we definitely want to be involved in the strategic planning processes, especially with the revitalization of the Charles Village District. There is so little of a college town atmosphere here. We want more night life, but we don't want to see the area saturated by bars, either. We want bookstores, record stores, coffee shops, that sort of thing."

He's also looking at academic integrity issues by revamping the ethics board or even resurrecting the honor board. In all these issues, Schernecke says he's been met with real enthusiasm by the student body.

"There is a real feeling of change occurring here on campus, there is so much more student involvement on campus than there was when I was a freshman," he says. "I wish I could take credit for it, but I can't. It has a lot more to do with the kind of students the university is accepting. They're much more active and involved. They've made this a phenomenal year so far."

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