On the second-most diverse campus that’s filled with 40,000 students, one thing is clear: it’s not enough to just be a student.
To stick out and really develop a sustainable university and culture, it takes leaders who, beyond classes, are working to create discussion, make change and vouch for each other.
The following are some of those leaders. The Cooglife Editorial Board thinks they have supplied that hard work and grit to make a real and lasting impact on our up-and-coming university and community for, hopefully, decades to come.
You can judge a person by the music they listen to. That’s what makes the job of digital media sophomore Aarik Charles so important—because, as station director of Coog Radio, he gets to choose what you hear.
Charles’s role is multi-purposed. He plays music, but also directs talk shows and even DJs at student events for a nominal fee. You can hear his work during work hours in the Student Center North or anytime online. In addition to Coog Radio, Charles is also an active member of Uncommon Colors, an organization that collates students artists and helps with their marketing and promotions. So, from creation to production, Charles has a hand in nearly every part of the student music scene.—TS
When it comes to leadership on the UH campus, the name Adrian Castillo can be found pretty much everywhere. Most recently, he’s part of a the Office of Service Learning.
But the former chief of staff, who held his position for two years, served on numerous committees, including the provost’s own Steering Committee and the Global Faculty Development Fund, has had his fill of opportunities. He also worked in the Division of Sales and Enrollment Services under Assistant Vice President of Student Life Keith Kowalka helping to ensure the needs of students are met.—TS
Food. It’s a big deal to most of us. It definitely is to business junior Brinda Penmetsa, a registered queso lover and the Bonner Leader behind the Campus Kitchen at the University of Houston project.
As a Bonner Leader, Penmetsa has committed to about 150 hours of community service in a semester. So, five days a week, she collects leftover food from Cougar Woods and the Fresh Food Co. and serves it to the surrounding community. This leads to hundreds of pounds of food being delivered to feed those who need it instead of being thrown away. Notably, in a time when non-profit Feeding America reports that a quarter of U.S.-grown food isn’t eaten, this is a two-fold—and delicious—solution to save money and help those in need.—TS
Have you stood in front of a camera at an event photo booth? If you, you’ve likely met technology senior Cory Rodriguez. He’s always snapping photos for other organizations—it’s one of his millions of duties as executive director of CoogTV, the student video network on campus in which Rodriguez typically spends hours working on videos and sketches, short films and news services to help give a voice and representation to all facets of student life.
But the late nights don’t end with CoogTV for Rodriguez. When he isn’t editing clips, he’s a residential adviser and a senator for the College of Technology in the Student Government Association. That means that 100 percent of the time, Rodriguez is serving students, either by interviewing them on the television, getting them moved into their dorm rooms or voting on legislation that would affect them.—TS
Knowles is easily one of the most recognizable people on campus, and it’s not just because he’s 6’10”. While Knowles is entering his redshirt-senior season on the men’s basketball team, it seems like he’s been at UH for much longer. Besides being a standout for the Cougars on the court, Knowles is one of the warmest and most welcoming personalities on campus.
When walking across campus, it’s easy to spot Knowles, but you’ll probably also see him stop any number of times to chat with people as he makes his way around. While he’s helped bring the Cougars closer to a return to national notoriety, he’s maintained his humble and hard-working mentality.—BD
A large part of being a great student leader is the ability to go outside of yourself and give back to others. Chris Pinto does that in more ways than one. As a Resident Assistant at Calhoun Lofts, Pinto helps students traverse the difficulties of college and helps to provide stability and safety to his residents. Pinto is also the director of the Metropolitan Volunteer Program, a service-minded organization that goes out of their way to give back to the 3rd-Ward community surrounding UH.
The programs Pinto directs allow Cougars to help those in their immediate area and get in touch with the diverse society and make an impact beyond themselves. Pinto serves as a great advocate for UH and has served as a sterling example of what it means to be a part of your community, whether on-campus, in the 3rd Ward itself or the city of Houston as a whole.—BD
Parnell is, without a doubt, one of the most vibrant student leaders at UH. He gives back to the student body by donating his time to multiple organizations, including serving as Vice President of Membership for the Student Program Board and Director of Programing for Cub Camp. If you’re at all involved in student life, it’s more than likely you’ve met him somewhere on campus or participated in one of the many programs or events he’s helped set up. He’s even been known to host NightClub Cardio, a dance fitness class at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center.
Parnell is easily approachable and one of the warmest personalities, always finding time to ask others about themselves or take a moment to share his unabashed love of Beyoncé with anyone who’s willing to listen.—BD
While Frontier Fiesta may get a lot of much-deserved recognition on campus, Homecoming offers students, alumni, faculty and staff a great chance to get in touch with their Cougar Pride. Whether it’s through the concert, the game or homecoming court at half time, this tradition, dating back to 1946, is one of the oldest and most revered on campus. Brooklin Corbins, a Public Relations and Sports Administration senior, has the distinct honor of chairing the board this year.
Now in her second year of working with homecoming, Corbins got involved with homecoming to help bring the school a unifying and celebratory tradition that the student really love. Corbins and her board will have the opportunity to continue to add to the legacy of Homecoming this year, with expectations lifted due to years of great work.—BD
A trait of a good student leader is empowering others to be their best and putting them in places to succeed. Jordyn Chaffold, a junior marketing major, has experience with bringing students together and letting their voices be heard in a number of ways. Chaffold is a Co-Founder and President of Uncommon Colors, an organization that serves as a creative outlet and platform for artists of all kinds to debut their work and get in sync with likeminded creators. Chaffold also has worked extensively with Coog Radio in the past, as well as serving as a Special Advisor for Campus Diversity to SGA.
In all of his areas, Chaffold has served as a voice for his fellow students as well as a megaphone to help the voices of many be heard. He exemplifies leading through service and shows what a balanced student leader truly looks like.—BD
Imagine the pressure of being a representative for every student, not just on campus, but in the entire system. That’s what political science and economics senior Joshua Freed has to do.
In his new position as student regent, Freed will serve on the board of regents with President and Chancellor Renu Khator and our resident celebrity, Tilman Fertitta. Before this, though, Freed served a brief stint as Speaker of the House in SGA and not-so-brief stint as resident assistant for three years alongside national competitions fro speech and debate. Needless to say, if you have something to advocate for, Freed is the man the with connections to make it happen.—TS
Although it’s impossible to fully represent a large and diverse group of students, no one has come as close to being a conduit for the issues and needs of black and African-American students on campus as Kadidja Koné, the president of the Black Student Union.
Black students aren’t only represented by the BSU, but the numerous organizations, fraternities and sororities are all advised by the Black Student Caucus, a council of leaders from each organization. Koné has been instrumental in this advising, and over the summer, when tensions skyrocketed over the SGA’s social media controversy, Koné and a number of other leaders effectively organized and lobbied for punishment of the vice president.
While the punishment was eventually rendered illegitimate due to a technicality, Koné’s and the Black Caucus’s ability to mobilized have proved that they are a force to be reckoned with on campus.—TS
One of the most active students in UH’s Honors College, as well as on campus as a whole, Palividas has given countless hours of time and service to the university. She has been a critical and executive component of the Honors College recruitment team and is president of Bleacher Creatures, in which she helps honors students paint up their bodies for football games and serves as a human marketing tool.
Besides her work with the Honors College, Palividas is also a leader with the work-study Bonner group, a service-centered organization that works to reduce poverty in the Third Ward area. As a broadcast journalism senior, she is also using her skills to work in the Houston radio industry, and the past semester she interned at the Roula and Ryan Show with Cumulus Media. Palividas will continue influencing students through her work with the Honor’s College and Bonner aid group as she enters her last year at UH.—KJ
In the hit classic series, “The Powder Puff Girls,” the doctor creates the perfect crime-fighting trio with a few key ingredients: sugar, spice and everything nice. These, too, might be laced in the DNA of journalism senior Karis Johnson, the main engineer behind Cooglife magazine (you’re welcome) and social media coordinator for the Food Recovery Network.
In her tenure as executive editor of this magazine, Johnson has written, edited stories and overseen daily operations, which, trust us, are usually so hectic that, on a good day, she might gulp down only three or four Flat Whites from Starbucks to try to manage the stress. It’s clear that Johnson’s work always aspires to inform and entertain the students by representing the vibrancy and fun of their lives every month in print. But she always uses her communicative powers for good: in her spare time, she fights to reduce hunger and food waste in the community through the UH chapter of the national FRN.—TS
Sometimes serving students can be as simple as being a friend, but sometimes it takes other shapes, as in advocating for their success in any of the many areas of the university. College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Senator Kayla Fischer has done just that both in her time as a part of SGA and while serving students as a Resident Advisor. In her time with SGA, Fischer has served the UH community at large as well as her college, striving to work with staff members from the Dean’s Office to improve advising for the constituents from her college.
Fischer has also been named the Senior RA of the Year two times running by the Student Housing and Residential Life department, showing she always goes the extra mile to ensure that everyone on campus feels like they’re an important part of the UH community.—BD
Remember those SATs? So does biochemistry junior Khalid Sheikh, the student behind Lobo Prep, which helps tutor students to prepare them for college.
Nestled in the valley of the Sims Bayou in near South Houston, Cesar E. Chavez High School students are staying after class to learn reading, writing a math skills to use on one of the most heinous standardized tests. Sheikh, who helped develop the program as a Bonner Leader, understands that lower-income students typically score worse on the SAT, and 75.5 percent of of Houston Independent School District is considered economically disadvantaged. While most of us are busy trying to forget high school, Sheikh is revisiting—and he’s making a difference doing it.—TS
Kimble has dedicated her time at UH to earning a four-year degree in American Sign Language, but that’s not all she does. As an Ambassador and Orientation Team Leader at UH, she also helps oversees the campus tours and new student applicants arriving on campus. She was also previously the Cougar Mover Crew Leader, ensuring that the process of moving into on-campus housing ran as smoothly as possible.
Kimble’s evident desire to see others succeed has impacted numerous students, whether they arrived for one of her tour groups or she helped them move into the dorms. And her decision to major in American Sign Language will only broaden her horizons and create more opportunities for her to make an impact at UH and in the world.—KJ
While maybe not as widely recognized as Ward, since arriving on campus, Thothong has been part of one of the winningest teams for the Cougars, the women’s golf team. Since they began play during the 2013-14 season, the team has done nothing but win, and Thothong has only added to that since joining the team. Now headed into her junior year, the weight of expectation will weigh heavily on her as one of the most senior members of the squad.
Thothong and the Cougars will be hoping to improve on their NCAA Regional appearance from the last season and break into that final weekend of play, and her senior leadership should help the team immensely.—BD
Sandhu has seen leadership roles and active involvement in not only the Bauer Women’s Society, but as the Vice Chair for the student-run Activities Funding Board at UH. Her roles in both organizations include financial leadership and decisions, as well as ensuring the voices of the students on campus are heard.
As the former Vice Chair and current Chair of the AFB, Sandhu’s job as a student leader takes an active role in making sure the student financial records and monetary allotments of the board are all in line and going to the correct recipients. She oversees and coordinates the funding for student organizations at UH. And in her role as the Media Director of the Bauer Women’s Society, Sandhu was able to mentor eight members in their leadership skills, as well as organize networking events for the students involved in the organization.—KJ
It takes a ton to be a student leader. But try being the leader of the largest student organization on campus—the Muslim Student Association. That’s where industrial engineering senior Saqib Gazi, president of MSA, has his hands full.
But he doesn’t mind. A three-year veteran of the organization, Gazi loves to help organize events, from social outings to intramural sports teams to interfaith dialogues at the A.D. Bruce Religion Center. As a leader of a quickly growing and highly politicized faith and organization, Gazi knows the importance of all of these occasions to help his community enjoy college life.—TS
For mechanical engineering junior Serrae Reed, writing is essential.
That’s why the Bonner Leader has helped to create a writing workshop program with Houston-area secondary students. Reed organizes a tutoring program for 7th graders to at KIPP Intrepid to get ready for the fiercely hated STAAR test. Twice a week, she meets with students, edits essays and invests her time in the lives of middle school students–simultaneously helping the community and destroying the stereotype that engineers don’t know how to write.—TS
Economics senior Shane Smith has had quite a history of working for student benefit on campus—and, as student body president, we hope he’ll have a future in it, too.
Smith, an out-of-state student with a fondness for playing guitar and racquetball, found a home on campus as a senior residential adviser. And his other contributions? The Food Recovery Network. The Transportation and Parking Advisory Committee. The Student Fee Advisory Committee. A lot of other groups ending in “Committee.” After an unsuccessful run for president as a freshman, Smith has remained a little-known advocate for students in helping to control what organizations get funding and how to solve some of the biggest issues on campus—namely, those in his campaign party’s name, Project Red: Better Parking. Better Food. Better Wi-Fi.
While Smith and the SGA have hit a bit of, well, turbulence this summer, we’re hoping to see some headway on those campaign promises soon.—TS
Leading the university’s Texas Freedom Network chapter as an organizer and activist for women’s rights, Huynh is making an impact in the political atmosphere of UH. Huyn, a junior, also works actively with the Student Feminist Organization on campus, and was one of the first students to declare a women, gender and sexuality major when it was launched last year.
Huynh has participated in women’s rights activism not only in Houston, but at the State Capitol as well. Her outspoken dedication to seeing the education and growth of equality showcases her influential impact on the UH student body, and her desire to participate in the new program and degree plan will open up new opportunities for social change.—KJ
A thriving community needs someone who can keep it appraised of its surroundings. Trey Strange has been striving to do that since coming to work at The Cougar, going from working on the Life and Arts staff to being one of the founding editors of the Cooglife Magazine. Now serving as Editor-in-Chief of The Cougar and its associated productions, Strange is continuing to bring the latest news about everything UH to students, faculty, alumni and beyond, both on and off campus.
While majoring in print journalism, Strange is also delving deeply into Middle East studies, with an eye set on working overseas post-graduation, hoping to make a difference beyond the borders of the U.S.—BD
At UH, the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People is critical to the representation of minorities. That’s what makes the job of psychology senior Wesley Okereke so special.
As NAACP president, Okereke attempts to represent all students of color on campus. Just this summer, he has been very vocal about the way black and African American students are treated. He’s been active in presenting his thoughts on race relations at workshops run through the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, and clearly, from Okereke represents a passion for social justice and equality that exists in the university’s own unique and diverse way.—TS
As the founder of the Food Recovery Network at UH, an organization dedicated to saving and donating food that would normally go to waste, Desai has proved his drive to get UH students involved in helping others on and off campus. Besides working tirelessly to gain volunteers and donors to feed the hungry across Houston, Desai also finds time to work with students as an RA and leader in Cougar Village I.
This past school year, Desai was honored with the Community Impact Award, Distinguished Junior Leader award and the Dean’s Award. The Food Recovery Network also won an award of its own as the Outstanding New Student Organization of the Year. Desai’s passion for helping others and getting students involved on campus will continue as he enters his senior year at UH.—KJ