MSA Forum speaker leaves after 4 years

by Maisha Downey

Kevin Wendt joined Minnesota Student Association his second week as a first-year student and never estimated the large campus issues the group would face during his four years.

During his time in MSA, Wendt, a sociology and computer science senior, dealt with the 2003 hockey riot, the 2004 budget crisis and 2005 University realignment issues.

As the exiting speaker of the MSA Forum, Wendt is the longest current member to serve in the association. Known as a student government expert by other MSA members, Wendt prepared for his last MSA meeting Monday.

Growing into the University

Raised in Miller, S.D., which has a population of 1,678, Wendt said he was never challenged by school and often was bored.

The 49 students in his graduating class could be broken up into three categories: preps, agriculture students and Wendt and his four friends, he said.

“We were the outcasts that played Hacky Sack every day and were into video games and computer games,” he said.

After Wendt’s parents divorced when he was 4, his mother went back to school, leaving him and his younger brother Chris to fend for themselves. While the two brothers were close, Wendt was still depressed.

“Divorce is hard for any kid, at any age,” he said.

But Wendt’s ultimate goal was to leave his hometown and he said he used that as motivation. His grades and ACT score of 32 helped earn him a full academic scholarship to the University, the main reason for his involvement on campus.

“I wanted to give back because I didn’t feel I earned the scholarship,” he said. “There are so many other people who deserved it, so I did as much as I could while I was here.”

Wendt’s position, speaker of Forum, entails running the meetings, preparing students and maintaining order and flow. This task is harder during controversial votes and discussions, Wendt said.

“Some students get passionate about topics and they get riled up,” he said. “I try to keep it civil.”

Law student and vice president of administrative affairs Josh Colburn said the group is losing a key member. Colburn is a former MSA president who worked with Wendt in the past.

“He’s been fantastic to work with and provided a lot of stability to MSA through enforcing the rules,” he said.

No one ran for the position, and members of MSA still haven’t accepted Wendt’s decision, hoping he’ll stay with the association. MSA rules state that the speaker of Forum’s term ends when someone else is elected.

Wendt said he initially was flattered.

“It was pretty amazing, but in the end it’s not a good thing,” he said. “They don’t have a speaker, which means I didn’t have three months to teach the new person.”

MSA President Max Page said two candidates likely will run for Wendt’s position at today’s meeting.

Page said people like Wendt are a rarity.

“The man is a hard worker and has greater institutional knowledge about student government than probably anyone on campus, especially recently,” Page said.

Wendt credits his knowledge to firsthand experience.

“I’ve seen a lot of stuff during my time here,” Wendt said. “Students have gotten the short end of the stick sometimes and other times they fared well.”

When the University makes a decision such as its realignment, the best thing students can do is accept it and move on, Wendt said.

“We don’t have the power to change, but we do have the power to influence,” he said. “The ‘U’ knows we’ll come here no matter what.”

Some students don’t like the way MSA handles conflict.

University first-year Jason Bui said he thought groups like MSA are only a good idea if they are effective.

“Influencing is better than nothing, but (the members) took that role upon themselves to go above and beyond,” he said. “They should make a real effort instead of letting the opportunity for change pass them by.”

Amelious Whyte, chief of staff to the vice provost for Student Affairs, said he attended some MSA meetings during Wendt’s term.

“I always found Kevin to be effective in terms of the way he ran the meetings and trying to be respectful of the different parties,” he said.

The future

Wendt knew today would be his last meeting the day he enrolled in his fall classes.

In the past he would schedule his classes around the 3:30 p.m. meeting, but as a graduating senior, he had a necessary course offered only during the meeting’s time slot.

When his spot is filled, Wendt said he still will be available for telephone help as the “behind the scenes technical guy.”

“I’ll stay a little involved, but not 20 to 30 hours (weekly) like I was doing before,” he said.

Even without MSA on his list of commitments, Wendt said, he will be busy. He serves on several advisory boards, is a computer science teaching assistant and holds a part-time job.

Two days after his finals in December and even before he receives his diploma, Wendt will begin full-time work with Wells Fargo as a programmer.

“I live for stress,” he said. “If I don’t have it I can’t do as well.”