If you arrive five minutes early to a meeting of the Bryant Senior Advisory Council [BSAC], you’ll feel like you’ve spent a month on campus. Student leaders from across the university — club presidents and student government officers, conference organizers and climate activists, the editor of the Thrive student magazine, scholars highly regarded for their research and academic work, and stand-out members of the university’s Division I sports teams — discuss with one another their ambitious plans, their accomplishments, and the inner workings of more than a dozen campus offices and organizations. Abuzz with energy, they share notes, enlist each other’s advice, and offer support as colleagues and friends.
But when the meeting starts, and they begin to discuss how to build a better university, the atmosphere changes. The leaders of Bryant’s Class of 2023 zero in with a laser focus, using the leadership, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills they’ve honed over four years, as well as the wide range of experience they’ve acquired by taking part in nearly every aspect of campus life, to provide feedback on important initiatives helmed by university leaders.
Though they all have different backgrounds, majors, affinities, and paths, BSAC members — past, present, and future — are connected by something very simple, says Mia Cergol ’23, a striker and rightside hitter for Bryant’s volleyball team. “We all love Bryant and have a passion to make it better, in every way that we can,” she suggests. “I think we all have a drive to support one another, and we want to help build the community that we want to be a part of — and that other people who will be a part of it in the years to come.”
Agents of change
To be chosen for BSAC means you have been selected to an elite group, says Inge-Lise Ameer, Ed.D., vice president of student affairs, dean of students and chief diversity officer. “We look for students who have demonstrated significant leadership and have made real contributions to the community over the course of their entire four years here,” she states. “Every student on the Bryant Senior Advisory Council has made an important difference in one area or another.”
Once a month, BSAC gathers for dinner and discussion with two members of university President Ross Gittell, Ph.D.’s cabinet. Over the course of the evening, the students listen to presentations from the administration members, who offer an in-depth look at an aspect of Bryant, from international affairs to academics to student life to enrollment management. The representatives then ask the students for their perspective on key campus initiatives — including the university’s Vision 2030 strategic plan. “The feedback students provide is important at Bryant; they really listen when we tell them, ‘This is something we’ve all been thinking about,’ or ‘This is something we need to improve,’” says Zachary Zambarano ’23, president of student government for the 2022– 2023 academic year. “I think it’s one of the things that really sets Bryant apart.”
"I think one of the things that all the members of BSAC share is that we're not afraid to ask questions, even the tricky ones. The meetings allow us to be honest without a filter — the cabinet members actually want constructive criticism from us, and not only listen but keep digging to learn what we suggest."
"College communities are only successful when students and administrators and faculty work together, and BSAC students really understand and exemplify that," says Ameer. “There’s an amazing culture of leadership among our students here at Bryant both in and beyond the classroom. They learn to lead, and to speak out, and to drive change.”
The feedback can be frank but is always honest and always welcome. Having difficult discussions is not always fun, admits Kylie Truong ’23, president of Bryant’s chapter of the American Marketing Association, but the conversations are worth it. "I think one of the things that all the members of BSAC share is that we're not afraid to ask questions, even the tricky ones,” she says. “The meetings allow us to be honest without a filter — the cabinet members actually want constructive criticism from us, and not only listen but keep digging to learn what we suggest."
The students’ candor is important, says Ameer, and often refreshing. “Sometimes what the students tell us in BSAC meetings is not always positive, but it’s important that we hear it because then we can address it,” says Ameer. “And they don’t just come with problems. They always have solutions and want to be part of the process.”
With great power…
Being part of BSAC carries with it a responsibility the students take very seriously.
“I’ve always told myself I need to be the change that I want to see,” says Louise Barro ’23 — who has served as a campus leader in several capacities, including as director of Black enterprise for Bryant's Multicultural Student Union and chair of African countries for the International Student Organization. “And if we want to make changes, we need to be part of the conversation. BSAC is a chance to bring up the topics that are very dear to us.
“Actually having the opportunity to sit down with President Gittell and discuss his vision for Bryant and learn more about the school’s strategic plan is a really special chance to learn more about the school.”
“I know that I bring not only my own opinions and perspectives but also those of my peers to the meetings,” Barro continues. “As a Black woman and an international student, my experience and my concerns are in some ways very different from those of other students. So, I try to take the issues that are important to those communities at Bryant and be their advocate. I try to be a voice for the people who aren’t there in the room with us.”
Taking an active role in supporting each other, says Alejandro Vaquerano ’23, lead organizer for Bryant’s 2023 TEDxBryantU conference, goes beyond being a good neighbor; it speaks to the very heart of Bryant. “When someone brings up an issue that matters to them, even if it’s a very specific issue — that should be important to every one of us,” he says. “Making sure that every student is recognized and supported is what Bryant, and BSAC, stands for,” he points out.
By engaging with a range of cabinet members, Ameer suggests, the students gain a better understanding of the role they can play in shaping the university. “Bryant is a student-centered university and students are involved in nearly every aspect of the university experience here, from sustainability initiatives to issues surrounding diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging to the facilities on campus,” she states. “BSAC helps them see they entire picture.”
The simple act of sharing a meal together at the BSAC meetings, Barro says, helps both students and administrators break down barriers and forge invaluable connections. “It helps you to put a face to the different parts of campus and learn who the cabinet members are as people — It helps you understand who you can turn to when you need to,” she says.
One experience, Vaquerano reflects, made an especially strong impression on him. “Actually having the opportunity to sit down with President Gittell and discuss his vision for Bryant and learn more about the school’s strategic plan is a really special chance to learn more about the school,” Vaquerano says. “I don’t think that many students at other colleges have opportunities like that.”
“All of us here, we all just want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to create the best student experience we can.”
The newfound camaraderie the students develop with the administration also helps them extend their networks. “As the president of the marketing association, being able to talk to Bryant’s Chief Marketing Officer, Lorraine Daignault, and learn about her path and what it means to be in charge of marketing at the university level is an incredible opportunity,” says Truong.
Being part of the Senior Advisory Council exemplifies the communal spirit that fuels Bryant, says Zambarano. “Between us, we’ve seen and been a part of every aspect of Bryant. One of the biggest things about BSAC is that’s this is a real opportunity for all of us to come together to work with other leaders on the same level playing field,” says Zambarano. “All of us here, we all just want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to create the best student experience we can.”
Looking back and forging ahead
Each year, a member BSAC is selected to serve on the university’s board as a recent alumni trustee, where they continue to provide a perspective informed by their knowledge of the needs, concerns, and interests of the current generation of Bryant undergraduates. This year Jake Williams '23, a member of Bryant's Swimming and Diving team, a portfolio manager for the university's student-run Archway Investment Fund, and an incoming Investment Analyst at John Hancock, was selected for the honor.
Three recent alumni trustees, Brian Salit ’19, Skye Hazel ’21, and Julia Di Natale ’22 attended the April BSAC gathering at the University Club in Providence to share their experiences. For Di Natale, an analyst at Goldman Sachs, attending the meeting was a chance to meet the next generation of Bryant changemakers. “I know who you all are, and I am so in awe of what you’ve accomplished,” she told the seniors. BSAC, she reflected afterwards, was a signature moment in her impressive Bryant career.
President Gittell echoed those statements with a toast at the final BSAC meeting. "Your input and guidance has really helped us and will help us build the future of Bryant University. We’re are all proud of you and looking forward to your continued contributions to Bryant."