September 09, 2021
“I think we’re entering this really critical time": Student government leaders Alexis Ozimok and Catherine Taipe seek unity
By Bill Brink
Amid the chaos of the past eighteen months, Alexis Ozimok and Catherine Taipe saw an opportunity.
A presidential election, a social justice movement, and the worst pandemic in a century joined forces to grab the world by the lapels. It’s a robust potion, and a college campus is the perfect cauldron for it. Neither Ozimok nor Taipe, both seniors in the Institute for Politics and Strategy, had participated in student government before. This spring, they were elected Student Body President and Vice President, and they are already on the job, attempting to seize upon the political and social climate and grab students’ attention.
“I think more importantly than anything, it’s going to be a big year for redeveloping campus culture, because people have been gone for so long,” said Ozimok, the President and an International Relations and Politics major with a minor in Business Administration. “I think we’re entering this really critical time where people are excited to be back, and how do we build that sense of unity and build that sense of community that has been lost over the past two years?”
“It was the community we built over the years and then the community we got to build during the campaign that really motivated us,” Taipe, the VP and an International Relations and Politics major with an additional major in Social and Political History, said. “This wasn’t a résumé builder. For us, this was something that we really thought about and we made that decision with lots of thought and care. I’m really glad that the community believed in us.”
Ozimok grew up in Aliquippa and visited Carnegie Mellon in middle school as part of C-MITES, a now-defunct program that hosted STEM programs for gifted students. Her interest in politics grew in high school and she opted for the International Relations and Politics major to obtain a political science degree with a quantitative focus. Taipe, a Long Island native, sought out Carnegie Mellon’s Professional Writing program with an eye toward journalism, but gravitated toward political science after taking Professor Geoffrey McGovern’s Decision Processes in American Political Institutions class her freshman year.
She worked in Congressman Conor Lamb’s office and served as an intern for Activate America and NextGen America in addition to leadership positions in Delta Delta Delta, First-Year Orientation, and the Sophomore Planning Committee. Taipe worked on the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Diversity, Inclusion, Equity, and Access Committee, and wrote for The Garden, Dietrich’s DEI newsletter. She spent her sophomore year meeting with students, hearing their thoughts and grievances.
“We really wanted to give student activists a seat at the table,” Taipe said. “There are inevitable disagreements between them and the administration, and I think that’s a good opportunity for us to build bridges and lay the foundation to build student unity as well.”
Once they decided to run, Ozimok called her old boss from Lamb’s campaign. How do I begin? she asked. They built their team (which includes Communications Director Jackie Wu and Outreach Director Arjun Ramachandran, two other students majoring or minoring in IPS programs) and met with student organizations to develop their platform.
“One of the things we heard the most when we were launching our campaign was, ‘We love what you guys are doing, we’re really interested in getting involved in student government, but no one’s ever reached out to us to hear what we think would be best for the campus community,’” Ozimok said.
For the tenets of their platform, they selected administrative transparency and student justice, which encompasses Greek housing costs, DEI, and student wages. They will strive for improved transparency, inspired in part by events at the university in the past year that touched on their own academic department. Ozimok and Taipe also aim to increase student voices on university committees and decision-making groups.
“I think the past year, and even 2016, really changed people’s minds and got them way more focused on what’s happening around them,” Ozimok said. “I think the combination of those two things coming together has really given us a great opportunity for a really engaged and involved student body.”
Lessons from their IPS classes have filtered their way into the administration. Ozimok sees it in the way she thinks about communication and disagreement – “That’s something we talk about all the time in IRP” – especially as she and Taipe gather a broad range of viewpoints. Taipe participated in the Carnegie Mellon University Washington Semester Program, which IPS sponsors, in the fall of 2020, an experience that inspired her.
“Not a specific class, but that environment of being around people who are very motivated in the space of politics and wanting to collaborate on these different things,” she said. “That influenced my ultimate decision. Alexis and I were joking and thinking about running a year ago, but in my head, I was really unsure until the last minute.”
After graduation, Taipe is leaning toward a Master’s program that would prepare her to work in higher education administration – perhaps continuing her work with DEI – or potentially working on a campaign. Ozimok is also considering graduate school, specifically Columbia University’s Master of Arts in Global Thought, but could also return to electoral politics.
“It’s a pretty big election year and I have caught the organizing bug many times over, so if not grad school I definitely think I’ll be on a campaign to be determined,” she said.
If they do end up on campaigns, they’ll now have the experience of having run themselves – and won.