Get to Know the MCS Student Advisory Council
A Q&A with Co-Presidents Isabel Yoon and Jon Fritz
By Emily PayneMedia Inquiries
What is the Mellon College of Science Student Advisory Council?
Isabel: We’re a group of students who get together bi-weekly to organize fun events for the MCS community. Usually people stick together with those in their major, but we organize events where you can mingle with other people. Our big events are MCS Pride Day, held in the fall, and the MCS Ball, held in the spring. (See pictures from this year's MCS Ball and Pride Day).
How did you first become involved with SAC?
Isabel: We both entered in our first year. I joined after Pride Day because I had a really good time. Once I joined it, I really liked the seniors who were leading it at that time. I really liked their enthusiasm for MCS.
Jon: I did student council in high school and loved it. My first year, I wanted to do something I was comfortable with and something I had never done before. The thing I had never done before was rowing/crew, and the thing I was really comfortable with was student government. I wanted to have an identity somewhere quickly. I thought MCS SAC would be a great way to do that. I didn’t feel like a scientist at the time, and I wanted to be able to connect with other physics, math, biology and chemistry majors.
When did you become co-presidents and what has it been like to lead SAC together?
Isabel: Both in our sophomore years, at the start of Fall 2017.
Jon: I've loved having Isabelle as a co-president. I’ve never had that happen before. I think when I first found out that we were co-presidents, I was on the fence. I thought there would be some sort of strange power dynamic. But that has never happened. I think Isabel and I click really well. We have similar ideals and morals and visions for the club. Sometimes we have different ways of carrying that out, but I think that’s fantastic.
Isabel: If I had led this club by myself, it wouldn’t be what it is today. Jon’s very outgoing, which is a very nice complement to my character.
Jon: It’s been really great. I think we just have really good balance.
What are your duties as co-presidents?
Isabel: We think of new initiatives. We keep things going with Pride Day and Ball, but we also think of ways we can expand MCS SAC.
Jon: Right now, we’re working on doing more things. Last year, we did a book drive for prisoners in the Pittsburgh area through the nonprofit Book ’Em.
Isabel: Our goal with that was trying to get more involved with the community. The MCS curriculum requires us to fulfill volunteer hours. We were trying to make a big event where everybody can fulfill their hours.
Jon: A lot of our work also was getting structure to the organization. When we came in, a lot of the seniors were leaving the organization, and we weren’t really sure how to lead the council. We had advice and input from staff and faculty who are part of MCS SAC, like Christine (Gilchrist), Dr. Braun and Dr. Hovis. But from a student’s perspective, we didn’t know what SAC entailed. We came in with an open mind and relied on feedback from previous years.
Isabel: Yeah, our biggest factor in planning events is listening to what we’ve heard in the past from students. Since our first year, we heard people didn’t like the venue for MCS Ball. As presidents, our starting point for planning Ball was changing the venue to the University Club, and from there, we worked on a lot of other details.
Jon: This year, we are looking at University Club again but from a different approach. There are some things that we’re looking to improve and some things that went really well. We were glad we got the venue nailed down. That was a huge variable last year, and now it’s just tweaking details.
Why should students join the organization?
Jon: For me, it gave me a lot of identity. Coming in to Carnegie Mellon, I wasn’t sure what being a physics major was or what it meant to become a scientist. Through MCS SAC, I was able to create some foundational relationships with students and faculty that I otherwise wouldn’t have created inside the classroom, and they were able to see me through another dimension. I think it goes back to building a really strong community in MCS and what it means to be a scientist.
Isabel: You get to become closer to faculty, especially during the photoshoots for MCS Ball. Those are really fun. Also, I really enjoyed meeting underclass students. I wasn’t a Eureka TA, so I didn’t get a chance to meet people who are younger than me. SAC tends to attract people who are really enthusiastic about what they do, so I love meeting other students through SAC.
Jon: Also, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
How can students get involved in MCS SAC?
Jon: There’s an application process that we usually send out in October. We also have a signup interest sheet at Pride Day and at the MCS Ball, and Christine sends out emails letting students know the events that MCS SAC puts on and inviting them to join if they’re interested.
Isabel: We’re trying to set up a website where we can share our meeting notes with anybody who wants them, so if they have any suggestions even though they are not part of SAC, they can email us (MCSSAC@andrew.cmu.edu).
What advice do you have for students who may want to lead MCS SAC in the future?
Isabel: MCS SAC leadership positions require really good communication with faculty, staff and other students. I would say to have especially good communication with Christine. She’s saved us so many times. She’s such a sweet, kind person.
Jon: I would say don’t limit yourself to what you can achieve. I think there was a status quo when we came in, but we didn’t know what it was so we created our own and we feel pretty confident about it now. As far as leadership goes, I think that it’s nice to have a club that has a lot of traditions, but this one doesn’t so you can forge your own path if you’d like. This is just our mark, what we’re doing right now. If you feel there’s a better way, you should do it.
Isabel: Don’t be too afraid to change things up a bit, like Jon was saying. We were really scared going into changing the venue for Ball. For future members, don’t be afraid of changing anything. Go for it.
If you could make one change affecting MCS through SAC, what would it be?
Jon: I think there are a lot of assumptions coming in as a science major, expectations to become a doctor or become a Ph.D. I think that it would be nice for SAC to bring in members of the community who have taken a “nontraditional” path. There’s a stigma that students go into faculty positions or go into doctoral positions, and most of the time that’s not the case. A lot of scientists go do work in private industry and have their own research stations and things like that. I think it would be a great to have seminars through SAC where you have, for example, an expert in nuclear physics talk about how they have a very involved role on wall street or something like that.
What are you most proud of accomplishing with the organization?
Isabel: The number of people who are active in SAC. This year, our first meeting was 12 people. Everybody is so active. I’m very proud of our club members and the turnout.
Jon: For me and Isabel, I think we both like to just lay low and do our own work. Getting an acknowledgement from the MCS Dean’s Office and the Dean says to me, “Wow, I might be an undergraduate student, but I’m creating waves much bigger than myself.” I’m really proud when we get compliments like that or something like an interview. I never would have anticipated that a year ago.