Robert Tessier’s plan

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Robert Tessier’s plan

Student Government Board member Robert Tessier speaks at the most recent meeting.  Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

Student Government Board member Robert Tessier speaks at the most recent meeting. Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

Student Government Board member Robert Tessier speaks at the most recent meeting. Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

Student Government Board member Robert Tessier speaks at the most recent meeting. Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

By Mark Pesto / Senior Staff Writer

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Before he graduates in April, Robert Tessier, Pitt Student Government Board’s newest member, plans to ignite human rights activism at Pitt through lecture and discussion.

Tessier, who joined SGB more than half way through its longest term ever, has less than six months now to catch up with the other eight board members in planning and executing initiatives that aim to benefit Pitt students.  Right now, he’s planning a conference on human rights for March and meeting with student Cross-Cultural and Leadership Development organizations on campus, getting familiar with their messages so he can help them communicate with students. For Tessier, who comes to SGB with experience as Medlife’s president, his conference’s March deadline may prove to be one of the toughest tests of his leadership yet.

“I’m definitely aware that there is a certain limit on how much I can do,” Tessier said. “I have to just make sure that I am pushing that limit, but not going past it and overextending myself. I’m not someone who intends to leave any projects on the table.”

SGB appointed Tessier, a senior neuroscience and sociology major, on Oct. 6, to the empty SGB seat left after former SGB president Graeme Meyer resigned in May. From May to October, SGB worked with eight members instead of the standard nine.

Tessier’s most ambitious project is his planned human rights conference, which he said will probably happen next March. Plans are still vague, as he hasn’t invited speakers yet, but he said the conference will focus on how students can get involved with human rights — both on campus and in their future careers. Tessier said the speakers will be related to outreach inside and outside of Pittsburgh, and is not sure how many days the conference will span.

“There are a million different things students can do with their lives,” Tessier said.

He said he hoped the conference would make students aware of potential future paths that involve human rights.

Right now, he’s holding a series of meetings to gauge interest and putting together teams to handle various aspects of preparation for the conference. At the first interest meeting on Sunday, Nov. 15, which was open to all students, attendees volunteered for teams working on logistics and event programming. Tessier hasn’t scheduled future meetings yet, but said he’ll advertise them on Facebook, on posters and by email.

Although he hasn’t officially discussed the conference with Pitt’s administration, he said he’s confident it will be well received.

Tessier is also looking for potential funding sources for the conference. He said he will announce the sources of funding at future SGB meetings once he has secured it.

Another of Tessier’s projects involves meeting with CCLD groups, student groups focused on cultural identity and awareness on campus. After he gets familiar with Pitt’s CCLD organizations, Tessier plans to provide them with resources to spread their messages. The type of resources he’ll provide depends on what each organization wants, he said, but he’s compiling lists of their needs, such as assigning them each a section on the SGB website and making it easier for people in the community to find out about their work. He also hopes to include a section for each CCLD group on SGB’s website.

“You have a network of students at the University of Pittsburgh who are really wonderful and really care about these causes, but simply don’t hear about them,” Tessier said. “It’s a humongous campus … and it’s really easy for things to just kind of slip through.”

So far, Tessier has met with representatives from Rainbow Alliance and Asian Students Alliance, and he has scheduled more meetings with other CCLD organizations in the coming weeks.

Other CCLD organizations at Pitt include the Black Action Society, the Campus Women’s Organization, Students Allies Intergroup Dialogue Facilitators and international graduate student organizations.

Although Tessier is new to SGB, he’s no stranger to leadership. At Pitt, he’s president of Medlife, a nonprofit organization that provides medical care and education to impoverished people worldwide, as well as vice president of the Delta Chi fraternity.

Anthony Holliday, vice president of Medlife at Pitt, has worked with Tessier on many projects. Holliday said Tessier’s leadership skills make him the right person to fill an SGB seat.

“Rob brings a lot to the table as a leader,” Holliday said. “He is extremely resourceful and great at being able to do what needs to be done.”

Still, Tessier said he hit a steep learning curve in his first month on SGB.

“Luckily, some of the Board members have been extremely helpful,” Tessier said. “I really found that everyone in the office, on all the different committees, has been so welcoming to me coming in and asking them dumb questions.”

Tessier said building up the Pitt chapter of Medlife helped him gain experience with listening to students and using their input to improve — the sort of experience SGB members need to have.

“We kind of built [Medlife] based on what students wanted,” Tessier said. “We went around and asked people in the club, what would they want to see? What would they want out of a service organization? What opportunities would they want?”

Based on the answers to these questions, Tessier helped Medlife members shadow doctors who work in global medicine and invited the dean of Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health to give a talk hosted by Medlife.

“Being able to adapt and meet the demands of students on a smaller scale, I’ve always really enjoyed, and now I can kind of do it as a more top-down approach,” Tessier said. “[I can] say, ‘Systemically, what would you like to see from the University? What would you like to get more out of your undergraduate experience?’”

SGB President Nasreen Harun said Tessier’s fresh perspective has helped SGB reach out to students more effectively.

“He had the outside perspective of SGB,” Harun said in an email, “and was able to bring that information to us so we could create some more marketing initiatives and see what other needs students may have that we have not met.”

Tessier credits his participation in the Humanity in Action Fellowship program, a prestigious international program focused on exploring various countries’ histories of discrimination, with inspiring him to apply for the open SGB seat.

“Completing that program made me start to realize that I wanted to tie all these different interests together,” Tessier said, “and be able to work on kind of a larger scale, be able to tie together things, create programs that would last beyond my graduation.”

To make sure his programs have a lasting impact at Pitt, Tessier hopes to bring in underclassmen who will continue them after he graduates.

“With all these projects, I can hope that they’ll go on, but I can’t guarantee them,” Tessier said, “so I want to make sure there’s some degree of permanence already instilled before I graduate.”

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