As the new non-voting student representative to the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors, Derrick Wang wants to ensure students are at the “heart” of President Jim Ryan’s pending strategic plan.
Wang was named to the board earlier this month and will replace fourth-year student Brendan Nigro at the board’s June meeting. That’s also when Ryan, inaugurated as UVA’s ninth president in October, will present a draft of his strategic plan.
“With the strategic plan coming out fairly soon, I want to make sure that the student experience is really at the heart of that,” Wang said. “One huge aspect of that is that I really want to focus on affordability and value.”
Wang, a third-year economics and mathematics major, said the value of student experience is not only measured by the starting salary of graduates.
“That’s one metric that is really useful,” he said. Value can also be evaluated by asking if students are engaged in and outside the classroom, whether they are healthy and safe while enrolled at UVA, and whether or not they are able to meet and work with people from different backgrounds. “All of these things are really important,” he said.
“The board is delighted to welcome Derrick as its incoming student representative,” University Rector Frank M. “Rusty” Connor III said. “In his three years at the University, Derrick has distinguished himself in a number of ways, showing a commitment to academic excellence, a talent for leadership and a commitment to serving the University community. The student member brings a very important perspective to the board, and we look forward to working with him.”
Wang was in his apartment with a friend when he got the email announcing his selection. He was so excited that he dropped his phone, which now has a cracked screen. “I was just sitting there on the couch staring at my email and I was too anxious. I couldn’t even work on anything else,” he said.
Wang is a born networker and plans to use those skills to solicit student input.
“One of my philosophies throughout college is I don’t turn down meetings,” he said. “The reality is that if somebody thinks something is important enough to email me or contact me and say ‘Hey, can we meet about this?’ – if they think something is important enough to make that effort, then I should be willing to take time out of my day to meet with them and hear what they have to say.”
When you are a representative, Wang said, that is the approach you have to take. “You need to hear that broad, diverse range of opinions and viewpoints, because I don’t necessarily understand the experience of every student,” he said.
Wang’s plan for early next fall is to seek out the leadership of a variety of student groups to get a sense of their priorities and what they would like to see from the board.
Wang and Nigro, the current student board member, have been having regular debriefing sessions so that Wang can hit the ground running in June. He becomes the 37th student board member since the first, Gordon Willis, was installed in 1983.