Former Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. is considered one of the city’s most visionary leaders so perhaps it is no surprise that the College that bears his name, the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, has a rich tradition of student leadership.
Continuing a strong record of campus leadership, three of the students elected to the top four Student Government Association positions this year are from the Ivan Allen College.
“The College sharpens its students to go in and lead other organizations and institutions,” said Ayo Aladesanmi, who is the new executive vice president of the undergraduate SGA.
Evan Gillon, the incoming undergraduate SGA president, will be joining Aladesanmi in a SGA leadership role along with new Graduate SGA Vice President Renee Shelby. Students elected Gillon, Aladesanmi, and Shelby to one-year terms in the 2018 spring semester.
The Journey to Georgia Tech
Aladesanmi hopes to use his position to speak up for underserved communities. Gillon wants to create a student government that continually supports all of the passions and enterprises of students, and advocates those interests to Georgia Institute of Technology administrators. Shelby wants to help improve the quality of life for graduate students.
Gillon, from Smyrna, was recruited to study public policy at Georgia Tech by Sara Dada (PUBP, 2017). In 2015, Dada invited Gillon to the Ivan Allen College Shadow Day and a meeting with Richard Barke, associate professor and director of undergraduate studies at the School of Public Policy.
“Sitting in on classroom discussions for Shadow Day was inspiring, we were examining the root causes of a lot of issues that affect our society. I felt like it was a fit at that point. I wanted to keep asking those questions and answering them through the lens of technology specifically,” Gillon said.
A Marietta native, Aladesanmi also remembers those conversations, but ultimately decided to study economics at Georgia Tech for financial and historical considerations.
“Given the history of Atlanta and that Ivan Allen Jr. was such an important figure, to be at the school that bears his name is a really big deal,” he said. “I was really excited to be a part of the innovation culture, and the way of teaching and thinking at the Ivan Allen College.”
Shelby, a fourth year Ph.D. student in the School of History and Sociology and recent recipient of the 2018 Graduate Student Ivan Allen Jr. Legacy Award presented by the College, comes to Georgia Tech from Lansing, Kansas. Anthony Hatch from Weslyan University is one of her mentors, who had enjoyed his time at Georgia Tech while giving a talk on his research on psychotropic drugs in prisons. He encouraged her to apply to the History and Sociology program at Georgia Tech because of its science and technology focus.
Reading studies about how graduate education in the United States is associated with depression sparked Shelby’s interest to change the system for the better.
“I ran with Andrew Cox, a Ph.D. student in the School of Aerospace Engineering. We don’t come from the same schools, but we really care about the same things, which are mental health, diversity, and inclusion,” Shelby said. “I think if we can find ways to work on those issues, and make sure that all graduate students feel like they’re welcome in the place that they’ve chosen to spend a lot of time and effort and money, that is what I want to work on.”
Shelby wears many hats outside of her roles as student. She works for youthSpark, a local nonprofit of the Fulton County Juvenile Court where she helps troubled kids in the court system get the help they desire. She also operates a record label out of her house with her partner and holds a fellowship at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.
Becoming Student Leaders
The decision to run for the executive president and vice president of the Undergraduate Student Government Association was easy for Evan and Ayo, the incoming executive president and vice president of the undergraduate SGA respectively.
The pair met in high school while working on the 2014 U.S. Senate campaign of Michelle Nunn. Although Nunn’s election bid was unsuccessful, Evan and Ayo developed a bond that would translate to the creation of a high-school political organization. Then, three years later, they were running mates for undergraduate SGA.
Gillon and Aladesani had a hurdle to scale during the campaign process — convincing the student voters that they would welcome diversity.
“Anytime the two students from the same major or college decide to run for the president and vice-president positions, it kind of raises some flags for students, they want a diverse ticket,” Gillon said.
Overcoming the Challenge
To convince the students on their intentions to build diversity within the student body, both students have developed extremely diverse teams in multiple areas of campus in multiple years and majors.
They credit their education in the Ivan Allen College for their success in building and working with these multidisciplinary teams.
“In the School of Public Policy, we learn to think in terms of systems, how policies affect multiple groups of people. Similarly, in the SGA we think about how policies can affect multiple groups on campus.” Gillon added.
The Ivan Allen College Legacy
The Ivan Allen College has a rich history of producing student leaders in the undergraduate SGA. Most recently, Dillon Roseen (EIA, 2015) led the association in the 2014 - 2015 academic year, as well as Jennifer Abrams (PUBP, 2017). This demonstrates the College’s commitment to raising government and community leaders that forge new pathways and redefine the future for the kinds of student who are drawn to the Allen Legacy values stewarded by the College.
Looking to the Future
During the academic year, when Gillon is not attending lectures, building computers, or watching movies in his spare time, he will be working to deliver on his campaign promises to the Georgia Tech undergraduate community. For leisure, Aladaesanmi enjoys writing about music and arts, and exploring Atlanta.
In her future, Shelby sees herself continuing in research that can inform relevant and effective policy.
Gillon’s eyes are set for law school after he graduates.
Guided by his Nigerian heritage and education in the Ivan Allen College, Aladesanmi has developed a mantra to “be a stakeholder for minority underserved communities wherever I go, and to do whatever will allow me to do that most effectively.”
That could, he said, include running for elected office someday.
“When you live in a community for a long time, you get familiar with it, you gain a passion for the issues surrounding the people,” he said. “Then you say, I think I can change them. That’s what inspires you to run for something.”