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Catching up with Justin Darnall

The Student Government Assembly president talks about working with MSU Denver leadership and increasing student retention.

By Lindsey Coulter

September 5, 2018

Justin DarnallJustin Darnall is committed to his fellow Metropolitan State University of Denver students. He’s ready to embrace the long hours that come with his role as Student Government Assembly president and throw his voice into critical Budget Task Force and President’s Cabinet conversations. Meanwhile, he’s balancing aerospace-systems engineering-technology courses and making big plans.

MSU Denver is Darnall’s fourth college. After serving eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps, he explored online education, a community college and a for-profit university before finding the perfect fit as a Roadrunner. MSU Denver’s stellar rating among student vets was the initial hook, but becoming more involved, working in the Registrar’s Office and holding other SGA offices helped him develop a deep sense of Roadrunner pride. He channeled that school spirit into a successful presidential run and is eager to represent his fellow students and collaborate with MSU Denver leadership.

What was the focus of your presidential campaign?

To empower all students. Students need to know that they are being heard and see change come from that. I’m also trying to build more of a sense of Roadrunner pride. If students have a stake in the school, they’ll likely be more successful and finish their degree.

What are your goals and priorities for the year?

First off, student outreach. I want students to know what I’m doing, and I want to know what they want from me. In the last week, we’ve done a lot of outreach. We had about 20 students come in for coffee and conversation this morning.

Also, a lot of students don’t even know there is an SGA, and many traditional students just think we plan prom. It’s a lot more than that; it’s sitting on the President’s Cabinet and being able to facilitate actual change. For instance, students would like to see more higher-division tutors in the tutoring center, in particular for Calculus II. That course has supplemental instructors and tutors, but the tutors feel overwhelmed because so many students are coming for help.

The No. 1 thing for me, though, is ending the Roadrunner runaround. If a student has an issue, don’t send that student to another department without going with them. Accompany the student so they know MSU Denver is on their side.

How do you like working alongside MSU Denver leadership?

It’s fantastic. Everyone I’ve talked issues with or shared my ideas with has been extremely receptive. I appreciate that no one has seen me as a student and just shut down my ideas. Everyone takes my contributions very seriously, and it is already beginning to spark change.

What perspective do you want to bring to the President’s Cabinet?

The president wants students at the front of everyone’s mind, and that is what I want too — in every decision, we should be considering the impact to the student. That is what I’m going to try to ground everyone’s thought processes in because all we’re here to do is to represent and serve students.

How are you enjoying your role on the Budget Task Force?

So far we’ve talked about … what we can do to mitigate retention issues. It would be incredible if MSU Denver were the only institution in Colorado that actually had our retention up instead of down, and I think we can do that. Instead of looking at cost-cutting, it’s looking at what we can do to better serve students because it will pay off 10-fold. When I get proposals of things like the potential of the tuition window closing, I look at the possible recovered costs and what we can do to reinvest them into students.

How can faculty and staff help increase student retention?

Encourage students to join an organization that closely relates to their degree and what they want to do. That way, the student is surrounded by peers that have the same goals, which studies have shown increase graduation rates dramatically. Another way to support the student is by going to the organization’s events, even if you’re not the organization’s advisor.

Where do you hope your MSU Denver education takes you next?

I want to build rockets. I want MSU Denver to be part of the reason that humans get to Mars.

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