Meet Drexel’s New USGA President, Vivek Babu
September 18, 2023
In June, Vivek Babu was elected president of Drexel University’s Undergraduate Student Government Association, which serves to bridge students and administration by enacting change through initiatives within the scope of its committees: Academic Affairs, Buildings and Properties, Civic Engagement, Student Life, and Student Organization. Babu is a biological sciences major in the BS+MD Early Assurance Program, which means he will continue to medical school at Drexel’s College of Medicine after he completes four years of undergraduate education. The College of Arts and Sciences student also has minors in global public health and global studies.
In this lightly edited Q&A, Babu spoke about what he’s planning for the 2023–2024 academic year and how his four years of being involved with USGA is influencing his presidency.
Q: When did you get involved in the USGA?
A: I started at Drexel during the COVID-19 pandemic in September 2020 when everything was still virtual, and didn’t step foot on campus until March 2021, which finally allowed me to get an on-campus feel. I didn’t have a normal freshman orientation at all, so I knew the importance of creating support systems for students. That’s why I was driven to help the Drexel community in some way and jumped into USGA in my freshman year.
Q: What have you been involved with in USGA since then?
A: In the winter quarter of 2020, I was elected Freshman Class Vice President. In my second year, I transitioned into the role of Civic Engagement Committee Chair. The USGA’s Civic Engagement Committee bridges the gap between the students, the Drexel administration and surrounding communities, specifically Powelton Village and Mantua. I held that position for two years before I became Student Body President last year. Beyond my leadership positions, I have been a member of the Student Organization Committee (SOC) since my first year. SOC is primarily responsible for the recognition process and getting new organizations registered on campus.
Q: I know that, as part of the civic engagement work, you’ve been involved with voting. Can you go into more detail about that?
A: In addition to all the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and my freshman year, 2020 was the first year that I could vote in a presidential election. Amidst the national conversation around public safety sparked by the murder of George Floyd, the impending reality of the climate crisis, and the devastation created by the COVID-19 pandemic, I quickly learned that participating in a healthy democracy remains the cornerstone to future structural policy reform. Therefore, I began this very long journey into college student voter registration on campus built on the storied legacy of previous USGA leadership. Spearheaded by previous Civic Engagement Committee Chair Maisie MacMullan [BS Health Professions ’22, DPT ’24] in 2020, USGA successfully pushed for an election day half-day to allow time for the Drexel community to vote.
With the resounding success of the election day half-day, I, alongside USGA Senator Miranda Bottura [Political Science and Government ’23], created the Octavius Catto’s Day of Civic Service, which pushes for a University-wide holiday for Election Day (as I wrote about in The Triangle). Additionally, I’ve joined the Civic Influencers Program [Editor’s note: read our previous reporting about this program], a national non-partisan organization dedicated to boosting student voter engagement on college campuses. With my team in USGA, I ran two social media campaigns providing students key voter information (including deadlines, location and ballots). Last year, we collaborated with Civic Influencers, Drexel’s Lindy Center for Civic Engagement, Drexel Votes, Headcount and Drexel’s Liberty Scholars to do four days of voter registration tabling and distributing 1,000+ flyers about civic engagement opportunities on campus. Lastly, underlying our push for taking an entire election day off at Drexel, we wanted to emphasize that civic engagement doesn’t end at the ballots. For the May 2021 and 2022 primaries, USGA hosted the Civic Engagement Fair, which showcased service organizations on and off campus and how students can get involved in the community; we also hosted a 75+ member trash management clean-up from 31st to 36th streets and Powelton Avenue to Spring Garden Street.
I think it’s very easy to see college students as disengaged and separated from the political process, especially if Philadelphia isn’t your home. Many people think, “If I’m only here for four years, why would I vote here in the first place?” But by directly talking to students, I’ve grown to really emphasize the importance of local, state and federal elections as well as judicial elections. Because even though you might not live in Philadelphia after graduation, the elections that you vote in today have direct consequences in the policies of tomorrow, whether that be student loans, gun violence or LGBTQ+ rights.
And I was honestly honored to be commended for all of the efforts of voter engagement I’ve done. In 2020, the national non-partisan group ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge awarded Drexel a Gold status for the 2020 election (with over 72 percent of Drexel students voting!) [Editor’s note: Drexel was also named a Most Engaged Campus for College Student Voting in 2022]. This year, I was nominated for and later was named to the 2023 ALL IN Student Voting Honor Roll for students across the nation who have worked to do this voter engagement impact. Additionally, in 2023 USGA’s Civic Engagement Team was awarded the Student Organization Award for Promoting Public Service and Social Responsibility by Drexel’s Lindy Center. And as we are gearing up for the 2024 election, which is going to have major consequences for all students, getting students out there to vote is critical no matter what side of the political aisle you’re on. I’m not here to determine that vote, but I want you to go out there and make your voice heard.
The USGA Joint Assembly Board at the 2023 Transition Dinner. Photo courtesy Vivek Babu.
Q: How will your past work with USGA inform how you’re going to be leading it as president?
A: My primary focus is making ourselves more accessible, so students have more access to our resources. What I fundamentally learned after two years of doing voter engagement at Drexel is that if you put these resources into students’ hands, students will use them. I want to make sure, especially for incoming freshmen, that they don’t feel like they need to figure all of Drexel out by themselves or only during their UNIV101 classes. Student organizations at Drexel are kind of the lifeblood of student life. The biggest lesson I learned through my history of voter engagement and civic engagement was that it doesn’t matter how much work you put into designing policy or specific marketing campaigns if you don’t have student engagement backing you up, and if you don’t have student feedback driving that policy.
Q: It seems like you have had experience with working with administration and faculty and making changes on campus. How are you going to continue that as president?
A: Over the last three years, USGA prioritized on expanding our administration network. We have consistently held meetings with them, been at the table where policy decisions are being made and really emphasized to administration that before policy changes are made, you need student feedback to drive that change. In general, faculty and the administration have placed an inclusive emphasis on using USGA for the student voice. But if we are the markers of student voice, and if we are the leaders and the students who talk to administration, when we come to those decision-making tables, I want us to be really informed of all student opinions, instead of our own individual opinions. By continuing to bridge that pipeline between students, faculty and the administration, my hope this year is that if students/student organizations come to USGA with a specific concern, USGA can redirect them to the right resources, departments and offices.
Q: You don’t have to be a USGA member to be able to contact the USGA, right?
A: No, absolutely not! We encourage people to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org as well as our Instagram @drexelusga. When we hold tabling events (as we will for USGA elections in the fall and spring), we encourage students (including incoming freshman!) to talk to us even if they have five minutes as they’re jumping between classes.
I truly believe that we really can help make the student experience better for everyone. If you are part of a student organization, we would be really interested in hearing from you. If you’re having issues with getting resources for your club, you don’t know how to start your own, you want to work on campus-wide initiatives, but don’t really know where to go forward — reach out to us!
Q: And if students do want to get involved in the USGA — how can they do that? What does that time commitment look like?
A: We will be holding our freshman elections in Week 6-7 during fall quarter, with 10 open positions available. We will also be holding rolling elections for any unfilled senator position. Once you go through the nomination process, you’ll do a brief interview with a USGA senator. Lastly, you’ll talk to the USGA board explaining why you joined USGA, what about USGA drew you in and how you think you can use your skills to help USGA. Once you do that, and if you get elected, then you’re officially in USGA!
As for time-commitments, we hold Joint Assembly every Monday where the entire board — every senator, every executive member, every chair — can take the time to go over any updates needed, as well as brainstorm any initiative ideas on campus. With joint assembly, a committee meeting and outside network with a faculty or student organization, our time commitment for a senator is around five hours a week. However, as students still recognize the struggles of midterms, finals and co-op, through monthly bonding events, USGA has continued to do an excellent job at creating an inclusive environment for all senators.
From left to right: Student Body President Vivek Babu and Student Body Vice President Sanjana Suresh. Photo courtesy Vivek Babu.
Q: Besides the USGA, how has your time been at Drexel?
A: This past year, I had the privilege to study abroad in Paris from January to May at Sciences Po. By immersing myself in Parisian culture and food, I learned that I value surrounding myself with a diverse international community. During my time, I also traveled to Berlin, Amsterdam and London to get a taste of Europe. I can say for certainty that Study Abroad was the most incredible experience of my life, and I would highly recommend any student at Drexel to explore the opportunity!
Other than that, right now, I’m on co-op at Bristol Myers Squibb, working within the Cell Therapy Global Manufacturing, Science, and Technology (GMS&T) department. As someone interested in becoming a global health physician, I wanted to learn more about how the pharmaceutical industry develops, manufactures and delivers drugs. Currently, my lab is being constructed, so unlike many co-ops who only have lab experience, it’s incredibly exciting to get in on the lab development process from the ground-up.
Lastly, another standout moment this year came from being involved with USGA, because one of the first opportunities offered to me as USGA president was meeting Vice President Kamala Harris earlier this summer in Philly. Standing alongside USGA Vice President Sanjana Suresh [Bachelor of Science in Business Administration ((BSBA) '24 with a major in finance with a minor in legal studies]; Student Organization Committee Chair Medha Raman [BS biological sciences ’25]; and Director of Marketing and Events Puja Das [BS/MS Biomedical Engineering ’25], it was a fantastic full-circle moment of connecting my journey of voter engagement in USGA and my future as USGA president. I was able to shake hands with Vice President Harris and introduce myself to United States Secretary of Labor Julie Su. Just saying, “I’m Drexel’s Student Body President,” was a surreal moment to say out loud in front of some of our nation’s highest leaders
While the path to becoming USGA Student Body President has been long and difficult, I can honestly say that it’s been so fruitful and worthwhile because of the students I have the privilege to work alongside with. All I can say is that I’m really excited to see where my Drexel career and the work of USGA will lead me this next year.