Student Assembly President Amanda Soto and the coats the Student Assembly collected for their annual winter coat drive.

Student Assembly President Amanda Soto and the coats the Student Assembly collected for their annual winter coat drive.

Amanda Soto never thought of herself as a leader.

Nevertheless, the sophomore Health Studies major was – and is — heavily involved in campus life, particularly in the Student Village, which she calls home. She attends many Common Hour discussions, and also works with Student Activities on events. She’s a familiar face in campus life, and perhaps it should come as no surprise that a trustee suggested she would be an ideal candidate for the Student Assembly.

With no prior Student Assembly involvement, she decided to run for office — and won the presidency.

“I work with everyone to figure out what the problems are, and how we can make SUNY Broome more desirable for students,” she said.

One of the problems: Students don’t always go to the many events offered on campus. Soto and other Student Assembly members are looking to get their peers more involved in the ample array of campus life opportunities, from lectures and discussions to musical performances and recreational sports.

Student Assembly is also dedicated to supporting their peers in need. They collect donations and help run the Food for Thought pantry, which serves students experiencing food insecurity. Recently, they also collected outerwear for the campus’ annual Coat Drive, which are offered for free to students who need a warm coat to weather the chilly upstate winters.

The Student Assembly works on larger issues too, spurred by the interests of fellow students. In one ongoing initiative, the group is collecting spare change to aid Syrian refugees in Lebanon, home to a population of 4 million Lebanese – and 2 million Syrian and a half-million Palestinian refugees.

Student Assembly also collects donations for the campus' Food for Thought pantry, which aids students experiencing food insecurity.

Student Assembly also collects donations for the campus’ Food for Thought pantry, which aids students experiencing food insecurity.

Making the leap

Soto’s jump into a leadership role in some ways mirrors her jump into SUNY Broome. A Bronx native, she didn’t have the grades she needed for admission to a four-year school, but was determined to forge her future. While her mother wanted her to stay at home, Soto decided she wanted to go further afield.

“There’s more out there,” she explained of her decision to leave home. SUNY Broome proved an ideal distance: not too far and not too close, with excellent academics to boot.

She asked her mother to trust her decision. And it’s paid off: She has a 3.7 GPA and is a member of the Phi Theta Kappa honors society.

“She’s proud of me now,” Soto said of her mother. “It’s probably the best decision she could have made: Letting me go away to find myself.”

SUNY Broome is just the beginning: In January, Soto will head to the Caribbean for the college’s Health for Haiti global service learning course; half of her costs will be covered by a scholarship. Soto was inspired to join the class after hearing Professor Jennifer Musa, one of the organizers, speak in her biology class about conditions in the island nation, and the impact of Health for Haiti on the communities it serves.

“I wanted to cry. We live well over here,” Soto said. “They can’t even trust that they’re going to eat today.”

After graduating in May, she plans to transfer to a university – she’s not sure where, yet – and ultimately pursue a career in occupational therapy. She has always wanted to be involved in the health field, and interviewed a practicing occupational therapist while deciding on her career goals.

In the meantime, there is still plenty of work to do on campus. SUNY Broome was one of 40 colleges and universities across the U.S. awarded a grant as part of the MLK Day of Service Community Partnership Project, and Student Assembly is playing a major role in the effort, which will benefit the food pantry.

Amanda Soto never thought of herself as a leader – until she became one. She encourages her peers to jump at similar opportunities; as long as you know how much work is involved, you’re prepared, she advises.

“These opportunities are rare, so it’s really important to go for it,” she said. “It’s something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.”