Oregon Student Association welcomes new leader

The prospect of a staff position with Congressman David Wu has lured John Wykoff away from his post as executive director of the Oregon Student Association, with seasoned OSA staffer Melissa Unger to take over the directorship.

OSA is a non-profit organization that represents student interests in the Oregon University System, advocating student issues relating to higher education in arenas such as the state government.

Unger, who has served OSA for three years as legislative director and most recently organizing director, is thought to be a good choice for the position.

Unger holds a degree in history and sociology from the University of Oregon. She lists a long-time history as both student and staffer for OSA and experience in student government. She has also worked for the University of California Student Association as a field organizer.

As of this week, Unger found OSA waiting for the legislature to grind down to its finale.

“We’ve been working to decrease tuition,” she emphasized. “It looks like the legislature will provide money to buy down tuition increases.” The organization is currently compiling a tuition and fee book for student information.

Goals for OSA are set by the board, which consists of two representatives from each member campus. She enumerated three areas she would like to see developed, eager to work closely with the OSA board on issues that also involve the Oregon Students of Color Coalition and the Oregon Students Equal Right Alliance – a lesbian, gay and bisexual student organization.

“We want to work together on issues, such as access issues. We want to cohesively set an agenda for statewide action,” she said.

Her second goal is to strengthen her own legislative background. In the off years of the legislature, OSA works exhaustively on research for issues to be presented to the next legislative session.

“We want to be experts on policy issues,” she said. “We want to make sure students are getting access to state government.”

Unger’s third goal is to “really organize the students.” She wants OSA to help students develop grassroots campaigns and especially media campaigns focusing on their interests.

Wykoff predicted a bright future for OSA under Unger’s leadership, saying he personally prefers to do research and campaigning while considering management more a necessary duty.

“Melissa is really great on management,” he said.

Wykoff is a familiar face around Portland State. He worked on the Vanguard staff for some years and was editor one year. He had been the OSA top dog for two and one half years, taking the post in February 2003, and dropping the reins this June 25.

“I came in the middle of a legislative session so I can take no credit for what OSA did in that session,” he recalled. “Now I’m leaving before this one is over.”

The 2005 biennial session seems headed for adjournment within days, so Wykoff shepherded his organization through the bulk of this legislature. He was modest about his performance in this session, saying, “The person at the top is only as good as the people working under him.”

Wykoff expressed the OSA mission in a nutshell: “To give students the tools to advocate for access on their own behalf.”

He saw the OSA tactical goal as getting students organized around problems of basic tuition, funding for the university system and access to childcare. Some campuses have individual interests, which the field organizers work on. For example, the University of Oregon and Lane Community College are being helped to work for housing standards in the city of Eugene.

Wykoff now serves as a field representative for David Wu. His areas of responsibility target higher education, Multnomah County and business.

“I love it. It’s a great new challenge,” he said. “OSA was a great place. You just know when it’s time to move on.”

The OSA is supported by mandatory student fees, which figure at about $1.30 a term per full time student. It maintains an office in northeast Portland at 635 N.E. Dekum St. Full-time staff totals ten, with the three campus organizers and seven employees in the headquarters office.