Silavong Phimmasone '19 is a Student Trustee serving on the UMass Board of Trustees, the governing body of the UMass System. He represents the more than 76,000 students across the 5 campuses of the UMass system, with a particular focus on interests specific to students at UMass Dartmouth.
He will deliver the student address at the Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony for the Charlton College of Business, the College of Nursing, and the College of Visual & Performing Arts.
Insight from the student perspective
As the Student Trustee, my responsibility is to represent the various interests of the public at large (and in particular UMass Dartmouth) on a non-partisan basis and to vote on operating decisions that affect the entirety of the UMass system. I am a member of the Finance and Administration Committee and the Committee of Academic and Student Affairs. I also sit in on the Audit and Advancement committees.
As a student, I'm able to provide insight from the student perspective that can sometimes get lost in conversation. I work with the University to help more people understand the workings of the Board—and within the University to help facilitate change and advocate at the Board level.
Advancing Board effectiveness
The biggest challenge I see is organizational effectiveness and bridging the gap of knowledge among all facets of the UMass system to include students, faculty, and staff. It's difficult to do what is right effectively and also help others understand the decisions that are made, and the fights that are being fought on their behalf, when it seems like no action is being taken.
From Army ROTC to campus leader
I started my academic career as an Army ROTC cadet. The Army instilled a discipline in me to do as much as I possibly can and to push myself to the absolute limits. I learned to survive and to perform under extreme pressure, and I've been able to translate this knowledge and discipline to my academic and professional endeavors.
The Army was truly a transformative experience for me. There were things I struggled with and experiences I had a tough time with. I was able to overcome these struggles because of support from my leadership.
As I progressed and stepped into the mantle of leadership myself, I saw others, those who came after me, who struggled with the same things I did. I was able to overcome my challenges because of my leaders, and I felt the responsibility to provide leadership to others. There are a lot of Army sayings that reflect this process and philosophy; one of the mottos that has resonated with me from the beginning is "Mission First, People Always."
Participating in Student Government gave me an opportunity to exercise leadership in the university setting. I learned the ins and outs of our university—its many facets—in order to better serve my fellow students and to advocate for the benefit of students.
I like to think that I have been able to facilitate change in a positive way and have empowered my peers to do the same.
Important role models
I got interested in business management leadership because I have been fortunate enough to find myself in the right place at the right time with the right people.
Growing up was a little tough for me. My mother was widowed when I was 8 years old and fell very ill shortly after my father's passing. I had my first job at 12 years old and have worked to provide for my family ever since. I felt the temptations of gangs and the "ease" of selling drugs as I saw a lot of my peers in the same situation who benefited (at least in the short term) from making these choices. Some of my peers who made these decisions unfortunately are no longer with us or are incarcerated.
I am fortunate to not have met these fates because I had people in my life who stepped up as role models or guides to make sure I didn't make these decisions. I remember feeling the gratitude for having this kind of support and realizing that it was truly a luxury.
The leaders who helped me keep my nose straight growing up, graduate high school when I nearly flunked out senior year, and get into college are the people who helped me get interested in my major. I wanted to learn and to understand the depth and complexity of leadership and to be able to practice it: to have an impact on someone in the same way that leaders in my past have affected my life, in ways big and small.
I have had, at minimum, a full-time job and a part-time job during my academic tenure. At my peak, I had 2 full-time jobs and 2 part-time to include a work-study, all at once.
At 19 years old, I became an assistant manager for Olympia Sports, where I learned about operations, inventory, and personnel management. I progressed to being a T-Mobile branded business dealer, working with businesses to streamline and advance their operations while minimizing costs. Currently, I am a banker for Citizens Financial Group.
While I have not had the opportunity to complete an internship, I have learned many things and been offered many opportunities by being part of the workforce. I have been able to gain "real world" experience, explore different industries, and get a jump-start on my professional career. I feel this experience positions me to have more options when it comes to my plans after graduation; it has allowed me to develop an intense work ethic and time management ability.
Exploring career options
My plans after graduation are not yet clear. I am aware of my professional strengths and know some positions that I think I would succeed at.
I have been fortunate to work for Citizens Financial Group during my senior year. They have supported me in finishing my bachelor's degree, and I have explored some options within the company. They have also supported the notion of my pursuing a master's degree—but nothing is set in stone, and I am still exploring other opportunities.