In the summer of 2015, Shamina Merchant and Shawn Semmler were attending new student orientation for Ohio State.
It was time to break into pairs within the orientation group. Having never met before and making awkward eye contact within the mass of freshmen Buckeyes, the two decided to partner up.
Three years later, the two Buckeyes that were #new2osu partnered up to run for Undergraduate Student Government president and vice president: Meet USG President Shamina Merchant and Vice President Shawn Semmler.
Life before college
Merchant began her life in Long Island, but attended Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School near Cleveland before coming to Ohio State. She participated in many activities from a stint on the swim team to show choir to Key Club. But none of these were quite as impactful as her experience on the speech and debate team.
“It gave me for the first opportunity to feel like I belonged to something,” Merchant said. “It was cool to be a part of something for people to get excited about and see it grow over time.”
Merchant became the president of the team her senior year and helped change the organization by adding leadership positions, organizing fundraisers and advocating for a paid coach.
Semmler attended Edwardsville High School in Illinois where he participated in boys volleyball, joined student council, worked as a copy editor for the yearbook staff and developed a strong interest in photography.
On top of his high school activities, he had a strong interest in politics, which began even before high school. When he was in the sixth grade, he made calls for the Obama campaign in 2008 and interned for a local Republican congressman’s office during his junior year.
“The internship was a lot of fun because it opened my mind to a lot of issues and helped me learn more,” Semmler said.
Life in college
While much of their time is spent together with USG, Merchant and Semmler find different ways to spend their free time.
Merchant said she enjoys traveling — even though she has not had a chance to do much of it yet. She also gives henna tattoos and prioritizes time with her family.
“I spend a lot of time with my family,” Merchant said. “I think that is maybe learning more about who they are, where they came from, and it has become a much bigger part of my life than I thought it would.”
Semmler is a member of Alpha Kappa Psi and makes candles on demand for his friends. When he is not spending time with his fellow brothers or investing in his low-key candle company, he spends time outdoors, either hiking, riding his bike on the Olentangy trail or taking pictures.
“[Taking photos] is my release; it’s my creative outlet,” Semmler said. “Sometimes I will spend two hours and only get three good photos out of it, but it’s more about going through the process.”
Life after college
Like many college seniors, Merchant and Semmler are unsure of where post-graduation life will take them. But they do have an idea for what their futures might look like.
Merchant said she would like to end up in consulting because it will allow her to learn a lot about many different industries. She said she is not exactly sure what she wants to do, but hopes consulting will help her learn about different industries to help her figure that out.
Although she is somewhat unsure of her future, she knows her core values of pluralism, education, empowerment and integrity.
“I have spent a lot of time the past year reflecting on my core values, and I realized those are what drive me,” Merchant said. “So I know wherever I end up, I want those values to guide my career path.”
Semmler said he is not sure where he will be either, but said he would like to work in the consumer experience industry where he can explore how products, people and technology interface with one another. Wherever he goes, he said the culture of the company will be important to him.
“I really value quality culture, so we will see whatever firm or company I go to that fits that criteria,” Semmler said.
Semmler also said he would like to end up back home later in life to try and make an impact and give back to his home community.
Merchant, a fourth-year in information systems and Semmler, a fourth-year in finance, set out through their campaign to listen to as many students’ stories as possible to shape their policy points, and they plan on putting those policy points into action.
This year, they said their primary focus will be on mental and physical wellness, inclusivity, sustainability and affordability.
“We want to make sure that every Buckeye has the best possible experience, and those are some of the issues we want to focus on.” Merchant said.
Merchant and Semmler have already made strides on affordability by passing two proposals that eliminate 70 percent of course fees and remove the fee for seniors who want to take 21 credit hours.
The leaders’ campaign focus was on catering to the students’ needs and they plan to keep that a focus during their time as president and vice president.
“We feel like USG can always be doing a much better job of actually listening to the students and listening to their voices,” Merchant said during the campaign. “That was the most important thing we set out to do, making sure that we are actually listening to students’ stories from the very beginning and using the opportunity to reach out to people we haven’t talked to before, and listen, and use that to shape our policy.”
Merchant added that the most important thing the pair set out to do was listen to stories from students and use their campaign as a chance to learn more about what their community needed.
Merchant and Semmler are hoping to make the campus as much of an inclusive home as possible for current and future Buckeyes.
USG as a Resource and Community
“For everybody, USG is a resource, and then for the people that want to get involved, they will find a community,” Semmler said.
They said students can go to USG at anytime when they experience difficulty or frustration with campus.
“Tell us not only about what is going on with you, but what you are upset with and how USG can help,” Merchant said.
While USG itself is a resource, it also offers many opportunities such as the Buckeye Road Trip, a reduced-cost busing service for students to travel home during the Thanksgiving and spring breaks.
Merchant and Semmler also said for freshmen looking for ways to serve campus, USG could be a great way to do that for those interested in writing and enacting policy.
“There are a lot opportunities to serve on campus, but [Shamina and I] found that USG was the best fit for us,” Semmler said.