USG President Shamina Merchant speaks at the State of the University Address at the Ohio Union on Jan. 15. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo Editor

Former Undergraduate Student Government President Shamina Merchant was named one of three finalists for the Student Body President of the Year Award presented by the National Campus Leadership Council.

Merchant, who served as student body president during the 2018-2019 school year, was a finalist out of more than 500 schools across the country for the Student Body President of the Year Award in light of leading her USG administration to complete multiple projects that coincided with its initial campaign platform in one year’s time.

However, Merchant said the nomination for this award wasn’t about her.

“I didn’t necessarily need the recognition, but the fact that Ohio State was nominated and made as part of the top three finalists, I think it really speaks to the value of the unique culture we have at Ohio State,” Merchant said.

Finalists for the award empowered their peers, advocated for student rights, made difficult decisions and compromises and remained strong in the face of a challenge, Valencia Warren, interim deputy director of the NCLS, said at the ceremony.

Warren said that Merchant was selected as a finalist because of her service on University President Michael V. Drake’s Suicide and Mental Health Task Force and her advocacy to include more student voices in the discussion; the hiring of more mental health counselors; the creation of a peer-to-peer “warmline” and the development of a mental wellness app co-designed with Apple.

Warren also praised the administration’s response to the closure of Ohio State’s Sexual Civility and Empowerment Office, as well as the development of a new office and the ability to pass two affordability measures through the Board of Trustees.

Hira Mustafa from the University of Iowa and Mason Foley from Clemson University were finalists alongside Merchant, and Mustafa won Student Body President of the Year Monday.

Although she didn’t take home the award, Merchant said the past year has been incredibly humbling.

Merchant said that the way the campus community came together to make changes in the areas of mental health and sexual assault made the university stand out and receive its nomination for this award.

“Those are the things that really stood out and speak to the culture of Buckeye Nation and why I feel we got recognized,” Merchant said.

Although the administration’s accomplishment is evident outside of USG, Merchant said that her and former Vice President Shawn Semmler’s campaign platform aimed to change the direction they were headed as a student government.

“That was ultimately rooted in our culture, and even though there’s still a lot of work to be done, I think this award signifies that we have taken a step in the right direction,” Merchant said.

Semmler said in an email that Merchant played a key role in creating an “all hands on deck” culture within the organization, which in turn led to a more successful year.

“We had committee representatives and deputy directors leading policy changes and events that any other year would have been their flagship focus,” he said. “That’s because of the lead-by-example culture of respect, community, and innovation that Shamina set forth.”

Merchant also approached tasks with a team mindset and allowed the role of vice president to expand, Semmler said.

“A vice president is only as effective as a president empowers or allows them to be. Throughout our time at Ohio State, Shamina and I always challenged each other to be better and learned [from] each other when we needed help,” Semmler said. “When we started the campaign and took office, we approached things as a duo.”

Merchant graduated from Ohio State in May with a degree in management information systems and will be working as an innovation consulting analyst at Kalypso. Even though she is moving on, Merchant is taking her identity with her.

“I’m proud to be a Buckeye,” she said.