​Every other month for nearly two years, Maggie White has made the 300-mile trip from California State University, Stanislaus, where she's a student, to Long Beach for the convening of the California State University's Board of Trustees.

White is one of two student trustees for the nearly 500,000-student system, and currently the only student trustee with a vote on the board. As the voice of the CSU's students, White knows she carries a great responsibility.

"I want to be a trustee for all students," she says simply.

But it wasn't so long ago that the 21-year-old graduate student could not have imagined herself sitting in the Chancellor's Office's Dumke Auditorium with CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White, campus presidents, and prominent educators, legislators and business leaders, discussing matters with a direct impact on the nation's largest four-year public university system.

As a student trustee, White brings students' concerns and accomplishments to the 25-member body, providing a critical perspective to the issues and policies at hand.

"I look for any opportunity I can to share students' stories; I actually think of my job as the students' storyteller," she says. "I think about how I can incorporate their stories and experiences into any conversations the board has about policies and how those policies might affect students specifically."  

"I will not take for granted that I have a seat and a vote at this table," she adds.

 

Leaving Home

Though both of White's parents are Stanislaus State alumni, it wasn't a given that Maggie would go to college. "There was a time in high school where I didn't think I was smart enough to go to college, even though I was a straight-A student," she says, adding that even the thought of applying intimidated her.

"I never thought I would leave the small town I grew up in," says White, who chose Stanislaus State for its affordability, proximity to home and her parents' fond memories and love of the campus.

"But now I see so many doors that are open to me and it's scary, exciting and exhilarating."

White graduated in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in communication studies and expects to earn her master's degree in 2018.

Listening to this vivacious young woman, it's tough to imagine the incredibly shy person she was before her Board appointment by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015.  

White applied for the position of student trustee mostly to appease a friend who kept pressing her to become involved in school organizations; she never thought she'd be chosen for the role.

Once selected, fear and anxiety set in – but not for long. After her first meeting as a student trustee, a drive to represent the CSU system's students came to life. "I think the biggest thing I have gained from this is a confidence level for myself that I never expected to have in my life," notes White. "I feel comfortable now and at board meetings I will start a conversation about our students because I'm very proud to represent them."

Time spent as both a student and a trustee has also awakened a passion to make education more affordable, more accessible, and of the highest quality. "People don't really understand the impact or the reach of the CSU," she says. "The most important thing we do is educate people and that's so much more than giving them a piece of paper.

"Besides giving students a fantastic, high-quality education, the University also prepares them to be the leaders of California," White continues. "Because of our size and diversity, I think that really gives us an advantage we don't talk about very often."

 

Easing Access to Education

If there's something that angers White, it's hearing about young adults who aspire to a college degree, but don't pursue it simply because they don't know what steps to take. 

"It absolutely outrages me, it breaks my heart," she says. "I come from a privileged background but I almost didn't go to college. I didn't have the motivation or the knowledge; I don't think a lot of teenagers do. When you're caught up in the day-to-day, it's hard to think about the future."

That's why she's so keen now to leverage her role as a trustee to promote the CSU and the opportunities it provides to so many across the state. "The importance of access and the importance of affordability at the CSU is that every smart and ambitious kid gets a chance, because there are a lot out there that don't know how to get to college," she stresses.

White sees firsthand the daily, profound impact of access to education when she visits CSU campuses, part of her role as student trustee. Over the past 18 months, she's spent about 150 days on the road. Of the CSU's 23 campuses, White has visited 22 and has plans to visit the final campus, Humboldt State, soon. 

"I think it's important for students to meet me and hear me, and even more than that, have me hear them," she says.

 

Inspired by Board Leaders

White juggles her trustee position with being a full-time master's student in public administration at Stanislaus State and holding a part-time job as an environment compliance specialist.

Her weeks are packed. Some days, she'll rush over to visit a nearby CSU campus and still make it back in time for an evening class: "It definitely keeps me busy. I don't think there's a single day that there isn't a conference call or meeting with a group, organization or committee."

Transitioning to the role of voting student trustee was eased greatly by Kelsey Brewer, who previously held the role and graduated from CSU Fullerton.

White recalls countless pep talks from Brewer when she started. "Kelsey really encouraged me to find my own place and make this position my own," she says. "She gave me the confidence to speak loudly and proudly just by leading by example."

White now pays that guidance forward by serving as mentor to the current non-voting student trustee, Jorge Reyes, from CSU Northridge.

Board of Trustees Chair Rebecca D. Eisen has also inspired White. "I think it's really great to see such a powerful woman in such an important position leading the Board of Trustees," she says. "I really look up to her in her career and the way she serves. Seeing so many women in leadership positions, from the trustees to the presidents, inspires me on a daily basis to pursue my own goals and not be afraid to speak my truth. "

While White's term as the board's voting student trustee will end in June 2017, if it's up to her, she won't be stepping down completely. She's currently running for president of the California State Student Association, a state-recognized organization that represents all CSU students. 

"I know how education can change a person's life. I don't know of another area that affects a person's life like education does," says White. "I have a lot more to give – once I get a little bit of sleep."