As a freshman in high school, Alexander “Zane” Zephier was elected as the first president of the first Jobs for America’s Graduates program in South Dakota and the Wagner Community School. In December 2013, as a freshman at the University of South Dakota (USD), Zephier took his leadership skills to the next level as one of four students (Zane is the young man second from the right in the black and white sweater) selected to serve as an at-large representative of the USD Student Government Association (SGA).
According to Michelle Corio, former chair of the USD Senate Student and Internal Affairs Committee, “Most senators are elected through the general election in the spring. Those candidates run as representatives of their respective college (i.e. School of Education, College of Arts and Sciences, etc.) and are elected after submitting an application, petition, and platform and getting on the ballot. However, when schools fail to fill their apportioned number of seats or when elected senators need to leave, such as at semester time when people graduate early or leave for spring internships, seats become open and must be filled through a secondary process.”
Corio, says that Zephier was elected through the secondary or at-large process, which she refers to as the “more competitive” because all students are eligible to apply and the process involves rigorous interviews by current SGA Senators.
Zephier, a criminal justice and political science major, says that he decided to apply for the Senate because he has an interest in government, and he wanted to become more involved at USD. In addition, Zephier says that he was told he has “serious potential” by his American Government professor, who encouraged his application.
“I thought that applying for Senate would be a tremendous opportunity to start a network with great students and leaders on campus and gain experience in a government organization,” Zephier says.
According to Corio, “The at-large process requires students to undergo a rigorous application-interview process which the Student Government Association’s Student and Internal Affairs committee leads.”
During the interview process, Corio says that a simulated SGA meeting or “mock session” of the SGA is held. During this time, applicants must role-play being a senator for a set amount of time. Current senators sit with applicants during this mock session and raise controversial questions. Corio says that candidates must be able to respond and adapt to the questions on the spot. Applicants are judged on communication and critical thinking skills, creativity and peer interactions.
According to Corio, “The process works very well to not only acquaint potential senators as to what the pressures of meetings could be like, but also reveals how an applicant works with a group and how an applicant represents him or herself, as well as fellow students.”
Zephier says that he struggled with momentary doubts after learning about the quantity and quality of candidates applying for the few open positions. After some consideration, he says, “I decided to stop underestimating myself, put my best foot forward and see what my efforts provided me. Within a few days following the interview, I received the e-mail confirming my selection for an open seat on the Senate.”
Zephier is no stranger to leadership—or success. Last year, Zephier was one of ten students from across the nation to earn one of the top 2013 Kenneth M. Smith Scholarships awarded by the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) national organization. In 2012, Zephier was also one of three students to represent South Dakota in the public speaking competition at the JAG National Student Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C.
In 2013, Zephier was one of 32 students nationwide selected to attend The Indian University of North America at Crazy Horse, a summer partnership program for graduating seniors hosted by the Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation and the University of South Dakota. As part of the program, students earned up to 14 college credits as well as working 32 hours a week at the Crazy Horse Memorial. At the conclusion of the program, one graduate is awarded the Anne Ziolkowski Scholarship, which Zephier received.
What started as peer recognition of leadership potential in a thoughtful, quiet high school freshman just over four years ago in JAG has matured with Zephier into a promise of further success at the collegiate level and beyond. As Corio puts it, “Zane’s outstanding performance through the application-interview process is what caught the committee’s attention and earned him a nomination. We are excited to welcome him to the Senate.”