Building Community Through Politics, Economics, and Kindness

 

Stern Through Their Eyes is an online series of interviews featuring student leaders at Stern. The purpose of this series is to highlight club culture, leadership personalities, and drive conversation about critical issues facing our undergraduate student body. 

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Meet Gloria Bañuelos, a senior at Stern studying Business & Political Economy with a minor in Chinese language, Public Policy, and Management. Outside of the classroom, Gloria is the President of the Stern Political Economy Exchange (SPEX), a research mentor for Economic Development Group (EDG), and has previously been a part of the Stern Advisory Council. Gloria’s strong community involvement is global as well. 

During her four years at Stern, Gloria had the opportunity to complete her studies not only in New York City, but around the world in London, Shanghai, and Madrid. 

We sat down with Gloria to cover a wide array of topics. First, we shone the spotlight on SPEX. Lying outside the investment banking wavelength found at Stern, SPEX offers students something different. But what exactly is that different? 

As we conversed on the third floor of Tisch Hall, the foundation of student life at Stern, Gloria explained, “SPEX is a student-run club focused on economics, politics, and current events.” 

This broad umbrella gives SPEX a wide field to play in. But at Stern does this make it easier or harder to attract and grow a community? 

“A little bit of both. Given the nature of Stern, a smaller number of individuals are interested in politics, economics, and current events. But it’s also positive because it attracts people who are very engaged with these topics and already have a deep interest in these subjects,” said Gloria. 

In essence, club leaders are much like product managers. You have to know your product or service well and know how to sell it. In this context, clubs sell a community founded on certain principles. But once you know those principles, who do you target? 

The obvious answer is Stern students. But SPEX’s broad umbrella gives Gloria and her team flexibility to go beyond. “We also attract a lot of people outside of Stern. It’s one of the things we’ve been working on. It has created a very thoughtful and engaged community for us,” Gloria added. 

But, like all clubs, challenges persist. “Attracting new members is the biggest challenge. There are people engaged with the club system, but also a lot of people who are not. Tapping into the disengaged group is particularly challenging. But we keep working on it,” Gloria detailed. 

But with challenges comes the need to innovate. In SPEX’s case, a fun innovation formulated by Shreyas Sinha, freshmen liaison for the club. “This semester we tried something different,” Gloria shared. “We used to start our meetings with a news recap, but we decided to switch to a news quiz. We told people to get into groups with people sitting near them, create a name, and take the quiz together.” 

This simple quiz had a great community payoff. “It worked well! Seeing them so engaged and meeting new people was my favorite memory as President. Because of the quiz, they always meet someone new,” Gloria said. 

SPEX focused on overarching topics by bringing in speakers on a variety of issues from bringing in former White House employee, Jenna Brayton, to collaborating on a debate about Big Tech regulation. But Gloria’s favorite featured an NYU program with a strong community impact: the Prison Education Program. Organized by Andres Martinez, SPEX welcomed a program organizer and participant to educate SPEX members on the problem at hand and what the program aims to achieve. 

“The Prison Education Program provides educational opportunities to people in the prison system. NYU is doing it differently than other universities with similar programs because the school gives participants an N number, credits, an ID, and more to bring them into the wider NYU community,” explained Gloria. “The reaction was very positive! A lot of our members wanted to volunteer in their upcoming book club that brings NYU students and program participants together.”   

In a school where recruiting events and mixers reign supreme, events like those hosted by SPEX are a breath of fresh air. Gloria believes our student body needs more fresh air of inclusion. “I want to leave behind a place that is more welcoming, kind, and inclusive than when I first got here. Helping students feel more curious about learning is the legacy I want,” said Gloria. 

On this note, our conversation shifted to the student body. As a student and club leader, Gloria has experienced ups and downs. We discussed problems facing our student body and what we can do to address them. Gloria had a common-sense, yet powerful takeaway from her experience: take the time to be kind. “I feel that very often, including myself, we get here and we’re on autopilot,” Gloria admitted. “We go to classes, go to our meetings, and then go home. It’s important to step away from our individual bubbles.” 

Our individual bubbles carry the stresses and worries that make it easier to go through our day to day with blinders on. Gloria has an ask for our community: “Smiling, opening the door for someone, lending a hand, striking up a conversation with someone new in class. These are all great things. You never know when you’re going to make someone’s day. A little goes a long way.” 

“I think we can all be more inclusive and kind,” concluded Gloria. 

It’s hard to argue against the dynamic Gloria described. We all have busy schedules and this city has no time for unnecessary pleasantries. But who does not want a kinder and more thoughtful community? How can we move closer to this? Gloria had words to share with her fellow student leaders at Stern. 

“As student leaders, we represent the school, but we also have younger students looking up to us. It’s very important to admit and show when we made a mistake,” said Gloria. “This illusion of perfection can be very damaging, especially to younger students. If leaders are more open about mistakes, it can create a better community.” 

Recruiting is at full force. Right about this time, we all feel a need to show that we have everything under control. For freshmen looking up, Gloria believes this can be an unneeded pressure. 

When asked if she had any advice for her freshman self, Gloria advised to treat NYU as a curiosity playground. “I would tell her to explore and be more curious. Look for opportunities throughout NYU. There are so many opportunities and so many clubs. If you don’t go looking for them, you don’t find them.” 

It’s easy to highlight issues around campus and point a finger at the 6th floor. College administrations around the country need to do more around the country. But Gloria, a smart and flexible leader for a community-driven club, asks us to look to each other in a kinder way. 

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