Maria Modayil said she doesn’t understand the point of standing in the background, but she never liked the spotlight either.

A doctoral student studying higher education administration and global health in the individual interdisciplinary program, Modayil will soon “step into the spotlight.” After winning 152 votes in the Graduate Student Senate election last Tuesday, she will be the 2017-18 Ohio University GSS president.

“I am not a front and center kind of person," she said. "People try to take my picture, and they will never get it. ... It’s not because I don’t know how to do it. It’s just that I don’t like that much attention on me.”

As the current senator for the Graduate College, Modayil has been involved on several committees during her two semesters as part of GSS. She never thought she would run for president until someone approached her about doing so.

“For me, as a senator and someone who was engaged but not that involved in GSS, I was like, ‘that’s such a pedestal, how would I even get there?’ I hadn’t ever thought about it,” Modayil said.

Alec Koondel, current College of Business senator and next year’s vice president for finance, however, said Modayil has a great vision for GSS next year.

“I would say Maria is perfect for president,” he said. “She has been very active in GSS and kind of is a very good leader.”

Current GSS President Ian Armstrong also said he is excited to see what the senate does under her leadership next year.

“I'm confident in her ability to lead, traverse the obstacles, and make a big impact on the lives of graduate students,” Armstrong said in an email.

Over the past two or three weeks, Modayil said she has embraced the idea of becoming GSS president. As an international student and a woman, she said it’s empowering to take on the position during the current political environment.

“Just with the political rhetoric and everything going on in the world ... what a great way to show that we can still do it,” she said.

However, Modayil said it’s important for her to recognize that she has the skill set to be GSS president, and she’s not just the “token brown person.”

“I don’t like to think that’s why that’s the token reason why people would vote for me,” she said. “I would like to think I am good for this job and that’s why I should get this position.”

Modayil spent the first 18 years of her life in Kuwait but is Indian by nationality and citizenship. She earned her bachelor’s degree in audiology and speech pathology in India.

After that, she was admitted to Baylor University to earn her master’s degree. Then, after a three-year break from school, she ended up at OU to earn her doctoral degree.

When she arrived at OU in 2011, she said she wasn’t that involved in anything.  She always heard people complaining but never saw anyone doing anything about the problems they saw.

“Everyone wants to change things, but no one knows what the process is or how hard things can be to change,” Modayil said.

Part of why Modayil joined GSS initially was to understand the process required to make a change. That is also a big part as to why she chose to become president.

“I don’t see the point of just sitting in the backlines and complaining,” she said. “You have to be involved. We see that not just in our university elections, but also in the political and larger scenes.”

Modayil plans to look beyond GSS, the graduate student body and OU to make a bigger impact on the world with the things GSS does. She believes that being on campus is an opportunity to learn and make an impact.

“There are ways for us to learn from us having this experience here," she said. "Some of it is short-lived for some people. Sometimes it’s six years, seven years of someone’s life. What other ways are there to get involved in everything that’s happening?”


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