Nick Droege was a junior when Tiger Pantry opened in October last year.
After he cut the ribbon to the pantry, Droege was back in his car, driving to campus to debate two other slates in a 2013 Missouri Students Association presidential debate.
Droege is now a senior and has occupied the MSA presidential office for almost a year.
Nearly every morning and night, Droege sits at his large wraparound desk in an office larger than those of many professional staff members. He answers phone calls, texts and replies to emails, while members of his executive cabinet stop by with quick questions or for long chats.
But Droege’s term is almost over.
After the 2014 presidential announcement, Droege began packing up, taking the business class notes off his office walls. Slowly, his notes about Tiger Pantry, written with a dry-erase marker on his large office windows, have been erased. Droege’s office will be cleaned out by finals week, ready for President-elect Mason Schara to move in.
“It’s time,” Droege said. “New thoughts, new people — it’s a good thing.”
The end of Droege’s term has not necessarily been relaxing, however. A few days before Thanksgiving break, he was discussing the potential new cabinet picks with his Director of Student Services Sean Joy before introducing Schara to MU staff members in between calling Cathy Scroggs, vice chancellor for student affairs, about emergency housing protocol.
MSA president is Droege’s third MSA executive position in three years. After being the chief of staff for former MSA President Eric Woods, director of student services for former MSA President Xavier Billingsley and now president himself, Droege’s last semester of college will be only the second semester of his college career that he was not on the MSA executive cabinet.
“I’ve been in MSA essentially since I got to campus,” Droege said. “It would have been weirder not to have been in MSA this year.”
Droege and Vice President Zach Beattie focused their time as MSA executives on helping students facing socioeconomic hardships. Tiger Pantry, Droege’s guiding “North Star,” was only the beginning.
Droege and Beattie created the idea for Truman’s Closet, which opened in Fall 2013 and became the newest MSA auxiliary during their last MSA Senate meeting in November. They also organized a financial stability lecture series, began an emergency housing protocol for homeless students, and Droege taught a Community Leaders Seminar class, in which Beattie is a student.
“You can bring in the best concerts, but that is very low impact when someone is not going to be able see that concert … if we’re not focusing on the resources needed to keep students here,” Droege said.
Beattie described this as a shift from an activity-based mindset to one focused on service-based leadership.
This year, Droege has received calls and emails from every SEC university, inquiring about various service projects he and Beattie put in place.
“Student government is changing in how it advocates for students,” Droege said.
Focusing on financial insecurity and students in need will be one of the tokens of their administration, Droege said.
Still, Droege said he had less of a hands-on role with projects than he had as a cabinet member for two years. As MSA president, Droege’s role changed to a more reactionary, public leader.
He and Beattie had to entrust decision making and project completion to their cabinet members, all of whom are close friends.
“Our social life is our work life,” Droege said. “That’s a challenge, but it’s also a strength. It leads to a whole other level of accountability.”
The close group of MSA executives led some people to feel that the executive branch was an exclusive group, but Beattie said he and Droege always welcomed disagreement.
“We always told people that our doors are open,” Beattie said. “If someone is upset about something, we always invite dissent.”
And there were a number of opportunities for dissent. One of these was the MSA budget.
The vice president’s job is to create the next fiscal year budget. A month after taking office, Beattie was in the midst of a major challenge: The 2014 fiscal year budget was more than $80,000 short.
Beattie got to work. He spent every day meeting with auxiliaries and departments, brainstorming cuts with MSA senators and staying at Shakespeare’s Pizza for five hours until he and other cabinet members balanced the budget.
“It was the biggest challenge, but it turned into the thing I was most proud of,” Beattie said.
After the meetings, Beattie took the budget to Senate.
“I went through every piece of the budget, and I felt like I was able to justify every single line,” he said.
Numerous auxiliaries including STRIPES, Tiger Pantry and The Craft Studio were present at Senate when Beattie presented the budget. Still, there was no dissent.
“Everyone thought they were there to put me under fire, but in the end, that didn’t happen,” he said. “I think it was because they listened and they understood.”
Leadership Auditorium burst into applause after Senate unanimously passed the budget.
Droege faced his largest challenge with Missouri House Bill 253. The bill, which was passed by the Missouri legislature but vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon, featured a possible $800 million funding decrease to the UM System. Missouri republicans planned to override Nixon’s veto in early September, not long after the semester began.
Droege, along with the Associated Students of the University of Missouri and other MSA cabinet members, organized an event called “Kill the Bill?” which sought to educate students on the possible effects of the bill.
A week later, the bill did not receive enough votes to override Nixon’s veto.
The event and Droege’s position against the bill led to criticism from Missouri republicans, notably Missouri Speaker of the House Tim Jones, R-Eureka, that Droege was making MSA political. Droege was proud of his decision despite the criticism.
“That move into the political realm was very intentional,” Droege said.
Droege added that although More for Less was a step in the right direction, MSA was not doing enough in the political realm.
“You can have a huge impact at that level because all the legislators (in Jefferson City) want to hear from students,” he said. “More for Less started that, and after Kill the Bill … now their ears are open.”
Droege said he plans to help Schara with legislative issues and anything else Schara wants help with.
Still, both Droege and Beattie are ready to let a new executive cabinet move in.
“You’re very temporary,” Droege said. “You’re in, and then you’re out. The individual doesn’t matter.”
Droege said the best thing he and Beattie could do is not make an impact when they leave, leaving MSA and the student body with a sustainable infrastructure to make the organization successful.
After graduation, the two have discussed moving to Chicago and beginning a small company. And when they return to campus in three years, they know students will not know who they are, but they hope to find the same services and infrastructure they’ve helped develop.
“They should remember the things and not remember the names,” Beattie said.