Meet your candidates

The Manitoban sits down with the UMSU executive hopefuls

Photo by Carolyne Kroeker.

The Manitoban sat down with each UMSU executive candidate and asked everyone two questions: ‘what is your background at the university,’ and ‘why did you want to get involved with UMSU this year.’ Here is what the hopefuls had to say.



Astitwa Thapa (Strong UMSU)

I’m an environmental science student, and I’m the vice-president external this year. I’m also the president of Divest Manitoba, a student group that is leading the fossil fuel divestment campaign at the university. Way back, I was the international student rep, I was a part of the university senate for two years, including several subcommittees. I’ve sat on UMSU on numerous committees, and I’ve sat on the sustainability committee, which I now chair.

I’m running for president because I want to provide for the students, and I want the students to be proud of the students’ union. I want to provide them with a union that cares about them, a union that students are proud of, a union where you have strong leadership to speak out, a student union that will be at the forefront of environmental sustainability, and be pioneers of social justice here.


Tanjit Nagra (UMSU For You)

This is my third year at the U of M. My first year, I was in U1 and was planning on going into pharmacy. My electives were more about political studies and I started to enjoy those more than the prerequisites for pharmacy. I would also like to get into law one day. I was really involved with everything in high school – I was president and valedictorian – and coming here, I thought I would just focus on academics and maybe start a political career or something related to that later on. I had a friend who was really involved with the U1 student council and told me I should run for a position. Since then, it’s just been a snowball effect. It’s opened so many doors and I’ve learned so much through being involved on campus.

I love seeing young people involved in politics and getting involved in the community. I worked with UMSU for about six months earlier this year, and I got to see two sides of UMSU – some of the governance and also some of the administrative – things I like but also things I would like to change in the upcoming year. I think through my experience being the president of the Arts Student Body Council (ASBC), I’m best for the job to take the next step for the campus as a whole. Everything in our policy is about students and what students want.


Niall Harney (UMSU Forward)

I’m graduating next year with a degree in global political economy. I started my university career in the sciences, moving towards a biomedical degree, but then found a lot of success in my arts courses, and really enjoyed them, so I decided to switch over. My involvement on campus has mostly centred on advocacy campaigns.

I worked a lot on the Stop the Cuts campaign last year – organizing events, creating communications, understanding what the issues were, and speaking to administration. I have also been working with international students on the fee hike that they had implemented last year on them, helping them mobilize against that. Additionally, last April, I was elected to the Canadian Federation of Students as provincial treasurer.

I think I have always been really politically active, and I’ve always had ideas about how the campus can be a better place. I’ve worked on campus a lot and I’ve spent a lot of time here, I know the campus really well – I worked in the AV department, so I know where everything is. What really drove me into putting myself out there was seeing the ways that the students’ union was not advocating for us and feeling like we really needed student leaders who were ready to stand up for what they believe in and for students on campus.


Andrew Fenwick (Take Back)

I double-major in politics and economics, I’m in my third year. I’ve been on UMSU council for two years as disability rep, where I’ve accomplished various things – such as the opt-out to the gym pass for quadriplegic students, I’m currently working on an opt out from the U-Pass for students living with disabilities, I got the accessibility centre started, I work on all sorts of projects with physical plant. I’ve also been the ex officio on ASBC, and I’m the vice-president finance for the Big Horns.

I’m also a member of the student group Beyond Abilities, which is a really great group that focuses on advocacy around accessibility. I have also been really involved with the Stop the Cuts movement, and I’m quite close with CFS. I’m very close with lots of people on campus.

For the past few years that I’ve been involved on campus, I’ve seen a very differential outlook on student consultation. With the $64 increase, I was one of the only people who called for a referendum. That is a huge thing for me. I think that student consultation should come first in our union and on our campus. That is why I want to run. I want to make our union more of a bottom-up union, instead of the top-down culture that we currently have where five executives impose their ideas on the student population.


Zachary LeClerc (Independent)

When I came to the university, and even before that, I really wanted to go for medicine. Somewhere in the last year of high school, that flipped and I wanted to go for engineering, which didn’t really work for me. As a first-time university attendee in my family, it was a unique and different experience, but I had academic troubles my first year.

I want to change the way the students are involved and the way executives are involved in the organization. It really isn’t the executives in charge of UMSU, the students are, and they just chose a vision or idea for the year. If I’m elected next year, it will be a mixed slate, which is my goal. My ideas can’t be the only ideas – we have to work as a team. I’m going to be paying attention to the opposition’s points and I’m going to put them on my list if I think they make sense – and obviously I’ll acknowledge where the idea came from.


Vice-president student services

Jessica Smith (Strong UMSU)

I started off as a nobody at the U of M. I had very few friends – a lot of my high school friends went to the U of W or weren’t going to university. Then I started getting to know some of the arts council, and they encouraged me to run for U1 student council. I started getting involved, I never thought I’d have time for student council but I made time for it and I sacrificed other things so that I could put on these socials, and put up posters, and advertise to try and get friends out there.

And then I was asked to run for ASBC, and I did successfully this past year. I had a good experience on how to plan events on campus and some off campus as well. Now I realize how much work has to be put in to run an event and how much help is required. I’ve also gotten involved with Justice For Women and Active Minds.

I decided to run for vice-president student services with the team Strong UMSU because I value the importance of student experience. I compare the experience of being an uninvolved student to now being director of social programming for U1 student council, that was previous, and ASBC and it allows me to know how much more exciting my experience can be as a student here at the U of M.

I think it is important for all students to get involved in some capacity, whether that is attending a student event or running for UMSU. Being involved has also made me realize the room for change that is so readily available within the U of M community.


Ashley Richard (UMSU For You)

I decided to major in Aboriginal business studies because I got really interested in economic development and especially in the area of indigenous economic development. I’ve been the president of the Association of Aboriginal Commerce Students for two years now. There aren’t a lot of indigenous students in Asper right now, but I love working with the ones that are in the faculty. We’ve really built a sense of family and community.

We’re trying to just penetrate Asper to have a larger indigenous presence in a faculty that has not traditionally had one. I’ve tried to encourage indigenous students to come study business, because I think it is an area that’s lacking, not only in the university but also in the general Manitoba population.

Since the day I set foot on the campus, I was really excited to get involved. I respect students who come to class and go home, but I could never do that. I love to be involved – I love to know what’s going on. I’ve been involved heavily with Asper for the past two years and last year I really got involved with indigenous achievement in the greater university. I thought it would be such a great thing to bring to an UMSU executive slate – and that’s what I’m hoping to encourage and grow next year.


Michaela Bohunicky (UMSU Forward)

I am a fourth-year human and nutritional sciences major, in the dietetic stream. I think my first few years of university were pretty isolating – I stayed mostly with my high school crowd and went to some events, but never really found a place for myself. Then I got involved with the International Centre for Students, so I took place in their ambassadors program, which promoted international opportunities and issues to the general student body.

Through there, I applied to go on exchange to Melbourne, Australia for a semester. When I came back here, I ended up getting involved in a co-ordinating position with the Campus Food Strategy Group. Through that, I’ve gotten to see a lot of the inner workings of the university, especially as related to food. Through that, I also got involved with the Student Action Network.

From my own experience, seeing how hard it was to find a place for myself at university, and then finding that it was a shared feeling among a lot of students, which I think is definitely something we need to work to fix. I also saw a need for change right now, with students who really do care about making this campus more of a home for people. I don’t think I would have gone through this experience with anyone else – this team has been really wonderful. The opportunity to work with people like this, and the possibility of getting to work another full year with these people, is really special for me.


Shahab Valipourkolti (Take Back)

For three years, I have been involved with the Big Horns – a spirit group at U of M. Last year, I was the drum commander for the Big Horns and this year, I am the president. This year, we made some changes. We tripled our budget and became independent because we don’t want to use UMSU’s money. UMSU’s money should be spent on cultural groups – cultural groups aren’t getting enough support for their events.

That’s why I’m running for vice-president student services, to help the cultural groups fundraise money. I did it with the Big Horns and we tripled our budget. We have the opportunity to help other student groups raise money for themselves. UMSU’s budget is small – it can’t support over 150 student groups. But student groups are the heart of the school. Students should join student groups to get the experience, to learn, and to make friends. I found that the recent UMSU executives have been getting really separated from the students, it’s becoming a hierarchy. We’re all still students – if we get in, we’re all still students and we’re going to work for students as hard as we can.


Vice-president advocacy

Dara Hallock (Strong UMSU)

I’m in the faculty of science, I’m actually a genetics major with an anthropology minor. In my first year, I had two jobs and a full course load, so I was not very involved at all with student groups – I really didn’t know what was out there.

One day, I was just scrolling through the U of M app and saw the ‘get involved’ button and thought that I should do something. So I joined the University of Manitoba volunteer program and I literally tried to sign up for every single thing that you could volunteer for to meet new people and see what the university was about. Through those experiences, I met lots of new people who opened more doors for me, and eventually I found myself running for the Science Students’ Association.

Initially, I thought it was kind of crazy for me to run for UMSU this year. I am really passionate about helping students that come to this university, and honestly I think there are a lot of ways that UMSU can improve the university but I don’t think everything is being done that could be done. On a more personal note, I thought it would be a great experience for my own personal growth as well. It’s definitely been a personal challenge to run, but it’s been one for the better.


Allison Kilgour (UMSU For You)

I’m currently in the faculty of arts – I started in U1 and transitioned my second year. I’m pursuing a political studies major and a sociology minor. I’ve always been really interested in all things politics – it’s one of my things. I really like mixing it with sociology because it helps you understand people, understand how to work with people, and focus on what policies would be beneficial.

I joined ASBC and I am currently one of the senators, which I really enjoy because it gives you the opportunity to work with the council in arts and put on different events, but I also get to the governance and policy side of things as well. This past year, I was able to advocate for students on a whole bunch of different policy issues, such as the voluntary withdrawal policy. I think it’s a really good stepping stone for me.

I chose to get involved with UMSU this year for a combination of reasons. I’ve always loved being politically engaged and politically involved. I think I could do very well in the position that I’m running for. I’ve had the experience this past year with the senate, which is a large part of the role. I really want to help create a better atmosphere on campus. I’ve been super passionate about mental health, sexual assault prevention, and also just the policy stuff – trying to make things more accessible for students. I really want to be able to give back to the campus in that way.


Ashley Penner (UMSU Forward)

I’m a fourth-year student in the faculty of science. I’ve been involved on campus with the Student Action Network. That was a place where I felt I could learn a lot about the university and deal with issues that we’re all facing. I’ve also been involved with fighting fee hikes that international students suffered from last year, as well as being the student representative with the alternative budget project.

I’ve seen the relevance that student unions play – they have real relevance provincially, and of course on our campus. My first year, I received a postcard from the Education For All campaign and saw how that really changed things – students that have loans now don’t have to pay interest, which changes a lot of people’s lives.

I truly believe in the power of student unions and I’ve seen how leadership recently has not taken stances on what I feel are the core beliefs of what a student union should be. I hope to provide strong leadership, which I think can have real power and help promote real change.


Vice-president external

Bénédicte LeMaître (Strong UMSU)

I’m in my fourth year of university, studying world religion. I’m super passionate about learning about different cultures and different religions around the world, and learning about how different cultures and religions can be at peace with each other. I’m also interested in how different interactions can cause injustices, how they cause peace, and how there can be a greater dialogue between different cultures and religions.

This year, I’m an UMSU representative on the St. Paul’s College Students’ Association. I’m also the direction of public relations of the Polish Students’ Association. Last year, I was the assistant editor for the Arts Tribune. I also run a youth outreach program in my community in an inner city church – it’s a lot of fun, I’m really excited about it.

I think something that really made me impassioned to run this year was the anger that I was fuelled with when I learned about the fee hikes that the international students were facing. It’s an injustice that I really wanted to fight against. This year, I really want to make sure that international students have their voices heard on campus. I’m running because I believe that all students at the university deserve to be taken care of and deserve to feel safe. I love the U of M and really want to make sure that every student has their voice heard and represented.


Wilfred Sam-King (UMSU For You)

I’m a Fort Richmond native but grew up in the North End. I got an athletic scholarship from Fort Richmond Collegiate for the Bisons track and field team. I came into University 1 wanting to do business, but loving psychology and economics all at once. I got into the the faculty of agriculture my second year and enjoyed it, but felt more in love with just with business side so I decided to mesh everything together and pursue economic psychology, with a management minor

I was actually student body president of my high school and I learned that you can empower people to do great things. I love being a part of growing a group and helping people gain momentum and create initiatives of their own. I’m currently the captain of the Bisons track and field team and have used the media attention I have gotten to help other immigrants that are on campus to show that there are channels and lanes of opportunities all around campus.

I’ve had multiple charity campaigns that highlight that, trying to bring students together for different causes. I joined the political sphere to start initiatives like the two not-for-profit organizations I currently run.


Hannah James (UMSU Forward)

I’m a community health sciences student and my department is family and social sciences. My focus is on child and youth developmental health and social development. I also have a minor in economics. In university, I first started out in the Global Political Economy Student Association, which I’m still currently involved in.

From there, I got involved in the Education For All campaign with the Canadian Federation of Students, where we collected, as a group on campus, over 4,000 postcards that we gave to Premier Selinger asking him to eliminate interest rates on student loans – it was a very successful campaign. I also worked with the Student Action Network against the budget cuts, and have been involved with the Justice for Women student group.

Working on campus, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of areas I feel that students can be better represented. I’ve worked with my slate members in the past and recognized how dedicated they are to improving the student experience. I think that we know first-hand the issues on campus, but we also have a really good sense of how we can be leaders in the broader community in issues such as environmental sustainability and community building. When I found out that it was this group of people running, I knew we would be creating really awesome policies and I feel like it was really important to get our ideas out there.


Vice-president internal

Adam Pawlak (Strong UMSU)

I’m in my fifth year in the economics program at the university. At the very beginning, I was the kind of student that wasn’t involved at all – I would come to campus, go to class, and go home. After a little while, I started getting more involved here.

My dad is a professor here in the faculty of engineering and he encouraged me to get involved on council and involved in other ways too. So I joined the Polish Students’ Association and every year got more involved in it – this year I’m the president. I then decided to get involved in student politics and governance so I joined the ASBC. I also got involved with UMSU council. I’ve been involved in a large capacity on campus, and now I think I can bring that leadership and experience to the table for UMSU.

I’ve been here for a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of executives come and go, and I think that I can provide good input and good experience. I have lived the student experience – I graduate at the end of the semester. I’ve had a good student experience and I think I’ve lived it to the fullest, and I want to reflect that to others. Every student experience is different, so we want to enhance that as much as possible. We want every student to live up to their full potential.

Harrison Katz (UMSU For You)

In my first year, I went right into the faculty of science, which I absolutely adore. That being said, I felt really out of place – I didn’t know how to get involved, I just felt like one of those students who came to school to study and then went home. In my second year, I did get involved with the Science Students’ Association as director of programming. After that, I joined the St. Paul’s College council. I got very involved and ended up running for UMSU rep, which is the position I have now. I put my name forward for finance committee during the first couple UMSU council meetings, and the executives came back to me asking me to be on the policy and bylaws committee, which I know nothing about. But I joined, and I’ve learned so much and love it, I think it’s so interesting learning about how UMSU actually operates on a fundamental level.

While UMSU is its own entity, and while small groups are their own entities, working together to make sure everyone can benefit is huge in my mind.

I’ve always had a passion for helping people, which is why I want to become a doctor – that’s my end game here. I love working with people one-on-one, and even in a small group. I think that communication and being able to connect with an individual and being able to learn more about their illnesses – whether it is mental, physical, can you see it, can you not see it, how much it hurts – I find that so interesting. And I think that’s really transitioned into me working with people not necessarily about the human body, but more so about policy and bylaws, and internal organization.

It’s been quite a shift, but I really enjoy it. It all comes down to me helping people and getting involved.


Anatol Rennie (UMSU Forward)

I’m in the faculty of music, just finishing up my fifth year. I’ve also been doing a lot of physics and computer sciences courses so next year, I’m going into that program. This year, I’m on the Faculty of Music Student’s Association as jazz studies representative. I’ve been advocating for students’ issues to be reflected in both curriculum and how the administration deals with students.

I truly believe that a student union is essential to make sure that students’ issues are heard, both to the administration and also at the provincial level. Unfortunately, I think in the last couple of years, it’s come to a point where students don’t really know what their union is or what their union can do for them. I really want to bring back a more collective spirit to this university, increase engagement, make sure students know that they have someone to turn to, and make sure they know they have a team fighting on their side.

One thing that I’m really proud of is participatory budgeting, that’s something UMSU should be adopting. What it is is that students have the opportunity to vote on their priorities and then the students’ union spends the money accordingly. Especially with the student fees going up next year, it’s really important for students to be able to access that funding.


Nick Kuznetsov (Take Back)

I usually stay away from politics. What made me change my mind this year was that I have had many friends tell me that they cannot afford university right now and that they have to move into a worse apartment or a basement, or they have to leave school all together. I’ve talked to people usually behind the scenes, I’ve talked to people who want to create change. The reason I joined Shahab and Andy is because I felt like there was someone saying something that I usually say – if you want to make change, you have to make it yourself. You cannot just keep advocating for it.

This time, I found people who are pro-change and these people are taking a stance on what they want and what they want the university to be like. I loved what they were saying and I was totally onboard.

I’m fighting for the stable tuition program, that is my idea of how things should be for the students. For a student, the contract with the university is at least three years long but on the university’s side, the contract is only four months long – it’s only a semester and then they can change terms. I want to eliminate that. I want to make a contract that says how much in tuition you have to pay today, and throughout your studies you will pay, within one per cent accuracy every year. That’s the major point I wanted to bring forward this year.