Photo Courtesy of Cristian Torres/Strategic Communications/George Mason University

Photo Courtesy of Cristian Torres/Strategic Communications/George Mason University

Mason’s Student Body President Sophia Nguyen and Vice President Celine Apenteng speak on their summer, their outreach plan to students and how they plan to represent the student body.


Editor’s Note: This interview was edited for length and clarity. Brad Byrne conducted the interview.

What have you both been up to this summer? 

CA: I spent the summer traveling through Europe and some parts of the Middle East. I was in Israel and Palestine for about two weeks with her [Sophia] on the “Fact Finders” trip which was really great. We had a great time and learned a lot about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Then, we came back and I went over to Europe to do a summer study abroad there for International Security. I was in Germany, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Czech Republic and Hungary. And then we got to go to NATO, the United Nations and the European Parliament. We were able to speak with people in the academic field and people who were ambassadors from Ukraine to the United States, who spoke to us about the Russia-Ukraine War and that was informative.

SN: While not as exciting as the traveling, I did intern for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) on the behalf of the Asian American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS). I applied for that internship and they placed me in the White House Initiative, which I am really grateful for that. So I did that for the summer while taking classes and working as a vendor for Farmers’ Markets. 

What new things or experiences that you both had during the summer do you think you can bring to your administration?

CA: I think seeing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and having studied that for the short time that we did was eye-opening for me. I know for me, I study Conflict Analysis and Resolution, so I’m used to having to see both sides and being open-minded, even when you don’t want to be. It was helpful to reconnect some different thoughts to put together a broader perspective of the conflict to understand what a solution and activism regarding the conflict look like.

This also shapes how we are activists for students here at Mason and how this administration with be activists for students. It means being able to be more open-minded about things that we don’t know about or being able to communicate more openly about issues so that we get problems solved.

SN: For me, I met with a lot of political officials and appointees for the Executive Cabinet. Although I did speak with them, I did do a lot of work with event planning because my work was based around anti-Asian hate and bias, along with all of the domestic policies that affect AANHPI citizens. I worked a lot with regional networking, ensuring that each specific region of Virginia is having its community heard and whichever problems arise, whether that be elderly mental health, youth mental health, language barriers with the elderly and unequal health access. I would be working to implement events so that they can be connected with federal members and federal stakeholders. 

That was an important part because I feel like in terms of our administration, our main thing is to connect people with the correct people. And think with us two in leadership, we are the connectors between the students and the administration. It allows us to ensure that we are being the voices of our community, which are the students.

How do you think the first week has been going so far?

SN: The first week has been full of people wanting to meet with us and talk to us, and our schedules are contradicting at times, so it’s been hard to maneuver our schedule around. All in all, it’s been really busy, but extremely exciting because I come to campus and see someone come up to me and say “I know you, can I talk to you for a second?”, and I’ll say, “Yes, of course”. 

Sophia, I saw you spoke at the New Student Convocation, take me back to the event. What were you feeling?

SN: It was really scary because that was my first event where I was talking to thousands of students instead of groups of 20 or 50. Before the speech, I was practicing over and over with her [Celine] and I was freaking out. But, my overall speech was talking about all the opportunities that Mason has to offer and how students have to be open to them. A lot of the questions we get asked are ‘How can I be involved on-campus?’ or ‘The social life is dead’. I show them all of the things they have to look for, like looking on Mason360, going on Mason’s website or going on social media. There is something every day for every person here at Mason, you just have to be open to finding them.

While there are a lot of opportunities socially, there are lots of opportunities academically as well, with all of the research that Mason has to offer, and all of the professors that are willing to guide you in the right direction in the workforce or in research.

What are some ways you’re going to share your vision with the Student Body?

CA: Public relations was big for us last year and this year we want to come back better and stronger. This year, we plan to do monthly updates to the student body that we will compose on our various social media platforms, talking about different events coming up and initiatives that we have going on in the Student Senate, who can help you with a problem and committee meeting times.

A few years ago we had one Senator who did a “Senate Declassified”, where they posted all the resolutions that had gone through at Student Government meetings, whether they had been passed, failed or tabled. Hopefully, we’ll be able to bring that back to keep students updated on the initiatives and resolutions that are being passed because those speak volumes to administration.

SN: We do try to ensure that every single person in our cabinet is at least contacting some administrator on campus. We’ve been seeing bunches of emails from our secretaries and undersecretaries getting into contact with administrators to start a conversation between them and Student Government.

We’ll also be doing an Instagram live on Mason’s official Instagram account, on Monday, August 29 at 2:00 p.m.

How proud are you both to be leading the Student Body this year?

CA: We’re very happy to be able to be at the forefront of it all and be able to tell people this is a place for you. There’s always a place for you here, especially when it comes to us, we want people to be involved, we want people to know that they can trust us and we will advocate on their behalf. Student Government doesn’t have the best following with students and I think it’s hard for us to say one thing and to have students trust that.

One of our main goals this year is to become trusted by students and organizations so that they know our first and only priority is to help them and be there for them.

It makes us proud to say that we have a diverse cabinet and are very inclusive, like with our syllabi translation because we had so many students come up to us and thank us for translating them into their language. I think it’s hard to always be inclusive because there’s always somebody who is going to disagree with you, but at the end of the day, our goal is to support all students.

SN: It has been overwhelming, but a good type of being overwhelming, because it shows that we’re both putting in the work to make sure that the students are heard and that we are always listening to their opinions. But overall, it’s been great to know that a lot of students are inspired by us as are two women of color and seeing a student that comes up to us that is inspired by us to be involved on-campus and say “I hope I can be like you someday”, makes me want to inspire even more with the work that we’re doing.

I’m really grateful for this position and I’m so excited for the work that we’re about to do because it’s a lot, but we’re ready to put in the work and accomplish things that will better the lives of students.