Passion, devotion and the makings of a student government president

Angela Chen, the American University Student Government president-elect, has devoted her time in college to student advocacy. Chen wants to improve the student experience at American University and hopes to one day be involved in influence public interest law. (Photo by Frank Piscani)

By Frank Piscani

WASHINGTON – Angela Chen’s devotion to student advocacy has brought together her passion for politics and her search for family.

“I’ve always had, like, an intrinsic interest in like government and politics,” said Chen, the recently elected president of the American University Student Government.

Chen, a sophomore in American’s communication, legal institutions, economics, and government program — known on campus as CLEG — won the AUSG presidency after building an extensive resume as a member of the AUSG senate and the Center for Advocacy & Student Equity, and as president of American University College Democrats.

Over her time in student government, Chen has built strong friendships with those with whom she has worked.

During her first week of freshman year, Chen participated in American’s Explore DC program, which engages students in community service to address social justice. Chen’s group leader, Ryan Barto, became one of her close friends after the program ended and worked alongside her in CASE.

“You can just see the passion in her eyes, no matter what topic she’s talking about,” said Barto.

The confidence in Chen’s passion as a freshman was “slightly abnormal” because of how much work she was willing to take on, said Will Mascaro, a graduate of American University and the former director of CASE. During her first year in college, Chen worked closely with Mascaro, a senior at the time.

During finals of the fall semester that year, Chen helped Mascaro and CASE handle the typical influx of cases at the end of a semester, going above and beyond Mascaro’s expectations of her.

“It was clear to me that she was someone that I could rely on, which earned her my respect very quickly,” said Mascaro.

During her presidency, Chen wants to focus on improving dining options and limiting increases in the cost of tuition at American. But one of her chief goals is to improve the student experience overall. One of her favorite professors, TaLisa Carter, believes that Chen has the skills to succeed in achieving her goals.

“She is definitely someone whose voice is clear,” said Carter, a professor of justice, law and criminology. “Her passions are rooted in substance.”

Carter taught Chen’s Critical Issues in Justice class, in which she tasked students weekly with debating one another on issues in the justice system. Carter said that Chen’s standout ability to argue both sides of an issue will help her fight for what the student body wants, regardless of her own opinion.

Chen said her drive for student advocacy is rooted in her feeling that American University is home.

Growing up as the daughter of Chinese immigrants in California, Chen said the “generational gap” between her and her parents has led to periods of her life where they were not on speaking terms.

“It’s just like a very toxic environment for me,” she said.

The support system Chen has at college has made up for the lack of one at home. Chen wants to return that support to the community through her advocacy.

“These students are the people that I consider to be my family,” said Chen. “You would always want the best for your family.”

Credit for her maturity, Chen said, can oddly be given to her young age. Chen skipped the sixth grade, which makes her only 18 years old as her sophomore year in college winds down.

“I was already also like young for my grade,” she said. “I definitely like had to grow up very fast.”

Beyond her maturity, Chen believes her fun and outgoing personality will help her succeed as AUSG president. She said differs from the Type A archetype in student government.

 “I think that I break the trend in AUSG a little bit in the sense that I am not like that at all,” she said. “I’m very like what you would describe like as ‘chill.’”

That chill personal extends beyond her roles in student advocacy, as her interests recently began to include NBA basketball. She roots for her local Golden State Warriors.

“All of my friends tell me that I have no hobbies,” Chen joked. “I like to think that I’m like a normal person, and I just like hanging out with my friends.”

After she finishes her term as president, Chen plans to study abroad in Spain to take a semester off from being at American. For now, her focus is set entirely on her one true passion: student advocacy.

“Building community is what she’s always done, and it’s who she is,” said Barto. “It’s what she wants to do.”

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