Candidate One

Matthew Benjamin

Campus: Minnesota State Community and Technical College-Moorhead
Elected office running for: President

My name is Matthew Benjamin. My leadership experience is vast and varied. From Boy Scouts and Future Farmers of America to the military and most recently as a student leader and advocate. I come from a single parent home where food insecurity was a way of life. I started working at the age of 14 to help provide for the family. In my life I have had many experiences, both good and bad. Some examples are having a child, being homeless, dealing with a mental health issue, overcoming addictions, overcoming the obstacles to comeback to school, and many other challenges. All these experiences have helped me become the person I am today.

One thing that has always amazed me is the way people with the least to give always seem to give the most. The only thing they ever ask is that we pay it forward. I want to take advantage of the opportunities I have to help our fellow students who are going through the struggles I know all to well. No student should have to pay the high tuition cost, experience food insecurities, deal with mental health alone, or suffer through any of the other numerous obstacles.

1. What degree or certificate program are you seeking?
I am a Business Transfer Pathway major looking to attend Minnesota State University Moorhead after graduation. As a transfer pathway major, I know the struggles faced by students looking to transfer. My transfer pathway requires courses not accepted at the four-year institutions, and many classes do not transfer at the same credit rate. I look forward to helping make changes to the transfer process to make it easier for the students to transfer from school to school or from one program to another. A credit should be a credit, regardless of the price you paid for it.

2. What are your future career plans?
My career plans are to obtain my CPA after obtaining my bachelor's degree in accounting. I then plan on finishing my master's degree of accounting. I am also in the process of becoming a part owner in a small business. Recently I have decided to become involved in local and state-wide politics. This would help me continue to advocate on behalf of the disadvantaged in our communities. Ensuring everyone is given an opportunity to succeed is crucial to our success as a community. I have really enjoyed advocating at the state capitol and look forward to continuing this.

3. Please describe your previous student government or professional experience, and how it has prepared you for this position.
I have been on the Student Government Association at M State Moorhead for three semesters now. I am currently serving as the administrative assistant on the SGA. I also serve as vice president of the amazing club. These positions give me an opportunity to engage with my fellow students and learn the issues facing them. I also participate with LeadMN whenever I can. I have advocated and testified at the state capitol on behalf of LeadMN to help address the issues, we as students, face.

My first elected leadership position was as Senior Patrol Leader of my Boy Scout troop back in 1994. I would serve in that capacity for 5 years. I also served as an officer in the FFA for 3 years. In the Marine Corps I served as the unit's Single Marine Program representative. This program was designed to help deal with issues related to living in the barracks on base. We advocated for better quality of life, extended mess hall hours, and dealt with alcohol and drug prevention.

In my professional career I have been a manager at many different levels. With the Minot Daily News, I managed a team of carriers of about 110 people covering almost half the state of North Dakota. I learned the importance of communication and dealing with issues early. With the Jamestown Sun I served as the Circulation Director overseeing all aspects of delivery, sales, and promotion of the newspaper. This experience solidified my time management skills. At the Fargo Forum I was the Distribution Manager where I oversaw the loading dock, truck routes, and two distribution centers. I had to have good organization skills to manage this fast-paced environment. With my vast experience I feel I am uniquely qualified to be President of LeadMN.

4. Why are you running for this position?
I am running for President of LeadMN because I believe this is where I can have the most impact helping our students. I have a passion for helping others that developed at a young age. Growing up in a poor single parent home I saw others helping us to get by and knew I wanted to do the same when I got older. With my background and past experiences, I feel I can truly make change happen for our students.

The issues of food insecurity, high cost of attendance, mental health issues, transfer issues, and PSEO rights are just a few of the many issues we currently face.  LeadMN has mand great strides in many of these areas. To continue this work, we need a leader who has a proven track record of making change happen.

I believe I have the proven track record of impacting change. I have overcome many challenges along my path to this point, and look forward to serving the great students of LeadMN.

5. What challenges do you see facing Minnesota's community and technical college students?
The issues facing us are food insecurities, high cost of attendance, mental health issues, transfer issues, and PSEO rights to name a few. Many of these issues are interrelated and an adjustment in one area can have an impact in another. For example, reducing the cost of attendance can help alleviate food insecurities as well.

Food insecurities are a major concern. When students are faced with food insecurities it has a negative impact on student success. Food shelves on each campus are a must. As well as legislation to help address this issue. I am working on a pilot program to address food insecurities as well.

The high cost of attendance also adds to other issues. By making college affordable again we can help more students realize a better future. I have advocated for reducing the cost of attendance and testified at the state capitol in favor of this. We shouldn't be allowing fiscal barriers to keep students from being successful.

Mental health issues are very personal to me. I personally struggled with this prior to returning to school. I believe that we not only need expanded access to mental health programs, but we need to make students aware of the existing programs as well. To expand access, we can utilize things such as telehealth to help reach our rural areas. We can also make sure students are informed of the programs available by hosting information sessions on each campus.

The transfer process is a mess. We need to ensure there is a more transparent process so students can continue their education. Removing this unnecessary barrier will help students save money and be more successful.

PSEO students deserve the same rights as other students. We should adopt a PSEO bill of rights to help protect them.

Matthew Benjamin headshot

Candidate Two

Melinda-Kassandra Lopez

Campus: Minnesota West Community and Technical College-Worthington
Elected office running for: President

My name is Melinda Kassandra Lopez and I am running to represent you!

I have served within the LeadMN organization as Governing Council Representative Southwest, Governing Council Representative Student-At-Large, Steering Committee, and Scholarship Committee. I am located on the Minnesota West Worthington campus as the Student Senate President alongside being the Phi Theta Kappa Chapter President.

My academic pathway is quite unique as I started college when I was fifteen as a PSEO full-time student. My education only became more difficult as I was accepted into the nursing program graduating as a Licensed Practical Nurse and look forward to becoming a Registered Nurse before graduating from high school in June. By the end of this year, I will have graduated twice from college while accumulating over 100 college credits. I look forward to taking a gap year before continuing my education on my journey to becoming an Obstetric Pediatric Surgical Gynecologist and later becoming the President of the United States.

Ultimately, I firmly believe in breaking barriers, inspiring change, and continuing the success of the previous year. We are stronger together and by acknowledging each individual's truly unique power we can continue to empower one another for a change!

#ItsHammertime

1. What degree or certificate program are you seeking?
This past year has been spent dedicated to the Minnesota West Nursing Program where I serve on the Nursing Student Advisory Committee. I graduated from the Practical Nursing program earning a diploma last May. I am currently only months away from graduating from the Registered Nursing program with my Associates of Science in Nursing (A.S) degree!

2. What are your future career plans?
I have known from a young age that I aspired to be a physician and that dream matured alongside myself. I am currently a nurse and am excited to bring that experience with me through my undergraduate years and onto medical school. After becoming a physician I look forward to achieving my Masters in Healthcare Administration that will enable me to have the ability to run a private family based hospital with my siblings. Lastly, I plan on coming back into politics to bring healthcare to the forefront of American policy in my bid for President of the United States.

3. Please describe your previous student government or professional experience, and how it has prepared you for this position.
Student government has been a priority in my life for a heavy majority of the past six years. I started by running for student body president to represent students in grades 7-12. I then used that momentum to propel myself forward in student engagement becoming involved as President within the Latina Empowerment organization.

I learned how to fully appreciate diversity and cultural differences in order to come together for a positive outcome. I decided that it was important to keep moving forward and became involved with the Minnesota West Student Senate. I was elected by my peers for two consecutive years to serve as the President and student representation on campus. Being president encouraged me to go outside my comfort zone and continually talk to people to make as many connections as possible. These past few years have really instilled the importance of teamwork to me and I fully believe that together we can be more successful than apart.

During my first year with LeadMN, I was elected as the Governing Council Representative of Southwest Minnesota. This position challenged my knowledge and allowed me to learn every single day. I have acknowledged the importance of communication and how critical time management is to be a successful leader. That experience sparked curiosity within me and I found myself becoming more dedicated in my conviction as a student advocate. I decided to then run for Governing Council Representative Student-At-Large and was honored to be elected at the Spring General Assembly. I have learned pivotal lessons this year in prioritization, critical thinking, and communication. I've learned how to listen to hear and not necessarily to respond.

I am so excited and ready to bring all the experience I have accumulated with me to better my year serving you all as LeadMN President!

4. Why are you running for this position?
I am running for this position to encourage the continuation of the success the previous cabinet has ushered in and the amount of change that was implemented this past year!

I will continue the work of the previous cabinet and push for food insecurity to remain a functional and critical forefront of the LeadMN agenda while introducing a fresh perspective. Next, to consistently break barriers while inspiring the continuation in the efforts to increase college affordability while making college dreams a reality for all students.

Also, to push for an equitable education focused on dual enrollment student leaders emerging from the high school to help develop leadership skills and defy the walls put around them hindering academic success. Lastly, to raise awareness of mental health issues our students are facing by advocating for ratioed student-to-help statistics and encouraging a positive gathering place to de-stress. Overall, my vision yearns to positively continue the change we have implemented this year while introducing more ways to fully represent our students.

Together we have the ability to empower one another across all aspects of life. We are not only the future leaders of America. Right now we ARE the leaders of the world!

5. What challenges do you see facing Minnesota's community and technical college students?
Students are facing relentless barriers blocking them from achieving their full potential and receiving the education they desire. These barriers often stem from the lack of college affordability. As a low-income minority first-generation student, I have first hand experienced the struggle many students are facing across the state. There isn't information, knowledge, or time. By making college affordable and resources available we are allowing our students to fully grow and develop. Also, by increasing college affordability we will be decreasing food insecurity and college debt that students are struggling from.

Next, students are facing problems in the fact that they simply don't have enough help on their campus regarding mental health awareness. Many campuses don't have a safe place or faculty dedicated to helping with mental health difficulties and that can provide a barrier to students that don't feel they are in a comfortable learning environment. Students deserve the opportunity to strive for their goals while being able to have the resources to help them in times of need.

Lastly, PSEO college students are facing inequity across the state and are seemingly being ignored as a result of their dedication to learning. Every student should feel they are positively supported by the administration, and should not be penalized as a result of pushing for their aspirations. I've been a PSEO full-time student for three years and can personally say how much this negativity has affected me. We need to extend a hand out to those students young, passionate, and excited to make a difference in our state. Every student deserves an affordable education and they have a right to become who they want to be with the education they desire. Together we can unify in order to fully represent the 180,00 community and technical college students in Minnesota.

Melinda-Kassandra Lopez headshot

Candidate Three

Oballa Oballa

Campus: Riverland Community College-Austin
Elected office running for: President

My name is Oballa Oballa; I was born in Ethiopia and grew up in Kenya. I moved to the United States with my family in December 2013 as refugees in search of a better life and opportunities. But who is Oballa Oballa? I describe myself as ambitious, compassionate generous, passionate, persistent, and funny. I call myself ambitious because I have big dreams for my future and since I move to America, I have never stopped working hard to reach my dreams. I am compassionate about the pain that our students are going through, and this is the reason that I am passionate and working very hard to end hunger on our campuses. I am very active on my campus and within the community. I speak four languages; Anyuak, Arabic, English, and Swahili. During my free time, I enjoy going on road trips, playing soccer, cooking traditional food and perform standup comedy. I am currently serving as the Vice President of LeadMN and I would like to continue advocating for students and fighting for their rights.

1. What degree or certificate program are you seeking?
I am currently seeking an associate degree in Human Services and Liberal Arts from Riverland Community College. After graduation, I will go on to pursue a bachelor's Degree in Social Work from The College of St. Scholastica.

2. What are your future career plans?
After graduating with my bachelor's degree, I plan on pursuing my master's degree in Social work. Helping people in need is what I am the most passionate about. I want to work as a social worker in a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) or a setting that will enable me to assist people with different needs. I have always had a passion for helping those who are in need and my career path will enable me to do so.

3. Please describe your previous student government or professional experience, and how it has prepared you for this position.
2014 was my first year in a Vocational School; I served as President of the Student Government Association at Boxelder Job Corps in Rapid City, South Dakota. It helped me grow as a person and improve on my leadership and communication skills. This experience motivated me to become a better leader and join the Student Senate when I enrolled at Riverland Community College. 

I was elected as the Public Relations Coordinator of the Austin senate for the year 2016-2017. In April of 2017, I was elected Student Senate President for Riverland Community College-Austin for the 2017-2018. I was also elected as LeadMN Platform Representative for Southeast Minnesota at the Spring General Assembly in the same year. As the Student Senate President at Riverland-Austin and LeadMN Southeast Region Platform Committee Representative. I am a board member for the Austin Human Rights Commission, which advocates for diversity and equality within the Austin community.

As Vice President of LeadMN, I have dedicated my time and passion to fighting food insecurity amongst college students across the state of Minnesota. This year I have traveled to numerous campuses to talk about how they are addressing food insecurity. Because of our efforts, over 25 campuses now have concrete action plans for address student hunger. I am so proud of the work we have done so far but I believe that we have more to do. We need to have our legislators backing us up in addressing this issue and I am working with them to create a "Hunger Free Campus" for our students by providing grant funding to students in need. Through the connections that I have already built and those that I plan to build in the future, I know that we can accomplish more and eradicate food insecurity in our colleges.

4. Why are you running for this position?
I am running for LeadMN President because I am still hungry for change. We have worked really hard starting from scratch to address food insecurity that is affecting our student and we have accomplished a lot of things in that short period of time, but we still have more to do to makes sure every one of our campus has food pantry or food shelf. Through our hard work and sharing our personal stories around food insecurity many of our students came forward and shared what they been hiding for long time.

We still have more work to do and bring changes to our two-year and technical college. I want to make sure our students voices are heard and that the Governor and our State understands the importance of education at two-year colleges and what students need to be successful.

Our politicians are no longer considering the importance of affordable education and that is why tuition at two-year colleges continues to increase and I am ready to lead the fight and tell them what we need to be successful and tell them we are still hungry for any change.

5. What challenges do you see facing Minnesota's community and technical college students?
The number one challenge students are facing at community and technical college right now is high tuition. College affordability is a huge problem in Minnesota. Students are working two jobs while attending school full time so they can cover their tuition. Some still can't afford college even though they work two jobs because of other financial expenses. We need to work towards an education system that is open and inclusive to all students. 

We believe that everyone should have the opportunity to achieve his/her/their dreams. Secondly, Food insecurity is another challenge that community college students are facing. It causes students to spend more time worrying about food and less time and resources focusing on their education. 

We need to continue addressing the issue of food insecurity on college campuses. Initiatives such as food pantries and food shelf are a great resource that can to be applied across Minnesota campuses. I want to work on a system that will help all students struggling with food insecurity and that is I support Hunger Free Campuses Act to support and create a food pantry for every campus.

Lastly, know that mental health challenges are a huge struggle that our students face. I want to tackle this issue and I look forward to learning more about how mental illness can affect students, and to listening to our students in order to learn more about how to address the issue next year.

Finally, our PSEO students are facing greater challenge of discrimination at their High school and this is not right. I will be working with our LeadMN PSEO students and look for some ways to end this mistreatment of our student. I will be open and listen to any issues that are facing.

Oballa Oballa headshot

Candidate Four

Julia Yates

Campus: Anoka-Ramsey Community College-Cambridge
Elected office running for: President

My name is Julia Yates. I am running for President of LeadMN. I grew up in the small town of Mora Minnesota. I was a PSEO student in 11th and 12th grade. When I was younger I was a terrible student. I hardly passed classes and I never saw myself as smart. I have faced many challenges with my education including food insecurity, homelessness, and inability to afford tuition. Being involved on my campus in Phi Theta Kappa and Student Senate helped me to discover that my worth was not in what other people said to me, but what I had to decide about myself. Student advocacy was the fire I needed to encourage me to make a brighter future for myself and people like me. It is with this passion that I am seeking to build a better story with you and for the students in the Minnesota State System. People can say a lot of things, but what matters are the things that you echo back to yourself at the end of the day. In the silence we decide to create something better.

1. What degree or certificate program are you seeking?
I am currently going for my AA in Communications and psychology. I hope to transfer to St. Cloud State or the University of Minnesota. I plan to double major in Communications and International Relations with a double minor in political science and psychology.

2. What are your future career plans?
I believe, like everyone, we all want to do good work, make an impact, and have fun. I have never aspired to be minimized by a specified career plan. Instead I have worked towards things I am passionate about such as advocacy, youth development, social change, and higher education. I will take every opportunity to pursue those passions both in my free time and in my professional development.

3. Please describe your previous student government or professional experience, and how it has prepared you for this position.
I started being involved in my community when I was about twelve years old when I joined 4-H. It wasn't until I was about fourteen that I started to realize what being a citizen means and the impact a few people can have on their community. I served as a Minnesota 4-H state ambassador from 2017-2018. With that position I had the opportunity to work for and advocate on behalf of 140,000 youth and 22,000 adult volunteers. This included 5 youth leadership conferences across the state of Minnesota and the implementation of a global citizenship curriculum called WeConnect that helps young people see that they are participants in a global society, inspiring a sense of understanding and confidence in relating and connecting to other people.

After joining Student Life activities on campus I was the chapter president of my Phi Theta Kappa chapter and served on my student senate as the secretary. I currently am the regional president of Phi Theta Kappa and the Vice President of my senate. As well as an Equity and Inclusion Intern with LeadMN and Steering Committee member. Through all of the above work I have had the opportunity to practice advocacy and education around student concerns. Most importantly, I have worked on developing the skills to provide a safe space for people to discuss their hardships and work together to make something better then is already existing. On my campus I have seen firsthand the impact that OER, food security, affordability, and community can have to propel someone into their future. That's why we do what we do. Because everyone should have the opportunity to see their dreams become reality. Hard work can get you a ways, but it's the people around you that help to boost you up.

4. Why are you running for this position?
I am running for President because I want to continue the work that LeadMN is doing and promote more inclusion. Sometimes within Student Organizations there is a level of cliches that form, and this can decrease the level of group work and input that can be achieved. I believe that everyone has a story to tell and that we need to create an atmosphere that is receptive to hearing those stories and allowing them to impact our community.

We are LeadMN. Together we can influence and shape the educational experience for all community and technical college students in the MinnState System.

5. What challenges do you see facing Minnesota's community and technical college students?
There are many challenges facing Minnesota's community and technical college students. I am in support of the work that LeadMN has been doing around food insecurity, affordability, OER, and PSEO students.

When we are trying to work multiple jobs, pay for books, pay for tuition, and pay for food it can be impossible to feel like we wont be overtaken by those financial burdens. More often then not students have to sacrifice one of these in order to afford the others. I support all of these causes and will continue to champion the work around them. Additionally, our PSEO students face many challenges from their high schools. Sometimes kids don't even know that PSEO would be an option for them, and that can set them back and cause them to be in the boat with many of us who struggle to afford tuition and books.

In the Minnesota State System there is approximately 5,250 international students. International students face a unique set of barriers that need to be addressed. Often times when they are accepted into a college they do not qualify for in state tuition. Even after 12 months of living in Minnesota if they hold F1 Visa they still will not qualify for in state tuition. This alone can cause a huge financial burden that can limit the resources of these students even further. Additionally, it is hard for international students to find access to internships and scholarships that help them work towards their goals.

Finally, another challenge that Minnesota's students face is the lack of access to mental health resources on campuses. If a campus is lucky enough to have a counselor very seldom are they trained or familiar with the needs of the LGBT+ community. This is an issue that needs to be championed.

Julia Yates headshot