Student Spotlight: Clark student named SGA president at MSU

Published 10:17 am Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Colby Birkes is putting Winchester’s name on the map in Morehead.

The Winchester native now serves as the Morehead State Student Government Association (SGA) president. 

“I’m very excited,” Birkes said. “As far as I can tell, there’s never been an SGA president from Winchester as long as Morehead has been here.”

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He ran for the position last spring and will hold the position for one year.

“I think I saw what the SGA could do and what it could offer,” Birkes, a senior at Morehead studying political science and legal studies, said. “… The SGA president has a seat on the Board of Regents. It’s a good opportunity to sit on the biggest governing body at the university and make decisions that not only affect students currently but also affects students decades from now and far into the future.”

After transferring from Bellarmine University to Morehead his second semester of college, Birkes joined a fraternity and met the then-vice president of SGA. It was through that friendship Birkes discovered the good that SGA could do. 

Birkes went on to join the senate, which is a general body of about 30 students that meets once a week to pass legislation.

“I didn’t think it reached its full potential,” Birkes said. “I saw it could be better.”

Birkes served as vice president last year but knew he wanted to rise in the ranks once more because he knew there was more he could do.

“A lot was yet to be done that I could continue to do,” Birkes said. “I had the feeling I wasn’t done with the work I could do yet.” 

Birkes said SGA’s job is to advocate on behalf of students to administration. SGA has a voice in many facets of the community as the chamber of commerce, the Board of Regents and more. The SGA also funds various programs to help students.

As president, Birkes serves on the Board of Regents, during which he contributes to the discussion and can vote on various matters. Birkes also oversees about five other SGA executive board members. He also helps write legislation and decides on policies that directly impact students.

Last year, Birkes said SGA created a copay bank to help students afford doctors office fees. 

“Morehead does serve one of the poorest service regions in Kentucky,” he said.

This year, Birkes said besides continuing the copay program, he would also like to see SGA increase its community involvement, philanthropy efforts and more. Morehead’s SGA typically sponsors a campus-wide veteran’s ceremony for Veteran’s Day. Birkes said SGA also plans to host its first-ever Morehead dance marathon to raise money.

“There’s a series of things that I outlined in a strategic plan,” Birkes said. “We want to increase transparency and participation in student government. SGA hasn’t had a lot of participation outside of its members.”

As vice-president last year, Birkes was in charge of elections, and consequently, that election had the highest voting percentage of all other SGA elections at other public institutions in Kentucky, he said.

During his role in SGA, Birkes helped make Morehead the first Seizure Smart College in the world. Birke’s brother has epilepsy, and together, they wanted to create the first Seizure Smart College, which meant training every professor, staff, faculty, campus police, administration and more. In 2018, Kentucky passed the Lyndsey Crunk Act, which requires every public school to have an hour-long training on what to do if someone has a seizure. But Birkes said it doesn’t apply to colleges. 

“There’s this thing called a seizure threshold,” Birkes said. “… It’s things that cause someone to more likely have a seizure… we identified those as being more prevalent at higher education: stress, fatigue, poor nutrition, alcohol and drug use. Those are more present in colleges.”

One in 10 people are going to have a seizure in their lifetime, Birkes said, and over 250,000 people in Kentucky have epilepsy or have recurring seizures. 

“We wanted to let those many Kentuckians know they have a place in Morehead where they can receive an education,” Birkes said. “We aren’t going to take it lightly in regards to their safety.”

Birkes said Morehead just completed that two weeks ago. 

He also created a statewide Advisory Council which will directly advise the Council on Post-Secondary Education (CPE), which he also chairs. Birkes is also the chair of the Board of Student Body Presidents, a body made up of every public university student body president. 

Birkes said working as the SGA president is challenging during a time when higher education is facing a lot of struggles. 

“Kentucky is one of the worst-funded higher education systems,” he said. “Kentucky is one of the least educated states, and we also have a less percentage of high school students pursuing higher education… we’re in a big budgetary crisis.” 

With his work with the CPE, Birkes said he hopes to show high school students that people are looking out for them, showing them higher education is attainable.

Birkes said it’s also difficult as he only can serve one term.

“It’s getting students to believe that they can get it done,” he said. “They don’t have to accept the way things are and accept unhappy conditions.” 

Birkes said he’d dropped many other extracurriculars to focus solely on SGA. Each week, he maps out his days by the hour: when he eats, how long he plans to sleep (which is typically only four hours a night), when he plans to start an assignment, etc. 

“It’s difficult, but it’s proven to be worth it,” he said.

About Lashana Harney

Lashana Harney is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. Her beats include schools and education, business and commerce, Winchester Municipal Utilities and other news. To contact her, email or call 859-759-0015.

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