Lucja Basinska admits that she was so shy when she came to America that she would never have seen herself in the position she holds today.
Basinska, who emigrated from Poland four years ago before graduating from Blue Springs High School, is the first elected president of the new MCC-Blue River Student Government Association.
"Looking back at how shy I was in high school ... I would never imagine being a student president," she said. "... I always wanted to be part of school, especially after I graduated high school. I regretted a lot of things. I regretted that I was too shy to get involved in much of anything in high school, and I loved the fact that student government wants to create a community and wants to have those people who are shy not come to school just to study, but also to be a part of the class."
So Basinska decided to dive right in after starting at Blue River last spring. Her second semester of college started Wednesday, but she quickly found her way in the spring when she learned that a new student government was beginning.
"The first day of orientation we got these papers with a list of all the activities we can take part in, get involved in, and I was talking to the former (SGA) president Cole (Kazmier), and I was asking him if it was a good group to be in and he said yes," said Basinska, whose first name is pronounced like Lucia. "I didn't even know then I could run for president, and then I found out I don't have to be a senator first and I can just run straight for president, I went for it."
Basinska had moved to Blue Springs four years ago with most of her family – her father, mother and younger brother. Her older brother was already living here along with some extended family, while her older sister decided to remain behind in Poland.
After taking placement tests, the then 17-year-old was placed as a junior at Blue Springs High School. But it took her a while to get acclimated to American society and the language. She had learned some English in Poland, but it was mostly business language and it was the British version.
"So when I came here I was extremely confused for a while," she said, laughing. "Everybody was talking slang and super fast, and that probably was part of why I was so shy at first. I was scared of everything, but with going to school, watching movies and having friends, it became much easier to learn English.
"But it's kind of stressing leaving all my friends and family, getting a house here and leaving everything behind."
So when she decided to attend Blue River, she wanted to get involved.
"We just decided it (MCC-Blue River) was a good fit, it was economically better and it would be easier to get through college and study whatever you'd like to as long as you put your mind into it," Basinska said. "And I noticed that Americans give you the opportunity. If you want to do something you can get it as long as you work hard. So it was the same with student government. I just decided to go for it even though I wasn't sure if I could get it, but if you work hard you can get it."
Running against one other candidate, she made campaign posters that said, "Don't be foolish, vote for Polish." "I think it worked," she said, laughing.
Richard Monroe, Blue River's campus life and leadership coordinator who serves as the SGA adviser, said the turnout for the election in the Campus Center in April was strong.
"Turnout was great, especially considering it was one of those things that we have never done before," he said.
Kazmier, Bethanie Florence, McCartney Paul and Lacy Goettling laid the groundwork for the SGA last spring, serving as the first officers after being appointed by Blue River leaders for what Monroe said was a "soft launch." They helped write the SGA constitution and started to get students involved, like Basinska.
"It was more of a formal way that students can have a voice," Monroe said. "Students have always had input with administration, but formalizing it was important. We have a faculty association and I think we needed a student association of some kind."
Now the SGA will consist of 11 – president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, communications officer and six senators (two senator seats are currently open) – and Basinska will lead the way. The SGA will meet weekly and Basinska will then have a voice in monthly faculty and staff meetings and she will meet once a month with Blue River President Michael Banks. The SGA will also collaborate with their counterparts at Longview, Maple Woods and Penn Valley (the Business & Technology campus does not have an SGA yet). They have gone through a pair of training sessions at Blue River and Maple Woods.
"And we're planning collaborations with the others, seeing what we can learn from them and what they can learn from us," Basinska said.
For now, she's just trying to find her way, much the way she did when she came to America.
"It's a great opportunity and I was thinking at first when I was signing up that it would look amazing on the resume and stuff like that, but then when I actually got into it, it was more fun. I'm actually excited for the meetings that we're going to have every week. It's a great experience," said Basinska, who plans to get a general associate degree and then possibly continue college by studying graphic design.
"It is a little scary because I'm not sure what to expect, but so far with all of the training and all we talked about, I'm very excited. I think it might be a little overwhelming in the beginning, but I think I can get into it really fast."
She encourages other Blue River students to get involved.
"I think it would help anybody really," Basinska said. "There might be students who might use it more for their future but I still think I'm going to get a great lesson from it. And it's something everybody can use, the leadership skills."