Approved during last month’s meeting of the Board of Visitors, third-year Architecture student Lily Roberts hopes to use her experience to represent a range of student perspectives and encourage better student integration across the University during her term.
Composed of 17 voting members appointed by the governor, the Board meets four times per year and is responsible for the long-term planning of the University. The outgoing student member, fourth-year College student Sarita Mehta, will be leaving her office after graduation — a tenure that was marked by improved transparency and outreach to underrepresented students.
Roberts said that she views being a student member as a way to help the Board successfully execute its plans and contribute to the University.
“They are essentially planners in the sense that they are responsible for balancing the current needs of the institution and looking for long-term goals and objectives,” Roberts said. “So I think I have really seen this position as a way to put some of that theoretical knowledge into practice in a way that is meaningful to the University community and service-oriented.”
The student member serves as a non-voting member whose role is to actively assess, predict and communicate general student responses to the Board’s decisions.
To be eligible for the position, applicants must be full-time students within a year of finishing their undergraduate or graduate degree while meeting a minimum GPA requirement of 2.5. Applicants complete a written application followed by a series of interviews by invitation, in which the candidate answers questions from both Board members and student leaders on the Board Selection Committee.
Roberts said that her educational background and student leadership experience influenced her approach to the new position. Currently pursuing a major in urban and environmental planning and a minor in dance and design, Roberts said that the academic and peer support she has received being in the School of Architecture is something she wishes every student could experience.
“I operate in a very small sphere within a larger institution — I find that we have a very close knit community,” Roberts said. “Having so many resources … and a very supportive system who are really behind every student’s success has really shaped my experience here.”
Roberts will be the first Architecture student to sit in the role of student member — Mazzen Shalaby, student member from 2020-21, was a graduate Batten student, and Mehta is in the College.
Outside of the classroom, Roberts is also a senior resident for Housing and Residence Life, a peer advisor in the Office of African American Affairs and sits on the School of Architecture’s Dean’s Committee on Inclusion and Equity. Roberts also works closely with the Office of Undergraduate Admissions in the Architecture School to welcome and provide tours for prospective Architecture students, as well as participate in discussions on the student experience and recruitment.
Roberts noted that she has known about the position since her first year in 2019, after hearing about the Board adopting the 2030 Strategic Plan — a comprehensive plan which outlines a roadmap for the next decade for the University to become the best public university — and became interested in facilitating the plan’s implementation ever since. Roberts hopes to contribute to the implementation of the plan using what she has learned as both a student and through her extracurricular activities.
“I am very excited in terms of how to apply skills I’ve learned through my educational experience, but also my experience in a lot of my efforts to aid in presenting the student perspective in this implementation [of the 2030 Strategic Plan],” Roberts said.
Throughout her term, Roberts wants to represent the voices of students who are traditionally unheard — such as transfer students and graduate students, which as of 2021 make up 2.9 and 33.5 percent of the total University student population, respectively. She said she hopes to bring those specific voices to the boardroom to see more of their engagement in the community.
Roberts said she hopes to do this not only for the students on the University's main campus, but also for the student bodies at all of the locations that the Board oversees, such as the University’s College at Wise. She hopes to promote integration between all of the University’s campuses and student experiences through greater community engagement and interaction.
“This job is about representing the student body — both here in Charlottesville and also at U.Va. Wise and also any other educational satellite location of the University,” Roberts says. “We benefit greatly from being at a world-renowned institution in different locations under the same school name and title, so I think we have a lot to learn from each other in that regard.”
Roberts said she also hopes to learn from the work done on engagement strategies and providing a meaningful college experience by Mehta and maintain community involvement. Roberts said that Mehta’s performance in the role and overcoming of the challenges of dealing with uncertainty — especially with regard to the issues that have been brought on by the pandemic, including changing masking and vaccination requirements and tuition freezes — was inspiring.
“[Mehta] is very intelligent, and the way that she’s approached this role really shows her love for the University,” Roberts said. “She has been working in a unique environment where she’s in the limbo between the pandemic and return to normalcy — I know that there have been a lot of things that have arisen and because of that, I think she’s done a phenomenal job.”
Looking forward to her own term, Roberts said that she expects challenges in advocating for the student population, particularly given the uncertainty of what to expect during her term, but plans to overcome them with a focused strategy and careful approach.
“I think that staying with a willingness to approach difficult things that may arise and coming in with a mindset of focus on engaging is the forefront of my strategy,” Roberts said. “My biggest goal is to ensure that students’ perspectives are shared with the board as we make difficult decisions in uncertain times — that is the most important thing to me.”