As Virginia Tech has grown since its founding in 1872, so has the role of student government. The Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets elected its first student president in 1909.
On April 19, 1966, all civilian and cadet student governments at Virginia Tech were united under a single constitution and the Student Government Association (SGA) that is known today was established.
Ray Smoot, treasurer and chief operating officer of the Virginia Tech Foundation, was a student in the late 1960s and said he remembers the changes to student government. Smoot received his bachelor’s degree in English and his master’s degree in education administration from Virginia Tech.
“Marshall Hahn was president of the university at the time and had established a very aggressive plan to grow the size and scope of the university,” Smoot said. “I guess as many students did, I got caught up in the excitement and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Smoot decided to run and won his bid as SGA president in 1969, which made him the university’s third SGA president. He said one of his main campaign goals was to obtain official university recognition of fraternities and sororities. Today’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life exists as a descendant of Smoot’s success.
“Serving as SGA president gave me a sense of being purposefully engaged in advancing Virginia Tech,” Smoot said. “It also reinforced, for me, a desire to be involved in the community.”
“Serving as SGA president was really a defining moment in my life,” said Russell Thomas, a 1985 graduate with a degree in political science. “It was my first taste of leadership and giving back to others.”
Thomas first served as a SGA senator. “I got tired of hearing people talk but do nothing about their concerns,” he said. That’s when Thomas said he decided to run for SGA president.
Thomas said one of his greatest accomplishments during his SGA service was helping to establish a seat on the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors for an undergraduate student representative. Today, some of the university’s top undergraduate students vie for the seat.
Just as Smoot and Thomas said they felt compelled to serve their peers, Missy Byrne Nelson said she also aspired to make a difference as SGA president. Nelson received her bachelor’s degree in finance from the Pamplin College of Business in 1992.
Arriving in Blacksburg, Va., from New Jersey, Nelson said she didn’t know anyone. She said she got involved with student government as a way to get better connected with the university and her classmates. She was elected class president her sophomore year.
“Serving as class president got me hooked on the traditions and history of Virginia Tech, but I wanted to be more involved in the current events throughout campus,” Nelson said. Nelson ran for SGA president and was elected in 1991.
During Nelson’s term she became involved with the Order of the Gavel, a student group that promotes leadership development. She also worked to improve the representation of student organizations and colleges.
Like her predecessors, Nelson’s position as SGA president gave her an opportunity to get to know university administrators. She said she credits those administrators with helping her realize her potential and encouraging her to pursue a career in medicine, as well as teaching her the value of serving others. Today, Nelson is a pediatrician in Richmond, Va.
Brandon Carroll, a senior from Poolesville, Md., majoring in agriculture and applied economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is Virginia Tech’s current SGA president. Carroll said his motivation to run for SGA was fueled by the university’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).
“Our motto is a powerful thing” Carroll said. “As Hokies, it means that we put more into relationships than we receive and we embrace that concept. Where else in my life am I going to be able to have a significant impact on thousands of people? What an opportunity and what a privilege!”
Although Carroll’s term as SGA president ends in April 2010, he said he’s been humbled by the experience that's allowed him to realize his calling in life, which is to make a positive impact on the lives of those around him.
Virginia Tech has had a single student government system since April 1966. Review the list of presidents since SGA was established. The five most recent presidents are:
Look through previous Spotlight stories