Worldly upbringing helps Jelani McGadney see the big picture

by Geoff Larcom, Published September 19, 2011

Jelani McGadney was slightly late for the late afternoon interview, but for the best of reasons. He was hustling from his Japanese class to his office in the Student Center as Student Body President at Eastern Michigan University.

His life now is a whirlwind of presidential duties - somebody always wants a piece of his time - and academic demands. He savors the walks between classes as that rare time to reflect a bit. 

"When I'm not in class, I'm in this office..." he says, noting he worked all summer at EMU in his new role. "The only downside of this position is that I only get one year and not two."

He graduated from Dundee High School, which was near his mother's job as a professor at the University of Toledo. But, as he followed the career moves of his parents - he lived in an astonishing variety of places, including Japan, Scotland, Ghana and Chicago.

McGadney, 22, is majoring in international affairs, with a focus on anthropology, geography and history. He's planning a career in public service, perhaps in Lansing or with the U.S. State Department.

That sharp desire to serve in government arose out of McGadney's growing up during 9/11, along with meeting people at the American embassy in Ghana while his parents were on a Fulbright Scholarship in that country.  

He speaks with striking precision and energy, traits he says stem from his upbringing. "I was always a reader," he says. "And my mom does not believe in baby talk. She has always spoken to me in full sentences."

Now he follows the news religiously. "I'm a CSPAN junkie," he says.

His first "big-boy job," as he calls it, came working in the Scottish Parliament, where he sharpened his appreciation for constructive political debate aimed at beneficial results and not simply party victory.

Yet despite his remarkable experience and worldly upbringing, McGadney says he didn't have the greatest GPA upon applying to college.

 "Eastern gave me a chance," he says now. "It's easy to get involved here. It's easy to step up. It's a diverse place."

McGadney says EMU is the ideal place to excel as a student leader, given the ready access to people such as President Susan Martin, members of the Board of Regents and top administrators such as Bernice Lindke, vice president of student affairs and enrollment management.

McGadney also says he appreciates the local and real-world focus offered in his political science classes at Eastern. He also appreciates the broad role EMU plays in training so many teachers.

"The influence of our students and our values are really felt across the state and country," he says.

Before becoming president, McGadney worked as an R.A. in Wise Residence Hall for two and a half years, a stint that helped him understand students' needs and frustrations.

The goals of his administration include improving transportation and parking options for students. He seeks to extend the level of help EMU receives from the Ann Arbor Transportation Association, along with figuring out a way to reduce and further share parking costs. 

He's more focused on altering policy that affects students than establishing new programs or events. His priorities include academic advising, continuing to improve EMU's student retention and graduation rates and maintaining Eastern's statewide leadership in restraining tuition while looking at the University's spending priorities.

"The only way you have a university is if you have students," says, McGadney, underscoring the significance his role.

He delights in serving those EMU students, a "practical" group that often balances jobs and family and thus greatly cares about academic facilities and classes.

"If we don't see value to it, we're going to ask questions," McGadney says.


Geoff Larcom

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