Tiye’ Smith’s ascension to Student Government Association president from vice president was typical. The way it happened wasn’t.
In spring 2023, she was appointed the governing body’s vice president shortly after the then-current VP became president. Later in the semester, when elections were held for the 2023-24 academic year, she ran to retain her role, and won.
However, nobody ran for president, and the SGA constitution says if that happens, the vice president becomes president.
“I was kind of (leery) about it at first,” she said, mostly because she wanted to work directly with students, which she thought would fit better in her VP role.
She discussed it with Kadisia Archer, coordinator of Student Life and Leadership at Virginia Peninsula Community College, who asked her to take a few days to think about it.
In addition, Smith asked her mother’s opinion.
“She was like, ‘You have no idea what kind of opportunity this is like. I feel like you should take it because things like this don't happen to everyone.’
“So, I went and I told Miss Kadisia I’m going to lean into this,” Smith said.
She quickly discovered working closely with students remains a big part of her role.
“But at the moment, I didn’t see all the potential that there was waiting for me in the president spot. I can still do all of that,” he said.
She officially assumed the president’s role this semester and is settling into the position.
“I think the biggest part of it is listening,” she said. “You do a lot of listening. You do a lot of observation.”
She combines that with what she noticed as a regular student, what she and her peers have discussed, and what she’s overheard.
“I've organized those things into different bullets. I have a laundry list of action I can bring to the college leadership or whoever it needs to be brought to,” she said. “There's always something that can be done, but it's not always something that can be done immediately.”
First on her to-do list is making sure there are enough extracurricular activities and clubs so every student can feel as if they belong.
“I think that's a big part of college life,” she said. “Most of us are becoming adults … all of this is very new. I think everyone, whether shy or extroverted or not, that we all want some space to belong, especially in such a big environment like this.”
Smith, whose first name is pronounced Tie-A, moved around a lot as a child because her mother was in the military, but she grew up mostly in Rochester, N.Y., (her mother’s hometown) and Hampton Roads. She was homeschooled most of the time before graduating in 2020, when she was back in Hampton Roads.
Although she knew she wanted to attend college, she took some time off and entered the workforce before enrolling at VPCC in fall 2022. She’s in the visual arts program and is on track to earn her associate degree next spring. Her goal is to attend Maryland’s Bowie State University.
In her role as president, she enjoys working and interacting with students, but also likes building relationships with college leadership.
“I can go to the college board meetings and college council meetings and not only learn from my superiors, because that's just a cool space to be in, but also come to understand better what goes into running a college,” she said.
Since starting at VPCC a little more than a year ago, Smith has noticed a change in herself, which she likes.
“When I first came here, I was very quiet. Now, I'm a very talkative person. I'm very outgoing,” she said.
That has benefited her in the president’s role. People are talking to her in the hallways. They know her name. They find her approachable. Having relationships with different groups gives her a sense of what is going on across campus.
“I appreciate … that they see me as someone who can help them if they need it, because that's what I want to be,” she said. “And all I had to do is be myself, as my mom always said.”
She enjoys all aspects of her role, especially being able to help more people and on a boarder scale. But she also benefits.
“It’s definitely a very broad job. It covers a lot of area, both with big and small issues, but it's very rewarding,” she said. “It brings me closer to my fellow students, and it also gets me acclimated to being a leader and developing my own leadership skills.”