Alexander MacLeod, University of Maryland and 2017–2018 NASAC Chair; Leah Thornton, University of North Texas and 2018–2019 NASAC Chair; David Dreier, University of Florida and 2016–2017 NASAC Chair; Austin Gray, University of North Carolina at Greensboro and 2014–2015 NASAC Chair; Blair Paulik, Maul Foster & Alongi, Inc. and 2015–2016 NASAC Chair; and Sarah Bowman, State of Michigan and 2013–2014 NASAC Chair

When looking at all the various membership types that represent SETAC North America – full members, associate, recent graduates and students – students make up roughly 20% of the membership. From serving the general membership through volunteering on committees and Interest Groups, to representing the interests of students directly by working on the North America Student Advisory Council (NASAC), students contribute their time and energy to the society in multiple ways. As students transition into their professional careers, these volunteer habits continue, as evidenced through the enthusiasm and involvement of the Early Career Committee. It is important to engage students by cultivating an environment of inclusivity to maintain a vibrant society for years to come.

This September, students will have the right to vote in the general election. In this election, there will also be an initiative to provide the chair of NASAC voting rights on the SETAC North America Board of Directors and to allow the general membership to elect the next NASAC Chair.

Since 2004, the chair of NASAC has had a seat on the board in an ex officio capacity. Currently, the chair of NASAC represents all students of North America and provides insight and advice from a students’ perspective on student- and non-student-related discussion topics. While the board has always considered the perspective and input from the NASAC chair, the role has transitioned over time into consideration for the NASAC chair to stand as a voting member on the board. In this article, we hope to provide context from the perspective of the students, as well as current and previous NASAC chairs, on the proposed changes to allow the NASAC chair to vote on the board and to have the NASAC chair on the general membership election ballot.

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Below is the story of student voting in SETAC North America, as the NASAC chairs who have led this effort over the last five years:

Sarah Bowman, NASAC Chair from 2013–2014: I vividly remember my first board meeting as a student of our society. It was in the summer of 2013 in Indianapolis. I was the vice chair of NASAC and Erica Brockmeier was chair. During the meeting, Erica and I were called upon multiple times to provide a student’s perspective on agenda topics. At all the board meetings I attended as a student, I always felt that the student voice was heard and supported. During my tenure as NASAC chair, the board continuously showed support for student initiatives such as the student party and the first YES meeting in North America. Since I joined SETAC in 2011, it’s always been clear to me that students are valued members of the society. For me, encouraging the board to explore options for student voting was more of a formality. When Erica introduced the idea at my first board meeting, I supported it and continued to support the idea through my NASAC tenure. Fast forward five years. I’m now an Early Career Committee member that was elected to the board. At my first meeting as a voting board member, I was surprised to hear that the board was still talking about student voting. I was also happy to hear that SETAC was taking steps to make it happen! Since my first board meeting as a student, I’ve come full circle, and I’m glad that the topic of student voting has, too. Students have valuable, forward-thinking ideas that will push our society toward new frontiers in toxicology. I’m glad that they will have a formal way to voice those ideas by electing the next leaders of SETAC, and I hope that SETAC members will vote in favor of giving the NASAC chair a formal vote on the SETAC North America Board of Directors.

Austin Gray, NASAC Chair from 2014–2015: When I started my term as vice chair of NASAC in 2013, there had already been discussions about the students potentially having voting privileges in the SETAC North America general elections. Erica Brockmeier, the out-going chair of NASAC at the time, was a true champion of this initiative from the start. Throughout the course of my time as vice chair, chair, and out-going chair, I have witnessed firsthand the strides that NASAC and the board have made towards this effort. I think it is a great idea that the students are now allotted voting privileges, and I hope that this leads to the NASAC chair having a vote on the board. One thing that I have always recognized during my time as a SETAC North America member, students are the future of the society. The policies, procedures and changes that occur will ultimately impact us in years to come. It is imperative that we have voting privileges, so that we may have a role in the advancement of the society.

Blair Paulik, Chair of NASAC 2015–2016: The first NASAC meeting I led, which was during the annual meeting in 2015 in Salt Lake City, kicked off with an impassioned discussion about student voting. At the time, there had already been a few years of discussions among student leaders of SETAC about whether they should advocate for students to vote in SETAC North America elections or for the student representative on the SETAC North America Board of Directors to vote on the board. Some students felt that students voting would strengthen the voice of students within the society, and that this was integral to SETAC’s goal of empowering students in the society. Other students felt that students already had a strong voice within the society, and that working toward obtaining additional voting privileges were not how they wanted to prioritize student leaders’ limited volunteer time and resources. The SETAC North America board helped student leaders understand that making these changes would require changes to the SETAC constitution and by-laws, and that this would require a substantial effort on the parts of SETAC’s volunteers and staff. Because this was a divisive issue among student leaders at the time, the board did not want to move forward with it until they were confident that this effort reflected the desires of the majority of the SETAC North America student membership. I formed an ad hoc student voting subcommittee within NASAC to address this issue. Led by Adric Olson, this committee developed and implemented a survey to answer this question. This survey focused on identifying how important this issue was to SETAC North America students. We distributed the survey online as well as in-person at annual meetings and regional chapters around North America in 2016. The survey was completed by 162 students, more than 25% of the membership at the time. Overall survey results indicated that students thought it was worth the effort to work toward increasing voting privileges. Another takeaway from the survey was that if they had to choose one type of student voting to focus on, most students would prefer for the student representative on the board to have a vote rather than all students to vote in the annual elections. I presented the results of the survey and the ad hoc subcommittee’s findings to the board at the annual meeting in 2016 in Orlando. In response to these findings, the board formed an internal ad hoc committee of past SETAC North America board members and student leaders to address the feasibility of making these changes.

David Dreier, NASAC Chair from 2016–2017: Prior to my term, NASAC formed an ad hoc student voting committee, chaired by Adric Olson, to ensure voting rights were important to student members. Indeed, the committee found that student voting was important – especially the NASAC chair vote – and presented these conclusions to the SETAC North America board at the annual meeting in 2016 in Orlando. I began my term as NASAC chair at that meeting and worked with the board to craft a mechanism for student voting, while following the constitution and by-laws of the society. By the next annual meeting in 2017 in Minneapolis, the board voted to support our plan to initiate student voting, as detailed in this June 2018 article of the SETAC Globe.

Alexander MacLeod, Current NASAC Chair: When I first became acquainted with the SETAC North America Board of Directors in 2016 as the incoming vice chair of NASAC, I was already well aware of the student voting discussions from my involvement in NASAC since 2013. I was able to leverage my prior experience to help push this item forward during my first year as a guest on the board and into my second year as the chair of NASAC. It has been clear to me that the society values students and welcomes our input. I was impressed by the board as I entered my chairmanship in 2017 by the depth of interest and discussion on student voting, and at that point, many of the key aspects had already been explored and a plan laid out. SETAC strives to be an inclusive society, which is clearly conveyed by the tripartite representation on all committees and Interest Groups, many of which also have a student liaison to NASAC. It is clear that students serve the society in a multitude of ways, and I think the board and NASAC has made great strides towards evaluating how to make this possible in a deliberate and scientific process. Our diverse society can only be made stronger with official student representation on the board, and I hope you will vote in favor during the election in September!

Author’s contact information:  alexx.macleo@gmail.com, leahthornton@my.unt.edudadreier@ufl.edu, adgray2@uncg.edu, blair.paulik@gmail.com and sarahrbowman@gmail.com

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