Honors College Student Fosters Community Through ASWSU

By Sophia Flippin, Honors Student Intern, sophia.flippin@wsu.edu

Honors College senior Luke Deschenes, a construction management major, hadn’t planned on heading Washington State University’s student government until a pivotal experience lobbying at the state capitol on behalf of WSU students, coupled with a nudge from his boss, led him to reconsider. Deschenes’ passion for serving students and extending his learning beyond the classroom led him to get involved with the Associated Students of Washington State University at the beginning of his junior year.

During Luke’s first semester on ASWSU, business senator Maccabee Werndorf approached him about running together for president and vice president for the 2023-24 school year. Initially he declined. ASWSU presidents begin their term over the summer, and Luke planned to return to the construction company where he previously had interned. He gave the offer more thought over winter break after his boss at the construction company encouraged him to explore the opportunity. That coupled with his experience at “Coug Day at the Capitol,” the annual student lobbying event organized by ASWSU, finalized his decision to run just weeks later.

Experiencing the legislative aspect of ASWSU made Deschenes realize student government extends far beyond planning campus events. “It honestly is changing students’ lives and changing their ability to go to college, to have an experience and grow as a person,” he said.

Deschenes put his name on the ballot shortly after, and he and Werndorf ran unopposed. Now, as president, he leads ASWSU’s executive staff and senate.

His administration’s goals are centered around what students want, Deschenes said. They have dedicated efforts to improving parking and transportation and to increasing drug and alcohol awareness amongst the student body.

Luke sits on two university transportation-related task forces and advisory groups. One focus is offsetting the loss of 90 campus parking spots caused by building construction. He hopes to relax some of the parking permit requirements in the area and to find alternative student parking spaces. Within these groups, he is also advocating for expanding bus routes and operating hours.

Enhancing the vibrancy of green space around campus and sustainability efforts are also primary pillars of Deschenes’ presidency. “Catastrophe of Man,” an honors course discussing ecologically conscious lifestyles and humans’ impact on the environment, ignited his passion for environmental sustainability.

Luke is working with WSU landscape architecture students to make Ruby Street Park more community-oriented. Possible plans include constructing a stage to allow for performances or building a parking area to increase access to food trucks. The goal is to maintain a park in an area that is primarily for student residences.

Deschenes is also collaborating with ASWSU’s director of campus sustainability, Kassandra Vogel, to create a new executive position centered around organizing monthly campus clean-up initiatives, undertaking beautification projects, and working alongside various Pullman organizations to keep campus clean. His experience planning a collaborative Earth Day event last year inspired him to create the new position, he said.

In his role as ASWSU’s Director of Community Affairs during his junior year, Luke served as the liaison between ASWSU, Pullman City Council, and the Pullman Chamber of Commerce. He focused on city issues, especially those impacting WSU students, and increased student engagement within the Pullman community, working to become a familiar face to Pullman city leaders by regularly attending city government meetings. Cultivating relationships with Pullman city officials was the most beneficial part of this experience.

“Being connected with the community greatly eased the transition into my presidential role,” Deschenes said. “Any time somebody reached out regarding something in the community, I already knew that person.”

Luke sees value in thinking critically about issues impacting his community and discussing them with a diverse group of students. The discussion-centered nature of honors classes helped broaden his worldview and created an openness to new opinions.

“When I get to hear students talk through their beliefs on certain things, it helps me change my perspective and put myself in their shoes,” he said.

The best part of his ASWSU position is seeing his team engaged in issues they are passionate about. “Seeing our executive staff and senate pursue things they genuinely care about is something that I cherish and appreciate every day.”

Much like learning to assemble effective student team leaders and uniting the executive staff, Luke will soon be leading a construction team on job sites. He recently accepted a job with a general contractor in Seattle and looks forward to beginning his career in construction upon graduation.

“I feel like all the things I’ve learned from this year and the skills I’ve developed from being involved in ASWSU, I’ll carry that with me for the rest of my career,” he said. “Even though I’m not going into politics, the things I’ve learned this year will still be very relevant in my life.”