Cassy Jane Werking, a 21-year-old parishioner of Christ Our Light Church in Loudonville, broke a pattern at Siena College last year when she became the first female Student Senate president in two decades.
Now a senior American studies major at the Loudonville college, she's reflecting on her accomplishments and already seeking student government opportunities at graduate schools.
"It's a refreshing thing," Ms. Werking said of her historic election. "Senate has needed that female perspective. You bring different ideas, a different way of handling issues."
Ms. Werking got involved with student government at Siena as a freshman, confident from having served as senior class president at Columbia High School in East Greenbush. After serving as sophomore class president in college, she decided she wanted to enact broad changes on campus.
Her junior-year signs and slogans - "Werking for Siena" - led to her victory last January, and she got to work being the liaison between students and administration. Her first task was relaying students' concerns about the college's consideration of a tobacco-free policy.
"We wanted to make sure it wasn't going to be punitive [for smokers]," she said. "The big thing with any change on campus is making sure students' voices are heard from the start of the process."
Ms. Werking's hallmark projects involved transportation, safety and commuter accommodations. She worked with the Capital District Transportation Authority and Siena's administration and board of trustees to implement free bus service for students, using about $8,000 from the Senate budget to test the program.
It was the first time the organization spent a significant amount of money on a project.
"I didn't understand why such a large budget wouldn't be used as a bargaining chip to make bigger things happen on campus," she noted.
The program lets students board CDTA buses anywhere in the region using their identification cards. Future costs will be covered by student funds. Ms. Werking then facilitated the creation of a new bus stop on campus and advocated for sidewalks running from the bus stop to the front of campus and from campus along Route 9 to nearby Newton Plaza.
Ms. Werking also spearheaded the installation of 72 lockers for commuters in the student union, because the students previously "basically used [their cars] as a locker. Commuters need to feel like they're welcomed."
The Franciscan tradition at Siena motivated her run for Senate president.
"[It] has really helped me grow as a person," she said. "Students are instilled with this passion of wanting to help others."
She's also a peer academic counselor, an alumnus of the Siena Leadership Institute, a confirmation retreat helper at Christ Our Light and a summer volunteer with SeriousFun Children's Network, previously The Association of Hole in the Wall Camps. There, she counsels campers with life-threatening medical conditions, helping them with personal care tasks like walking and brushing teeth.
"They want to forget what they have for that week," she said of the children. "I had never experienced anything like that before."
Ms. Werking said her faith "gives me a reason to continue on in anything I want to do. It keeps me grounded, as well.
With "anything that gives me anxiety," she added, "I seek God."
During summers, Ms. Werking gives tours of the Grant Cottage in Wilton, goes surfing on family vacations and works at an American Eagle clothing store. Her summer research transcribing Civil War letters at the New York State Museum recently got her an invitation to present at a national conference for undergraduate research.
Ms. Werking plans to earn a Ph.D. and become a history professor with a focus on the Civil War, but hasn't ruled out running for president of the United States some day. Her time as a Siena leader has already taught her about diplomacy: "You have to see things from other people's points of view."