Aleksey Olkhovenko and Unique Zhang Elected Freshman Caucus Co-Presidents

Freshmen Aleksey Olhkovenko and Unique Zhang have been elected Freshman Caucus Co-Presidents for the 2020-2021 school year.

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“When I heard there were 16 tickets, I was really intimidated by the competition. A lot of the tickets had solid platforms and a good amount of social media followers. I knew we had a good chance of winning since our platform was decent and we reached out to a lot of people, but at the same time, I didn’t want to get my hopes up,” freshman and Olhkovenko-Zhang campaign manager Freda Dong said in an e-mail interview.

Out of those 16 tickets, freshmen Aleksey Olkhovenko and Unique Zhang were elected Freshman Caucus co-Presidents for the 2020-2021 school year on November 16. From a total of 398 votes, the Olkhovenko-Zhang ticket obtained a total of 170 votes, while the runner-up, freshmen Margaret Mikhalevsky and Amanda Cisse of the Mikhalevsky-Cisse ticket, received a total of 163 votes.

Having met each other at I.S. 187 The Christa McAuliffe School, Olkhovenko and Zhang fostered their dynamic and civic enthusiasm prior to attending Stuyvesant. “We were in the same student government program together during eighth grade, and I just know [Olkhovenko] better than a lot of people,” Zhang said. “I’m better at empathizing and connecting with people, and he would be better at the academics of this, so I think we compensate for what the other one needs. Both of our charismas really help each other, too.”

Olkhovenko and Zhang’s platform centered around three pillars—Communication, Compassion, and Community. To promote their campaign, the team reached out to freshmen individually to help spread their ideas. “What was really important was that we contacted people, […] not just for selfish reasons like ‘You should vote for us,’ but it was more that we wanted them to know that election day was coming up. We gave them resources, like the […] the voting sites […] and of course our own documents,” Zhang said.

Now as co-Presidents, Olkhovenko and Zhang hope to maintain the same level of outreach with their grade. “That’s something we’ll be focusing on […] right off the bat because even though we have all these events, it’s important that they know what is going on. What we’re really focusing on is creating that connection between us and the students,” Olkhovenko said. Aside from communicating through social media, they plan to send out newsletters and weekly e-mails to regularly update the freshman class.

Recognizing the importance of a sense of unity among freshmen, the co-Presidents are focusing on hosting events, including movie and game nights. “Our first and most important thing is event planning because we understand that students have a tough time with their school experience. To alleviate that stress, we want them to build better connections, and we want them to have a little bit more fun in their lives,” Olkhovenko said. “We will be planning game nights, movie nights—all these different things where students can come together and really enjoy their experience.”

To help students better connect with their teachers, the pair also hopes to host teachers-relations events. “We would interview the teachers and ask fun questions, and we would upload them on our own personal YouTube […] it’ll really get the students up and about because they might learn something new about their teachers,” Zhang said. “It’ll help students understand the teacher more, and that way, since they’ll be more comfortable, […] they will be able to confront the teachers and say, ‘oh, I’m actually struggling a little bit with this. Could you help me?’”

They also plan to pursue joint Student Union (SU) initiatives. Aside from collaborating with Sophomore Caucus on a study guide database, the pair is working with the SU to add a new calendar feature displaying all club meetings on StuyActivities. “A lot of freshmen are interested in joining […] clubs, […] and a lot of these clubs with a lot of members were having meetings on the same days and at the same times. This seemed like an easily preventable issue if leaders got together and were like, ‘Let’s just not host meetings at the same time,’” SU President Julian Giordano said. “That was really insightful to us because sometimes as upperclassmen, or as people who have maybe devoted ourselves to one specific club, we don’t get that perspective.”

Many freshmen who voted for the Olkhovenko-Zhang ticket noted the pair’s drive and hope to see their ideas come to fruition. “People have been coming up with a lot of concerns about socialization and not being able to make friends, which is really understandable,” freshman Eshaal Ubaid said. “It is really important for them to push school spirit, and I do think they do that just [by] looking at their campaign, their social media—they are keeping up with that pretty nicely.”

Though the pair acknowledges the limitations they have as Freshman Caucus co-Presidents, both are confident in their ability to carry out their ideas. “We might not be doing the most policy changes because that’s a really hard thing to implement,” Olkhovenko said. “But we will try to start working on that […] we’re entering a very well-oiled system [in which] we have a hierarchy, and we’ll be able to make changes much faster than if it was just [freshman] students with no representation.”

Giordano hopes these changes will extend beyond the scope of solely this school year. “They are entering the school at the same time as Principal [Seung] Yu is entering […] that puts this caucus at a very unique starting point, […] and they are the caucus that’s going to determine, ‘What does SU look like during the state of remote learning? What does SU look like when everything is thrown on its head?’” he said. “I see so much potential for them to get involved with their grade like no other grade before, and the potential to redefine what student government is meant to do in school, and that will have a lasting impact.”

As Olkhovenko and Zhang begin their term as Freshman Caucus co-Presidents, they recognize the significance of their position. “It’s important to advocate for [the freshmen] because the students might have issues all over the place,” Olhkovenko said. “If all these students are having all the different issues and they don't know what to do, as a student body representative, [Zhang] and I are able to collect these causes and see what changes need to be made and then talk to [Giordano], talk to [junior and SU Vice President] Shivali [Korgaonkar] and say to them exactly what needs to be done.”