One of the first calls that Levi Birky made when he learned that Gov. Steve Bullock had appointed him as the student regent on the Montana University System Board of Regents was to his mentor, Montana State University President Waded Cruzado.
“She told me that she couldn’t ask for a better boss,” joked Birky, a 21-year-old senior from Kalispell who worked closely with Cruzado as the former president of the Associated Students of MSU.
Now, during his upcoming one-year appointment to the seven-member Board of Regents, Birky will be the sole student voice on the seven-member board that oversee the entire Montana University System, which includes more than 40,000 students and a budget of $1.54 billion. University presidents report to the board, which Birky said is quite a turnabout.
“(The appointment) is humbling and exciting, for sure,” said Birky, who is majoring in broad field social studies education in the College of Education, Health and Human Development as well as the Honors College.
Birky said his summer job with his family’s logging business in Kalispell will be cut short so that he can visit every campus in the state in the next two months where he plans to listen to students and administrators.
“I want to empower the student voice,” Birky said. “The best way to do that is to travel around the state and listen to what the students and administrators have to say.”
The regent appointment is just the latest of several transformative and unexpected events Birky has experienced in the last year. Just 13 months ago he was elected vice president of ASMSU. When the ASMSU president stepped down unexpectedly at the beginning of the school year, Birky was thrust into the president’s duties. He quickly made the job his own by building consensus. One of his accomplishments was negotiating the return of an official Gallatin County polling place back to the MSU campus after an absence of many years.
Cruzado said that Birky’s leadership style, including his skill at listening and acting on behalf of his constituents, will serve him well as the student regent.
“We are proud that Governor Bullock recognized something that we at Montana State have known for some time,” Cruzado said. “Levi Birky is an exceptional talent. He has already improved, and will continue to improve, public education in Montana.”
The governor’s office appoints a student regent to the Board of Regents each year. Birky is the first MSU student to serve as the MUS student regent since Joe Thiel was nominated in 2011. Thiel is currently studying for his doctorate in Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship.
Birky’s appointment is effective July 1 through the end of next June. His first actual meeting with the regents is in September, when the board meets beginning Sept. 14 in Billings.
Birky said the appointment is personally transformative.
“Here I am 21 years old in a position to make decisions with six other board members on behalf of 40,000 students,” Birky said. “I would like to hit (the) ground running and know as much as I can so that I will be effective.”
Tracy Ellig (406) 994-5607, firstname.lastname@example.org
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