Molly Zatman | WJW Intern
As University of Maryland student body president, Ayelette Halbfinger, 22, represents more than 30,000 students. A Washington native, she attended Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School, Berman Hebrew Academy and Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. At U-Md., she is a senior studying operations management and business analytics.
What’s does being student body president entail?
There’s two sides to my job. There’s the external part, which is student body president. I represent every undergraduate student at U-Md. in any sort of situation. Administration at all differing levels, deans, professors, federal officials – if they need a student perspective, I am the face and voice of the body. And I’m also the president of SGA, the Student Government Association, and that’s internal. It’s the largest organization on campus because, technically, every student is a member.
What’s your Jewish background?
I grew up in an Orthodox home, keeping Shabbat, keeping kosher. I went to Jewish day school my entire life. I never went to a Jewish summer camp, but during high school I did Jewish abroad and academic programs. I was a Tikvah fellow, a Szarvas fellow. I went on Camp Koby with the Koby Mandell Foundation. After high school, I took a year off before college and learned at Midreshet Lindenbaum in Jerusalem.
How does your background shape your presidency?
My family instilled Jewish values in me, especially engagement in the community. My mother and my grandfather are both attorneys — known, passionate advocates. Like, my mother fought for the right of Jewish soldiers to wear a kippah in the military. I grew up with this understanding that you must stand up for the Jewish community and whatever community you’re a part of.
And it’s not just my mother and grandfather, even if their work is more publicly prominent. My father’s active in our shul community, my paternal grandfather was very active in his community in Boston. Everyone is an advocate in their own way. That responsibility to lead is ingrained in me.
Why did you decide to run for student body president?
There’s no one reason that I decided to run for student body president. To me, the job is about giving a voice to students who feel underrepresented in issues that affect their everyday life and using that voice to create real change. Growing up, my mother told me that I embodied the [Latin] phrase “Aut inveniam viam aut faciam,” “I shall either find a way or make one.” My parents taught me that if something bothered me, I should do something about it instead of sitting in frustration. As student body president, I have the ability to identify the root cause of student concerns and find a way to improve the status quo.
What’s been your biggest success as SGA president so far?
We started the year with a divided government. The election results were split between the two main tickets. Over the summer and past month of school, we’ve managed to unite students who didn’t come into the administration seeing eye-to-eye on common goals. We’re all here to focus helping students and the campus community. That’s the priority here.
What are you looking forward to?
U-Md. was one of the schools on the cusp of integration of technology into the classroom setting way back when we had a program with IBM called IBM Total Quality. Maryland was at the forefront of the intersection of education and technological advancement. There’s so much more we can do to utilize technology in the classroom and I’m excited to see the university take on more innovative applications of educational technology.