DSAC—Ordinary Students Making an Extraordinary Difference

By Sara Haywood

DSACVisit any college campus and you will find thousands of young people seeking, realizing, and defining their passions. While most everyone is passionate about something, not everyone knows how to use his or her passions to make a difference for a greater good. But there is a group of students in the College of Arts and Sciences whose passion is not only making a difference but leaving behind a legacy.

Members of the Dean’s Student Advisory Council (DSAC) are ordinary students whose appreciation for academic excellence is contagious. But it is not just their passion that makes them stand out from the crowd. They have direction; they have influence; and they have the ear of the dean.

DSAC is a coherent group of nearly 40 undergraduate students in the College of Arts and Sciences who meet with the dean and the director of advising services and student affairs to discuss academic issues on a monthly basis. DSAC members represent thousands of their fellow students on pertinent issues affecting their education. 

Since 1972, DSAC has provided for the mutual exchange of ideas to occur directly between students and college administration, rather than channeling through the faculty. While other colleges have similar advisory groups, DSAC is especially important to the College of Arts and Sciences—the largest and most diverse college at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. 

Dean Bruce Bursten said his monthly meetings with DSAC are productive, valuable and enjoyable.  “As dean, I am committed to making decisions that are the best for our students and faculty, and DSAC provides essential student perspectives on issues at the forefront of my decision making,” Bursten said. “In addition to listening to their concerns, I often present ideas and proposals to the group to seek their views and feedback.”

Regular conversations with DSAC members ensure the dean stays in close contact with students’ differing college experiences. With the College of Arts and Sciences comprising more than 20 distinct disciplines, the dean relies on DSAC representatives to bring up intradepartmental concerns and suggestions. Because DSAC members are chosen by their department heads to serve on DSAC, they must be highly trustworthy and responsible students.

Part of the reason DSAC is so effective is that the students involved are natural leaders on their own. Anne Buckle, DSAC vice president and a senior in college scholars, takes her responsibility as a student seriously, like many of the other representatives.  “Being a student has always been my full-time job, and I treat it as if it’s exactly that,” Buckle said. “I strive to always do the best I can in every class I take and in every academic endeavor in which I participate, and always giving 100 percent of my effort pays off.”

DSAC members are esteemed among their peers because they champion for their fellow students on real academic issues. The topics of discussion at DSAC meetings can range from the grading policy to budget issues to matters of space in the buildings. Yet every concern a student raises is significant because it can either improve or impair the value of education offered by the College of Arts and Sciences.

Buckle described DSAC as the outlet for students’ voice to be heard. “Being able to converse directly with the Dean is an invaluable opportunity,” said Buckle. “Dean Bursten really cares about what we have to say, and he is always willing to do whatever he can to make students’ experiences in the College of Arts and Sciences better.”

DSAC president Drew Webb, a senior in political science, said, “We do not waste time in our meetings. We spend the entire time discussing substantial issues to give the dean the student perspective.” But Webb was also quick to add that discussions are not grave. “I think it is safe to say that we have an absolute blast in our meetings, too,” said Webb.

For this reason, DSAC is mutually beneficial for both students and the dean. Students have the chance to voice their ideas to someone who has the power to act on them. All the while, the dean gains a valuable and trusted resource, which helps him evaluate current policies and assess speculative ones.

In addition to attending monthly meetings with the dean, a few select DSAC members are required to serve on other committees as well, such as the Undergraduate Council, the Student Coordinating Council, and the Faculty Senate. DSAC members are also called upon to speak to prospective students and their families about academic opportunities at college tour days and open houses. With the many classes, activities and organizations demanding these students’ time and attention, it takes commitment to make their college investment worthwhile.

While the College of Arts and Sciences ensures exceptional faculty and programming among top institutions nationwide, the real value of education lies in the hands of the student. DSAC representatives understand that the difference they make now will pay dividends for them as alumni. Through their individual pursuit of excellence and higher achievement, they are making the most of their college experience now. Through their advocacy for positive change and their efforts to advance the college, they are leaving a mark on the institution that will have enduring impact. It all started with a passion—but it will not stop there.